We pick up this trip report where my flight from San Francisco to Vancouver left off – arriving into the domestic Maple Leaf Lounge at YVR.
Encased in a faux rock surrounding, this is the largest of the three MLLs in Vancouver, and is usually quite busy. Fortunately as I arrive, it’s not quite so busy in the late morning, so a decent shot at taking a look around. It’s about what you expect from an MLL, with a variety of comfy seating and a decent view of the tarmac.
The buffet is still in breakfast mode, and it’s better than most MLL breakfasts – for some reason, breakfast in the domestic lounge is regularly better than breakfast in either transborder or international lounges. Despite having eaten on the flight in, I decide to embrace the Hobbit in me and enjoy second breakfast. I grab a seat in a quiet corner, and enjoy my eats and get some work done.
I head down to Gate C48. It’s a standard gate likely intended for narrowbodies, so it’s quite packed with the passengers for a likely quite full 787 flight. Priority boarding is called right on schedule, and I join the Zone 1 crowd on my way down to the plane.
I’m not sure how exactly to fill out the “Class” field for this flight, because it’s kind of a mixed bag. Late last year, AC decided it was tired of figuring out how to price Premium Economy on the few domestic flights operated by its 787 and 777 HD aircraft that have the PE cabin. So they decided to sell Premium Economy seats on its widebodies as Preferred Seating – which means it’s available for a reasonable extra fee, or free for Elite 35K, 50K or 75K on a “Flex” fare, or 100K on any fare. So the seat is Premium Economy, but the service is decidedly Economy. For this flight, I’m sitting in 13A, a window seat in the second row of the Premium Economy cabin. Unfortunately, the picture of my seat comes out fairly blurry. The cross-cabin shot – oddly enough, shot very quickly because passengers were starting to board – turns out much better.
The Premium Economy seat on the 787 is very close to the domestic business class seat. It’s a nice wide seat, with a decent (albeit less than narrowbody business class) amount of space between the seats. It’s a comfortable seat, with a nice big seatback screen, and a footrest. Legroom is also similar to narrowbody business class. This is my second time in the 787 PE product, the first time having been a short flight home from Halifax on the 787’s first day on revenue flights a year ago. In that flight, I sat in Row 12, the first row of PE. I’d advise against that first row now. Although legroom is decent as it’s a bulkhead, there’s no footrest, and I dramatically prefer the seatback IFE screen to the flip-up screen in row 12. The seats do recline, there’s still more than enough room to eat or work on a laptop with the seat in front of me fully reclined. The IFE screen also has enough pivot range to keep a straight viewing angle even if the passenger in front is fully reclined. The seat comes with a small pillow and blanket – not usually provided for free by AC in economy.
The seat also features a wired remote control for the IFE panel, mounted immediately below the screen in the seat in front.
I settle in as boarding continues, and notice a pair of 77Ws out the window – one is bound for Hong Kong. I’m not sure about the other one, as most international traffic out of YVR is now on the 787. It’s possible the second 777 is AC34, which stops at YVR on the way between Sydney and Toronto, although I believe that’s generally operated on a 77L.
Boarding takes a bit of time, and it’s a pretty full flight. But eventually everyone’s in and seated, and the new safety video rolls. I decide to play “spot the cliché Canadian carry-on items!”
Still wondering how nobody worked anything in a Mountie outfit or poutine into this safety video, we push back, and I notice a third 777 next to us, at a domestic gate. The rest of the spotting consists of Air Canada narrowbodies, a lane full of WestJet metal, and then DHL and Cargojet 767 freighters.
It’s a fairly short taxi, and soon we’re lined up and away we go. Even with a few flights on 787s under my belt, I still marvel at how quiet this machine is on takeoff and climb, even seated as I am right next to that big engine. We climb and turn left to head back east, getting a good look at the airport from whence we came on the way up.
As soon as seatbelt signs are turned off, the Buy On Board cart makes its way up to the front of Premium Economy. This crew clearly has it together when it comes to the “buy leftovers from business class” front – the flight attendant has a copy of the menu on her cart, complete with notes on what’s left over for we commoners in the back to buy – in this case, three beef and three cheese tortellini. This surprises me, because the beef is often, perhaps even usually, the first item to go. I roll the dice and opt for the beef tenderloin, and I’m told it will take about ten minutes for it to be heated and delivered. I take the cheese and crackers as a side order, and request a glass of water and a ginger ale, and I’m given the whole can. It’s the little victories in life, right?
