Going the Canadian Way: To Chicago with Air Canada
LHR-YYZ-ORD-YYZ-LHR with Air Canada
My previous trip reports can be found here.
So once again, and a bit later than normal this year, it’s time to head off to the Windy City, and it seems every month this year so far, I’ve had one trip. Which is nice. However life in the back continues – that means all the usual things you’re accustomed to should appear. In other words, bad commentary, economy food, economy seats and of course – GhettoIFE systems… or lack of thereafter…
However this time it’s something slightly different as I’m travelling a different airline to my normal Chicago Trip. Which is nice.
Going the Canadian Way (Yup Buddy, it’s the introduction)
As I type this, this will be the 10th trip to Chicago in a matter of 5 years with me actually stopping in the city more than 10 minutes. Which means I’m getting used to the place still. And during that time I’ve had some great experiences in the air… and some downright godawful ones (most of which are documented amazingly from 2007).
As it’s the Spring, tradition says I go “East” on the way home and do an East Coast Trip, rather than my traditional “West Coast” Autumn trip.
Originally, I was set to book a lovely run through the East coast via EWR as I tend to do for this run, however, my trip with home from Vancouver with Continental has soured my thoughts with the airline.
Considering I’ve also been through Washington Dulles once too often recently (I’m considering twice in a year too often – as much as I love the dilapidated Bus station know as the A Gates and the “one day we might replace them” C and D Concourses, Dulles isn’t the hottest place on the planet even though there are branches of “Five Guys” there).
And of course, just taking the direct route to Chicago and back is boring (I’m not even discussing US Airways. Regular viewers will understand why).
So my eyes turn to the neighbour from the North, and what they can offer. And thankfully as everyone is in a Joint Venture, prices are pretty uniform. I’ll freely admit that I was holding off buying this ticket until the Vancouver run to make a decision, and I want to give Air Canada a second shot – least of all I want to see how they perform on a shorter leg, but to see if the service they delivered can be repeated many times over.
For this trip, I used Opodo to book the ticket as there was a lovely £35 off voucher. By the time you took the fight and Amex fee off, that turns into £25 off. But it still money in my pocket rather than in someone else’s. Also by using the multi-city feature, I was able to force the booking engine to cough up a long stopover in Canada (10 hours or so).
Thus, it’s a competitively simple LHR-YYZ-ORD and back. By my standards – this is a simple trip, routing through one airport and taking the same route back all one carrier. Mad eh?
Map Generated by the Great Circle Mapper – www.gcmap.com
So a few new firsts for me – going through Toronto and flying Boeing 777-300ER’s (which I’m still amazed I managed to avoid for so long). Of course, for the ORD
YYZ legs, Air Canada prefer to use Regional Jets, but thankfully, they prefer Embaer ERJ-175’s for this run – which as we all know is a better option than the CRJ’s that some regional airlines prefer to fly.
So with that, lets go the Canadian Way….
Part I – To Heathrow, T3 and a lounge
Off to Heathrow!
Amazingly, I have friends. I know this may shock and horror people but I have friends. After spending the morning being evil on my network, whilst lambasting BT and Virgin Media (and why they can’t run a 2Mb leased line without it going bang every four days or so is still beyond me), I locked my office computer, went home and picked up my trash and grabbed a cab to the first point of the trip. A friends.
The trash ready to rock…Pay attention to this image to one you’ll see at the end of this report….
Birmingham Moor Street to High Wycombe
Chiltern Trains, Class 165
SuperSaver Return ticket portion held (£19.50)
Yes, I know. No National Express Coaches. You may well gawp in shock. As I’m not going all the way to London, and going against the flow of peak time traffic, it’s a short hour and a bit to High Wycombe.
Alas, Chiltern Railways stuck a “Commuter” style train on and not a “Intercity” style train – in a 3 x 2 seating formation. Whilst this provides a few more seats, it is akin to being seated on padded rock.
The train was slightly late as it was picking up people along the route as there was an England Football (spherical balls… not the odd rugby or American style football) Match at Wembley Stadium.
After meeting my friend, it was time for a night of discussing things, setting the world to rights, Chinese food and pondering how long it would take the CSI’s to work out that Rita Von Squeeze was the killer….
Nighttime fell, and soon enough, 5am reared it’s ugly head – time to haul backside to LHR. A short drive, and I was sent on my way with shopping requests by the fist-full….
Terminal 3 is one of those odd places in the world in which if you look to your left, it looks shining and modern, and if you look to your right – it’s a complete and utter dump. And alas, Air Canada check-in is located in the “dump” side of Terminal 3.
And the many people there – It actually made me yearn for the quietness of T1 in many respects.
