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BC Float Plane Adventures: Vancouver to Victoria

A flight by float plane is not simply a mode of transportation; it's an experience that adds a dash of thrill to a more ordinary act of travelling. As I planned my quick getaway to celebrate my birthday, I opted for a unique adventure: a float plane trip from Vancouver's South Airport to Victoria BC Harbour. The charm of float plane travel, particularly with Harbour Air, promised convenience, reasonable rates and spectacular views of the stunning Gulf Islands.


A float plane docked beside a wharf on a river. Logo on plane is "Harbour Air"
Ready for Take-off

My Victoria getaway plans had me staying in the downtown area so I knew I could walk or take public transportation anywhere I wanted to go. This getaway was going to be a pampered break rather than one of my van life explorations. Once I calculated ferry, petrol, and city parking costs, taking a float plane was only about 20% more... an amount I felt was worth it for the experience. In years past, I took private flying lessons and learned to love flying in small planes. I like the intimacy with the landscape, recognizing places along the way, and the bobbing motion of the plane moving along the air currents. I had last flown in a float plane more than 25 years ago. It was time to treat myself. I hope you'll consider doing the same.


Float Plane Basics

Float planes are aircraft equipped with pontoons or floats, allowing them to take off and land on water. They are commonly used in areas with many lakes or water bodies. The coast of British Columbia is served by small regional float plane operators, most of which have their base in Vancouver Harbour or at the South Terminal of the main airport, YVR. The major Canadian operators include Harbour Air and Seair Seaplanes which also offer scenic flights in addition to their regular routes. Kenmore Air, an American operation based in Seattle, also offers float plane routes in British Columbia. For flights to more northern locations, Wilderness Seaplanes offers routes into more remote areas.


a grey  wooden building with a control tower built on stilts above the river. An enclosd balcony of a pub is on the left side.
YVR South Float Plane Terminal & Flying Beaver Pub

British Columbia attracts many visitors who are eager to explore our stunning coastlines. Regular readers who follow my BC road trips know that travelling to more remote areas can be a challenge with few public transportation options available. Many will choose to rent a vehicle but float planes are a unique option that is worth considering, even if only for a single leg of your BC Adventure.

What to Expect In-Flight

Float planes are small aircraft, generally about 12 - 24 passengers. As with any small plane, passengers will feel more movement during flight. Expect landings and take-offs to be bumpier. Weather conditions are more likely to cause flight delays as high winds and waves can create challenging conditions. The flight path is closer to the surface, so you are almost guaranteed to enjoy the views -- you might even be lucky enough to spot a pod of our resident orcas in the water below.

an aerial view of a line of small tree covered, rocky islands
The splendid views, even on a dreary day

The basic luggage allowance is small (12 lbs) and includes everything you carry including handbags and backpacks (yes, they weigh everything!). Some rates include a larger luggage allowance so check how much you will need before finalizing your booking. Flights will cost more than a ferry crossing but water airports are usually located right in the harbour of the community you choose to visit, saving transfers from land airports or ferry terminals.

a view along the wharf with 2 float planes at dock. The far plane has 3 crew members waiting to load passengers. Several passengers are walking ahead
Boarding time

The big saving is time. The flight from Vancouver Harbour to Victoria Harbour is about 30 minutes, compared to 1.5 hours on the ferry not including travel time to and from the ferry terminal. This makes a day trip to Victoria much more feasible for travellers on a tight schedule.

a view into the cockpit of the plane with the pilot on the left and a passenger on the right
One lucky passenger gets to sit beside the pilot!

Check-in is quick and efficient, requiring you to arrive about 40 minutes before take-off. Upon arriving at the South Terminal for my morning flight, free coffee and muffins were available in the waiting area. I received a parking pass which allowed 5 days of free parking -- always a bonus!


