Tap into flight attendant tips

Air travellers rely on flight attendants for all sorts of things: meals, drinks, blankets, and, if you’re nice, the occasional extra bag of pretzels. What most passengers fail to realize, however, is that flight attendants can provide you with something else—information. They’re ideal sources of travel tips since they regularly make short visits to various cities and know how to maximize their time.

While people occasionally ask flight attendants for hotel or restaurant recommendations, flight attendants mostly field travel queries from each other. “We’re sort of a network,” says Noelle Reimer, a Chicago-based United Airlines flight attendant, in a phone interview. “We use ourselves as a resource to find out good places to go, what places give crew discounts. Sometimes we have hole-in-the-wall places that we find, and they become a crew favourite.”

Many flight attendants keep notebooks of information about the cities they visit. Some airlines have set up restricted Web sites where staff can post travel information. For instance, Reimer regularly checks Jumpseatnews.com, the Web site for United’s flight crew.

At least one airline has decided to share all this insider information with the public. Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) produces Crew Guide (www.crewguide.net/), a guidebook that features sightseeing, dining, and hotel recommendations from SAS flight crews and staff from other airlines in the Star Alliance network, which includes Air Canada.

A quick look through the 2008 edition of Crew Guide provides some insight into how flight attendants spend their layovers in Vancouver. Not surprisingly, the book focuses heavily on food and drink. Among the favourite spots for postflight meals are Glowbal Grill and Satay Bar (1079 Mainland Street), Relish (888 Nelson Street), and the Sandbar (1535 Johnston Street, Granville Island).

Reimer says that Granville Island and Stanley Park are popular during layovers because visiting these places gives cabin crews a chance to spend time outdoors after being cooped up for hours in a flying metal tube. For those looking to go a little farther afield, Crew Guide recommends using Spokes Bicycle Rental (1798 West Georgia Street) to venture out on two wheels, or West Vancouver’s Canadian Outback Adventures (100–657 Marine Drive, West Vancouver) to organize a short white-water rafting excursion or a trip to Squamish to view bald eagles.

According to Crew Guide, when they’re looking for adventure of a different sort, some flight attendants head out to Yaletown nightspots like Glowbal or Goldfish Pacific Kitchen (1118 Mainland Street), while others prefer to stay in the hotel lounge.

Although crews try to make the most of their time in Vancouver, the reality is that they spend a lot of it at the airport. Not surprisingly, they are often fonts of information on how best to deal with the bustle of YVR.

Vancouver International Airport generally rates highly with flight attendants due to its amenities—including dry cleaners, day spas, and some surprisingly good restaurants. “If you talk to flight attendants across Canada, Vancouver is everyone’s favourite airport for food,” says Danielle Piccirilli, a Vancouver-based Air Canada flight attendant. “There are tons of choices, and you can eat healthy.”

Piccirilli recommends grabbing one of the large, hearty salads at Flying Wedge Pizza or drinking a fruit smoothie from the Sunshine Coast Juice Company before heading through security.

Vancouver’s airport, much like the city itself, has a reputation for having excellent Japanese food. “Whenever we’re in town, all we do is eat sushi because it’s so much cheaper and better than anywhere else in Canada,” says Loreen Li, a Toronto-based flight attendant for Air Canada. “Actually, one of the best places is Hanami in the airport. It has some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.” Located after security on Level 3 of International Departures, Hanami is hugely popular with flight staff, who love its rotating sushi bar, teriyaki, tempura, udon, and yakisoba.

Those wanting to do a little shopping before flying out of YVR’s international terminal can head to Mango, a Spanish fashion giant that sells trendy yet affordable women’s clothing and accessories. The chain has stores in more than 80 countries, and Western Canada’s only location is past security at the airport.

For a quick drink before the flight, the best option is Globe@YVR, located in the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel. Some like to watch their loved one’s flight take off, and this posh lounge offers the only vantage point in the airport from which to do so. The Fairmont also offers a full gym and a swimming pool for those wanting to get in a quick workout before a flight. While usually reserved for hotel guests, the hotel offers a $15 day rate, which gives you full access to its fitness centre, Jacuzzi, sauna, and showers.

Passengers looking for a little pick-me-up before or after a flight can visit one of the five Absolute Spa locations pre- and post-security, which offer manicures, pedicures, and massages. Some cabin crew members who want to stay refreshed during the flight use ArriveRevived Jet Lag & Travel Mist, a spray produced by Vancouver-based Saje Natural Wellness that consists of essential oils and herbs designed to increase alertness and boost the immune system.

Reimer suggests a cheaper way to freshen up following a flight. After spending hours in a plane full of recycled air, your first urge may be to get out of the airport as quickly as possible. But Reimer recommends taking time to admire the waterfall in YVR’s international arrivals terminal. The cascading water can prove remarkably refreshing, almost like a form of hydrotherapy. Take a deep breath and soak it all in.

That’s good advice no matter where you’re travelling.