Celebrating Aer Lingus’ return to Toronto – Photo: Philip Debski
Back on April 14, 2014, Aer Lingus officially launched its comeback to Canada. That Monday was dark and wet, with pouring rain, when flight ‘Shamrock 1 Mike 9’ (129 in the reservation system) landed for the first time in Toronto (YYZ). The company has returned to the Canadian market after 30 years of absence, last flying to Canada in the 70s and 80s with scheduled flights to Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) and rare charter flights to YYZ.
The Dublin – Toronto route is part of the company’s recent transatlantic expansion plans. This is the 4th new launch by the airline.
Being served by their recently-acquired Boeing 757s, the route will be daily during the summer and 4x weekly during the winter. Toronto, for Aer Lingus, is an important business and tourism market, and also home to a growing Irish community.
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.
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.
- 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
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
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.
||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 | www.wingborn.ca
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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