And so begins an busy October and November of flying, with some interesting trips ahead of me.
A client requires me to be in Hong Kong for a pair of meetings — one set this week and another set two weeks later. They aren’t willing to pay for business class, unfortunately, but they are willing to pay for Premium Economy, and I do have some Air Canada eUpgrades left. So that’s how I book it, and since I’ve already re-qualified for S100K with AC next year, I’m starting to get some nice mileage threshold bonuses and really squirreling away some miles for next year’s adventures. So unfortunately, I’ll banish the idea of “going to the other side” and trying out Cathay Pacific. For now.
Looking at my available eUpgrade points and the ridiculous number of eUpgrade points required for trans-Pacific flights, I calculate I’ll be able to upgrade all of my domestic flights (AC doesn’t offer Premium Economy on domestic flights, so domestic connections on international PE itineraries book into the highest fare bucket, which upgrades with just a couple of eUpgrade points, and can upgrade at time of booking, assuming there’s availability) and two YVR-HKG segments. I decide to try to upgrade both ways on my first trip, “rough it” in Premium Economy for the second trip.
I put in for upgrades on this YVR-HKG and HKG-YVR trip at the seven-day window for Super Elites. Happily, HKG-YVR clears immediately. YVR-HKG, not so much, and over the ensuing days, I watch the flight go from J7 to J6 to finally J5 as I check in for my flights 24 hours ahead of time. Having reached T-24, there’s no chance my upgrade will clear before the gate, but I’m fairly optimistic that it will clear.
In a previous report on a YYZ-LHR flight, I took a moment to reflect on just how much metal AC sends to Heathrow. It’s different, obviously, because it’s a domestic flight, but the number of flights between Toronto and Vancouver on AC is truly silly. Today, AC will send 13 flights from Toronto to Vancouver. That will include five 321s, three 320s, two 77Ws, two 77Ls, and a 788. That’s a lot of capacity on a domestic route, one that’s also well-served by WestJet.
This morning, I’m on the first of the 777-200LR routes. And so, with the stage set, I show up at about 6:30 for this 8:00 am flight to Vancouver. Despite Terminal 1 already being quite busy at this early hour, but aisle one, home of AC’s premium checkin lanes for domestic and international (but not transborder) flights, is all but deserted.
Fortunately, because I’m on a domestic/international (and not transborder) itinerary, I’m already armed with an electronic boarding pass on my phone, so I’m quickly off to the short security line for Nexus card holders on domestic flights. It’s a painless run through security, and the agent running my lane is in good humour early this morning, so quickly I’m airside. Now, let’s see if I can find the subtly-signed enigma that is the domestic Maple Leaf Lounge at Pearson.
Yep. I think it might be this way.
I join the couple waiting for the elevator and head upstairs to the lounge. A quick boarding pass scan, and I’m in to explore with about an hour prior to boarding.
The domestic MLL at Pearson is a well-appointed lounge… I’ve reviewed it a bit before, most notably during a time I had it almost all to myself prior to another early-morning flight to Vancouver. (LINK HERE) It’s a well-appointed lounge, with plenty of seating — a main area, part of which is a raised section, and a few other side areas, including a “quiet zone” with some window-facing recliners, and a dining room area with a couple of TVs behind the main buffet. There’s also an area set aside from the “main” part of the lounge, to the right of the lounge entrance, which mixes lounge seating with some workstation cubicles, and a “work room” with some computers and workstations, and also some seating shoehorned in. This lounge can get quite busy during peak hours.
WiFi is decently fast this morning, and sign-in is fairly easy — open a new page, press the connect button on the redirect page that shows up, and you’re spit out at aircanada.com, of course. Then you’re on your way. For those looking for a little pre-flight reading, there’s also a long table in the middle of the main hallway with a variety of magazines to suit most tastes.
The buffet is more extensive than most other MLL breakfast bars, which is in turn generally better than what one would expect to see Stateside. There’s some cold cereal, oatmeal, fruit, yogurt, pastries and bread, and a few hot items, including sausages, hash browns, and scrambled eggs with cheese. Oh, and coffee. Plenty of coffee, with two coffee machines and two espresso machines on the main buffet, and a second set of coffee machines at a secondary buffet location near the entrance. Both the main and secondary buffets have self-serve bars, but they’re under lock and key as it’s before 11 am. But the selection is pretty decent. When you can get to it.