After wheeling my crap in and successfully negating the automatic check-in machines (I prefer people), I was greeted, and checked in – with my seat reservations held for both flights of the day. My tripod bag was taken off me and given to a nice man waiting, whilst my Rucksack was sent down the cute.
Now that’s a first for Heathrow Airport.
A quick wander upstairs and I went through the joys of security. Whilst it was morning-time, it wasn’t exactly busy in the security area, and I was directed to an empty queue where I was send through, and allowed on my way.
However, it seems LHR Security were more interested in me than usual this morning and did a wipe with my a rag and put it through the detection machine. After seeing I was clean, I let on my way.
As it was still early, I fought through Duty Free, and made my way to the SilverKris lounge to find it shut. Therefore I was relegated back to The London Lounge.
Lounge Stop: The London Lounge
A show of my Diamond Club card, and a boarding pass and I was welcomed in. As I seem to always do, I headed for the top deck of the lounge, but the window looking out out on the runway.
Now whilst this lounge in terms of environment is much better than the Star Alliance Lounge in T1, it lacks severely in catering terms, with mostly cold breakfast options (with porridge finally making it’s way out at 7am). Call me a traditionalist, but if there’s one thing the T1 lounge manges right – it’s hot food first thing in the morning.
However, the ambiance makes up for it. All swings and roundabouts.
As 7:45 ticked over, I gathered up my trash, and begun the hike over to the Gate 29 where my chariot was waiting.
Rushing to the gate
After being security checked again, Business had started boarding. As the first call for economy came out I went forward as a Star Gold (and the person was enforcing boarding order) to be paused and then sent on my way after my Gold was acknowledged.
Part II – LHR-YYZ AC869
AC869 London Heathrow T3 to Toronto, Lester B. Pearson Int’l T1 30/03/2011
Air Canada, Boeing 777-300ER, Seat 33K, Economy Class
3556 Miles flown, 3547 Status Miles Earned
I was welcomed aboard and asked to show my boarding pass, and directed down the back. The crew were in good spirits today and talkative, with a crew member giving me some advice on connecting at Toronto.
Eventually, the plane began to fill up, and I had a seatmate in the H Seat. I kept my eyes open and the doors went to close, keeping the magical J seat free.
Whilst not as good as a empty row, I’ll take an empty seat next to me any day of the week as it’s nice to stretch out. Clearly my seatmate thought this too, and grabbed the top of seat to dump her stuff on.
Fine – you take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll get there before theeee…
As the plane pushed back the Air Canada bilingual safety video appeared – something I’d used to very quickly of these four segments. As we pulled out, AC848 pulled in. Symmetry in motion. Headsets were also handed out at this point too.
A long taxi over to the Right hand runway, and the noisy GE-90 engines whirled up and we were off in to the blue, with take off with Windsor Castle to the left.
Now you’re probably wondering where the take off video is. That’s a very sore point that I’ll get onto later…
After a reasonable climb out, the galley started making noises, and about an hour after take off the trolleys begun their run, with an offer of pancakes or omelet. I decided to be brave as usual and had the omelet
Well, lets break down breakie. The roll was rock level of biteablity, the fruit was nice and fresh, the croissant… was flaky and a bit dry but I’ve had worse from a supermarket.
The main event – like most Air Canada main meals – was small, but well proportioned. The Omelet didn’t taste rubbery, the potato bits were cooked well and even the sausage was edible. If there was a touch more of it – I think it would be better, but for a Heathrow breakfast – I’ve had a lot worse.
The crew made a couple of drinks runs with breakfast, topping up coffees and feeding me diet coke to keep me going.
Clear down was completed shortly after, and after duty free was conducted, the lights went down for the journey across the pond.
Like the A330 I flew in January, the 777-300ER was very well equipped inside. For starters – the IFE actually worked on this trip with the Map working very well as well as the content on the IFE system.
However, there is only so much Black Swan one can watch before resorting to the classics….
Well the phone feels like it was a long time ago in a Galaxy far far away now…
There are some very nice touches in the IFE setup. Apart from 2 power sockets in-seat out of the 3, each seat has a USB Port inside them – which is excellent if you want a charged device like an iPhone, a HTC device or a table to use whilst in flight. A very simple addition, yet delivers massive benefits to all customers. Top marks there.
The flight plodded along, and I catnapped a bit on this run. Before landfall over Newfoundland, a snack run was done, with pretzel bites and cola. Whilst over-salted as usual, it was a nice nibble at the right time.
