Around the World

Miles flown for stories
2014: 137,829
2013: 330,818

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Air Canada: New Planes, New Seats, New Rules, and More

77W Delivery

Sparkling-new Air Canada 777-300ER C-FIVX at the Boeing Delivery Center, Paine Field, Everett WA. Photo: Bernie Leighton

It’s looking pretty busy at Air Canada (AC) and not just because they’ve launched their new “leisure airline,” rouge.

This summer, AC took delivery of the first two 777-300ERs from their latest five-plane order. When this order is completed, AC will have 17 -300ERs and 6 -200LRs in their international fleet. While AC’s new 777s look standard on the outside, they are very different inside.

Their newest 777s are configured in a new, three-class cabin, seating 458. That’s a huge 30% capacity increase from AC’s older 777-300ERs, which have 349 seats in a two-class arrangement. What all has changed? Obviously we had to take a closer look.

Continue reading Air Canada: New Planes, New Seats, New Rules, and More

Tales from the Ramp at Toronto’s Airport – 1970s Edition

Terminal 1 at YYZ on a snowy winter day in the early 1970s.

Terminal 1 at YYZ on a snowy winter day in the early 1970s. I’m really glad I only worked there in the summer! Photo: Toronto Pearson International Airport

I was in my late teens in the early 1970s.  For two summers, I had the absolutely perfect job that any young AvGeek would ever want – working on the ramp at a major airport.  Yes, I’m proud to say that I was a “Ramp Rat”!

My summer job was at Toronto International Airport (YYZ), then also known as Malton Airport.  I worked in Terminal 1, the uniquely-designed round-concourse “Aeroquay”.  It’s long gone, having been demolished and replaced by YYZ’s new T1.

I was part of a crew of four; my boss, called the “lead hand”, and two other guys.  No girls allowed in that club back then!  We did everything, including baggage and cargo offloads and onloads, and cabin cleaning.  I’d normally work the 2 pm  to 10 pm or the 4 pm to Midnight shift, when the main international “push” happened at YYZ.

It was a transition period for the international carriers.  Most still flew the early-generation 4-engine jets, like the 707, DC-8, and the beautiful but incredibly loud Vickers VC-10.  The wide-bodies were just coming into the fleets, with early 747s, DC-10s, and L-1011s.

Short- to medium-haul flights were handled by DC-9s, BAC-111s, 727s, and a few 737s.  The 737 wasn’t particularly popular with the airlines back then – how times have changed.  We worked turboprops, like the Convair CV-580 and Lockheed Electra.  Any Airbus planes?  Didn’t see any, because the A300 didn’t go into service with Eastern Air Lines until the late ’70s.

And just like any job, stuff happens.  But for AvGeeks like me, there are many things I’ve remembered, all these years later:

  • When the later-evening Eastern Air Lines 727s arrived, our crew would rush to do the offload.  Then we’d head to the cabin and grab a first-class dinner tray before the catering trucks came to empty the galley.  Filet mignon – yum.
  • While cleaning the cabin of a BOAC 707, a summer thunderstorm rolled over the airport.  The winds were so strong that they actually pushed our chocked plane about six feet.  There was a catering truck up on its lift on a 747 at the next gate – I thought it was going to tip over.
  • Late on a pea-soup foggy evening, appreciating the surreal experience of driving around the ramp, oh so very carefully, as the wingtips lights of each plane loomed out of the fog.
  • Feeling a bit sorry for a co-worker, on the same foggy night.  He was driving a van, and didn’t go the right way around the left wing of an American Airlines 727.  He wiped out the left aileron.  The plane was grounded for repairs for over a week. My co-worker’s career at the airport was permanently grounded.
  • Almost suffering the same fate, when I positioned a baggage tractor for an arriving BOAC 747.  I confirmed with my lead to make sure it was in a safe parking spot, and then went up to put the Jetway on the arriving plane.  The 747’s nose appeared and stopped, then the engines spooled up and the door came into position.  I put the Jetway in place, then went back down to the ramp to find that the steering wheel of the tractor had been crushed by the inboard left engine cowling.  The damage on the cowling was a small, 1 inch scratch. Many pictures, inspections and discussions ensued. The plane was cleared, though, and left on time.  My lead and I were in “big potty”, but kept our jobs. Luckily the steering wheel didn’t end up in that engine! And that 747’s registration – G-AWNL – I’ve never forgotten.
  • Ick – cleaning the washrooms on charters coming from Europe.  Double-ick – those were the days before smoking was banned, so the armrest ashtrays had to be cleaned out, too.
Alitalia Boeing 747-100 taken in 1977 by Bob Garrard.

