Airport passengers frustrated but complying with new testing, quarantine requirements, says YVR

·2 min read
Travellers are pictured outside International arrivals at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Travellers are pictured outside International arrivals at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, British Columbia on Thursday, Dec. 31, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Just days after implementing new federal pandemic testing and quarantine rules , Vancouver International Airport (YVR) is reporting passenger frustration but also compliance.

"People are, of course, not happy with the quarantine rules but [have] been doing their best to understand them and comply with them in co-operation with the government," said YVR's president and CEO Tamara Vrooman.

Speaking with Stephen Quinn, the host of CBC's The Early Edition, Vrooman admitted some passengers are facing long waits upon arrival for quick COVID-19 tests.

The new federal program to quarantine arriving international visitors for three days is also creating delays.

"We are hearing that the public health agency is doing its best to accommodate people when they arrive," Vrooman said.

Vancouver International Airport is now just one of four Canadian airports accepting international flights. Vrooman says air travel has dropped drastically since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago.

"We welcomed 5,330 passengers through our airport yesterday. And that may sound like a lot until you realize that 365 days earlier, we welcomed 56,052, down over 90 percent.

"And the vast majority of the traffic that we're seeing now is domestic with people going, you know, up north to and from essential work, traveling for medical reasons or for family reasons."

The loss of traffic has impacted the non-profit organization's finances. YVR is entering 2021 with the single largest operating deficit and debt burden in the airport's history.

Vrooman, the former CEO of Vancity Credit Union, insists YVR's books are sound.

"We have worked with our bondholders to get the financing that we need for the next three years to ensure that we can operate regardless of the traffic volume we have."

Passengers arrive through international arrivals at Vancouver’s international airport (YVR) in Richmond, British Columbia on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.
Passengers arrive through international arrivals at Vancouver’s international airport (YVR) in Richmond, British Columbia on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020.

The pandemic has forced YVR to adapt its strategic plan and undertake a one-year review of operations.

In a new report, the airport says it will invest in new online digital and data technology and procedures for passenger check-ins.

"We've been trying to get people to get rid of their paper boarding passes for forever. Well now, we see people coming to the airport not wanting to touch a piece of paper and quite happy to do things digitally and log in," said Vrooman, "It allows us to serve them better by giving them better information, and it's more efficient."

Last September, YVR halted a $525 million capital expansion, including a new parkade, transportation hub, utilities building and a $350-million geothermal heating system.

The airport completed the $300 million "Pier D" expansion of its international terminal last week.

The new terminal expansion features eight new gates, a glassed-in island forest with access to the outdoors, an immersive digital experience and a yoga, prayer and quiet room.