After a couple of busy days at San Jose, I woke up gently on my own in my hotel room. However, reality quickly kicked in, and jolted me into action. Why was I waking up without an alarm? I’d set a 3:30 am alarm to make sure I’d be ready for my 4:00 am pick-up for my ride to SFO. Somehow, booking a 6:45 am departure out of San Francisco when I knew I’d be staying in San Jose seemed like a good idea at the time. Somehow.
Fortunately, my blood pressure came down a few seconds later, as a quick glance at the clock in the room – and then at my phone to confirm – tells me that it’s 3:28. So with the luxury of two extra minutes to get ready, I turn off the alarm, hop out of bed, grab a shower, get dressed, and finish packing my belongings. I’m out of the room by 3:50, and checked out a couple of minutes later – surprisingly, the lineup is not very long at this time of the morning.
I step outside and my driver is waiting for me, and we make the trip up to SFO in just about 30 minutes. The secret to beating the legendary Bay Area traffic is to be up well before the sun.
Air Canada’s check in at SFO opens up about 4:40, and I quickly have my boarding pass – with TSA PreCheck status displaying correctly the first time, a rarity – and am off to haul it across the haul to the G gates from which this flight will depart. Unfortunately, going out of the G gates means the United Club will be the available lounge. On the A gates, it’s the Air France lounge, which is miles better, especially since they moved into their new space, the old DL lounge at the international terminal. Alas, I’m not sure on the hours of AF lounge, so at least I can feel better about the G gates because I’m pretty sure the UA lounge will be open. Unfortunately, when I arrive at the G security point, I discover this.
Apparently, I should have arranged the car for 4:30. Oh well. The security checkpoint opens a few minutes later, and the TSA agent working the line arranges people into various queues, for PreCheck, for priority, and normal. I’m the second person through PreCheck, and about 5:05, I’m let loose airside. It’s so busy this time of the morning!
The sign on the United Club door confirms that it opened five minutes ago, and the doors open as I approach, so I’m pretty sure it’s open. The agent scans my boarding pass without a word, and I’m on my way upstairs to the lounge.
When I get upstairs, I discover that once again, I am the first person in the lounge, so I quickly grab some shots of the space before anyone else can get upstairs. The international lounge here is large-ish, but not as large as I’d expect given SFO’s prominent status as a trans-Pacific hub for UA. Of course, there are other Star Alliance lounges available as well. It’s exactly what you’d expect from a UA lounge. Nothing special, but better than sitting at the gate. At least power outlets are plentiful, and the seating is decently comfortable. The “business” section consists of a series of tiny cubbies that provide a smidgeon of privacy, but hardly provide a distraction-free work environment.
Food and drink selections are about on United Club par, which is to say not very good at all. I grab an orange juice, a yogurt, and a donut. A bit later, I grab what the beverage-making machine describes as a cappuccino, but which I describe, terribly, as awful. There doesn’t seem to be much, if any, coffee in this coffee beverage, and it’s tasteless and lifeless.
After getting a fair bit of work done on my YVR-SFO flight report, it’s time to head down to the gate, a short walk away. As I descend down the elevator to the departure gates, I’m greeted by a sight for sore eyes – an Air Canada mainline A319, this one in old school Trans-Canada Airlines colours. Alas, there has not been a switch from Rouge to mainline this morning – this plane is just on the gate next to my Rouge A319, and heading back to Montreal in a little while.
Boarding Zone 1 is called seconds after I arrive downstairs, and I’m first to board, catching the four flight attendants by surprise as they sat in four of the pseudo-business class seats and chatted. Pre-flight briefing, I’m sure.
For this flight, I’m seated in 4A, a window seat in the only row of what AC calls “Rouge Plus” on the A319. The only difference between it and a normal Rouge seat is that Rouge Plus provides pretty good legroom, as opposed to the knee-crushing 29-inch pitch on every row behind me. In fact, I believe Rouge Plus is the same pitch as Premium Rouge, the pseudo-business class seating I reviewed on the inbound flight to SFO. That makes it, to me, the only row on the Rouge A319 that’s worth anything at all. It’s still not a comfortable seat, but it’s better as an economy-class seat than it is as a business class seat. As this is the first row of economy, there’s a curtain dividing me from the desirables up front.
A look out the window shows me that the old-style TCA A319 isn’t the only Air Canada plane waiting for a return flight this morning, as a mainline Airbus tail peeks out from behind the TCA plane. This plane will be heading back to Toronto in a little bit.
Boarding is pretty quick, as it’s a light load this morning, and we push back right at 6:45. The manual safety demo is done, but because of the curtain, there’s no flight attendant I can see, which I’m not sure is “up to code.” Not a big concern, as I know the routine pretty well, but it seems an oversight.
