Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

Everything Metro Vancouverites need to know about travelling over the holidays

Here is what to expect at YVR, at the ferries, or the Canada-U.S. border.
While the Metro Vancouver weather forecast doesn't include snowfall around Christmas Day, several storms are expected to bring rain and wind to the region, which could make travel challenging as December 2023 comes to a close.

Travellers planning to take Vancouver flights over the holidays won't face anything near as troubling as the 2022 snowstorm -- but they aren't entirely off the hook. 

While the Metro Vancouver weather forecast doesn't include snowfall around Christmas Day, several storms are expected to bring rain and wind to the region. Also, travellers need to check conditions at their destination and on the route to their final stop as both affect whether their flight will be delayed or possibly cancelled. 

The winter holidays see some of the highest passenger traffic at Vancouver International Airport (YVR), meaning travellers will want to take extra steps to ensure they make their flights. 

From Tuesday, Dec.19 through Boxing Day, Dec. 26, YVR is expecting an average of approximately 69,028 passengers per day, for a total of 552,226 for the week. Friday, Dec. 22 is expected to be the busiest day of the month at YVR, with more than 74,534 passengers, followed by Dec. 25, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, which are expected to see 64,627 and 68,364 travellers, respectively. 

Here are some things to keep in mind over the busy travel period.

What to do if you have a flight booked at the Vancouver airport 

Travellers should check weather conditions several days in advance of their flight in their departure city and destination. If your flight is in North America, keep an eye on significant storm patterns developing across the continent. 

If possible, booking a backup flight provides an option during peak travel times when cancellations are likely. Depending on the fare class that you book, you can cancel the backup flight if needed and use the credit for future travel. 

Always book travel insurance with trip interruption, trip cancellation, medical for over at least $5 million, and comprehensive baggage loss and delay. Read the fine print closely. 

YVR offers several tips to help travellers save time at the airport.

Book your spot for security screening in advance

Consider using YVR EXPRESS to reserve your spot in security screening. YVR EXPRESS is available for those flying within Canada or to the U.S. and allows you to pre-book your spot up to 72 hours before your flight, even during peak holiday hours. 

Pack smart

Follow all Canadian Air Transport Security Authority (CATSA) baggage requirements. Remember: liquids, gels and aerosols still need to be in containers that are less than 100 millilitres, and be packaged into one transparent, closed, and resealable plastic bag that is under one litre. You should avoid wrapping holiday gifts since contents may need to be inspected during the screening process for both carry-on and checked baggage.

Arrive early to enjoy your YVR experience

Travellers should arrive at least two hours in advance of domestic flights, and three hours in advance of U.S. and international flights. Provide extra time in case you run into inclement weather, traffic, or any other issues which could cause a travel delay.

Plan your route to the airport

YVR advises travellers to consider taking the Canada Line to the airport. The train takes them from the heart of downtown Vancouver to the terminal door in 30 minutes or less via 16 stops.

Parking at YVR or using other forms of transportation

There are a few different options available for air passengers looking to take advantage of long-term parking at YVR. All of them are priced based on convenience, meaning the faster you can get to the terminal from your car, the higher the cost of keeping your vehicle at the airport. Have a look at the pros and cons of these options.

Use your smartphone to speed up your time in line

Locals who plan to fly to the U.S. from Canada can submit their passport and customs declaration information through a free, secure app on their smartphone before they leave for a trip called the U.S. Customer Customs Mobile Passport Control (MPC) app.

Those returning from the U.S. or an international destination can submit their customs information in advance using the ArriveCAN app.

The pandemic-introduced app is also useful for travellers who need to make a tight connection in another Canadian city on the way to Vancouver. For example, if your first stop is at Toronto Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ), you will need to go through customs there before flying to YVR. Filling out your information in the app in advance will allow you to move through a priority lane.

Where to go for extra help at YVR 

YVR says travellers will be greeted by its new curbside greeting staff when they arrive at the airport. 

The airport's Guest Experience team members and Green Coat volunteers will be on hand to help travellers over the busy travel period. They are stationed at Information Counters and throughout the terminal.

What to do if you plan to sail with BC Ferries

Book early to secure a spot on the sailing day and time of your choice.

Customers with flexibility in their travel plans can sail at off-peak times to avoid the rush and take advantage of Saver fares on select sailings. 

Arrive early

BC Ferries recommends arriving at the terminal approximately 45-60 minutes before their scheduled departure. Walk-on passengers should arrive 45 minutes before their anticipated sailing. 

Expect sailing waits at popular times

Sailing waits are common during busy travel periods. If bookings are sold out, try to travel during less busy times, such as mid-week days and early morning or late evening sailings.

Ride-share, if possible

Customers are encouraged to carpool or travel as a foot passenger. Vehicle deck space fills up quickly.

Travel the coast car free

Take public transit to and from major terminals. For schedule information visit TransLink online.

Consider parking options

Parking lots at the major terminals fill up quickly at peak periods. If possible, choose public transit or arrange to be dropped off at the terminal to avoid traffic congestion. 

Be prepared for winter conditions

Stay updated with road conditions by following @DriveBC and dress for cold and wet weather including appropriate footwear to avoid slips, trips and falls. Follow @BCFerries on Twitter for regular updates, seven days a week.

What to do if you plan to drive across the Canada-U.S. border

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) recommends that travellers cross the border at non-peak hours, such as the early morning. In line with YVR, Christmas Eve, Sunday, Dec. 24 will likely be the busiest day to travel.

Check the border wait times web page before you leave

Travellers should check the U.S. border wait times well before they leave to see current conditions. Also, best to check the official CBSA Directory of Offices and Services for a port of entry’s hours of operation.

Know your exemption limits. 

Returning residents who make purchases or pick up online purchases outside of Canada should be aware of their personal exemption limits. Use the CBSA duty and taxes estimator to help calculate your monies owed.

Have your travel documents handy. 

Whether travelling by land, air or water, you can help speed things up by coming prepared with your travel documents.

Leave gifts unwrapped. 

If travelling with gifts, make sure they are unwrapped or in gift bags in case border services officers need to inspect the contents.

Recommendations for travelling with children

When travelling with children, it is recommended that the accompanying adult have a consent letter authorizing them to travel with the child. Border services officers are always watching for missing children, and in the absence of the letter, officers may ask additional questions, to help them identify the relationship between the child and the accompanying adult. 

Bringing turkey across the border? 

Poultry products must be retail packaged, for human consumption, and labelled as a "Product of the USA". Homemade food or leftovers containing poultry cannot be brought into Canada.

Check the latest Information for travellers: Restrictions on poultry and birds from the United States before bringing these products across the border.