Alitalia Boeing 747-100 taken in 1977 by Bob Garrard.

  • Working an Alitalia 747 that happened to be the flight that my parents were taking to Rome, and on to Tel Aviv.  Much waving from their seats.  Because of the connection and security issues at the time, their bags weren’t in containers, but had to be put in the “free load” hold just below the tail.  Who was in the hold, and put their bag gently in place?  Me!  Who didn’t notice that the cart with their other bag ended up back in the baggage room?  Ummm…me.  And who got the 3:00 AM call from Rome, from my very p/o’d Dad?  That would be…me again.
  • My favorite shift was being assigned to the refueling crew.  All of the ground equipment had to be refueled, every day.  Our lead had a van to drive us around, our crew all had clipboards with a list of the equipment, and we drove the tractors, belt loaders and even the aircraft tugs back and forth to the gas pumps.  I’d try to grab one of the baggage container-loaders because they went really slow.  I’d enjoy a beautiful summer evening on the ramp during the 20 minute drive to the pumps.  And back.
  • If I was working on a cabin, I’d try to do the clean of the forward part of the plane.  That included the forward part of the economy cabin, the first-class cabin, galley and washroom, and…the flight deck. I think I spent way too much time just sitting in the left seat.  It took  quite a while to empty the waste bins, you know.  Except one day on a JAT Yugoslav 707, when the very imposing stewardess-in-charge told me “You don’t clean, I clean! Go!” (Yes, they were stewardesses then)
  • On those hot, humid, Toronto summer evenings, watching the 707s and DC-8s use just about every foot of the longest runway on takeoff.  There was a hump about halfway along Runway 32, and the planes would pretty well disappear from view before they fought their way into the air, spewing black smoke from their max-power engines.

Do you think I had fun? You bet! And I’m sure that there are other current or ex-Ramp Rats out there that have other stories. Want to share? Please do so in the comments.

UPDATE:  Our friends at Air Canada just sent me 5 fabulous archive photos.  Have a look:

YYZ Aeroquay Terminal 1 before it opened in Feb 1964

YYZ Aeroquay Terminal 1 before it opened in Feb 1964

 

Aeroquay Observation Deck - yes, you could go outside and watch the planes!

Aeroquay Observation Deck – yes, you could go outside and watch the planes!
The DC-8 is in Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA) livery, pre-Air Canada.

 

The new YYZ Terminal 1 at night in 1964

The new YYZ Terminal 1 at night in 1964

 

A cold winter day, before Jetways. That's a Vickers Viscount in the background.

A cold winter day, before Jetways. That’s a Vickers Viscount in the background.

 

Air Canada's first 747-100, CF-TOA, along with a DC-9 and "stretch" DC-8, likely between 1971 and 1974.

Air Canada’s first 747-100, CF-TOA, along with a DC-9 and “stretch” DC-8, likely between 1971 and 1974.

 

This story written by… Howard Slutsken, Correspondent.

Howard has been an AvGeek since he was a kid, watching TCA Super Connies, Viscounts and early jets at Montreal’s Dorval Airport. He’s a pilot, and gets away to fly gliders whenever he can.  Howard is based in Vancouver, BC.