I grab a little sampling of eggs and a sausage link, and a cappuccino to go with it, and grab a seat to enjoy a quick snack before it’s time to head to Vancouver.
With that, it’s about 20 minutes to boarding. Time to get a little leg-stretching in before the flight to Vancouver. I’m bid a good flight by the lounge agents, and it’s still fairly dark outside as I head down to the departures level, one level below security, which itself is a level below the MLL.
When I get there, I’m greeted by that most Canadian of sights — an epic early-morning lineup to get a caffeine kickstart at Tim Horton’s. I believe this is the only Timmy’s accessible from the domestic gates. I’m pretty sure it’s basically a license to print money.
Heading out towards Gate D39, I notice that the “buy your local souvenirs here” store has decided to go all-in in support of the Toronto Blue Jays. It’s been a long 22 years for Toronto baseball fans since the halcyon days of 1992 and 1993.
Our gate this morning is out at the end of the “main” pier of domestic gates at Pearson, and is already attracting quite a crowd. The gate agent, in explaining the boarding, says we’re about ten minutes from starting boarding, so I decide to take a bit of a stroll around the gates before it’s time to go. A quick wander through the domestic terminal, and when I come back, we’re already boarding Zone 2, but there’s basically no lineup — perhaps a light-load of elites this morning? Either that or folks are just waiting for the last minute to show up for this flight.
A quick scan of the boarding pass on my cell phone, and a quick check that I haven’t forgotten my passport for the upcoming international segment, and I’m down the ramp towards the waiting Boeing 777-200LR. This flight is most often served by a -300ER, but as they have the same size of business cabin, and the same two-class configuration, it’s an easy swap-out when necessary.
For this flight, I’ve got 11K — the window seats of the last row in the aft “mini-cabin” of J on AC’s older-configuration 777 fleet. These ones are my preferred seats because of the extra privacy afforded by being in the final row with the J-class washrooms in front of the mini-cabin, around doors L2 and R2, as well as the little closet that provides extra seclusion.
The closet also has the effect of providing an extra little storage cubby, which comes in handy for ditching the provided blanket and pillow should one not wish to use them. Air Canada now charges $300 extra for business class fares on these “Business Class Transcontinental” flights where it uses its internationally-configured widebodies for domestic flights, but as of yet, they’ve not jacked up the required eUpgrade points or miles for redemptions. So it’s a popular upgrade route — the only way, sadly, for Elites below the 100,000 mark to sample AC’s longhaul hard product without having a co-pay attached to the upgrade.
One thing that I’ve forgotten prior to now about the 77L fleet is that 11A/K are WINO seats — Window In Name Only,due to a misalignment of the seat with the windows on the plane. So unfortunately, no spotting or taxi/takeoff pictures on this segment — not that these aisle-facing herringbone seats are particularly good for said spotting anyway.
It’s a lie-flat seat, so legroom is obviously plentiful, and in many ways, this old (and soon to be taken out of the 777 fleet) configuration is AC’s best international J setup for those looking for some sleep. There’s a power outlet, a USB port and an hard-wired set of earphones (as well as an audio jack) on the outside wall of the pod, and a convenient ledge for drinks on the inside.
Despite boarding during the Zone 2 boarding process (where business class had been called with Zone 1), the mini-cabin is sparsely populated as I hop in, but in no time it’s starting to fill up, and a very friendly flight attendant offers a newspaper — which I decline — and a pre-departure beverage of water or orange juice — which I do not decline.
Menus are soon distributed, and there are no surprises here — it’s the standard (but reasonably good) Air Canada breakfast offering. The same friendly flight attendant from the PDBs comes around and asks what I’d like for breakfast, and I go for the “healthy option,” a larger-than-usual fruit serving accompanied by oatmeal.
Boarding continues, and the mini-cabin is soon full, with at least two staff seated in J — a captain who takes 10G across the aisle from me, and a flight attendant a couple of rows in front of me on the starboard window side.