I’m on my own on the port side of Row 4, and one of two Pax in Row 4 overall, until a man comes up and sits down in 4C. Okay… AC’s supposed to disallow passengers self-upgrading into Preferred Seats, but I’ve still got just as much shoulder room as I would in “J” on this plane, so I’m not going to complain. He sits there through takeoff, and then bolts back to a window seat further back before service begins in the air.
We taxi past the AC A319 and A320, and then there’s no more good sighting this morning, as I’m on the “outboard” side of the plane for most of the taxi. We line up, wait for a Virgin America A320 to take off, and then line up.
With a light load and just fuel for the two-hour run up to Vancouver, it’s a quick roll for us, and our Airbus powers into the sky. In between layers of clouds, I get a nice look at the Bay and downtown San Francisco proper.
The seatbelt signs are soon out, and service begins. I take a coffee and an orange juice, and ask if there are any omelets left from business class – I really love Air Canada’s “buy our J leftovers” program. Best buy-on-board I’ve ever seen. The flight attendant ducks behind the curtain, and confirms that yes, there is one available, and it will be out in ten minutes. Picking a snack item – they sell the entree “bundled” with a snack item – takes a while, as they have neither of my first two choices, but eventually I settle on some cashews. In hindsight, I probably should have gone for fruit or a yogurt.
The omelet arrives, and it’s that familiar AC business class omelet that I do so enjoy. Unfortunately, this one comes with the sweeter fruit-based chutney. It’s still quite enjoyable, but I do prefer the more savoury red pepper-based chutney and soft cheese that comes with the omelet, sausage, and potatoes on most premium long-haul flights. There’s nothing definitively special about the AC parsley omelet, but for some reason I find it so enjoyable.
With the Rouge Plus seat and the leftover omelet, it’s almost as good an experience as Premium Rouge, especially on a breakfast flight when one isn’t as likely to decide to have alcohol. I’m not sure what last-minute upgrades to Premium Rouge sell for on a short route like this, but I’d say that if you find yourself stuck on this bird, pony up the extra money (somewhere between $40 and $60, likely) for Rouge Plus (free for Elite 50K and higher, I believe), and the $11 for the breakfast entree – this kind of DIY upgrade is likely significantly less expensive than whatever LMUs AC may offer, and the seat is confirmable at booking if there’s anything available in Row 4.
After breakfast, I take a stroll back to the plane, and make a great sacrifice for the sake of this flight report, sitting in an unoccupied row of regular Rouge to show off just how tight it is back there.
Yeah, it’s not good. Avoid anything south of row 4 on a Rouge A319 if at all possible. While I’ve survived flights from YYZ to LAS in a regular Rouge seat, it’s by no means a pleasant experience.
Back to my own seat, and I work a little bit on this report. There’s a water service – but of course it’s not bottled water in domestic/transborder Y. Soon enough, we start our descent, and the flight attendants distribute customs forms. A nice little touch you see on Rouge that you don’t see elsewhere on Air Canada – the flight number is already filled out by the flight attendants.
Descent provides some great views of the beautiful Pacific Northwest, with its green and its pretty little islands. At about 8:45, the captain gives us the briefing, telling us he expects to have us on the ground at about 9:10, just a couple of minutes behind schedule. Then it’s time to pack up the laptop and get ready for arrival back into Canada.
We came in over Delta, and settled onto the runway at YVR. Not a lot of sighting to be done in Vancouver this morning, and we pulled into a gate very near to the Canadian border control. No good byes from the crew this morning, which is unusual.
It was a quick walk to the border, where the major focal art piece seems to be getting something of a facelift, but even with scaffolding surrounding this element, remains one of the more aesthetically pleasing custom halls I’ve encountered. (Yes, I am aware that could be perceived as damning through faint praise.)
With nobody in the Nexus lines, I’m quickly through border control. It’s a long-ish walk through the baggage hall and upstairs to the domestic connections security point, and when I arrive it’s quite busy – AC34 from Sydney has just arrived, and there are a lot of passengers connecting on to its continuation in Toronto. But in about ten minutes, I’m back through security and let out into the domestic terminal airside, where I’ll pick up my flight report for the final segment of this trip in the domestic Maple Leaf Lounge.
Air Canada Rouge
United Club - International
San Francisco - SFO
Vancouver - YVR
As usual with Rouge, there’s nothing to complain about the service, but even with the extra legroom of Rouge Plus, it can’t make up for the lackluster seat. I just don’t like the Rouge A319, although otherwise, this was a perfectly average flight.
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