There are places that one can never get tired of going and keep returning with anticipation after each visit. For me Vancouver is one of these places where I always looks forward to during each visit. My introduction to this city happened many years ago when it still enjoyed some obscurity before it became the popular destination that it is today thanks to continuous exposure on travel magazines and its popularity as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a title proclaimed in many countless surveys.
During those early encounters with the city, I remember that the fares from SFO used to be less than USD 200 RT, the city had a more edgy feel and the streets were less crowded with tourists. Itâ€™s hard to pinpoint the reasons for my attraction to Vancouver. It could be a combination of different factors - the laid back attitude of a metropolitan city, the stunning natural surroundings, the concentration of excellent restaurants, the diversity of the population or the compact size of the city making it quite user friendly. These days when one visits YVR, new construction sites are part of the landscape and there is a sense that this place has transitioned from obscurity to joining the ranks of the most popular cities in the world. Indeed, the cute little girl has grown into a sophisticated woman who turns heads. Unlike other cities whose growth has been chaotic like a cancerous expansion, Vancouver's one has been marked by careful and controlled planning, something that has helped enhance its appeal as one of the most livable places in the world.
AC’s counter back in 2008 was near UA in Terminal 3, which is a significant improvement from its previous location in Terminal 1 in front of the AS’s gates. Being able to access the Compass bookstore and the huge food court are enough reasons to welcome this change. I’m in the habit of arriving early for my flights, usually about 2 hours before departure. Having plenty of time to linger around is a luxury that I enjoy and it relaxes me before boarding the plane. Walking through the people’s mover I caught some views of UA’s fleet.
Walking through the UA Terminal
The E90 is equipped with AVOD entertainment system and according to seatguru.com it possesses a 33” seat pitch. My first time flying an E90 was on Jetblue and I started to love this plane. No middle seats, a spacious rear lavatory and a bright cheerful cabin – what’s not to love about the E90? Boarding started about 25min. before departure in an orderly manner and today’s flight was a light one (about 50% full). There was a deadheading pilot who sat in the Y cabin and I noticed a light altercation between a passenger and the gate agents. Apparently the issue was something pertaining to dress code. I would speculate that he was a non-rev who did not meet the company’s attire requirements. The “culprit” was well dressed in business casual with button down shirt, slacks and leather shoes. Maybe he was trying to jumpseat and had to be in uniform.
An empty flight always sets the tone for a good flight. Entering the plane I was greeted by a friendly flight attendant and then I moved towards the empty rear section of the cabin where I claimed a row for myself. Nothing is more conducive to a pleasant flight than having room to stretch out undisturbed. As you can see from the pictures the seat pitch looks pretty decent. In the seat pocket there was a copy of EnRoute along with the safety card and motion sickness bag neatly enclosed in a plastic pouch.
One distinguishing factor that sets airlines apart for me is the quality of its inflight magazine. In that regard AC’s EnRoute magazine is a gem compared to its North American competitors. The publication has been voted as “Magazine of the Year” by the Canadian Society of Magazine Editors and judging by the clever and stimulating contents, engaging pictures and well subjects, I would concur that the accolade is well deserved. You can’t believe how gratifying it is to open the pages of an inflight magazine without being bombarded with ads pertaining to golf, dating and steakhouses. Let’s not forget ill conceived topics lacking interest.
For those of us who enjoy taking pictures a window seat with a view at 35,000 feet is priceless and a sunny day makes it ever more rewarding. Lacking professional expertise myself in the area of photography I admit that I engage in this hobby enthusiastically albeit at an amateurish level. The plane’s engines started to roar in anticipation for take off. Just when the plane was lifting up I caught another plane landing perpendicular to our runway transfixing me by its ethereal appeal. The light softly reflected on the water imparted a glow that contributed to the serene feel of this scene.