We push back right on time, and the captain — who humourously has to pause to recall his first officer’s name — tells us we’ll be a few minutes early into Vancouver. “Sorry folks, guess it’s a little early for me,” he apologizes. Yeah… feel free to take the time to have a coffee before you take us hurtling through the sky at 500-plus miles per hour. In fact, have two. Please.
We make the long taxi out to Runway 05, and there’s no lineup in front of us, so we’re quickly up and away into the overcast skies.
One of the downsides of the old pod configuration is that monitors have to be stowed for takeoff and landing, but once we’re in the air, I quickly pull it back out — had to have it out previously for the safety video — and see what’s on the the in-flight entertainment system for October.
My first discovery is that, like many of this first-generation pods, the IFE monitor is a big banged up — first of all, the monitor itself is only loosely attached to the base that connects to the little mounting arm, and when you push the touchscreen, it wobbles away from you. At first I’m concerned that a hard press will break it off altogether, likely invoking some hidden “you break it you buy it” clause in AC’s terms and conditions, but it turns out that it will stay mounted. As is almost always the case, the registration for touch is a bit “off,” and in this case, trying to press a button right at the top of the screen — such as “AutoPlay” in the moving map — is a challenging battle of wills between passenger and machine. Eventually, though, it is one that I win. Take that, machine!
My second discovery is that the headphones are a little banged up as well. Although AC just replaced the old Sennheisers that were originally installed in these pods about a year ago, this headset is already looking a little worse for wear, and in fact, when playing IFE, only the right audio channel works. UNFORTUNATELY, BOTH CHANNELS WORK JUST FINE AND VERY LOUD FOR PA ANNOUNCEMENTS, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Even half-busted, these headphones are better than the old Sennheisers by a longshot.
With a bunch of longhaul flying with AC ahead of me, I decide to wait on the few new releases that are of any interest to met, and select “Adventureland” from the Contemporaries category. It’s a perfectly acceptable airplane movie. Over the last couple of months, most planes in the AC fleet have had their IFE “updated” to prevent passengers from skipping through the pre-movie commercial roll, which is about three minutes on a new release. However, on this flight, I’m free to zip through the ads, so either AC is backing off on this wildly unpopular idea, or this particular fin has not yet been “upgraded” to the blocking feature. Either way, count me happy.
One of the unique foibles of this generation of pod is the annoying blue lighting bar located above the pull-out slot for the tray table. Fortunately, it turns out as you recline, and if you work carefully with the controls, you can find just the right balance between sitting up enough to be able to eat your meal, and reclined enough to turn the stupid light off. But it’s tricky.
Once in flight, service begins with a (very) hot towel, and having refreshed, I decide it’s time to take a quick walk forward and check out the lavs, located immediately aft of L2 and R2. AC has a nice little “bar” area here on its international flights, with self-serve drinks and snacks set up. Alas, that is not the case on this domestic flight, although I still think this alcove is a nice touch.
The lav is your standard “loo with a view,” but is a little cramped, situated as it is towards the side of the plane.
Returning to my seat, tablecloths are distributed. I’m not sure why AC always sets them in this “diamond” setup as oppose to draping is square-on, so the embroidered AC logo will face the passenger, but they seem to consistently do it this way.
The first course of breakfast — a small fruit plate for everyone else, and a larger fruit plate for those who went with the “healthy option” quickly comes around on the cart, and drink orders are taken as the breakfast trays are distributed. Orange juice and black coffee always make a good breakfast pairing. Accompanying is is a vanilla Greek yogurt, and a little slice of cheddar and swiss, accompanied by Melba Toast. The cheese and crackers are only offered on what AC calls “premium longhauls,” which I presume are its highest prestige (and revenue) domestic/transborder flights, such as YYZ-YVR/YYC/LAX/SFO, YUL-YVR, and probably quite a few more which I’ve forgotten. These cheese is a nice touch, providing a little extra punch of protein to the healthy option.
