01. Air Canada Express (Jazz) CRJ-900 economy class San Diego to Vancouver
02. SkyTeam lounge, YVR
03. Philippine Airlines 777-300ER business class Vancouver to New York (JFK)
04. Delta Air Lines 757-200 premium business class (Delta One) New York (JFK) to San Diego
I’ve been trying for a very long time to get a ride on Cathay Pacific’s 777-300ER fifth freedom service between New York and Vancouver, and it ticks me off that they think it’s okay to charge over $3000 for a one way business class seat on this route. Who’s actually forking over the cash that nonsense? Well, somebody is (and their pockets run deep) because it’s been that expensive for years with no sign of relief.
Adding insult to injury is the fact that economy prices are just as horrendous, and despite keeping an eagle eye out for good deals, I’ve never seen a fare on this route that didn’t make me clench my fists in a fit of airliner-nerd rage.
Then, out of nowhere, I started seeing $600 one way business class fares on Philippine Airlines and their own fifth freedom service between YVR and JFK. It’s almost as if they’ve been secretly reading my browser history or something and someone in the marketing department was feeling really sorry for me. “We’ve just got to find a way to get SANspotter on one of our planes, because if there’s one thing we need right now, it’s a silly review of our 777-300ER business class product!” At least that’s how I like to think that it happened.
Vancouver, BC (YVR) – New York, NY (JFK)
Saturday, September 15, 2018
Duration: 4 hours 51 minutes
Seat: 6A (business class)
Many of you have probably already seen the video I posted for this flight over on YouTube, but for those that haven’t, it’s a perfect primer for the rest of this trip report. Crank it up and enjoy the soundtrack from Epidemic Sound! By the way, 30 day free trials are available for anyone needing music for their own YouTube videos, and it’s something I highly recommend.
One of the really nice things about flying between Canada and the US is the fact that they pre-clear all passengers before boarding so that it’s not necessary to go through customs upon arrival in the US. I was totally expecting that to happen today, but little did I know that this flight would be arrriving and departing from the international terminal here at YVR, which doesn’t have US pre-clearance facilities.
Upon realization that I’d have to face US customs agents at JFK instead of here in Canada, it was a tough mental challenge to try and decide which I hated more. Going through customs in Canada (whether it’s US or Canadian) has always been challenging – and then there’s JFK, whose agents who have seen it all and don’t take shit from nobody. It’s not like I have anything to hide, but I hate being automatically assumed a criminal by people with a chip on thier shoulder.
After a nice visit to the SkyTeam lounge, I wandered down to the gate area to watch the plane arrive from Manila. The fact that it arrived at all was a miracle since typhoon Mangkhut had just ravaged the region, and all Hong Kong flights into and out of YVR today had been canceled because of it. Then again, you Filipinos are a tough bunch of people and a little bit of wind and rain isn’t going to stop you!
The hour leading up to the departure of this flight was both weird and confusing. The gate that they were using for today’s flight to JFK was completely sealed off from the rest of the terminal (I guess “sterile” is the proper airport-ish term), with passengers who originated in Manila and were continuing on to New York having to remain in the sterile area. Those of us who were originating in YVR had to wait outside.
There was one gate agent standing outside the door with the rest of us YVR-ers, collecting everyone’s passports and running them inside to the podium to have them checked. Nobody really knew what was going on, but we all stood around the entrance to that gate looking through the glass walls watching those who originated in Manila like they were zoo animals. And vice versa.
Boarding ended up being delayed by 40 minutes, which totally sucked for me since this flight was already scheduled to arrive at JFK very late and I had an 8:30am flight home to SAN the very next morning. Every minute we were delayed meant one less minute of precious sleep tonight!
Once they did start letting everyone on the plane, it was only those who originated in MNL first. The doorway to the gate area remained closed and locked until all of those passengers were onboard, and then they finally flung the doors open and welcomed YVR-based business class passengers such as myself. Weird, but I was just happy as heck to be getting on that plane.
The weirdness continued as I walked onto the plane and saw two very nice things that I hadn’t been expecting. First, the business class layout on this 777-300ER was really nice – especially considering that I was expecting dumpy old recliner style seats (the kind you’d find on those old Delta 767-300’s). Second, I had a look at the seat map when I checked in for this flight the day prior, and it seemed really full at that time. However, reality was the complete opposite and there were more open seats than there were occupied.
