This YYZ-MCO flight report has much more detail on Air Canada Rouge seat and service standards, so if you want more on the hard and soft product offered on Rouge – as well one frequent flier’s somewhat cantankerous thoughts on Air Canada’s latest foray into budget airlines – please check it out.
After a day and a half of conference-going, it was time to head home. But not quite as soon as I’d originally figured. April is still considered “high season” for Canada-Florida flights, but it’s not quite as busy as earlier (read: colder) months up north. So Rouge is still operating two evening flights back to Toronto – a 7:30-ish flight on an A319, and a 9:30-ish flight on a 767-300. In my case, I was booked onto the A319 flight, as the conference I was attending was wrapping up in the afternoon, allowing me plenty of time to make it back to MCO and get back to Canada at a reasonable hour.
But about a week before the flight, Air Canada put an end to that idea. I first noticed it when ExpertFlyer showed the A319 flight zeroed out across the board, whereas it had been all 9s just hours earlier. A few hours later, EF showed the flight as cancelled, and surely enough, a day later, I got a call from the travel agent that had booked my travel, confirming Air Canada had put me on the later flight on the 767. Clearly, the two flights together were selling just enough to fill the 280-seat 767, so cancel the smaller plane and keep the popular late-night flight back to Toronto that lets the tourists spend a full day with Mickey before heading home. It is what it is.
So I spent a little more time hanging out the hotel, getting work done. I didn’t really feel the urge to get to MCO too early, as it’s not my favourite airport in the world. Besides the straight-out-of-the-70s looks of the airport, there’s also exactly one lounge for Star Alliance travelers, a United Club that’s a) not very good, and b) located so that it requires an airside-landside-airside transit (and therefore a second time through security) to get from the lounge to the gates Air Canada uses. Even with PreChek, the incentive of the United Club isn’t enough to make that worthwhile. This is one airport where the “Star Aliance under one roof” idea would be nice – or at least, put UA and AC behind the same security checkpoint so that it’s just a tram ride from the lounge back to the central terminal and then another tram ride out to the departure gate.
So I arrived about 90 minutes out from my flight. The Air Canada check-in area was rather busy, as much of the traffic was families coming home from a week or more in the sun, and therefore, lots of baggage to check and lots of ancillary revenues to collect. While there is a Priority Check-In line, it was hardly moving. Although there was only one group – a family traveling together – ahead of me in line for the one agent handling Priority, the couple the agent was helping seemed determine to argue something about the size of their baggage. It was hard to tell what, and it didn’t really matter. I amused myself watching the “regular” check-in line next to me quickly and efficiently handle arriving passengers, and debating whether I should just move over to the line that didn’t have the special marker, but was moving.
Fortunately, the agent working that line noticed that Priority seemed to be stalled, and called over the family in front of me. They were quickly handled, luggage and all, and then I was called over. After a few minutes fighting with the system to acknowledge that yes, I was allowed to have PreChek printed on my boarding pass, the pass was issued, and I was off and headed towards the giant hotel-style atrium that is prominently featured both at MCO and many central Florida hotels.
Security was as quick and painless as PerChek should be, and within minutes from being checked-in, I was at the trams that take passengers out to the departure gates.
With some rennovations done recently, the satellite terminal from which AC operates at MCO look a lot fresher than they used to, and one thing I do actually like about Orlando are the large central areas of the satellite terminals.
Not a lot of spotting to do, but I did catch a good glimpse at this 777 soon headed back to the UK, with a LH 744 hidden in the background.
A look around the boarding area confirmed that this flight would not, like my flight down, be on a practically-empty 767, as there were quite a crowd in the gate area, and even some in surrounding gate areas despite that fact that this flight was the only one departing from down this “arm” of the satellite terminal.
After the requisite-to-Rouge begging by gate agents for people to please gate-check their carry-on luggage (because the cabin is too dense to allow for anywhere near the actual luggage allowance to be brought on board), boarding was called, and I navigated my way through the crowd to head on down to the waiting 767.
As an Air Canada Super Elite (their 100K top-tier frequent traveler with a name that just seems to beg for the DYKWIA traveler), I boarded with business passengers in Zone 1, and quickly found my seat for this flight at 14K. The load was pretty heavy, so I wouldn’t have the windowside bank of two to myself on this flight. But that’s okay. Here’s a quick reminder of the seat and legroom in Rouge Plus, which is the Preferred Seat (or Economy Plus, Main Cabin Extra, etc.) on Rouge, offered free to elite members. The seat, and its comparison to the regular Rouge seating, is discussed extensively in the report on the trip down, which is linked at the top of this report. Check it out if you need more info on the Rouge seat or service.
This flight seemed to load quickly for a pretty full 280-seat 767 boarding through one door, and before too long, we were buttoned up, the old-school safety briefing was completed, and we were bidding goodbye to the darkened Sunshine State.
Takeoff and climb was smooth, but the combination of nighttime and using a cell phone camera does not make for good outside shots in the dark, so I didn’t get many views of the blackness outside the window. Service was offered rapidly enough, and I took a ginger ale, which I thought looked pretty cool in the mood lighting.
The rest of this short hope northbound went by quickly – I got some work done, both on “real” work, and on my ongoing season of Out of the Park baseball on my laptop. Customs forms were disturbed, with the flight number already written in, a nice touch that most Rouge crews (and no mainline crews) do much of the time. Water was also offered one more time after the main food-and-beverages service.
And soon enough, it was time to start our descent into what was clearly a lovely night in Toronto. We went through several layers of cloud, and soon enough, it was evident that there was some storm activity in the area. A crack of lightning traveling from cloud to cloud lit the cabin briefly, hitting home the point that it was not a nice evening back home. It was fog and pretty heavy rain all the way down, although the ride was nice and smooth, so I can’t complain.
We finally broke through the clouds very low over Pearson, touched down, and quickly braked to taxiing speed in the foggy Toronto night. It was a long drive back to Terminal 1, having landed heading away from the terminals, but even in the fog, it quickly became obvious this 767 was on an international turn in the morning, as we settled in down in widebody territory on the head of the “Hammerhead” international pier at T1. This means a long walk back to customs and immigration.
The walkway here is above the international gates, and passes right by the International Maple Leaf Lounge, which will be mentioned in my next flight report, I hope.
But at least the long walk is made somewhat shorter by the super-fast moving sidewalk….. oh wait….
Nope. Once again, the moving sidewalk is down for the count. Apparently, this investment has been quite a fiasco for the Greater Toronto Airport Authority – it’s a great little piece of technology when it’s working, but keeping it up and running has been a nightmare. I hope their contract for it included a service level agreement so they’re at least not paying for each and every time this thing is down, preventative or otherwise.
Despite the long walk, it wasn’t a very busy night in Terminal 1, and soon I was at the escalators heading down to Immigration, where these very friendly (and never-moving, and two-dimensional) Toronto ambassadors welcomed us to The Big Smoke in a variety of languages. Thanks, kids!
With a whole new bank of Nexus machines – some of which were even working! – I was quickly through security, and traveling with only carry-on, there was no delay in getting through the baggage haul and out into the Toronto night, where fortunately the rain ended just in time to ensure my trip home wasn’t too miserable.
Air Canada Rouge
Orlando - MCO
Toronto - YYZ
I was a little miffed at the flight cancellation, although I understand the business reasons why it was made. All-in-all, a perfectly average short ACr experience, which is not all bad as long as you're on a 767.
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