The fruit plate includes cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, oranges and grapefruit, and is quite a generous portion. It’s not the most filling breakfast you’ll ever have, but quite enjoyable. I’d really only recommend the “healthy option” instead of the omelet on a Premium long haul where the cheese is included, though, unless you’re really trying to eat light. The pancakes are not on offer, except on Premium Long Hauls.
As I was served breakfast, the flight attendant asks if I’d like the oatmeal, and I say that I would. But as she comes around again to clean up, she seems to have forgotten, so I politely ask about it, she apologizes, disappears into the galley, and comes back a few minutes later with the oatmeal, accompanied by two packets of brown sugar, and a little baggie of dried fruits. Oh, and another coffee. Because caffeine!
The oatmeal, as always, is not really a highlight. It tastes okay — provided one likes the taste of oatmeal, but made on the plane, it almost invariably seems to turn out watery and disappointing. I think I’ve had it turn out really well only once, and I’m not sure what they did differently — although it may have been on a 788. Maybe the water is hotter on the new planes, so the oatmeal reconstitutes better? I don’t know. I’m just guessing. Anyway, it’s not great, which has always been a bit of a disappointment to me. Had I been smarter, I would have had some of the very good oatmeal on offer in the MLL, and skip the in-flight oatmeal altogether. Oh well. Live and don’t learn, that’s me.
With breakfast over, the movie soon comes to an end, and I check the moving map to find out we are indeed making good time, and are currently over Saskatchewan. With the moving map keeping me company, I settle in and write the first 3,000 or so words of this trip report.
Here's a look at the second J cabin in-flight.
About an hour out of Vancouver, the “snack basket” is brought around, with the familiar almonds, Miss Vickies chips, and Lindt chocolate now joined by a Kit Kat. I grab one for my bag, sure it’ll come in handy at some point in the near future.
The snack basket is followed by a warmed mix of almonds and cashews, and a bar service. I request a Clamato — I don’t feel like making it a Caesar at this point though. It all goes down pretty well, and ensures I won’t need to eat again before we head off to Hong Kong, assuming we get off on time, since HKG is currently experiencing delays as a result of the tropical depression that’s just made its way through the neighbourhood.
To keep me entertained for the rest of the flight, I put on a documentary entitled The Secret World of Lego. You can probably guess what it’s about. Once again, I’m able to fast-forward through the pre-show commercials. It’s sad that this feels like a victory at this point. “By 2019, the population of Lego mini-figures will out-number humans,” the documentary starts. So consider yourself warned when the revolution comes. I find it quite fascinating, but unfortunately, before I can finish it, it’s time to close up the screens as we’re on approach to Vancouver.
We’re taking a nice direct path into YVR, and the sights outside what I can see of the window are quite spectacular as mountains give way to the Vancouver area. So I “borrow” the window behind 10K’s seat, and capture a few highlights on the way down.
We set down gently about 9:30 local time, and after a short taxi, pull immediately into Gate C50 at YVR, right next to where my flight to Hong Kong will depart from, once my ride arrives — if AC is true to usual form, my “high-density” 777 for Hong Kong will be operating the 9:00 Toronto-Vancouver flight, so should be right behind us.
As we wait to disembark, I strike up a bit of a conversation with the young pilot sitting across the road, and then it’s time to head out and say goodbye to C-FIUA, my ride to Vancouver this morning.
We turn right down the corridor, and are release into the domestic terminal, right by the security guard who checks passengers headed into the international gates area. A quick scan of my boarding track, and I’m into the international area, and we’ll pick up the next trip report at this point.
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Domestic
Toronto - YYZ
Vancouver - YVR
Another good business class flight from Toronto to Vancouver. Nothing truly outstanding, but a fine flight. And it's always nice to get the internationally-configured widebodies for these flights as opposed to the recliners on the narrowbodies.
I suspect I'll appreciate the flat bed seat and the opportunity to get a few Z's on this YYZ-YVR flight the next time I do it, when my connection to HKG will be in the decidedly-not-flat-bed premium economy seat.
Although I suspect the answer is obvious (slow-cooked in a massive vat as opposed to dried and reconstituted with airplane hot water), it never ceases to amaze me how AC can get oatmeal so right in the lounge, and so bad in the air.
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