The flight continued plodding over Canada, and all I could think was “Would it hurt airlines so much to give their windows a wash every now and again?”. The state of the windows… wasn’t great. Or let me put this another way – it wasn’t easy getting photos done out of the window.
I hear mops are cheap in Poundland…
Although angling helps.
Before the second service commenced, a dual form run was completed dropping off Canadian Immigration forms and US Customs forms. Whilst giving lots of time to do the forms, I can’t help feel that dropping these forms off at the beginning of a flight would allow people to complete them sooner rather than the mass panic towards the end of a flight.
About 1 ½ hours before landing, the second service commenced, which was a hot wrap. I went for a Chicken one – like I had on my YVR trip.
Whilst a nice few bites, this could had done with the drinks service behind being a bit quicker, as there’s a strong chance if you’re hungry – you’ll wolf down the wrap before the drink gets to you. Additionally, a pack of crisps or dread the thought – Ice cream – wouldn’t had gone amiss too.
The drinks cart followed along, with another cup of cola.
The crew were friendly, and talkative to those who wanted to talk during the flight and offering advice where needed. All interactions were polite and had genuine warmth to them – something that’s sometime lacking with North American carriers.
With ¾ of an hour to go, the big cleardown begun with all the rubbish being collected, and the plane prepared for landing. The flight deck warned of some bumps coming into Toronto, so we were advised to do what we need to do and strap in thereafter.
YYZ from the air
And whilst not the bumpiest of decents, it did have it’s moments. The decent took us down, and parallel to Toronto Person, before swinging around and finally landing. A short taxi, and we were at Gate 171 – the back end of the International Pier.
The seatbelt sign went pong, and after a short while, I made my way off the plane thanking the crew for their good service.
Overall: Good crew and great service. What more can be said? Apart from the portions of catering. The seat product is excellent, and with a spare middle seat – very nice for long haul economy travel.
Part III – A Canadian Affair, A Lounge and AC505
A Canadian Affair – Transferring to USA.
I made it off the plane, then it was a case of “Follow the signs” through the very long walk (even with travelators) to the main immigration point. It was then a case of turn left and up the stairs to the US Baggage claim
Where I waited. And Waited. On a 1 hour and 45 minute connection, a large chunk of time was being chewed up.
40 minutes later my luggage was spat out of the system, and after a tag check, I proceeded to the US Border where I was asked my business and let through both the main border and the customs check.
It was then a case of queue up at the transborder queue with my luggage, where I was greeted politely, and stamped into the United States.
40 minutes of luggage 5 minutes of immigration (which was more painless than usual) -and I’ll say this in bold letters It’s still quicker than Washington Dulles and Chicago O’Hare!
After dumping my luggage at Security and explaining what’s in the bag, I made my way through, and headed for a pit stop at the lounge.
Lounge stop: Maple Leaf Trans-Border Lounge
Vodka and Colas consumed: 2
Bowls of Soup consumed: Well…
I was welcomed in the lounge, and directed to the drinks and food – with the agent telling me not to worry about rushing for the next flight as it was late coming in.
The lounge itself – whilst a bit dark in places is reasonably well appointed with food options. Now US Airways, United and Continental, you hear that? FOOD. Not cruets ranch sauce and potato crisps, FOOD. The options being Minestrone Soup, another sort of soup I forget and salads – all fresh and tasty.
The soup is souper.
The lounge itself was quiet with all the major rushes gone, so it was a pleasant environment – much better than the transborder lounge in Vancouver which felt small in comparison to this lounge.
After a bowl of soup and a Coke Zero+Vodka, it was time to make a move down the terminal.
Overall: A nice enough lounge with proper amenities… what is the world coming too? This is the bare minimum I’d be expecting from a business lounge in the USA….
A lift down to the “transborder” terminal and once more into the public mele, I found my way to the gate, where the aircraft had not turned up. However, soon enough a little ERJ-175 trundled into view and docked at the gate. 15 minutes later the plane was turned around and business & elites were invite board. I took my opportunity and made my way down the ramp
AC505 Toronto Person International to Chicago O’Hare International, 30/03/2011
Air Canada, Embraer 175, Seat 22K, Economy Class
436 Miles flown, 600 Status Miles Earned.
Again, I was welcome aboard, boarding pass inspected, and sent that down back plane. Slowly the plane started filling, but in all honesty the plane was half full if that.
Looking at the plane itself, this is not your typical ERJ-17x configuration. Not by a long shot. The big plush seats at the front were a hint, but whilst the legroom was the same as a normal ERJ, there were little difference – like USB power in-seat, a screen, and dread the thought – someone actually lined up the windows with the seats for once!
And on top of that, the seat next to me was spare – what more could I want?
