Connecting Asia with the Energy of the New West
Calgary's combination of mountain tourism appeal, its energy and agricultural industries, and its concentration of corporate headquarters give good reasons for Asian business and leisure travelers to come to Alberta, and for local traders and investors to make their way west across the Pacific.
But also as long as there has been a Calgary, there has been a Chinese emigre community in Calgary - over 100 years. The Canadian Pacific steamship and rail lines were key to the Asian settlements in Vancouver, and Calgary's position as the next major city east on the C.P.R. also made it a natural place to build new lives. In the current era, Calgary is home to immigrants and students from throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Canada's openness to global trade and immigration - and savvy negotiation of air services treaties - has helped the country become a vital node to the world's economy, so it is not surprising to see Alberta gain Transpacific airline links.
Air Canada launched Calgary-Tokyo flights in 2010 with a three-per-week schedule, but thanks to strong demand the frequency was upgraded to daily status in 2012, where it has remained. The late-morning arrival from Tokyo, and early-afternoon departure from YYC, allow ample time for connections with airports in the Prairie provinces. Flights AC 009 / 010 operate with a Boeing 767-300, which has a comfortable and family-friendly 2-3-2 seat arrangement in Economy.
Hainan Airlines launched flights from Beijing to Calgary in June 2016. These services run three days per week (every other day) and arrive YYC about 1 pm; departing about 3 pm. The Boeing 787 is used on this route, with a tighter 3-3-3 arrangement in Economy.
Calgary is a hub for both Air Canada and WestJet (who is also headquartered there). Both carriers operate competitive networks to all the major Canadian cities and regional centers, using a mix of jet and prop equipment. WestJet is the largest carrier at YYC, offering about 50% more seats than Air Canada; however they do not fly to Asia at this time.
YYC also connects with smaller airports in Alberta, the Yukon, Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, and British Columbia with several independent commuter carriers.
After deplaning from an international flight, passengers are routed down to ground level and directed toward the International Terminal. Passengers ticketed for onward domestic flights should look for signage to direct them to the "Connections Centre", because depending on the inbound flight and airline, you may be permitted to go directly to your onward flight without having to reclaim baggage or undergo further screening (check with your airline for details).
All other passengers are shunted to the passport control counters and then baggage claim, before exiting to the landslide zone. YYC does offer Automated Border Clearance terminals which may speed the process for families who've signed up.
A reviewer on sleepinginairports.net stated, "humongous, well-staffed customs areas make passing the border a breeze." Depending on how many other flights are arriving, wait times for passport check should run 10-20 minutes.
Navigating the airport
YYC has a domestic terminal with three concourses: A, B, and C. Concourse A is primarily the gates for WestJet, and the smaller independent carriers. B is split between WestJet and Air Canada, with C dedicated to Air Canada. The A and B gates radiate out of a central security checkpoint, but there is a narrow secure hallway between B and C, and C and D/E.
The International D and US-bound E gates sit on top of each other, and are shared across all carriers. The airlines share all these gates, and the assignments change from day to day. You might not know which particular gate your flight is leaving from until the aircraft actually arrives, so the airport would prefer you sit in the concourse's central waiting area (and shop and eat) instead of going directly to the gate. This means you'll need to watch the departure monitors frequently and listen intently for announcements while you're trying to watch your kids.
The International terminal is a 5-10 minute walk from the close end of the Domestic Terminal via an enclosed walkway, on both the ticketing and baggage claim levels in the pre-security area, and also via moving sidewalk inside the secure zone. If you have through-ticketing from a connecting domestic flight onto your international departure, you won't need to leave the secure zone to check in at the ticket counters; just proceed directly to the D concourse.
Inside the secure zone, there are also "YYC LINK" 10-passenger mini buses that stop at all the concourses, even the International wing. From one side of the airport to the other takes just 5 minutes by this method.
Family-friendly amenities and hidden gems
There are two kids' play zones in the secure area for International (non-US) departures:
- Gate D80 with a Calgary Stampede theme
- Gate D72 with an aviation theme
There are also two play zones in the US departures gate area, and three in the public (non-secured) parts of the airport. Plus, YYC has placed smaller climbing and play structures throughout the domestic gate areas.
Flippers Arcade is an old-fashioned video game lounge on Concourse A; teach your kids how it was done back before we had the Internet and touchscreen phones!
The Calgary International SpacePort, at the food court mezzanine level between concourses B and C, (outside security) is a free attraction with flight simulators, real moon rocks, and a big model of the Space Shuttle! It's open 9 am - 9 pm weekdays, and 9 am - 5 pm on weekends.
Artwork in a wide variety of media have been placed throughout the airport, from tiny brass fossils in the flooring to giant sculptures in the arrivals hall; unique displays in domestic baggage claim, and even giant cartoony conifers in the International gates.
Baby care and private nursing rooms are available next to all the restrooms in the secure side of the International terminal, plus two on domestic concourse A and one on concourse C.
As the International gates were opened in 2016, the restrooms for the D gates are all still quite new and designed with current accessibility standards. Standard restrooms have conventional-sized stalls. For both International and Domestic restroom locations, larger-sized units with locking doors are available for families.
Food and Shopping
Once through security and into the International departures area (Concourse D), you'll have to walk right through the Duty Free Shopping zone. As these are generally luxury items, alcohol, perfume, and the like that you won't be able to consume or use right away, walk right through into the central waiting area. Of interest to families are two candy shops, two newsstand / convenience stores, and the toy shop "Who's Who in the Zoo?," specializing in animals and aviation.
In the central area of Concourse D there are also three sit-down restaurants, Thai and Indian food counters, several fast-food locations, and a Starbucks.
Back in the domestic secure zone, Concourse A definitely has the most options for fast and fresh food; Concourses B and C have basically Tim Horton's, Starbucks, and Jugo Juice outposts. If you have a lot of time between international and domestic flights, and don't mind going through security again, a meal in the big food court in the landside area between concourses B and C will give far more options.
In the same vein, family-interest shopping options are rather scarce on Concourse B and minimal on Concourse C (although there is a "Who's Who in the Zoo" mini location there.) Most of the shopping variety will be found on Concourse A, including another outpost of the "Who's Who" toy shop.
YYC is linked to downtown / City Hall with BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) service on route 300. The fare is C$10.50, and it makes 12 intermediate stops. Route 100 is a local bus connecting the airport to the city's northeastern neighborhoods. Route 100 does connect to the CTrain Blue Line for access to the western side of the city via downtown, but there's no speed advantage versus connecting onto Route 300 in downtown.
There are plans to extend the Blue Line to the airport, and recent road construction has reserved space to handle the light rail line, but no timetable has been yet set.
Wi-Fi is free and fast throughout the airport.
For families driving in from more than a few hours' distance, an overnight stay either before or after the trip may make sense to get used to the time change, deal with weather, or just to recharge after the stress of long-distance flying.
There are two full-service hotels directly attached to YYC:
- Marriott Hotel Calgary Airport
- Delta Hotels Calgary Airport
And there are several hotels just off-property with convenient shuttle service, including:
- Homewood Suites Calgary Airport
- Hampton Inn Calgary Airport North
- Radisson Hotel Calgary Airport North
- Best Western Premier Freeport Inn & Suites
- Candlewood Suites Calgary Airport North
- Holiday Inn Express & Suites Airport - Calgary