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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Flight Review: Air Canada AC140/AC125 YYC-YYZ-YYC

I don’t put too many of my flights up onto the Rewards Canada blog but I had some time to do this review of my quick turnaround for the Aeroplan Media Day held on November 13, 2012. Since I wasn’t planning on doing a review of the flight I unfortunately have no photos to post which will make this review even more boring since even I , when I read trip reports, like the photos the most!

Anyways, Aeroplan contacted me back in October to see if I could attend their annual media day and this year my schedule allowed me to do so. It also helped that Aeroplan  covered the flight costs and Starwood Canada covered the stay at the Westin (see my separate post on the stay). It’s hard to say no when your costs are covered!

Although my schedule did allow me to attend, it was tight, so I requested flights out of YYC on the evening of the 12th and back on the 13th in the afternoon or evening. Aeroplan booked the flights not too far out so I figured it would cost them more miles than the basic 25,000 miles required for a Classic flight but when I saw my itinerary I was shocked (well not really) to see it cost them 108,000 Aeroplan Miles to get me on those flights. Personally I can think of a lot of better redemptions that 108,000 Aeroplan miles can be used for but I figure the actual accounting cost of those miles to Aeroplan would only run around $500-$800 so no different than what the flights would have cost to purchase straight from Air Canada. Still, for my family of four we could have got flights to Disneyland for that amount! But it is what it is.

Aeroplan had put me into a middle seat around the middle of the plane so a few days before I changed my seat on the Air Canada iPhone app (I do really like this app) to a window seat towards the back as it was wide open and my hope was that no one would take the middle seat. I also changed my seat on the return flight towards the back. Now, I am different than many flyers out there. When I am not traveling up front and am in economy I like to be at the back of the plane. Typically I am in no rush to get off the plane so I like to board earlier to ensure I get overhead space as I do not check luggage for short trips like this but do take two carry-on bags. Plus I have found it more likely to get the middle seat empty at the back of the plane than in the ‘preferred’ economy seats in the middle of the plane.

I got to YYC at quarter after four in the afternoon, an hour before departure and much to my surprise parkade #1 was slammed and I ended up parking on level 7. Never had that happen before but I attribute it to it being holiday Monday and being late in the afternoon. Most of my flights out of YYC tend to be morning or late at night (Red Eye to YYZ) so I have never had any issues parking on the lower levels. Luckily it didn’t add too much time for me to get to security which was light and I was through in less than 10 minutes and off to gate A10.  My outbound flight was AC140 an Airbus A319, boarding was smooth, I got into my window seat and my gamble to get the middle seat empty paid off which meant my laptop bag went under the seat in front of that one allowing me to stretch my legs a little more. Although the  plane left the gate on time, due to the high winds only runway 28 was in use and it was busy. We had roughly a ten minute wait before being cleared for takeoff were airborne at 5:37 according to FlightAware. The flight was virtually uneventful, little to no turbulence allowing me to get a good amount of work done and fit in the second Sherlock Holmes movie. It’s nice to see the larger selection of movies being offered by AC now on their IFE system. The service from the flight attendants was good, none of them were grumpy as many people I talk to seem to encounter or experience from Air Canada. On approach to YYZ the captain came on the PA to announce that several flights ahead of us encountered severe turbulence around 13,000 feet, so we should be prepared for that. Luckily we encountered very little turbulence and the landing into Toronto was smooth and on time. The taxi to our gate was exceptionally quick compared to most of my flights into Pearson and I was in a taxi on the way to the Westin Harbour Castle by 11:25pm and at the hotel by 11:45 or so.

Routing of AC140 YYC-YYZ
A little more than 12 hours later I was back at YYZ right after 12:00pm with the hope of getting onto one of the earlier YYC flights (2 or 4pm) as I was booked onto the 6:30pm flight. First I checked at the baggage drop off desks and the agent didn’t even look into the flights as I wasn’t the first to ask and that all the flights for the day were full. Well at that point that saved me the $75 change fee on the Aeroplan ticket but I figured I would try to see if I could get on standby at the gate for each of the flights. As much as I like relaxing in business class lounges (I had two choices this day, the Plaza Premium lounge with my Diners Club card or the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge with a Maple Leaf lounge pass) I much rather get home sooner. Security wasn’t too bad for YYZ but definitely could have been faster had there been some people working the lane I was sent to. I wanted to get to the gate of the 2pm YYC flight as soon as possible to see if I could get on that flight and there were CATSA agents around but it didn’t seem like it mattered to them that people were waiting in my particular lane. After about 5 minutes they decided to get back to work and a translator was needed for the gentleman ahead of me so that took up some more time, thinking the more time I lose the more people would be asking for standby on the 2pm flight since the front end agent did state I wasn’t the first to ask. Once through the gate I made a beeline for gate D39 and of course no agents were there (the time was about 1pm). I did find agents at gate D41 for the 4pm flight and asked about changing my flights. The agent was helpful enough that she said normally there would be a change fee but since every flight was full and overbooked that if I could get onto an earlier one my seat on the 6:30 would open up for someone else, so she put me on the standby list for the 2pm flight.

