01. Delta Air Lines 717-200 economy class San Diego to Los Angeles
02. Air Canada 787-9 economy class Los Angeles to Toronto
03. Air Transat A330-300 economy class Toronto to Montreal
04. Air Canada A330-300 economy class Montreal to Vancouver
05. Alaska Airlines 737-800 first class Vancouver to Seattle
06. Alaska Airlines A319 first class Seattle to San Diego
Before this quick jaunt to Montreal and back, it had been nearly 17 years since I last stepped foot on a mainline Air Canada airplane. It’s not like I had been avoiding them out of hatred or anything, but I will admit that the mentally-challenging process of entering into Canada (as I first discovered in the early 2000’s) has kept me from visiting my friendly neighbors to the north for longer than I care to admit.
Canadian customs agents are strict. So strict as a matter of fact that it’s hard not to imagine that they’ve all got a stick up their butt – a very prickly stick with sandpapery bark and the remnants of snapped off branches protruding in every direction.
The good news is that I think I’ve reached an age now where I just don’t care anymore and I’m not willing to let anything stop me from what I want to do in life. I wanted to fly Air Canada again gosh dang it, even if it meant dealing with grumpy Canadian customs agents, so here we go with my second mainline AC flight in two days.
Montreal, QC (YUL) – Vancouver, BC (YVR)
Saturday, December 1, 2018
Duration: 5 hours 0 minutes
Seat: 41K (economy class)
Before digging into this post, I recommend checking out the video. Get ready for epic face-melting scenery at the 7-minute mark! Music provided by Epidemic Sound as always:
Now, on with the old fashioned pics and words…
Didn’t like: The 7:20am departure time
The problem with being a total airline and airplane nerd is that more often than not, I book my flights based on aircraft type over schedule and convenience. It’s not as bad as it used to be though, as I’m no longer willing to do a 3-segment hop from West Palm Beach to San Diego just to get a ride on a widebody from ATL to DFW like I did once back in April of 2000. Screw that. Alaska Airlines and their nonstop 737-900 from MCO-SAN is a far better Florida-to-California option for me these days and it takes a lot for me to choose “fun” over “convenience now that I’m crusty and old.
I’m not totally boring though. Every once in a while my youthful enthusiasm rears it’s ugly head and I find myself booking fun yet migraine-inducing itineraries such as this painfully early A330 to YVR to kick off the journey back home to San Diego.
In a day and age when a vast majority of US and Canadian transcon routes are being flown with 737’s and A320’s, it was all but impossible for me not to book a seat on the once-daily Air Canada A330-300 from Montreal to Vancouver when I could have just booked a 737 to LAX instead. It did mean having to wake up at an ungodly early hour in order to catch this flight, but I was willing to give up a few precious hours of sleep for a ride on anything that wasn’t a vanilla 737 or A320.
Why is it that the only fun (non 737/A320) flights depart at the most inconvenient of hours? I’m bright enough to know that the answer is based on a combination of load factors and aircraft positioning, but that’s a very adult and not-so-exciting answer that I have a hard time accepting. If SANspotter where in charge, this would be a 10:30am departure time and not a minute earlier.
Liked: The in flight service
As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways to gauge the quality of an airline is by the service. This is especially difficult since all airlines use the same airplanes and seats, and I appreciate the challenge of attempting to set themselves apart from one another with the service they offer both in the air and on the ground.
Consistency is a great way to offer a great product, and given the fact that very few airlines are incredibly consistent from flight to flight, it’s one way that Air Canada flies miles ahead of the competition. Each of the three flights I’ve experienced with this airline over the past several months (SAN-YVR, LAX-YYZ, and this one) have been dead-nuts similar in areas such as speed of onboard service, the upbeat attitude of the flight attendants, and the products offered.
I comparison, I’ve found United to be very inconsistent with their inflight product as of late. On some flights, the free economy class snack is that dang Stroopwafel I despise so much. On others, it’s a bag of pretzels. On the SAN-LAX route, sometimes there is no service at all other times they manage to throw everyone a snack or two. At least Air Canada understands the power of offering a consistent product – it keeps people coming back, because we all know how scary the unknown can be.
