Traveling is like a box of chocolates- you just never know what strange and weird flavored adventure you’re gonna get.
Take last night for example. I was supposed to be on a 7:28pm United Airlines flight, headed to San Francisco to spend the holidays with family. Except I ended up not getting on because US customs at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) closes at 8:30pm. Why was I not there before then when my flight was scheduled to leave an hour before closing time? Read on.
Before leaving my house at 4:30pm (2 hours before my flight!), I noticed that the flight was delayed to 9:30pm. Thinking that like international flights, I could wait another hour and head out closer to that time, I ended up staying home.
When I finally left, I noticed the flight got delayed another hour. Again, thinking I could chill instead of waiting at the airport, I went for bubble tea with the friend who drove me. This was probably a rookie mistake, but at the time, it totally made sense in my head to go later.
I finally got to the airport at 9pm and my flight was now delayed to 11:30pm. Thinking this was annoying but not the end of the world (interestingly, I was flying out on Dec.21, too), I calmly walked up and down the check in desks looking for United. Only none of them said United.
Screens around the US departures instructed me to head to check in desks in international departures from 8:30pm-3:30am. So I went there. Nada.
Finally, I went to information and inquired about where I should check in. The girl at the desk did some phone calling and 5 minutes later, delivered shocking news:
US customs closes at 8:30pm.
Everyone goes home at that time – the customs officers, security, check in people… In a nutshell, there was no way for me to get on my flight. I had to pass customs no matter what. Which meant only one thing: try rebooking.
Cue me trying to argue that it’s ridiculous that customs closes at the airport when international flights are always open. Can I just go through international customs? Can anyone help me get on tonight? It didn’t say anywhere that US customs closes at a specific time!
I’m not kidding when I tell you it doesn’t say ANYWHERE that US customs closes at 8:30pm. The information girl checked the YVR site and confirmed that, indeed, nowhere does it say what time customs closes. Here’s the US Customs page on the YVR site: http://www.yvr.ca/en/navigating-yvr/customs-immigration/us-customs-border-protection.aspx
Do you see anything? Because I don’t. Also didn’t help that those signs at check-in said you can head somewhere else and get checked in between 8:30pm and 3:30am. In fact, Trip Advisor was the only one actually talking about the operation times for US customs – and even then they only talk about what time it opens (Trip Advisor says 5am, girl at YVR information desk said 4am. Will confirm in the AM).
KB: US Customs opens at 4am
Anyway, enough griping about this terrible lack of information and awareness on the part of YVR. Long story short, I dialled up United Airlines, waited 20 minutes to talk to someone on the phone at reservations, and a helpful guy named Alfonoso got me on the first flight out for SFO at 6am at no charge. He advised me that next time go 2 hours before your scheduled flight and ignore the delayed flight times because you never know if things will change and your flight will leave on time or earlier. In other words, never trust the airport for any kind of accurate information. Nice.
Just as I was about to get off the phone, a girl came to the info desk with the exact same problem as me, thus confirming that I’m not the only one who comes 2.5 hours before the delayed flight time. So after Alfonso and I were done, I asked him if he would mind helping her out so she wouldn’t have to wait 20 or more agonizing minutes to talk to a human being at United Airlines. Hopefully this earns me karma points and I actually get on my flight at 6am today with no problems.
So, lessons learned:
- US Customs at YVR operates between either 4 or 5am and 8:30pm everyday. (KB: It opens at 4am!)
- No matter what time your flight is delayed to, go to the airport and get through customs ASAP. If you have to wait 8 hours at the airport, instead of chilling at home or spending time with your loved ones a little bit longer, just suck it up and head to the airport.
This only applies to US flights out of Vancouver, I’m assuming, but it’s a good rule of thumb to check with your airline provider about what the best steps to take are in case of delays.
And now, I’m ready for a 3 hour power nap before I head back to YVR. More updates later!
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