My Ride to Montreal from Toronto – MSN 400, registration C-GHKR – Photo: Peter J.M. Harrington-Cressman
Sometimes, when you are a true aviation enthusiast, you do things that some people would consider weird or unorthodox. Maybe you are wanting to fly just to experience a certain aircraft type. Or maybe it’s a Saturday evening and you want to catch up with a buddy you haven’t seen for a long time. In my case, I had a number of Aeroplan points that were going to expire. So, I decided to use those points and fly one of my closest friends and myself from Toronto to Montreal and back again — in the same evening.
For at least the last 30-40 years, Air Canada has operated almost hourly flights, known as Rapidair, on what is an extremely busy route between two of Canada’s largest cities; Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL), which is about an hour and fifteen minute flight. The route has a lot of competition: WestJet, Porter, Air Canada, and even VIA Rail. Of course, most travelers just want the least expensive flight, with the best frequency.
As I was doing this flight on points, I had basically only Air Canada to choose from. As a general rule, I don’t like WestJet – I’ve never had a good flight with them and sometimes all the busy business traveler wants is quiet, attentive service without the comedy shtick. But I digress. What makes these Air Canada Rapidair flights interesting is that there is a wide cross-section of equipment types used on these flights – everything from Dash 8s all the way to A330s. The flight that I picked for my buddy Justen and me was Air Canada flight 834 — being operated by an Airbus A330-300.
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.