@HowardSlutsken

My Review: Flying Porter Airlines From Toronto to Montreal and Back

PORTER AIRLINES REVIEW BASICS:

Airline: Porter Airlines
Aircraft: Bombardier Q400
Route: Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) to Montreal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL)
Class: Economy
Seats: 13B (aisle) and 15D (window)
Length: About 70 minutes (each way)

Cheers: Everyone gets treated like they are flying first class — including free wine and beer.
Jeers: Some people might not like riding on a turbo-prop.
Overall: This is the way flying should be — and a rarity to find it on a regional carrier.

Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 sits at Toronto.

Porter Airlines Bombardier Q400 sits at Toronto.

THE FULL PORTER AIRLINES REVIEW:

During a recent trip to Toronto, I had the opportunity to fly to Montreal and back using Porter airlines (disclosure: the trip was paid for by Bombardier to check out their Cseries in Montreal). Being based in Seattle and flying Horizon/Alaska quite a bit, I am no stranger to the Q400 aircraft. There have been quite a few times that when I talk to people about the Q400, I am asked if I have tried Porter Airlines. Luckily, I can now say that I have — and that is a good thing.

When flying Porter Airlines,  getting to the airport was half the fun. I walked about a mile (could have easily taken a cab, bus or subway, but it was a nice morning), hopped on a shuttle bus, then took the world’s shortest ferry ride. For those that love anything that involves transportation, the experience is pretty cool. So why a ferry? Well, that is kind of a long story.

After arriving at Billy Bishop airport, be sure to turn around and catch the view of the ferry with Toronto in the background.

After arriving at Billy Bishop airport, be sure to turn around and catch the view of the ferry with Toronto in the background.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport is located on an island in Toronto and is restricted to  prop aircraft and helicopters. When Porter first began looking at starting operations there, they were under the assumption that a bridge would be built to allow easy access. There was some fun political stuff that went down and no bridge has been built. Instead, the airport runs a small ferry that can hold cars and passengers from the “mainland” over to the island. Don’t blink, because you might miss the ride — it is the shortest ferry ride in the world.

The Toronto Port Authority is in the process of creating a pedestrian tunnel that will allow easier access and reduce the onslaught of passengers that come with each arriving ferry. The ferry will still operate once the tunnel is completed (which they are expecting to be done in 2014), to handle car traffic and presumably passengers who want to get the full experience.

I was staying in downtown Toronto and decided to make the one mile walk to the Royal York Hotel, where Porter Airlines operates a free shuttle to the ferry . Even with the walk, shuttle and ferry, it was less than an hour from my hotel room to my gate, which was quite impressive.

Porter Airlines waiting area is nicer than some airline first class lounges I have been in -- and everyone gets access.

Porter Airlines waiting area is nicer than some airline first class lounges I have been in -- and everyone gets access.

Since all I had was a camera, it was quick and easy for me to get through security. Every time I go through airport security any place that is not in the US, I am reminded how much better it can be. I was greeted with a big smile and asked how I was doing (what… is this a trick?). I asked if I needed to take off my shoes and I was told no. He looked at my belt and said, “that might make the alarm go off,” and I explained it never had before and he let me through (very different from the barking orders that the TSA gives).

This is when things really get different. Instead of having a bunch of uncomfortable seats with bad lighting, the Porter Airlines waiting area is like a first class lounge — and a good one at that. I have been in a few first class lounges of other airlines that have been worse than Porter’s waiting area. There are free drinks and snacks, nothing major, but still impressive. There is free wifi and plenty of comfortable seating.This all comes at no extra charge and is just part of the Porter experience.

Before my flight I had an opportunity to sit down with Brad Cicero and Amanda Ashford, with Porter communications, to learn a bit more about the airline. They explained to me that Porter is looking to add some paid options in their lounge, including ready-to-go food and alcohol.

Porter Airlines offers a comfortable cabin that feels high-end, especially for a regional prop airliner.

Porter Airlines offers a comfortable cabin that feels high-end, especially for a regional prop airliner.

Each flight is clearly announced and people line up at one of three doors before heading to one of ten gates. With most regional prop aircraft, you have to (well “get to” for airline fans) go on the tarmac to board. This can be okay some times of the year, but winter in Toronto has a way of getting a bit cold. So, the airline helped to design a customized boot to allow an inside hallway to connect to the aircraft, keeping passengers out of the elements.