I put on the movie “The Gambler,” which doesn’t turn out to be great, but is a perfectly acceptable airplane movie. Soon enough, my steak arrives, and I get my lunch (or early dinner, if I’m going back to Toronto time) on. The beef is in a tasty tomato mushroom tarragon sauce. It’s a little overcooked, and I wouldn’t describe it as either tender or tough, but it is a quite nice. The broccoli, as usual, is overcooked, but at least it’s not boiled soggy. The mashed potatoes have a hint of garlic to them. All in all, quite a nice little meal.
Having saved my snack item until this point, I decide to make a little slice of international business class and have a cheese course after the main. Okay, so little cubes of Swiss with multigrain and sesame crackers aren’t exactly international J quality. But they make a nice part of my whole “DIY cheapy pseudo-J” plan for these flights home from San Francisco.
With lunner done, I sit back and watch the end of the movie. Just before it comes to an end, I notice the window next to me is darkening along with any other windows in the PE cabin that weren’t previously darkened. Despite it being mid-afternoon, I guess it’s time to make sure people can get a good nap should they wish to do so. Shortly after garbage is picked up from the first service, a water service is offered.
The movie comes to an end, and I check the map – we’re a little less than two hours out Toronto. Time to get up and stretch, and I grab a couple of pictures in the galley between Business and Premium Economy – AC has done a nice job of making this a pleasant little alcove, and I’m always surprised by the little details Boeing put into the Dreamliners, such as having electrochromic windows on the door.
I settle back into my seat, and pull up the Documentaries under TV. Fortunately, they have the fifth episode of the epic Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts, which I have not yet seen, so I go back to the Great Depression for a while as we race across the nation. Halfway through the New Deal, there’s a second drink service, and I decide to continue DIY Cheapy Pseudo-J by having a glass of Clamato. Or, as I prefer to think of it at this moment, a virgin Caesar.
By the time the movie is over, we’re starting to get close to home. Airshow shows us over the east end of Lake Superior, not too far from Sault Sainte Marie. Another good time to stretch my legs before we get buckled in for the descent into Toronto. I take a gander out the loo with a view, located right next to door 2L between J and PE, but it occurs to me the view isn’t all that different than the one out my window, just a couple of rows back on the same side.
According to Airshow, we’re about 40 minutes out of Toronto, and we’re going to be to Pearson a few minutes ahead of schedule – we’ll see if that holds up depending on which approach and which runway they give us. But only 240 miles from home, we’re still cruising at 41,000. To no one’s surprise, we begin our descent towards Peason shorty thereafter.
As is often the case when approaching Pearson from the west, we fly right past the airport and go to about midtown Toronto before pulling a U-turn and lining up for the active runway – in this case, the longest runway at the airport, and the northernmost east/west runway, 05/23, the preferred runway for landing widebodies. Our approach takes us over the northern suburbs of Toronto (seen with the downtown core in the distant haze in the first pic below), before final approach over the stables at Woodbine Racetrack (keeping high-strung thoroughbreds directly under a flightpath never made much sense to me), before finally flying directly over the Wendy’s just across Airport Road from the runway, needless to say, a favourite spotting location.
We touch down gently on the runway, and the engines provide powerful reverse thrust to slow us down. Not much to see on the taxi in, other than our twin Air Canada 787 heading out as we head in, and an Air France 777 sitting at T3.
It takes a while for the ground crew to arrive for our flight, but soon enough we’re released into the terminal. I try to get a good shot of our ride, but fail dismally, as the dirty window and the stong backlighting of the scene conspire to fool my camera into focusing on the spots on the window. I assure you, the plane is not actually that fuzzy. Finally, as I primarily travel internationally and transborder, it’s a unique feeling to be let out “in the wild” of the domestic portion of Terminal 1, and not herded towards customs and immigration. I like it.
And thus concludes another week's flying – although this simple transcon in a mix of classes is light stuff compared to some of what's to come the rest of the month.
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, Domestic
Vancouver - YVR
Toronto - YYZ
This is a hard one to rate -- it's a little disingenuous to give the Y cabin on AC's 787s a 9 for cabin comfort. But for flights like this, where you can get the PE seat on a Y fare, it is a fantastic value. I'm fortunate enough to get it free through status, but if it were less than a $75 uplift from my Y fare, this is one preferred seat that's worth buying. Combined with leftovers from the front on buy-on-board and a little imagination, and you've got a very similar experience to narrowbody J at a much more reasonable price point. It's worth checking it out, if you happen to find yourself on one YYZ-YVR or reverse, the only domestic route that AC consistently runs 787s on.
I really love the hard product AC has on this plane both in Premium Economy and Business.
I'm not a fan of Y, it's a little cramped for legroom, and nine-across on the 787 is a little much. I flew it on a daytime flight home to YYZ from LHR and it was passable, but I wouldn't much like it on a redeye.
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