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.
For a 15-year-old A330, it certainly was not showing its age. The cabin was spotless with no signs of wear and tear — I’ve been on newer WestJet 737s that look beaten and worn out.
Our flight actually continues on from Montreal to Geneva but we were only going as far as Montreal. For this flight, we were seated in seats 18A & 18C. Being 6’3”, I felt that spending the extra $10 for the bulkhead seat was well worth it. For my friend Justen, this was his first experience flying on an Airbus A330 and Air Canada did not disappoint! The cabin service even on such a short flight was great. Our cabin crew was able to efficiently provide beverage service to a very full flight. Keep in mind, the flight from Toronto to Montreal is barely long enough to have a beer – literally you have just enough time to have your drink and then your descent into Montreal begins.
Upon arrival in Montreal, all passengers had to deplane, despite the vast majority of passengers continuing on to Geneva. I took a moment to speak with the cabin manager about this – she explained that upon departure from Toronto, the aircraft is provisioned with all meals and beverages, however some of the cabin comfort items such as pillows and blankets are loaded on fresh in Montreal and it also allows Air Canada to pick up extra passengers. Since the flight from Montreal to Geneva is usually pretty full, it allows turnaround time on the ground to be accelerated by deplaning all passengers and letting the aircraft grooming team run through the cabin and get the aircraft provisioned and setup for its onward flight to Geneva. Interestingly, the flight from Montreal to Geneva usually has a load factor above 85%, which is pretty constant throughout the year.
Upon our arrival in Montreal we ran into a slight issue that was a bit of a blight on our trip. I had issues all day with the Air Canada mobile app on my Android device — it was not allowing me to check in for our return flight to Toronto. Since our arrival time in Montreal allowed for only a few minutes to get from one gate to another and board, I didn’t have a ton of time to get this issue resolved. When I approached the gate agent for our return flight, she actually was quite angry that I was not checked in – despite explaining that the Air Canada app was the source of the problem. She was unwilling to assist Justen or me in any way. It took a bit of persuasion but she was able to check us in, but she certainly wasn’t pleased to be doing so. Oh well.
For our return flight back to Toronto, we were on Air Canada flight 427. This time, our flight was operated by an Airbus A321-200. This particular A321 first flew on September 26, 2002 and felt as clean and well cared for as the brand-new A320 I toured in Toulouse in February. For the return to Toronto, I again spent the $10 to be seated in upgraded seating – this time we were seated in an exit row on the right side of the aircraft in seats 16E & 16F….and the legroom was truly amazing.
Even stretched out, my feet never came close to the seat ahead of me. It was also fun that for this flight we had one of the flight attendants seated next to us who struck up quite the conversation. He overheard me explaining various features of the A320 family to my traveling companion and brought up a point that has been tossed around on many online forums: one of the peculiarities of the Airbus family is that when the aircraft is taxiing on one engine, there is one hydraulic system that is not powered by the engine. As a result, there is a power transfer unit that will start up and transfer hydraulic power to the inoperative system. It sounds like a barking dog. Anyway, it’s always fun when you get recognized for having knowledge about the technical aspect of the aircraft you are flying on and it’s the cabin crew that are asking you the questions!
Since the cabin crew knew that Justen had never been on an Airbus before, once we had landed, both of us I were invited up to the flight deck and we got to sit in the “big chairs.” It was really an amazing act of kindness on the part of our crew — they gave us about 15 minutes to sit up in the cockpit and soak it all in.
While WestJet and Porter may continue to nip at Air Canada’s heels, I will not be changing my loyalties any time soon. I know that many are critical about Air Canada, but having flown them on both a domestic and long-haul transatlantic run in the last two months, I can honestly say that I was impressed. Air Canada has been recognized by SkyTrax as the only four-star international network carrier in North America and I can truly say that based on what I have seen, they are fully deserving of this recognition.
Some of my coworkers thought that I was nuts for flying to Montreal and back in the same night for no reason other than just to fly. But I truly enjoyed being able to catch up with an old friend and introduce him to the Airbus product line. As for Justen, his first Airbus experience was an exceptional one. For someone who had never been on the flight deck of an Airbus, he was blown away by the technology and the fact that the A320 is flown through a sidestick – something that always catches people off-guard when they are expecting a control column and wheel. Air Canada’s hospitality in allowing us to visit the flight deck went above and beyond and it was the perfect end to a great evening.
Air Canada has 61 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft on order. I really enjoy the Airbus fleet and will miss them as the airline begins to phase them out; however, all is not lost. Rouge, Air Canada’s low-cost carrier, has just taken delivery of two brand-new A321s and is poised to add more.