When last you saw your valiant flight reporter, he was hauling ass through the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX in hopes of making it over to Terminal 2 on a very short connection due to the fact that his ride from Seoul to Los Angeles had shown up late.
I made it – at a run – as far as Terminal 3 when I got the call. It was the LAX Air Canada Concierge, and she had news for me on me making AC796. Apparently, Air Canada had chosen this flight, on this particular day, as the first time in recorded history it cared about on time performance. It was not to be. Oh well. “Prepare to be inconvenienced,” and all that.
I met her between Terminal 2 and 3, and she walked me over to the check-in counter, where she said she’d get me on AC788, the red-eye back to Toronto, if she could. As it was spring break in parts of Canada, she said they’d been running a lot of flights “-15” (as in oversold by 15) all week, regaling me of stories of families being stuck in LAX for two or three additional days. And they hadn’t even been dumb enough to try to book a international-to-transborder connection at an airport that laughs at the idea of “Star Alliance under one roof.” I inquired about an option through Vancouver that would require me to make it very quickly through security (if it was running on time,) but was told that too was oversold. So the redeye it was. She very helpfully asked if I’d like some suggestions on what to do in the LA for the next ten or so hours. I declined. I had work to do, and figured I’d just hang out.
Oh, but then lo and behold, when she printed out my boarding pass, it was for seat 4A on AC796 – the 2:05 flight to Toronto, which would get me in a couple of hours later than expected, but was decidedly not a red-eye. The Concierge was surprised, saying she’d been asking gate agents about getting me on 796, and was told not a chance because it was booked solid.
Eventually, we decided that the Call Centre Concierge with whom I made initial contact must have decided to protect me on 796 before he called the LAX Concierge to take over. We further decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but she said she’d protect me on AC788 just in case things went hairy between the present time and the boarding of 796.
With that, I got a Concierge escort through security and to the Maple Leaf Lounge. Unfortunately, PreCheck had just shut down for lunch break, but it was still a quick enough line, although I felt kinda silly having an AC Concierge escort me through a rather familiar security line and to a new Maple Leaf Lounge. The airline had just moved into a larger space, right next door to its old digs, in the last few months.
I said my goodbyes (for now) to my Concierge, thanked her heartily for her hard work, and set out to check out the new MLL. Oh hey… my third lounge “today” (at least by date, if not within 24 hours), operated by three different airlines, all playing CNN with its All-Germanwings-all-the-time coverage. “Here’s the latest on the suicidal co-pilot incident before your flight….”
So by way of correction…
3/27/15 - AC796 LAX-YYZ - You are here. For real this time.
After a quick first look around the MLL, the first thing I notice is…. oh hey… is that the 763 operating AC792 I see taxiing out to the runway? Apparently, I missed it by less than I thought I did. Oh well. What’s done is done. Safe flight back to Toronto, big bird.
The new MLL is decided larger than its predecessor, and looks much more modern and up to date than the old digs.
The food setup was about the same though – nothing to write home about. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get other passengers to leave it alone long enough to get a good picture, but you’re not missing much – some light snack options, a decent enough fridge – better than UA Lounge, but nothing to write home about. I decided to skip the eats since I’d be eating soon enough on my ride back to Toronto.
Looking around, I was surprised to see an Air Canada Rouge 767 on a gate here – I didn’t realize they were running the Rouge widebodies down to LAX.
Shortly after that, another Air Canada 767, this time mainline, pulled into a gate at the end of the pier we were overlooking. “Strange,” I thought… I was pretty sure AC just did one mainline widebody turn into LAX a day, that being the morning flight out of YYZ that turns around and goes home as AC792, which I had just missed.
As boarding time approached, I made my way down to the departure gate for my new flight to Toronto. Unfortunately, missing 792 meant “no pod for you!” as this flight would be operated on a A320. Oh well. It’s a short flight (compared to the TPAC flight I was coming off), and I didn’t want to sleep at all if I was going to have a shot at being a functional human being the next day in Toronto.
As I approached the gate, my Concierge friend spied me, smiled, and walked up.
“Mr. HometoYYZ,” she addressed me, although I’m not sure how she knew my screen name, “did you hear?”
I replied that I had not, indeed, heard.
“792 came back to the gate. They were still there a few minutes ago. There’s a chance you might make it home before them!”
Okay, so that accounts for the mysterious 763 that had appeared an hour or so ago.
Boarding was called in Air Canada’s new zone-by-zone scheme, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the other three passengers who had been on the late Asiana flight with me and misconnected on AC796 getting in line as well. All four of us would end up on in J in this 14-seat business class. So either the flight had not been all that oversold in the first place, or the Call Centre Concierge had been a really nice guy, and protected all of the J passengers who had misconnected off Asiana on the flight. If so, a great gesture, since I know from talking to them that those passengers were not Air Canada Super Elites, and therefore wouldn’t have access to Concierge help normally on a transborder J ticket.
