Friday, September 21, 2012


I haven't made the jump to an electronic logbook just yet. I want to, particularly every few months when I drag out my paper logbook to laboriously copy in entries, but the unenviable task of manually keying in my previous 9000 hours has thus far kept me from making the leap. But if I did have a fancy electronic logbook, I could whip out fun statistics like which airport I've landed at the most. I'm almost certain it's MSP. I suppose PDX and SEA would be close seconds from my time at Horizon, with the various other Alaska and WidgetCo hubs well represented.

But of non-hub airports, I'm guessing that I've flown into Vancouver BC (YVR) the most. It was a frequent Q400 destination from both Portland and Seattle, and it was one of NewCo's very first destinations; we've been flying there nearly continuously since 2007. I've bid it as much as possible, partly because it's one of my favorite destinations, and partly because the distance from Minneapolis makes for efficient pairings.

I've been back in Minnesota nearly five years now, and while I've come to a new appreciation of my native state, I do still miss living in the Pacific Northwest. The flight to Vancouver - across the Rockies near Helena, passing over Spokane, crossing the Cascades by Lake Chelan and descending just south of Mt Baker, then turning northwest over Bellingham - feels like a homecoming. Seeing the jagged peaks and emerald valleys of the North Cascades, the fir-carpeted islets of the San Juans set in the glittering Rosario Straight, and the snowcapped dome of Rainier floating serenely above it all puts a lump in my throat.

The city of Vancouver is one of my favorites anywhere in the world, the very image of what a modern world city nestled between the sea and a rugged wilderness should look like. Yeah, it's expensive, and you have the hassle of customs, and it's a bit of a hike from our crew hotel to downtown - but it feels like we've actually flown somewhere. Waking up in Omaha or Dallas or Louisville, you might as well have been teleported. If the layover is long enough, there's no shortage of things to do in Vancouver, whether it's barhopping downtown or walking in Stanley Park or hiking the Grouse Grind or watching seaplanes take off and land over a pint at the Flying Beaver. Even if you don't want to venture very far from the crew hotel, there's a lot nearby. I've never been bored in YVR.

The other thing about Vancouver is that the airport is quite easy to fly in and out of, considering it's the third largest city in Canada and its airspace is somewhat constricted by terrain and ubiquitous GA traffic. The downwind is seldom longer than 10 miles. They usually land us on 26R/8L, even when coming from the south, making for a short taxi straight into the gate. For some reason they restrict departures to 26L/8R, making for a somewhat long taxi out, but once you get to the runway you seldom wait more than a minute or two to depart. The departure off 26L is always gorgeous, with a big sweeping left-hand turn that takes in views of the Georgian Straight, Gulf Islands, Vancouver Islands, and Puget Sound to the south. Our usual departure takes us right over Mt Baker; I occasionally request a few miles deviation either side and give the passengers a nice view.

I had a regrettably short Vancouver layover last week, but the morning departure was as clear and beautiful as I've ever seen it. The sun was just peeking above the Cascades as we turned eastward, and by the time we were over Mount Baker all the snowy peaks were turned pink in the morning alpenglow. You could see as far south as Mt Adams, despite smoke from fires in that area. This was particularly exciting because that night, after my trip was over, I was flying back west once more for a weekend of hiking, dirt-biking, and beer-drinking with friends in Portland. The Pacific Northwest has had an exceptionally nice late summer; at one point Portland went 53 days without recorded rainfall.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one other thing I like about YVR: our ground staff. The rampers, who are contractors and have been through some turmoil the last few years, are diligent, hard-working, and always ready to marshal us in when I taxi up. The WidgetCo gate agents are a friendly, helpful bunch, even for Canadians. Several are even readers of this blog. It's really nice to pull into gate 86 and see a smiling, familiar face at the jetbridge. This was a more common thing when we were a small airline and flew only a few places, but now we have so many destinations - and my trips are so varied - that there aren't many gate agents I'm on a first-name basis with anymore. YVR is a happy exception. 