The doors soon closed up, and we were taxing away, with the second version of the Air Canada safety video playing. I can see why they did the video like they did – it’s pretty much the same for all the equipment bar the airplane type. Simple, effective… and repetitive… After the Safety video, there was the adverts, and them the IFE system was ready for use… except the map.
After a long taxi, the engines spooled up, and it was off in the the cloud and the sky.
A quick climbout and through the white stuff, the crew were released to carry out duties, where earphones were sold, and the catering trolley made it’s way down.
I mealy partook in more caffeine with a cola twist – it was turning into a long day, with more to do when I touched down in Chicago. This was served TED style, which whilst a whole can would had been nice – wasn’t the end of the world.
Coke Zero. RAR style.
I took the chance to visit the small room as well – and was actually shocked how much room there was. Sure you couldn’t swing a cat in there, but the small room was larger than say, a Lufthansa 737-300 (which set standards for the word “pokey”)
All that was left to do was to watch the world pass by, and soon enough, Lake Michigan appeared, and the cabin was cleared down.
Crossing over Lake Michigan
Approaching the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan
The plane looped over the coast and looped inland to line up with O’Hare, and finally landed near the International Terminal. The downside of course was the 15 minute taxi to the gate – well not a downside if you’re an airplane geek, but that’s besides the point.
A few turns, a bridge and a short while later, the plane docked at E1 where everyone was released. I took my time, and disembarked, thanking the crew for their good service as well as the captain.
Overall: 1 hours sectors are hard to get a good feel for an airline – all they can do is leave an impression. And I got a darn good impression off them. The service was delivered quickly and with care, whilst the cabin was more than comfortable for the purpose. I’d go as far to say one of the best interiors for an aircraft this class. Well done!
I made my way to luggage claim, 5 minutes after I had got off the plane and made my way out, the luggage belt started moving – with my items 3rd and 5th on the belt.
Sounds good. Even undamaged. Well I counted the luggage items on the plane. 10 bags if that. Looks like an airline didn’t make that much cash in luggage that day….
Part IV – The Hyatt O’Hare, One Time Exception – John Hancock Observatory
Sweet Home Chicago – Hyatt Regency O’Hare
Yes, even though I have been tarting around with Priority Club and InterContinetal Hotel Group recently, it’s back to the Hyatt Regency O’Hare again.
And yes, whilst there are cheaper options, for the 3 days during the weekend when I do my photography thing, trust me, only going up a few floors late at night is a bonus..
Yup. Same photo as before…
Arrived at about 14:00 (after the taxi driver got lost), and was recognised by the staff, and checked in. Even as a mere Gold (after being downgraded from Plat), I was given the room of my choice, with a view of Chicago in the main block (as the executive wing is a 10 mile hike back and forth – especially when you travel with the idiot amount of luggage).
And when you have a 9th floor view of Chicago in the Early morning it cab be worth it
Going to the room on the 9th Floor, City View it was pleasant enough, but there were a few little changes…
1) The “Hyatt” branded pens have gone. I know it’s a little thing, but generic black pens don’t make good take-away gifts
2) The Internet Provider has changed from T-Mobile to PSAV (and this later is a major source of trouble)
3) The housekeeping team were only refreshing bathroom supplies once every two days.
Housekeeping were efficient, with rooms tidied and put back in a good condition each day. The bed itself was heavenly as usual.
Now, the Internet service (payable as a two-tier service, for either $9.95+Tax or $14.95+Tax – GP Diamond/Plat get the basic level FOC) was droppy as heck with the WiFi giving out once an hour – Not great particularly.
Then on Friday night at 6pm, the whole service went bang for 4-6 hour. Very Inconvenient. During the remainder of the weekend period, the service was varying from droppy to completely unstable and unusable (with people doing WiFi dances to get signal).
Eventually, the Internet service straightened out on Sunday night – whilst still droppy, it was usable – which was an improvement.
I dined at the Red Bar on the Sunday evening – food was delivered promptly and as usual – tasted excellent. Pizza, Wings and a drink set me back about $30.
Check out was quick, with the 3 days of Internet service failing not charged to the account.
Overall:A n “Ok” stay. Whilst the conference staff and house staff did well, I can’t help feeling corners are starting to be cut in places and it shows in little places (like bathroom toiletries and pens). The Internet issue was quite frankly unacceptable (and when you’re sat in a booth all weekend, it provides entertainment as well as access to payment engines).
Additionally, after filling in the Guest survey, my bill was re-issued after complaining about the issues with Internet Access – a very positive move, and very customer oriented.