I made my way down the ramp and aboard C-FFWN, one of AC’s more senior statesplanes, just a bit over 24 years old now. Still, she was looking good to me because she wasn’t operating a red eye, and I was boarding. AC’s domestic/transborder narrowbody business class product is nothing to write home about, but it’s still better than UA, as AC will remind you frequently as they take increasingly more of the increasingly hard-to-earn eUpgrade points you need to sit up front as a frequent flier on a suitable economy fare. The seat is decently comfortable, offer acceptable leg room, and has IFE, even if the old “Project XM”-era IFE shows its age in comparison to newer systems on more modern planes.
As the cabin filled in, pre-departure beverages were offered – orange juice or water, and menus were distributed.
Before too long, we were taxiing our way away from the terminal, and lining up for the beautiful climb out of Los Angeles.
Having satisfied my urge to get some work done in the lounge, I decided to kick back and watch a movie or two – or more specifically, to try to catch the end of a couple of films which I had fallen asleep during on the course of my last five flights. Soon enough, the seatbelt signs were turned off, and drink orders were taken. Since I was back on an airline where I could say “I’ll have a Caesar, please,” and not be looked at like I had two heads, that’s exactly what I did. It was promptly poured, and served with a warmed mix of almond and cashews.
Dinner service began with a hot towel and the distribution of table cloths, neither of which I apparently saw fit to photograph, and then the trayed salad was introduced. Being what AC classes a “premium longhaul” domestic or transborder flight, there are some minor upgrades to the service versus other routes, and one of them is this larger, more substantial salad.
I can’t complain too much about it – I particularly like the sundried tomato and the zucchini, but as a frequent flier, you get really tired of the same balsamic and vinegar dressing that is the only dressing AC offers on any flight, domestic, transborder, or international. They must have got a hell of a deal on a few million little bottles of this stuff a few years ago. By this time, we were proceeding through a beautiful sky over the rugged and dry US southwest. Pretty, but desolate.
For lunch, I ordered the beef and pork meatballs, a new dish to AC this month, I believe. They’ve been trying some new options on the red meat to replace the “beef tenderloin” that was as ubiquitous as the chicken, salmon, or pasta options on these flights – I’ve read of these meatballs as well as a lamb dish, but this was my first encounter with either. I was impressed. The meatballs were really tasty, and a decent consistency. It helps that they’re much more forgiving of being a bit overcooked than is the steak. I quite enjoyed it, and felt no regrets over ordering it, even though it meant turning down my beloved mushroom ravioli with cheese sauce.
The other main benefit of J on a “premium longhaul flight” (along with the better salad, and a fourth main course item instead of the usual three) is that the small plated cake service is replaced by a cookie and ice cream dessert, which is generally the highlight of the flight. Back in the day, there used to be two cookies, a chocolate chip and an oatmeal, that accompanied the ice cream, but that was eliminated a few years ago, as AC continues to simultaneously crow about how premium their premium cabins are (and that’s why they can’t give you freeloaders unlimited upgrades like the US carriers do,) while obviously cutting costs. Oh well. The cookie was really good. And so was the ice cream.
After dinner, I mostly went back to my movie-watching ways, and zoned out for most of the rest of the flight. Drinks were topped up, service was decent, and the usual “chips and cookies” snack basket was passed around about 45 minutes out of Toronto. I’d tell you that I had a bag of Miss Vickie’s, but… y’know… “pics or it didn’t happen.”
We arrived into Toronto smoothly enough, and it felt good to be home. As it turned out, we didn’t beat AC792 back here, but we only arrived about half an hour later than she did, so I don’t feel so bad about misconnecting.
Here's the E190 we parked next to.
And here's one last look at C-FFWN.
After the long walk through Terminal 1 to immigration, I was pleasantly surprised to find a new bank of Nexus machines installed, meaning that for once, there wasn’t a substantial queue to use the “get out of customs fast” machines. Things are looking up!
A quick walk through the baggage hall, and I passed in my customs form and was free, off to my car and time to get home after a long, but amazing, week on the road.
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge
Los Angeles - LAX
Toronto - YYZ
And so ends this epic journey, with a pretty much bog standard AC premium long-haul in business. Nothing to write home about, but nothing offensive either. The new main dish was a winner, the service was decent, and it got me home the same day I had intended to get home. It would have been better with the pod on the 763, but you can't have everything, can you? Where would you put it?
The Concierge service doesn't get a great deal of attention from AC, but although I've only made use of their assistance a handful of times over the last few years (this flight, once on a tight international-to-domestic connection at YVR, and a couple of times trying to sneak aboard an earlier flight home from LGA), I'd say they're AC's best-kept secret and arguably the best reason to chase Super Elite status. Even with some cutbacks made -- Concierges can't seem to bend the rules for their pax the way they could a few years ago without repercussions, and the local in-terminal Concierge offices have been partially outsourced to a central call centre -- Concierges are are a valuable service, and perhaps as importantly, a way of making top tier customers feel like they actually matter to the airline, despite management's efforts to show them the contrary is true. It's worth noting that Air Canada International Business Class customers (non-upgrade) have access to Concierge assistance as part of their ticket benefits, although the airline doesn't exactly to out of its way to tell its non-Super Elite business customers about them, or to provide access.
Thanks for joining me for this first trip report series. I hope readers have enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed recapping it, and I'll see you around here soon with some more mundane business travel.
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