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YVR international arrivals yet to return to pre-pandemic levels

Overall passenger volume in October and November was above monthly totals in 2019
Signs help drivers navigate roads around Vancouver International Airport | Rob Kruyt

While overall passenger volume at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) has recently exceeded pre-pandemic levels, international-arrival travel remains below what it was in 2019, according to new data. 

Statistics Canada today released data for December that shows 425,117 international-arrival passengers passed through YVR, down more than 6.8 per cent from the 456,345 such visitors who did the same thing in December 2019.

Unlike in December 2019, when YVR was the second-busiest airport in Canada for international-arrival passengers, in December 2023 YVR was the third-busiest Canadian airport for such travel, about 10 per cent behind the Montreal-Trudeau International Airport, which saw 472,123 international-arrival passengers. 

Montreal-Trudeau International Airport's international-arrival passenger volume is up by more than 12 per cent, compared with the 420,828 such passengers that it saw in December 2019. 

This data includes Canadians returning from abroad, as well as visitors entering Canada from around the world.

YVR's foreign-visitor arrivals in December were dominated by Mexicans (22,407) and Australians (21,076). There is then a drop-off by more than half to 9,401 people from the U.K., 7,776 people from mainland China and 5,908 people from Hong Kong. 

The Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA) compiles its own data, which includes departures as well as arrivals, and also includes people on domestic flights. It this week posted data for November that showed the airport's monthly passenger count surpassed the equivalent month in 2019 for the second consecutive time, after finally reaching that achievement in October

There were 1,886,936 passengers who passed through YVR in November, according to the VAA – nearly half of one per cent more than the 1,878,207 passengers who did that in November 2019. 

VAA CEO Tamara Vrooman in December projected that her airport would see approximately two million passengers pass through its gates last month. That would be a dip in traffic, compared with 2,155,151 passengers who passed through YVR airport gates in December 2019.

The VAA said this week that in the week of Jan. 8 through Jan. 14, it expects 432,495 passengers to arrive or depart flights at YVR. That is down about 2.2 per cent from the 442,373 people who arrived or departed flights at the airport in the same week in 2019. 

August is traditionally the airport's busiest month.

Comparisons to 2019 are a good barometer because of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Governments around the world in March 2020 urged residents to avoid international travel and then virtually sealed borders to limit COVID-19 from spreading. Canada closed its border to most foreign nationals on March 18, 2020.

Canada then started welcoming foreign visitors in increments, starting with fully vaccinated Americans in 2021. Measures such as requiring negative COVID-19 tests, and using the clunky-for-some ArriveCan app continued. 

It was not until Oct. 1, 2022 that Canada ended all COVID-19-era precautions for international travellers. Visitors could finally visit without needing to quarantine, or wear masks, or even be vaccinated.

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