Now since we’re in Sweet Home Chicago, I could do a One Time Exception to a Pizza joint (and open up the can of worms that is “Which Pizza is best in Chicago”) or I could go up a building and take pictures.
Oh how I love not to cause conflict.
Considering the last time I went here was a few years ago, I wanted to see what changes had been made if any.
Well the first thing that’s changed is the admission fee – from $11 to $15. After skipping the photo, it was up to the the 94th floor to be confronted with.. well… a mess.
Whilst audio tours are now free, they have been busy, adding a cafe and a skating rink for the winter season. Now whilst these amenities sound good, it disturbs what was a very peaceful part of Chicago from up high. In fact, a lot of commericalisation has gone on with high tech telescopes (electronic view, complete with card slot).
And it was of course – full of kids.
The views were not bad with low level could passing the building – or passing under in some cases. A nice sunny day, with thankfully some quiet corners.
However, I’m normally up for a couple of hours or so – I was out just after an hour.
Overall: It’s STILL better value than the Wills Building (least of all for the extra space in it), but I can’t help feel it’s now over-commericalised compared to 2008. A shame.
Now you’re probably wondering where are all the videos and the candid photos I normally shoot. Well some little oik decided to make off with my iPhone on the Saturday. Which was
1) Annoying that some oik made off with it,
2) I was annoyed at the content lost and
3) the fact I had to negotiate with Vodafone Cover-Me Insurance for a week before they agreed to release a replacement.
So that’s why there’s no videos or anything. And yes, I’m still angry as hell.
Part V – Back to ORD, AC502.
Back to the Bunny
Monday 6:30am alas comes round too quickly and it’s time to say goodbye to the windy city. A quick drag down to reception with my trash, and I was checked out, with three days worth of internet removed from the bill (and later the other two days for the lack of anything working properly). A shuttle bus was waiting, so I thanked the doorman and was popped in a cab and sent on my way to ORD T2. By 7:10am I was standing in the seemingly quiet public area of T2 checking in with no one infront of me.
My bags were accepted without question, and both my skibag and rucksack were taken off me. Boarding passes to London were issued and I was advised a 20 minute delay. After being furnished where the Red Carpet Club was I headed off to security.
O’Hare Security can be maddneing. Some days it’s rammed solid with full on shouty TSA personal. Other days – like this day it was quietish, and the TSA staff were in a seemly good mood. I was through security in five minutes at 7:15 in the morning.
For ORD, that’s quick. However, I wish I knew what the TSA was doing with my skibag (as I found out a LOT later)
After visiting duty free for the first time in the day, it was off to the RCC to get a coffee and see what was up with the world.
Lounge Stop: United Red Carpet Club F2
I was welcomed to the club, and after the agent entered my Diamond Club number by hand, I was admitted. A T-Mobile Internet access card was offered without prompting too.
As it was near enough peak time, the club was packed. I therefore found a semi comfortable seat, grabbed a couple of coffees next to a TV, and caught up with my morning emails. Not a lot to do but wait, but still quieter than the main terminal area.
The RCC is compact, but it had the space, power outlets and breakfast snacks you’d need to get started. Whilst no Maple Leaf lounge, it was “Adequate” for purpose as United tend to use T2 as a “commuter” terminal.
As there was only one set of screens, I kept tracks on the inbound flight on FlightAware, and only got up when the plane was confirmed at the gate. At that point, it was time to back out to the melee again.
Approaching the gate the inbound aircraft had indeed arrived, and the bird was being turned around. A few minutes later, Business and Elites were invited to board – where I took the opportunity to board and collect my duty free.
At the gate
AC502 Toronto Person International to Chicago O’Hare International, 03/04/2011
Air Canada, Embraer 175, Seat 22A, Economy Class
436 Miles flown, 600 Status Miles Earned.
I made my way down and was welcome aboard. Immigration forms were given out on entry and headed to the back, plopped my bag in the overhead bin. For the first time this trip, the plane started packing out – not 100% full, but was more like 80%. I even had a seatmate who joined me for a short while. Whilst I was watching him stab the screen (the screen was ill calibrated), he spied a pair of seats go free – and moved over.
3 flights out of 4 with a spare seat. I can get used to this personal space on a plane malarkey
Pretty soon the safety video played again, and we pushed back, with a very short taxi to the runway, and after a short wait, a push into the grey skies of Chicago.
Climbing through the grey
With the thunderstorms the night before, it was a bumpy ride up to cruising altitude, but after 15 minutes or the bumps eased off and blue sky was visible as the plane settled for the short run to Toronto.
As the plane reached cruising altitude, the beverage and snack trolley came out, selling headphones and breakfast items – of which not many were sold. On the other hand the drinks service was well used, and I partook of morning caffeine to keep me going through what would be a long day.