We leveled at 35,000 feet and the flight attendants jumped into action by offering earphones for sale. I got my headset out and when the flight attendant saw that she proactively offered me an adaptor for free. Of course I brought my own set but I thought it would be impolite to refuse her offer, especially when it was delivered with such candid enthusiasm. It is precisely this level of service that reminds me of my previous experiences with AC and luckily it prevailed throughout the flight. The last time I flew this particular route on AC a free box breakfast was provided. Times have changed and the ever popular BOB concept has made its way across the border to AC offering a selection of cold wraps, bagel and snacks on today’s flight. Hot items are not served onboard E90’s. When the cart made its way to my row all options were depleted except for the bagel and some snacks. The FA was very apologetic about it and offered me the bagel for free – a nice gesture that was appreciated. However no amount of good will can compensate for the horrible taste of a cold bagel served onboard. Neither the cream cheese nor the strawberry jam could masquerade the cardboard taste and cement consistency of my free breakfast. Dense breads do not travel well at high altitude. A better option would be some fresh fruit with salad and yogurt or even a filled donut with cream or jelly. I know, not the healthiest alternative but one that takes care of any sugar cravings. After all, isn’t AC a North American carrier?
The lethal bagel
AVOD is the best thing that happened to inflight entertainment and it’s a good thing that AC’s E90’s are all equipped with it. It also helps that AC provides a decent selection of programs (“METROPOLIS” anyone?) and showcases film student’s works. I happen to know a thing or two about cinema having studied Italian films in college and presently working for the chair of the Cinema department at a college. Psychologically speaking whenever we fly, we surrender our control and put it in the pilot’s hands. I believe that in a minuscule sort of way AVOD helps to put some of that control back and make the flying experience a bit less stressful. Taking advantage of this empowerment I decided to watch the French comedy Asterix with Gerard Depardieu and I’d say that the role he plays fits him to a teeth. By now one of the FA’s was doing a water run and soon we were descending into a cloudy and cold day in YVR.
AVOD system showing Asterix et Obelix.
View at 35,000 feet (Mt. Shasta?)
Landing in YVR
SHERATON WALL CENTRE
The Sheraton is made up of two buildings (North and South towers) that stand proudly as part of the Vancouver skyline. I checked in at the South tower with its small but well staffed lobby. Two porters stood outside while two front desk agents were assisting at the counter. There were a couple of people in front but the line moved quickly. My interaction with one of the agents who was a manager was friendly and very welcoming. I was given a room with a balcony in one of the upper floors. The view was nice but the size of the room felt restrictive. The bathroom was very standard and not too roomy either. In this day and age of electronic advances it is imperative to offer sockets to charging gadgets and these were easy to find throughout the room. Although the room was acceptable I decided to take a look at the room from the North tower to compare. The manager offered to switch me in case I wanted to and I took upon that offer later on. Moments later a nice agent issued me the keys for my new room at the North tower.
Compared to the South tower, the North tower rooms were more spacious and modern. When I entered the building there was a lady at the desk who seemed overwhelmed with no other staff on sight to assist her. With key in hand I bypassed her and went straight to my new room which happened to be in one of the upper floors once again. The big room was tastefully decorated and I liked it better than my previous room, even without an outside balcony.
The bathroom featured a huge sink with a good assortment of toiletries. Personally I prefer to stay in this wing not only for the space but the contemporary and minimalist décor which makes for a pleasant stay. The only negative observation that I see about staying in this section is a lack of attentiveness that was never a problem at its sister tower. While the South tower was more intimate and the staff more approachable, the North one seemed to be staffed at a bare minimum. Several times during the day I have only seen one person there. One morning I went downstairs to ask for a spare toothbrush. Seeing that the front desk agent was busy helping a customer, I asked the concierge next to it. He sent me back to the front desk where I waited for a good couple of minutes. The concierge then came to the front desk, opened several drawers and provided me with a replacement toothbrush saying “Sorry Sir”. Now, I appreciate his coming over and taking care of me. I can even understand his sending me back to the line if he was busy with someone but he was by himself checking something in the computer. Why couldn’t he have done this in the first place? Certainly this action did not seem very proactive from a customer service’s perspective. Overall, despite this minor disappointment I will come back to the Sheraton. The comfortable rooms at the North tower make up for any shortcomings in service.
San Francisco - SFO
Vancouver - YVR
AC proved to be a nice way to get to YVR and in my opinion is a step above U.S. carriers. The flight was on time, catering was disappointing but at least I got a free item on my birthday. Service was good and I was fortunate to be served by an enthusiastic and friendly crew.
The flight was half empty and that contributed to make the trip more enjoyable. Having a whole row is a great luxury.
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