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.

San francisco flight times

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.

The YVR/SFO disaster

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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3 Comments

  1. Kurtis
    Posted December 22, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    Curious. Can you expand on the “Nada” here?

    “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.”

    You would think, logically, that if US customs were closed early (the 8:30 thing), they’d be able to process you elsewhere, which seems to be what was offered. So you went there and they said, “No, that sign is wrong!” or what? It just all seems TOO CRAZY!!

    • Karra
      Posted December 28, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

      Hey Kurtis,

      When I mean “Nada”, I really do mean Nada. The flights that were being checked-in were all international ones. Nothing for the US and no United flights at all. The girl at the information desk called around and spoke to different people. The consensus was basically that US customs was closed, everyone who could process me was gone, and I had no choice but to board the first flight out at 6am. I definitely complained about the lack of information and misinformation, but just got a “shrug and smile” kind of response.

  2. sheryl
    Posted March 1, 2015 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Thanks very helpful than united website or yvr site

2 Trackbacks

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    […] been exactly 3 weeks since the US Customs Fiasco and exactly 2 weeks since I e-mailed YVR about the issue. I fully didn’t expect to hear back […]