The flight itself was between two layers of grey, and that’s how it was for the flight. Again, the IFE was on for the gate-to-gate of the flight, with Black Swan playing now I was iPhone4-less (and muggins didn’t load any backup content on the iPhone 3G)
Almost working IFE – No map though
The trash was collected soon enough, and the cabin secured as we descended through the cloud and finally into Toronto Airport.
After a long hold after landing to allow an A320 to take off, we were allowed to proceed to the terminal, where after being guided in, the seatbelt sign ponged, and the cabin raced to get out of the plane.
I thanked the crew on exit and headed off to my date with destiny – Canadian Immigration
Overall: Again, short segment, good service and decent IFE. Not much more you can ask for on a short leg.
Part VI – Canadian Immigration, The CN Tower and anohter lounge
Risking Canadian Immigration… again.
The plane docked over somewhere near the international side of Toronto Airport, which of course meant a long hike. As I wasn’t transferring, I headed for Immigration and the Exit.
The queues whilst weren’t of “Welcome to Chicago with 3 people working” levels, but they were still well populated, -and lots of customs agents too. I was seen to within a few minutes, questioned why I was visiting and if I exceeded my duty free or anything declare. Stating I didn’t, the agent stamped by passport and immigration form, and I was sent on my way.
A quick check with luggage control with the bags confirmed as “tagged” onto LHR and I trepidly made my way through to customs, and was let through without an issue.
Well – that was painless compared to last time eh Canada?
At this point, I took the opportunity to update the phone, check my emails and phone home and then ventured off downtown, and was conned out of $36.25 for a ticket on the Airport Express to downtown. Now whilst it has Wifi and such (which is useful for Foursquaring whilst roaming), for $36.25 return (About £20) for a bus ride… it’s a tad expensive kids. And yes, I could had gone for the local option – but time was of the essence this day.
But there’s a good reason to go downtown, and it’s time for another onetime exception. And it’s a darn good thing I don’t have vertigo the amount of height I’m going up and down with….
For those who don’t know what it looks like…
The Lonely Planet Guide to Toronto states “It’s (The CN Tower) primary function as a TV and communications tower, but reliving tourists as much cash as possible seems to be the second order of business”
From the warmth indoors….
And they’ve hit the nail on the head here with the myriad of options for tickets, as well as all the extras you can buy. I of course being Mr Cheap paid the basic ticket and wandered around. The main skydeck is a mix of a restaurant and observation of most of the area, but the fun bits are down a level – full 360 degree outside walking area where you can get blown over quickly (as I did!) and … the glass floor
Here’s a hint: don’t look down if you have vertigo. Or say out loud Holy *beeeeep* when you look down the first time!
Overall – C$60 for a day out is expensive (Ticket to downtown on the express, then $25 for the trip), but if you’ve never been, it’s a good few hours out – and away from the airport. It’s possible to do it using local transit – except I didn’t plan that far ahead (or well I did – but my that little oik who nabbed my iPhone will… grrr)
Back To Pearson….
After wandering around Downtown Toronto for a few hours, I decided to head back to the airport. Again, I picked up the Airport Express, and after sitting in Toronto traffic for a bit, made it back to the airport with two hours to go.
As I had checked in at Chicago, I had no idea what the loads were like. So, I decided to check them on a check-in machine. And I was seeing a sparsely populated plane. At T- 2:40 to departure, this looked… bad for Air Canada, good for me….
After gazing at a couple of bits of art, I made my way through security, where my glasses set of the detector, and I was invited to use to local Nude-o-scope. To which I declined. I therefore was processed by hand without too much objection.
A few wipes, and a pat down, and I was free to proceed.
As the International end of Toronto T1 is a fair walk, there are three options to mere mortals – 1) Walk, 2) Take the normal travellator or 3) take the express travellator.
Well as the express ones were broken on the inbound, I felt it was my duty as a trip reporter to try the express ones. And boy do they zoom. It is a case of grab a handgrab and hold on tight, as it does zoom along pretty darn fast which acceleates from a pedestrian 2kph to a very rapid 7kph to cover the main distance. Whilst you could walk on it – personally, I’d hang on tight and watch the world wizz by.
This of course dumps you near the International level – and right next door to a Maple Leaf Lounge. How convenient!
Lounge stop: Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge (International)
I made my way in and greeting the desk staff. After I was accepted in, I asked the agents to double check the loads (after discussing the state of LHR T3 with the agent after they asked was it still as bad as it was). The agent confirmed the shocking numbers of the flight. 330 people could be on the flight, 120 registered, 80 checked in.