The Q400 is not known for having spacious overhead bins (although the Q400nextgen does do a pretty good job) If you have a larger carry-on, you can give it to the Porter employee at the gate and they will return it to you once you land. This is a similar service that Alaska and Frontier Airlines also offer on their Q400s.

Porter has arranged their Q400s with a 34″ seat pitch with 70 seats vs the typical 78 seat set up. All the seats are leather and the interior uses lighter color tones. It felt more like someone’s personal aircraft than an airliner. On both my flights I had a seat mate, which didn’t give me too much room side-to-side — although I am a bit bigger of a guy. I was sitting in the aisle going to Montreal and I would really have to bring my shoulder in from being hit by people passing in the aisle.

Yea, this might have been a 11:30am flight (8:30am Seattle time), but I had to test out the free wine for my story.

Yea, this might have been a 11:30am flight (8:30am Seattle time), but I had to test out the free wine for my story.

Just because the flight was only an hour doesn’t mean that passengers don’t get full service. A bit after take off the flight attendants started down the aisle giving out meal boxes and drinks. On the way to Montreal I had a chicken sandwich with pasta and on the way back was a chicken wrap with veggies. Now, these are not full meal portions, but way more than you would expect in economy on almost any other domestic airline. Not to mention you also get free beer or wine — in a real glass.

The flight attendants have classic uniforms that look professional and the four I was able to interact with seemed to actually enjoy their job and positively interacted with passengers, even though they had a short time line to complete their service.

The weather in Montreal was foggy and a bit snowy, so we did not see the ground until we almost touched down. Even sitting near the rear of the plane, it is always a quick de-boarding process on the Q400.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) seen from the Porter Airlines Q400.

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) seen from the Porter Airlines Q400.

After a few hours in Montreal, I was back at the airport ready to take another ride on Porter. The ride back was equally enjoyable. This is an airline that seems to be in at the right place at the right time, offering the right service.

They are working towards getting US Customers Pre-Clearance in Toronto, so that they can expand routes into the US that do not have customs. Porter is also planning to bring lounges to additional airports that they serve like Montreal and Newark, sometime in the future.

Previously the airline has not turned a profit and has been around 50% passenger load. Once completing the numbers for 2011, they are hoping to show a profit and occupancy loads to be around 60%, helping to fuel future growth for this unique airline.

VIEW ALL 20 PHOTOS FROM MY PORTER AIRLINES FLIGHT

How a Billionaire Throws a Party – Virgin America’s Toronto Party

Virgin America Airbus A320 on the Tarmac in Toronto (N631VA)

Virgin America Airbus A320 on the Tarmac in Toronto (N631VA)

Normally airlines do something special when they open up a new route. Maybe a few balloons, some cake and a get together. Well, Sir Richard Branson pulled out all the stops to celebrate Virgin America’s new route from San Fransisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Toronto (YYZ) and I was lucky enough to go along for the ride. So what is it like to party like a billionaire? I didn’t know, but I sure as heck wanted to find out.

The whole event started for me at SFO,  however, Virgin America (I am going to go with VA for short) started the flight at LAX and stopped in SFO to pick us up. The  gate area had a party atmosphere to it.  There were fancy cupcakes, champagne and nice decorations, and everyone there was waiting for the flight to come in from LAX with Sir Richard Branson, CEO David Cush and Govenator Schwarzenegger on-board.

Party time! People up in the aisle during the flight! I love the VA lighting.

Party time! People up in the aisle during the flight! I love the VA lighting.

Branson might be the world’s most famous entrepreneur(or at the very least, he’s the most famous in the airline industry), and Schwarzenegger is easily one of America’s most notable politicians.  Seeing them exit the plane together was pretty exciting. I didn’t realize the govenator was going to be there, but I was clued in when I started asking questions about the obvious police and body guard presence. Yes, he does look bad-ass in person and I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him.

