Vancouver vs. Seattle: Comparing Two Airports’ Social Distancing

As my 14-day quarantine period draws to a close, I have been reflecting on my trip back to the US from Victoria. After a series of unexpected circumstances (it’s a long story), I went from thinking I was staying in Victoria to packing up the entirety of my possessions and moving out of my apartment within just four days.

Although traveling during COVID-19 was scary, I’m so happy to be home safe. I took all proper precautions during my travel, but I couldn’t help but notice how two airports, Vancouver (YVR) and Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-tac) approached social distancing requirements differently. Here are my observations:

First Impression

Vancouver: The first biggest observation I noticed when attempting to make my way to YVR was how all the taxis had 40+ minute waits, due to a lack of drivers. I instead chose to call in a favor from a friend who lived nearby and was able to drive me to the airport.

Seattle: My first impression was: Wow, there a lot more people here than in the Vancouver Airport.

Arrivals at the Vancouver ferry terminal. All photos my own.


Vancouver: The security line was completely deserted, and I noticed 5 or 6 security workers hanging out talking about someone’s ex-boyfriend while I was going through the X-ray. There were 12 baggage scanners and X-Ray stations at security, and I was the only passenger using the only line that was open. A security officer (older, male) told me I “looked prettier” without my baseball cap on. Great.

Seattle: Again, I was the only one in the line. A security officer (younger, male) asked me what instrument I was carrying. I told him it was a mandolin, and he said that was awesome. He then turned to his friend, another officer, and said, “I told you!” It was cute.

Security "line" at YVR

Security “line” at YVR


Both sets of airport officials questioned me on whether I had a fever or had done any international travel in the last 14 days. No one took my temperature. Both US and Canadian officials asked my reason for travel.


Vancouver: Everyone I saw was wearing a mask.

Seattle: 85% of the people I saw were wearing a mask.

Hand Sanitizer

Vancouver: No hand sanitizer here. Like, at all.

Seattle: There were stations of hand sanitizer everywhere! Although I had my own, it was great to see them.


Both airports had regular reminders about social distancing requirements.

blank International departure board at YVR

International departure board at YVR


Vancouver: There was absolutely no food kiosks open in the Vancouver airport. I wished I had known this ahead of time (there was a small sign at security warning of “very limited food options”, but this warning came far too late for me to prepare for that reality). I had chips from the vending machine for lunch. All drinking fountains were taped over. I get very thirsty in airports, so this annoyed me. I decided to fill up my water bottle with warm water from the bathrooms (thankfully not closed).

Seattle: There were a few food kiosks open in the Seattle Airport, which I greatly appreciated (I was starving by the time I got in). I also appreciated how they were all offering discounts for staff and airplane crew. Thankfully, their touch-less water bottle fillers were also open. 


All boutiques were closed in both airports.

General culture/social distancing

Vancouver: The entire airport was essentially deserted, but I did see several passengers in full-body PPE, shoe covers, and medical grade masks. This honestly angered me, as I couldn’t help but think of the healthcare workers who would have loved to have that kind of protection on the front lines. With no passenger within 50 feet of anyone else in the terminal, one would have been more in danger of catching COVID-19 at the grocery store.

Seattle: People were definitely more lenient about social distancing here. I even saw two flight attendants engage in a (hesitant) hug, although they quickly broke away. I saw many people wearing masks, (all employees and flight crew were in masks) although some were not. 

Busyness of the airport

Vancouver: The most deserted airport I’ve ever seen. I saw maybe 25 other people in the entire place, and that was going through the entrance, security, and finding my gate.

Seattle: Seattle-Tacoma is one of the busiest airports in the United States, so it was expected that there would be more people. Still, it was noticeably more empty than usual.


Relaxing at the main terminal and watching the (few) planes at Sea-Tac

Airplane protocol

Vancouver: Everyone on the flight from YVR to Seattle had to wear a mask on board. There were only 8 passengers in a plane with 70+ seats. Flight attendants came around with hand sanitizer. As it was a short flight, there was no food or beverage service. The captain asked passengers not to travel anymore.

Seattle: The flight from Seattle to Anchorage was fuller. The middle seats were left empty, and masks were recommended at the time, but not required (this has since changed). There was a water service. The captain asked passengers to only undertake essential travel.

Although each airport was practicing social distancing, I noticed that each airport did things a little differently. Seattle-Tacoma has almost double the yearly passenger capacity of YVR (Sea-Tac services almost 50 million passengers a year, while VYR transported 26.3 million passengers last year), and since the two airports are under two different country’s laws and regulations, it’s hard to say which did social distancing “better.”

The Vancouver Airport was more “shut down” than Seattle-Tacoma, (which makes sense, because it’s a smaller airport) and it was great that everyone was wearing a mask. Seattle-Tacoma got points for actually having food and drinking water, and for the hand sanitizer at literally every turn.

In the end, both airports did some things well, and failed on other counts (no food/water and civilians wearing medical-grade PPE in YVR, not enough social distancing/mask use in Seattle). All in all, it was fascinating to see the differences between the two, and I’m glad that I’m home safe and don’t have to travel anymore in the near future. I look forward to the distant day after this is all over, when I can walk through an airport, mask-and-worry-free.

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4 Responses

  1. Jess says:

    Interesting how the author thinks “civilians wearing medical-grade PPE in YVR” is a failure on the airport’s part.

    • Megan says:

      The comment was under the section of general culture at the airport, which would include how people in are acting in the airports. Didn’t come across to me like the author was counting that as a “failure” on the airport’s part, just a general observation.

  2. Trisha Lynn says:

    One thing which I think the author needs to consider regarding the general culture at the YVR airport is that the people traveling and also wearing full PPE could be immunocompromised and/or going to care for those who are immunocompromised.

    Until they tell you, you really never know what someone else’s story is.

  3. James says:

    Noticed that you left in the evening but mornings are more busy than when you flew out

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