Whilst the agent said she wouldn’t move me for now or block a seat, but to check back before departure in case 200 people had suddenly booked tickets.
With that, it was off to the lounge to consume vodka, Coke Zero and soup – and catch up with the world whilst getting ready for the short slog home (and arranging a pickup at LHR)
The lounge itself is much bigger than the Trans-border lounge, and was equally filled up with lots of people jetting off to different destinations. It’s position is odd as some of the glass ends of the lounge face out onto the arrivals route into the airport, whilst looking down to the apron where an Emirates A380 was sitting pretty.
Whilst lounge WiFi for Maple Leaf card holders was free, for mere *G’s, it was time to pay up. Or of course – do what I did, and fall back on the Airport WiFi, which did the job as needed.
However, the clock ticked on, and soon 8pm showed, so it was off to pack up my trash, and I went to the reception desk and confirmed that now a grand total of 120 people had checked in, and that the row I was in was going to be free. A polite thank you, and I headed down to the gate after negotiating duty free.
Boarding commenced at 20:15, and boarding priority was enforced. I joined the business queue, and was accepted on board for the final leg back to London.
Part VII – YYZ-LHR (AC848)
AC869 Toronto, Lester B. Pearson Int’l T1 to London Heathrow T3 30/03/2011
Air Canada, Boeing 777-300ER, Seat 59ABC, Economy Class
3556 Miles flown, 3547 Status Miles Earned
I was welcomed aboard and directed down the back. As I was heading down the back I joked with the crew about tonight’s “busy” flight, with equally comical reactions.
I could tell just by this little action this was going to be a *good* flight.
I settled in and watch the plane load up. And boy, with a 120 people aboard it felt like there was a lot of space in this 777-300ER.
Mine! Alll mine!
We pushed back on schedule, and again, that Air Canada safety video played again. Now I know there are slight differences between the videos, but at least on United they use different presenters for each of their videos. With AC, it was a blend of the same.
IFE before safety video starting
Even though there was 120 people aboard, it seems the pilot was in no mood to hang around tonight, and after a quick taxi, the GE-90’s groaned up to takeoff power (and they’re noisy in row 59) and it was a quick take off out of the Greater Toronto area, and beyond the cloud.
After the plane levelled out, it was time for the food service – a choice of Chicken or Pasta. I went for the Chicken… that came with Pasta.
Chicken and Pasta
So lets break the meal down. The roll whilst packaged was soft, the salad was nice and fresh, the pasta/noddle component was only overcooked slightly, and the Honey and Mustard chicken was very passable. Whilst I was full when I had it, I can’t help thinking if I hadn’t had dined on Chicken Soup in the lounge, there might be a hunger hole still.
The nicest bit was the chocolate cake square. Simple, moist and edible. It’s shame a United can’t cater for this little of littlest items….
Now, this is where I must really compliment the crew – they were talkative, asking questions (seeing that I was awake), and one poor cabin crew member saw my camera. Rather than telling me to not take picture like a certain merging airline, they were asking about what I shot, and asked to see some of my work… which I showed (clean stuff obviously…)
Service was cleared down, and another drinks round appeared – where upon rather than rolling a trolley for duty free, the orders were done by hand – a very considerate move for those who didn’t want to be disturbed with another trolley going up and down the isles. Being the nice person I was, I picked up some Maple Syrup for my coworkers.
However, with 3 seats to myself, that’s a GhettoFlatBed (term copyright pending). So I swung around, made sure the seatbelt was fastened and curled rested for the next 4 hours, where I woke up to the sun already risen and the plane closing in on Ireland.
Of course, I needed some minor entertainment between then and landing. Thankfully the Air Canada IFE system – as well as having a darn good map system also had Hawaii Five-O.
Or to put it another way
As the plane closed in on Ireland, the “breakfast” service was delivered. And oh dear – this is where we ask the famous question “what were they thinking” comes into question.
It was… Banana bread. Yes. Just that. A drink service followed behind it, but again, this could had been a bit more pacier.
Whilst more substantive than a US Airways Danish pastry, it just leave me to conclude that airlines don’t know how to cater for a second service on a TATL run. Dread the thought – United and Continental tie for the win with CO’s Croissant and Fruit and United’s Yougurt and Pastry just about wins this with the “What can we feed them that takes 5 minutes to dish out” contest.
A bit more thought and dread the thought a warm wrap or something as a savory option would be nice.
Service was cleared down and we begun the long approach into Heathrow, taking the Ockham hold for a few loops, before swinging around the city of London a full hour early.