Fast forward to about 1:55 and the 2pm YYC flight is boarded by everyone that should be on the flight. The gate agent, Marko began paging latecomers and stragglers with a few showing up. I knew my prospects didn’t look good as there were lots of people around waiting to get on the flight. He starting calling people and the group of at least 10 or 15 people began thinning out but alas my name was not called. He made the last page that the standby list has now been transferred to the 4pm flight. When he was free of people bugging him I decided to go bug him to see what place I stood in for the 5pm flight. Number 12, darn that doesn’t look good to get on the 4pm flight. So with an hour and half to spare do I hit a lounge or just stick around, I decided to just stick around since YYZ has free wi-fi and I knew I was going to hit some of the shops for some small gifts for my wife and kids. Once all that was done and the 4pm flight was almost fully boarded I noticed some people hovering around the gate agent’s desk. I figured I should get in there too. Lucky for me I did, as they didn’t call out names in order of the standby list. The agent just asked the first guy in line his name, handed him a boarding pass and he was on. I was next in line with a few people behind me. The other agent was still paging latecomers and few did come along (some with the usual excuses that didn’t realize what time it was or that they didn’t hear the pages). Finally the gate agent asked if my name was ‘Wall’, ‘No, Sojka” I responded and a couple of clicks later I had a boarding pass for seat 24D on this Airbus A320. Sweet I’m on! I get down the jetway and there is a line of people waiting to board the plane. Not more than a minute later I can hear one of the gate agents walking down with their radio blaring “Grab the gentleman who was just given 24D as the passenger has just showed up, unless he is on board already then I will deny this person boarding”

“Alright, move out of my way people!!!” is not really what I said but was thinking since if I was on the plane I would be safe. However it wouldn’t be like that. The agent tapped me on the shoulder and I explained I heard everything but he gave me some hope in that the very last person for the plane, whoever was to be in 15D had not shown up yet and that they were about to page them and give it two minutes. In the meantime I waited those 2 minutes in the jetway with the agent and saw the few people who were in line in front of me had to gate check their carryon luggage so I knew that if I got on it would be the same case for my roller. Two or so minutes passed and the agent smiled at me and said get onboard! Yes! I was on, they took my roller to place in the cargo hold and much to the disgrace of the person in 15E who was hoping to have the seat empty next to him I planted my butt in the seat and looked forward to getting home 2.5 hours earlier. Here is my tweet right after I sat in my seat:


Just like my flight to YYZ, the actual flight AC125 on an Airbus A320 back to YYC was uneventful. Service from the flight attendants was fine except for having some water spilled on me by one of them, not a lot and thankfully it wasn’t the Clamato Juice in her other hand. Despite cramped quarters, the man sitting in the middle was quite big, and I don't mean fat, just a big man, I was able to get some work done for the websites and fit in a movie (The Descendants) and a few episodes of the Big Bang Theory.

Routing of AC125 YYZ-YYC

Upon arrival, there was some delay getting off the plane and we soon found out why. They had to close some doors in the terminal and set up our exit via the upstairs customs corridor as the WestJet flight next to us that arrived from Mexico had numerous people get sick on the flight and there was a quarantine in place on the plane and the immediate gate area. They told us not to hang around the gate, just get upstairs as soon as we could and we would be directed back down to the domestic portion of Concourse B/C
.  I was a little disappointed they didn't bring the carry on luggage to the jetway as WestJet had done on my only other flight where I had to gate check luggage. Can someone tell me, since this only the second time ever I had to gate check a carry on, was I lucky on that WestJet flight or is that WS's standard policy? Anyways it took the better part of 20 minutes to get my gate checked luggage on the baggage carousel and I was soon on my way home. And just an after thought, anyone else notice that the YYC parkade payment machines in the terminal don't seem to work half the time? Yup I ended up paying at the parkade exit.

Alright so this isn’t much of a flight review as I actually don’t delve too much into the actual flights since most of the action happened on the ground but I hope you enjoyed it anyways!

3 comments:

  1. Where was the media event? downtown?
    Otherwise it seemed strange they put you at Westin downtown instead of near YYZ

    As for SkyCheck/gate-check luggage, I've always had them for pick up at the bridge/gate after de-plane. Sometimes they force everyone to wait until all SkyCheck luggages were out (maybe to prevent someone stealing others' luggage before they de-plane). Same thing for baby stroller
    That's United, Delta, AA, and AC (only stroller)

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  3. Good info. I have two things to comment on from your write up. First I fly from YUL to ORD, MSP, & DTW often on whichever flight has the best time/price when I have to travel. These are smaller planes and I only take carry on bags, they almost always gate check in the jet-way and You always get your bag back in the jet-way as you exit the plane, However I think only once have I flown these route on Air Canada, usually they are not competitive at all.
    Secondly about the number of point you needed for a last minute flight, 108000! That's robbery, and is the exact reason why I have cancelled my Aeroplan visa and moved to another collector. I want to be able to book flights when I want and to where I want. I find with Aeroplan I'm routed with one or sometimes two stops plus I have to use more than the base advertised number of miles, plus the fees and taxes are more than any other program I use. Anyhow your site is a great resource so thank you.

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