Benjamin Marsh said...

I've been following your blog for a couple of years now, though I've never commented. I especially valued your early posts for offering the frank pilot's perspective I sought as someone who's often entertained a career in commercial aviation.

Today's post on Vancouver made me smile; it's a place I called home briefly, and adored from the moment I arrived.

The airport too--from my humble passenger's perspective--ranks among the elite best in North America. The facility's planners and architects seemed to have taken into account there might exist passengers interested in aviation and keen for a vantage-point over air-side operations--something more than mere lemmings content with the lame security->shops->gate procedure. I love that many spaces offering wide views of taxiways and the apron abound before and after security at YVR, as well as a welcome many placards explaining airport history and detailing current operations.

Your post was fun to read, and to a small extent an endorsement of my own positive beliefs, in that someone whose perspective I've come to appreciate, though quite distinct from my own, may see a similar beauty in a city and airport I love more than most.

Ted said...

YVR happens to be my favorite city so far, and I've been to a few. The proximity of both sea and mountains, a city built for the people and not against them, lots of parks and places to relax, it all makes for my favorite experience so far. I still have to do the grind and take a dive in the 30 ft pool ( so I can only look forward to going back there...
Too bad it's on the other side of the world for me and getting there isn't as easy as hopping on a plane at a moment's notice for a city break, but all the more worth the wait

Benjamin Marsh said...


One of the best things about Lynn Canyon and Grouse Mountain in my opinion: they're linked by the extensive trail network of Lynn Headwaters Park.

If you've a full day on hand during the late-Summer/Autumn, are a moderately experienced hiker, and take the appropriate back-country precautions, I cannot recommend to you more strongly the Hanes Valley Trail. ( The view from atop the scree between Goat and Crown Mts is worth the effort in itself! Mind-boggling beauty and true back-country.

It's a rewarding hike possible in either direction, though I much prefer the West to East route detailed on above. In fact, I prefer to skip the cable car ride down once atop Grouse Mountain, instead opting to traverse the BCMC trail back to mountains' base, more or less parallel and to the East of the Grouse Grind. After 7 or so hours of hiking, that manner of decent demands your full attention.

The accessibility via public transit of exceptional back-country hiking from Vancouver's city center is one of the main reasons I love the city so much!

YYC Dispatcher said...


Thank you for your great article about YVR. YVR also has one of the best public transportation systems to go from the airport to downtown. Quick, efficient, clean and relatively cheap.

Once the new International Terminal and parallel runway are complete at YYC, we hope to have a world-class facility as well and it doesn't hurt that we have a view of the 'other side' of the rocks!

YYC Dispatcher

Michael said...


I have been reading your blog for a while now! I never realised you were flying the E170/90 for some reason. I don't know why but i always thought it was a CRJ.

Great post, look forward to reading more. I fly Q400 in Australia and weirdly will probably be flying the E190 within the next year with Virgin. Seems rather similar don't you think!

Regards, Mike

laura linger said...

My new favorite blog ever.

I am going to place you on my blogroll.

Much appreciation from Phoenix, AZ, and A Touch Of Tuesday Weld. I write about vintage aviation and disasters from time to time on my blog.

zb said...

Being from Europe and having friends in Bellingham, I really love how you write about getting back to the Puget Sound area. (Is it called the Pacific SW from the Canadian perspective?)

Nice how Sucia Island, the little unpopulated horse shoe just N of Orcas, made it into two of your pictures. There is almost no light pollution there and I've seen very amazing Northern Lights from there in the fall of 2000.

MarkH said...

I really enjoy your blog Captain and have done so for a couple of years now. I'm also a member of the ground staff at YVR, one of the mechanics that look after the maintenance of your aircraft. Whenever I'm called out to the Embraer, which I must admit isn't very often, I always look to see if you're in the left seat.

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