Closing in on LHR
What’s that I hear about padding and winds? Oh well, checking FlightAware a few days earlier indicated that we were due in early so my friend was duely warned that I’d be early.
A slow taxi from the runway, and we were directed to the high 30 gates at LHR, where the plane docked and we were invited to disembark. I thanked all the crew in my section of the plane, and begun the long hike to immigration.
At the gate
Overall: Again, an excellent flight with excellent crew, let down the by the second catering service. I know I don’t go in the air for Five Star Dining (well – maybe aboard Asiana), but I can’t help but feel with costs cutting here and there and low loads don’t help a second service for any airline. Almost makes you pine for a bacon roll shop near Arrivals….
Homewards and a Salute to the TSA making my life more hellish than normal
After hiking from the back end of T3 to the UK Border, I saw the IRIS booths were empty. After gazing into her mirrors, I was let into the country, and then downstairs to luggage claim where the usual dis-organisation was in full progress (for example, having to hike from one end of the hall to the other to grab a cart)
Eventually belt 3 spluttered into life and my bags appeared. To my shock. I’ll let my pictures do the talking (taken outside the terminal and at home).
I know there is a need for security, but to practically destroy the bag like that is quite frankly unacceptable. And to really rub salt in the wound, no “Sorry we rifled through your bag” card.
A later inspection showed the zip was damaged beyond repair, and the bag isn’t really fit to be used again. Thanks TSA. You are really a bunch of… well, the words you’re looking for are “Sorry” and “Here’s a payment of £50 for a new bag”. Not that I’ll ever see a penny out of those bunch of comedians.
Of course, a luggage claim was filed with Air Canada, and the poor rep was shocked to see the state of the bag. A claim number was given and I was off on my merry way. UK customs of course took no notice, so I headed out and back to the mildly moist weather that was around that day.
My friend when she arrived was in hysterics when she saw the bag, but when she saw the iPod I picked up for her, she sort of started driving to a breakfast break.
A relaxing chat later, and a handover of State Quarters, it was time to head home, and off to High Wycombe to catch a train homewards.
Chiltern Railways High Wycombe to Banbury
£19.50 SuperSaver Return to London
Well as usual with Chiltern the train was on time, and dropped me at Banbury. As it was coming from London and it was the Super-Off-Peak period, the train was lightly populated to Bicster North where it emptied before heading to Banbury – where I needed to make a change.
I could 1) wait for another service to take me to Moor Street or 2) head to New Street. Now with lots of cargo, Birmingham Moor Street and Snow Hill aren’t aren’t conducive to walking with the junk I carry, so when I saw a CrossCountry service turning up ahead to Newcastle via Birmingham New Street, this was taken as a “darn good option”
CrossCountry Trains – Banbury to Birmingham New Street
After pulling out of Banbury, there was a full ticket check, and I promptly crashed out till about 5 miles to Birmingham.
Whilst taking almost the same route as the Chiltern service, this peals off at the last minute so it joins the “main line” via a junction, and into the mainline station. Upon arrival, it was a case of get off the train, walk slightly down the platform, and to a lift – where it was a short drag of my items to the taxi rank.
4 hours after landing, my bags were lined up outside the flat, signalling the end this trip.
In closing up….
Air Canada advertise themselves “North America with Polite Canadians”. I’d say that’s a very fair assessment of the product. All the staff were extremely friendly and delivered good service throughout.
I’d go as far as to say they were friendlier than the friendly United crews I had in February.
If there was a single criticism of the Air Canada products, it’s the food. And the lack of it onboard. I think a bit better portion control and a really careful examination of the 2nd services needs to be taken with to polish off what is a great product on the A330’s (as featured in Gold Run 2), the 777-300ER’s and even the ERJ-175’s.
The Hyatt Regency O’Hare did an “Ok” Job, and their agreement to remove the Internet charges against the bill was welcome. But if you have a business hotel like that, you need reliable Internet access. And that wasn’t forthcoming at all that trip – a pity.
Toronto Airport was a lovely surprise in terms of facilities and accessibility. If they could speed up luggage delivery, it would be brilliant – no questions asked.
However, my venom is reserved for the useless agency that we all know and hate – The Transportation Security Administration. Whilst their T2 staff were nice and poliete, their inspection staff quite frankly need to learn:
1) How to repack luggage
2) How NOT to break zips
3) How to wrap tape around an item effectively and safely without causing damage.
4) How to say the word “SORRY”
And yes, even one week and a bit after I’m still mad as hell with them.
And on that bombshell, it’s time to bring this trip report to an end.
Well, that’s it from me from a while as I’m not sure what my next trip is. So you better hope I get creative – in which case, I’ll see you sooner than later
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