There have been very few flights in my life where I get to know the people around me; this flight was one of them, which seemed like we were all friends going to a celebration together.  Because of the comradery, it took quite a long time to get the near-full flight boarded and seated.

City of Toronto from the rooftop!

City of Toronto from the rooftop!

During the whole five hour flight (except takeoff/landing), the aisles were filled with people. There were a few camera crews on-board trying to do interviews, which is difficult to do in an Airbus A320. There were a lot of people to walk around and talk to. I think I was in my seat for a whole 30 minutes of the flight, which you normally don’t do on a regular flight.  The flight attendants did an amazing job. Not only did they have to deal with everyone in the aisles, they were constantly working and all their bosses (and boss’ bosses) were on the plane.

There were more than VA employees, guests, press and the five actual (and shocked) customers on board; a few famous people were on the plane as well. Unfortunately I am not really into the whole celebrity thing, so I didn’t find out who was there. I knew Drake (musician) was on-board since there was a photo of him on the side of the plane, which was also renamed,  “Air Drake.” I talked with Eric Roberts for a bit, before realizing who he was (if you care to know the whole guest list, Jaunted seems to have it). I did get a little star-struck and made sure I got a photo of  Sir Richard Branson and me, which I am very excited about.

Bunch of people having a good time on the roof of the Thompson Toronto Hotel

Bunch of people having a good time on the roof of the Thompson Toronto Hotel

The five hour flight went extremely quickly and the head honchos were put to work. VA CEO David Cush was handing out customs forms (yes remember, Canada is another country) to people on the flight and Sir Branson was making announcements. When we landed I was sorry that the flight was over, but the real fun was just about to begin.

At Toronto we were greeted by a very friendly flag waving welcome party and a couple of mounties.  I had to wave and pretend I was someone they would care about. We were bussed over to customs before getting on a shuttle to the hotel, Thompson Toronto. The hotel was brand new, very nice and very trendy. We had 45 minutes to get freshened up and head to the roof pool deck for a pre-party.

Almost everything VA does has a sexual inuendo. This sign was in the elevator at the hotel

Almost everything VA does has a sexual innuendo. This sign was in the elevator at the hotel

I have never been to Toronto before and being on top of a 16 story hotel right in downtown was pretty amazing. Add to it great food, nice drinks, sunny weather and in the company of  some pretty awesome people…I felt like I was somebody.

Once it started to get cold, the party moved downstairs in the hotel where music was playing. There was a VIP section where the famous people were, but again I didn’t know who they were (more came from around Toronto I guess).  I was more interested in talking to the pilot who landed our plane and Christian who is in charge of the Toronto base. To me (the airline nerd) they are the real celebrities.

The shuttle to go back to the airport was leaving at 5:00am, meaning I had to get up at 4:00am. With lack of sleep on the trip already, I was only able to make it until midnight before getting my precious four hours of sleep before that annoying alarm went off. I didn’t hear any amazing stories of things that happened after I left, so I am going to assume I didn’t miss anything.

Even though the party was amazing, we did hit a little snag trying to fly out of Toronto. When an airline starts at a new city and new country, it is common for things to go wrong.  A few things happened at about the same time that caused a lot of stress for the VA staff working in Toronto. The self check-in podiums weren’t working (people were trying to fix them) and VA’s computer system kept going out. This meant it took a long time to get everyone checked in and actually caused the flight to be delayed. However, passengers were constantly informed of what was going on and there really wasn’t anything anyone could do, but wait.

The flight from YYZ to SFO was very short, because I slept. There were a lot of VA employees on that flight, but no one up in the aisles, no more celebration and a lot of sleeping. It was a lot of travel for only 15 hours in Toronto, but totally worth it. It was fun to step in the world of a Billionaire and see how they party. Although, inviting some friends over to my house for some beers is pretty cool too.

Additional Fun:
* Over 165 pictures from the whole travel process & party
* Photos from CNET (I am in 3 of them…can you find me?)
* Nice story from Hotel Chatter about Virgin Hotels