Harbour Air: Float Plane Vancouver to Victoria BC

Harbour Air offers flights from Vancouver Harbour or YVR. Since I live closer to the airport, it made sense for me to take the flight from the YVR South Terminal. For visitors, there is a shuttle connecting the main airport terminal to the South Terminal. Flights from Vancouver's Coal Harbour are 5 minutes longer. I was heading to the capital, Victoria, but other popular destinations include Nanaimo, Sechelt, Salt Spring Island, and Whistler.

a map showing the flight routes offerred by Harbour Air
Harbour Air Route Map credit: Harbour Air

As the largest operator, Harbour Air offers several flights daily throughout the year, check their schedule here. The plane was a 12-passenger DeHavilland Otter and was about 1/2 full. There is no assigned seating, simply choose which side of the plane you want to look out and settle in. Passengers secure seatbelts and flotation belts as all luggage is stowed safely for the flight.

Take off along the Fraser River

After boarding and receiving safety instructions, the pilot steered into the river and we were off! The day, unfortunately, was dreary and I didn't expect much from the views. As it turned out, I had wonderful views looking down on the Salish Sea, looking for whales or dolphins (none spotted but I did see plenty of sea lions resting on rocky shores) and flying over the Gulf Islands. My return flight was less dreary but a flight on a clear sunny day would be even more spectacular.

Sea Lions at the 6-second mark

Final Thoughts

Float plane travel is far more than a means of reaching a destination; it's an adventure that creates lasting memories. The ability to access remote destinations while being treated to breathtaking aerial views, the charm of seaside takeoffs and landings, and the convenience of water airports in 'downtown' areas, make this unique form of transportation an adventure.


Harbour Air, in particular, weaves these elements into a seamless journey. The frequency of flights, the network of destinations, travel time savings, and the convenience of booking options make it an attractive choice for those seeking both efficiency and adventure.


Landing in Victoria's Inner Harbour


For travellers looking for a way to fit in a day trip to Victoria, those looking to visit a more remote coastal community, or those who just want to experience a different form of transportation will find float planes will check all the boxes. Road trippers might want to consider flying over to the island and renting a vehicle once you arrive. Make sure to check out my BC road trip itineraries that can take you from Victoria to Port Hardy at the northern tip of Vancouver Island.


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11 Comments


Guest
Feb 29

I have to confess that I'm now a little jealous :) it's one of my dreams to take a flight on a float plane! It is without a doubt a spectacular way to travel around Canada.

Based on the videos and images, even with the mild weather, I believe it was an incredible experience, more so due to the landing and take-off, of course. Angela | Blonde Around The World Travel -

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I've always wanted to go in a float plane! I've never done it but I feel like BC would be a great place to do it with all the beautiful views! It'd also be fascinating to see the pilot in action in real time. So cool

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I've never been in a float plane or such a small aircraft. It looks wonderful and being able to see the land below and all its attractions at close distance would be thrilling for me.

My dream would be to be able to sit up with the pilot and see his view and how he operates the aircraft as well!

My friends live in Victoria and I would fly into Vancouver from The UK. I never knew there was a airlink between the two places so will be looking this up for when I go to see them.

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Replying to

I found out that the co-pilot seat is "first dibs" during boarding, so when you do try it out just ask the pilot.

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Guest
Feb 10

This is such a cool way of transportation in Canada, which - I have now learnt from being an avid reader of your blog - is not as well connected with infrastructure as in Europe. You mentioned the costs are a bit more than the ferry, but I take it since it is a frequent service and used also by locals it is still affordable? Shame there was a drizzle on your flight day but I can imagine it was still an atmospheric and exciting adventure.


Carolin | <a href="https://solotravelstory.com/">Solo Travel Story</a>

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I love taking the float planes. I've taken them a few times for quick getaways to Victoria but never really anywhere else. I usually do public transport to the ferry. Between the ferry and the busses either side it's around 4 hours end to end from downtown Vancouver, so 35 minutes on a plane with an awesome view is way better. But I didn't think about the driving and car fares on the ferry which are very high. I also didn't know about the free parking at YVR South so thanks for the tip

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Replying to

As much as I enjoy the ferry ride, the float plane trip is quick and easy so if I don't need wheels it just makes sense to fly. To get the free parking, just ask for a pass at the Harbour Air counter when you check in.

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