It was so open as a matter of fact, that one of the flight attendants asked me if I would be interested in moving to another open window seat in the rear (smaller) business class cabin behind the galley. She didn’t have to do much convincing to get me to switch, because “you’ll have a row all to yourself” was all I needed to hear.
Menus and headsets were handed out while still parked at the gate, and the flight attendants wasted no time in swinging back around to collect meal orders. It did feel a bit rushed, but the professionalism and class of the entire crew is giving me every reason to say nothing but good things about the start of the service (even while still on the ground). Who the heck is Philippine Airlines and why haven’t I heard much about them before? The first 10 minutes were really good!
The boarding process completed much faster than I expected, and they shut the main door even before I had the chance to get all the footage needed for the video. Either that or I was so excited that I had inadvertently been filming more than usual.
Once in the air and pointed east, the lead flight attendant came by and set my tray table. Now, I had already been greatly surprised with how nice these seats were and how professional the cabin crew was, so it’s not surprising that I was getting antsy in anticipation of the meal service. Thinking about the feast to come, I reached to my entertainment system remote control and selected “Baywatch” as the film entertainment to accompany the meal. You do realize how embarrassing it is to admit such a thing, right? But this is sanspotter.com after all, where anything goes and I’m not afraid to tell it like it really happened.
The quality of the meal lived up to every single one of my unrealistic expectations, except perhaps in the “quantity” department. Keep in mind that I had purposely reserved my caloric intake in the lounge several hours prior in order to not feel like such a pig while eating shockingly large amounts of food on this airplane, but I didn’t feel as nearly as embarrassed as I thought I would at the conclusion of the meal service. “Happy and content” is the best way to describe the feeling I was having, but I was secretly hoping for “bloated and ashamed”.
I’m very happy to announce that even “Baywatch” was too stupid and cringeworthy for me (which says a lot about how bad it was), and I turned it off about 3/4 of the way through. Instead, I focused my full attention of the setting sun right outside my window and I had a blast watching as we crossed right over the town where my sister lives in western Minnesota. The weather was crystal clear over the upper Midwest this evening, and it was neat to be able to identify with absolute clarity all the little country roads that lead to my sister’s house.
Even more interesting (and downright nostalgic) was crossing right over the top of southern Michigan – the place where I grew up, and the place I will forever call “home”. First up was an amazing flyover of Grand Rapids, then Lansing, before finally passing over the northern suburbs of Detroit.
It was completely dark out by the time we reached Detroit, but if it had been light still, I would have been able to see my old hometown for sure. What an amazing experience to be flying over my hometown in a Philippine Airlines 77W – in business class no less! I remember being just a boy in the 1980’s lying in bed and night watching the lights of the airplanes streak by overhead, wishing that someday I’d be up there too. *sniff*
The rest of the way to New York was largely uneventful, and I spent the time working on a trip report while waiting for the pre-landing snack to be served. But it never came. That’s a bit shocking actually, considering that every other part of this flight had been phenomenal with the entire crew working hard to make sure that everyone was comfortable and happy.
If only there would have been some daylight left for the arrival into JFK. It was totally black out there as we were making the final approach, but I could see the twinkling lights of the city looming way out there in the distance. I miss New York, and I felt a bit fioolish to be here and knowing that I wasn’t able to go into Manhattan on this trip.
Just as I was feeling like a fool for coming to New York without having the time to look around, the plane made a violent roll to the right. This wouldn’t have been so scary if we weren’t already skimming the rooftops on short final, but wow – I had never experienced a maneuver like that so close to landing, and it ranks right up there in the top three of my “holy crap we’re gonna crash!!” moments.
It turned out that it was just a very last-minute runway change, but still – if we would have waited any longer to make that change we would’ve dragged a wingtip into a house I’m sure. Capping off the gnarly approach was an equally gnarly landing, with the pilots using every last inch of the runway to get us slowed down. Yikes.
So there you have it. The best way I can sum this flight up is to take a jab directly at Cathay Pacific and their obscenely high fares on this route. I’m willing to bet that the service on this Philippine Airlines flight from Vancouver to New York was just as good (if not better) than what they offer on their competing flight, so there’s absolutely no justification for those $3000 one way business class fares.
Unfortunately, as much as I like to tease, I reluctantly know that CX has already won this battle. Philippine Airlines has just pulled out of YVR-JFK, and have replaced it with nonstop MNL-JFK A350 service instead (which launched just a few days ago at the time of this writing). Cathay Pacific has reigned supreme, and until then, I’ll just keep hoping for reasonable fares so I can give it a try for myself.