Up in the air: flying standby to Vancouver

Happy birthday to me! I turned 20 on Monday and spent my birthday weekend with my family down in the US. The plan was for me to head to Richmond to meet with my family there then drive down to Olympia to spend the weekend there.

Since I’m up at 6am to work at the base in Esquimalt (and because I don’t drive), I thought it was the perfect excuse for me to fly out to Vancouver after work! I haven’t seen many first-time-flying-out-to-Vancouver blog posts, so I thought why not add to the MyUVic Life record if you’re ever in the same situation as me and flying out to Vancouver on standby!

T-1 week: finding out when I could fly out

So you might be thinking at this stage – “why fly standby if you could just… y’know… book your flight?” Good question! Harbour Air, which flies between Victoria Harbour in downtown Victoria to YVR’s Airport South in Richmond or Vancouver Harbour in downtown Vancouver, offers a special student standby rate: if you just show up and show your proof of enrollment, you can get 50% off your flight! I had never flown Harbour Air before, so I checked to see when I would be able to fly and how much it would cost me. At the time of writing, a Victoria to Richmond flight would cost me only $90!

Vancouver, Victoria, Tofino, Nanaimo, Seattle, and Sechelt: all of the best that the PNW has to offer!

Sidenote: yes, it would definitely be cheaper to take the ferry to Tsawwassen then take the bus to Richmond – but you’re really paying for the convenience. I could take the bus to Swartz Bay then hop on a ferry and then take a bus to Richmond and save $50, or I could pay that $50 and save about 3 hours of my time. Plus, it was my birthday so why not?

T-1 day: finding out my chances of flying out

On the Harbour Air website, you’re recommended to give them a call to see what the chances are of snagging a standby seat. I gave them a call last night and was told that there would be two seats remaining on the 4:20pm flight to Richmond and six on the 6:20 flight.

The thing about flying standby is that it requires a lot of flexibility and preparation for if you don’t get a spot on the flight because even in that one day, those two or six seats could be snagged up by someone who would be willing to pay full price for them (prepare for an unfortunate foreshadowing).

T-3 hours: putting myself on the standby list

Friday comes and I leave work (with my duffel bag with clothes already packed) and head straight to downtown to get my name on the standby list. At the time of writing, it’s still required to wear a mask and be fully vaccinated to fly to or in Canada, so I showed a copy of my vaccination card and enrollment at UVic.

You don’t actually need to show up three hours early to be on standby, you actually only need to show up up to 30 minutes before the flight, but I had time to kill and I didn’t know if other people would want to fly standby as well, so I came and put my name on the list and chilled out around downtown before I showed up at that 30 minute mark.

I was told that there was one more seat left on the 4:20 flight to Richmond, and when I asked what my chances would be getting on the flight, no one had an answer for me. It really is all up in the air (pun definitely intended) up until boarding time.

I can always hear the “whoooooosh” of the seaplanes from my co-op office, so it was awesome to see it from the air!

T-10 minutes: getting comfy amongst the tension

Man, were those three hours ever nerve-wracking! I felt like if I didn’t get that standby spot, I would have wasted all that time waiting, so I was determined to get a spot on this plane no matter what. After walking around downtown for a bit, I returned back to the terminal and waited…

and waited…

and waited…

and waited…

Only for them to tell me I didn’t get a spot.

T-0 minutes: well, what now?

It was 4:20, and with the plane that I was supposed to be on leaving without me, I now had three options:

  1. Wait for the 6:20 flight to Richmond (but have to wait another two hours and get into Richmond at 7pm)
  2. Start booking it to the ferry (but be very tired and grumpy)
  3. Put my name on the list for the 5:00 flight to Vancouver Harbour (but have to take the train down to Richmond afterwards)

I ended up taking the third option on the list because it would get me to Richmond the fastest at around 6pm. It did end up being a bit more expensive (I was told it was due to the fees that the Port of Vancouver charges for Harbour Air to use the space) but I did end up on that flight!

T+40 minutes: up, up, and away!

40 minutes after I expected to be in the air, I was finally on the water and Richmond Vancouver bound!

I’ve heard many stories of how the seaplane trumps taking the ferry and I never really believed them (mainly due to the price difference), but if you want to treat yourself a little bit and have the flexibility of flying out from downtown at a moment’s notice, taking the plane is definitely an experience I would recommend.

Flying into Downtown Vancouver really made me feel like I was in a movie!


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