Updated: Nov 13, 2020
One of the best airports in North America, it's true. Has a few egregious gaps.
Current Grade: B. I'm here a lot so I've broken it down by terminal below.
International Arrivals (AirCanada, WestJet, Delta, Cathay Pacific, and others)
Current Grade: A (February 2020)
Vancouver has a modern sliding doors system and an elevated walkway to guide passengers to domestic arrivals or to customs. The upper walkway has local art and nature celebrating the area and the indigenous culture. It's quiet and peaceful. Once I heard Russell Brand make fun of it, which is warranted. It was all redone for the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler winter Olympics.
Customs is easy, and you walk right out to the cab line or the light rail into the city. Personal recommendation: take the Translink train from the airport to the Yaletown-Roundhouse stop and stay at the Opus Hotel, it's literally across the street and the whole situation is a quarter the price of a cab and about the same travel time (40 minutes). I've gotten from LANDING on the tarmac to my hotel BED in less than 90 minutes. Multiple times. This isn't sponcon but I wish it was. (Shouts out, Opus.)
YVR Arrivals - occasionally a long wait, but generally easy and swift
US Departures (AirCanada, WestJet, Delta, and others)
Current Grade: B (February 2020)
Vancouver has one fabulous luxury… US Customs & Border Protection. So you go through customs before getting on your flight, and then it's a domestic arrival when you get to your US destination. This is great. It's also great because the process is pretty efficient with security and customs. Even better if you have Nexus/Global Entry, although worth noting that there are a lot of Nexus members here so the lines are much shorter but don't have as much comparative advantage as other airports.
There are a few dark spots, foggy areas, design & operations mistakes here though.
First, if you're going somewhere on the west coast and you have a gate in the E90s, you're effed for amenities. There's an off-brand café and a couple vending machines, it's super lame.
Second, not ALL US flights go through this terminal because it's not always open. Most redeyes (like the Cathay Pacific one to JFK) go through the general international terminal. The communication about this is not great. Once I sprinted between the terminals for a borderline-timing evening flight. The communication about what's happening once you're through security isn't great either -- they have a system for international flights where you have to stay out behind glass until they process passengers coming off the plane, and then they'll let you in to board. It's no big deal but they don't really tell you about it and I've watched many a person FREAK OUT that they couldn't get to their plane as boarding time is approaching and there's flurry of activity by the gate.
February 2020 - Terminal updates? Plus gripes for those aspiring to be hydrated/caffeinated.
In the morning, it's an A (none of that terminal confusion)
Domestic Departures (AirCanada, WestJet, Delta, and others)
Current Grade: A- (March 2020... I know)
If I lived in Vancouver and traveled in Canada often, this would be generally wonderful. It's easy, efficient, clean and new, bathrooms are reliably pleasant. My only beef is that 1 time out of 10 security will take FOREVER. (They have begun upgrading to the two-level bin security system which is a welcome upgrade but the standard deviation of security time is too high for me to feel anxiety-free. But there are worse places to be fear-based-a-little-too-early stuck in).
Usually easy, occasionally a headache.
Average Grade: B+