Didn’t like: The in flight service
Having a consistent in flight product is one thing, but it doesn’t really matter all that much if it isn’t very good to begin with. Air Canada Rouge has been the butt of my jokes for the past year and a half for that very reason, and the mainline product (Air Canada) is dangerously close to being added to my “omg they suck” list as well.
How does it end up happening that a major airline’s low-cost subsidiary is nearly the same product as the main brand? As far as I can tell, the only difference between Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge from a passenger perspective is the seat pitch (don’t set foot on a Rouge plane if you value the health of your knees), but other than that, there is no difference in the service offering.
I’d expect not to be given a free snack on a low cost carrier, but not even on Canada’s national airline? I couldn’t believe it when I had to whip out my credit card to nourish myself on this 5-hour flight to Vancouver.
Liked: The open seat next to me
I’m not sure what the deal is, but my lucky streak has been on an absolute tear lately and I’ve had more than more than my fair share of empty adjacent seats on recent flights. The pinnacle of this luckiness had to have been that nearly-empty Icelandair flight from San Francisco to Reykjavik last October, and it seems like it’s been a string of home runs ever since. Including this long transcon flight to YVR.
I do need to mention that having an open seat next to me came dangerously close to not happening at all on this flight though. It was only moments after reaching cruising altitude that the guy sitting next to me got up to use the bathroom and never came back, and it had me wondering for a moment what weird thing(s) I did to drive him away. Was I smelly? Was there a large piece of breakfast sandwich still stuck to my chin? I didn’t care at all, and just shrugged my shoulders and proceeded to enjoy the rest of the flight in total solitude.
Didn’t like: The somewhat dated interior with inoperative USB outlets
I hate to say it, but I think I would have enjoyed the novelty of being on a domestic A330 more if I hadn’t had the opportunity to get a ride on an Air Canada 787-9 from LAX to YYZ just two days prior. Not only is the 787-9 Air Canada’s newest aircraft at the moment – it’s also the flagship model of the fleet, stuffed to the brim with all the latest technology and comfort do-dads to make everything else pale in comparison. Including this A330-300 I found myself on to YVR. As much as I like the A330, it ain’t no 787-9.
This particular aircraft (C-GHKW) looked as if it hadn’t had an interior refresh in years (perhaps ever), and despite looking like it had been holding up well to the abuse, I noticed that an alarmingly high number of USB ports were inoperable – including the one at my seat.
Luckily I had an open seat next to me and I was able to poach the USB port in that one, but I did notice a handful of other passengers with a look of worry and frustration on their faces as they plugged their phone into their USB outlet and nothing happened. Beware of the Air Canada A330s if you need juice to power your devices.
Liked: The stunningly beautiful early morning arrival into YVR
If you’re looking for things to add to the travel category on your bucket list, I’ve got a really good suggestion for you: book an early morning (or late afternoon) flight to Vancouver for the middle of winter, choose a window seat, and enjoy mind-melting mountain scenery during the approach that’ll give you memories for a lifetime.
The Canadian Rockies are nothing short of incredible – but I already knew that before this flight. What I didn’t know was that the approach into YVR from the east involves skimming the top of those majestic peaks in a way that had me questioning whether or not there was anyone alive and alert in the cockpit.
I suppose you could see the same scenery on very clear early-morning winter departures from Vancouver as well, but you’ll be climbing away from the mountains too fast in order to be able to experience the sensation of skimming the peaks (and clipping an engine). Unless your flight is crashing of course, but then you’re likely to have other things on your mind…
If your schedule is flexible (and you function halfway decently before the sun comes up), this Air Canada A330-300 is a decent option for the journey west to Vancouver from Montreal. Although the economy class cabins are somewhat dated compared to their newer aircraft, it’s hard to beat the spacious comfort of a twin-aisle airplane on such a long flight.
Doing this trip in business class? Then you wouldn’t have any excuse not to fly the A330. It’s a total no-brainer thanks to the lie-flat seats, and you’re never going to find that kind of comfort on any 737 or A320 anywhere in the Air Canada fleet. At least not yet.