My Ride to Montreal from Toronto - MSN 400, registration C-GHKR - Photo: Credit

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 flight from YYZ to YUL is quite short - Image: GCMap.com

The flight from YYZ to YUL is quite short – Image: GCMap.com

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.

BONUS: Flying in Business Class in an Air Canada E-190

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.

2 AvGeeks in their element...

That’s Justen in the baseball cap and me looking like a dork, but wearing the sweet Airbus shirt I bought in Toulouse – Photo: Peter Harrington-Cressman

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.

BONUS: Flying in Air Canada Business Class to South America

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.

Air Canada A321 C-GJWO

Our Air Canada A321 C-GJWO, MSN 1811, registration C-GJWO- Photo: Wikipedia – Open Source Image

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.

Lots of legroom in the Air Canada A321 - Photo: Peter Harrington-Cressman

Lots of legroom in the Air Canada A321 – Photo: Peter Harrington-Cressman

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!

Flight deck of an Airbus A321 - Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

Flight deck of an Airbus A321 – Photo: Jason Rabinowitz

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.

BONUS: Air Canada Expands Rouge to the West

Air Canada, WestJet, and Porter all lined up in Ottawa - Photo: Heads Up Aviation | FlickrCC

Air Canada, WestJet, and Porter all lined up in Ottawa – Photo: Heads Up Aviation | FlickrCC

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.

BONUS: Giving Porter Airlines and Their Q400s a Spin

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.

A lifelong aviation nut, it is commonly felt by those who know him best that Peter has jet fuel coursing through his veins. Taking his first flight at the age of 8 weeks old, Peter has always gone through life with an eye cast to the sky. Peter's lifelong goal is a career in commercial aviation. Until then, he makes due by reading and writing about all things related to flight.

http://www.airlinereporter.com
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24 Comments

I’ve been on AC multiple times and liked them, but I’m disappointed with how they’ve introduced 3-4-3 seating on some of their 777s. Had to endure that for 18 hours flying YYZ-YVR-HKG (on a staff standby ticket so I couldn’t go nonstop) and it was horrible.

Peter J.M. Harrington-Cressman

I have heard that a lot of people dislike the move to 10 abreast seating…but luckily, that won’t happen with the A330-300 as it has the signature 8 abreast seating that all A300/A310/A330/A340 have, thanks to the 222 inch fuselage that Airbus has used since day 1. Obviously, the A380 and A350 have a different fuselage design and they have been able to cram more people in. And if you look at a lot of 777 operators, I think you will see the 10 abreast is the new reality.

Definitely, I’ve flown 777s in 3-4-3 on EK and SU as well – awful every time. And 3-3-3 is the norm on the 787, which I flew once with AA, and it’s almost as bad.

I prefer Airbus planes because their seats are generally a bit wider (as am I!) Ultimately though, seating is the airline’s decision, not the manufacturer’s. The 787 was designed for 8-abreast, but almost every airline has gone with 9-abreast instead to cram in more seats. There are rumours about 9-abreast seating on the A330 and Airbus has already shown an 11-abreast option for the A380, so I imagine things will soon be equally uncomfortable in Y on every plane!

It’s a bit more complicated than that – Boeing did a bit of a “flexible seat width” trick with the 777 and 787. The 777 has 18.5-inch seats in 9-abreast and 17-inch seats in 10-abreast, while the 787 has 18.5-inch seats in 8-abreast and 17.2-inch seats in 9-abreast. 17 inches is generally regarded as the industry minimum, so you can see why airlines are choosing the denser seating configuration.

Airbus planes are different, aside from the A380 of course. The A330 has 18-inch seats in 2-4-2, and the A350 has 18-inch seats in 3-3-3. The whole point is to discourage airlines from trying to cram more seats in, because that would reduce the seat width to under 17 inches. Airbus even explicitly stated that it strongly discourages airlines from ordering the A350 in 3-4-3. Of course, there are still some airlines who do it anyway. There are more than just rumours about 9-abreast on the A330; sadly, it’s been reality for a long time. Air Transat has been using it for more than a decade, and AirAsia X uses it as well. Haven’t tried it myself, and don’t think I’d enjoy it either!

Wow. I didn’t realize anyone had actually done that with an A330 yet. Air Asia X has 16.5″ seats on the A330 according to SeatGuru. That’s insane!

voet.klm

Air travel in Y class isn’t what it used to be. Travelers who can’t cough up the coin to travel in either First or Business will pay the price.

Yup. And Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines use it as well, forgot about that. Cebu managed to squeeze 436 seats into the 333, all economy!

Steven Walker

I just flew YVR-YYZ on B777-300; first time on this variant, and it was packed, almost 450 passengers onboard across two classes. I was sitting at 27H, I turned my head around, and could just see aisle as far as the eye could see, just crazy. It is disappointing to see that AC have refurbished the B77W to a sardine packing 3x4x3; couldn’t imagine doing a long haul flight in that configuration, would be brutal.

Phoenix

Awesome writeup. Nice to hear you having a good AC experience. Here in the West I hear all the mediocre AC and good WS stories so maybe it’s reversed in the East?

Frank van der Voet

I’m with you, Phoenix. My experiences with WestJet have been uniformly good to excellent. With no onboard jokes, BTW. Air Canada on the other hand, came up short , several times. For me, AC is a back-up airline for my travel plans. WS my airline of choice (I do not have shares in either airline).

Peter J.M. Harrington-Cressman

I just find that WestJet tends to focus too much on being to “buddy buddy” with the passengers. They may be funny and they may be creative in their methods of doing the safety briefing, but lets be honest, say what you will about Air Canada, they have extremely well trained cabin crew that inspire confidence – WestJet just leaves me cold all the way around….but, to each his own.

Frank van der Voet

I concede the point of being ‘buddy buddy’. I find the word “guest” in WS advertising jarring. I would expect to have my fare paid for if I were someone’s “guest”.
Otherwise, I think it is most likely an East-West thing. YYZ is the practical megahub for AC and they focus on activities from that terminal. Same can be said for WS at YYC.
I expect cabin crews, no matter what the color of their wings, to be well-trained. I never had concerns with either airline in this regard.

Thank you for writing an article about the Lockheed L-1011. I am not an avid flyer by nature and I actually still have a lot of fear of flying, but I do love this plane. Was a passenger on one in 1976 on my second trip to Walt Disney World and no plane has been like it, before or since (at least for me). First time I flew it was on a Delta DC-9 two years earlier and I hated it, so small and cramped by comparison. The L-1011 was really the positive, defining experience of flying for me. You can have all your modern Boeings and such, I’ll take an L-1011 every time. I wish they were still being made and still in service since they were so far ahead of their time. I would so enjoy flying on one again! Best. Plane. Ever.
Thank you.

Living in a regional centre, I’m almost always stuck on a Q400 instead of a proper mainline plane. Given a choice, I’ll take Porter over either Jazz (AC) or Encore (WS). Porter has decent legroom and nice staff. Jazz has decent legroom but surly staff. Encore has nice staff poor legroom – they fit 78 seats in the same space where Porter has 74. The new Encore slimline seats are also physically painful on the bottom when you’re in them for over an hour.

It’s a shame because I used to buy up to Plus on WestJet when they flew the mainline 737 up here (where Plus gets you catering, more legroom, and an empty seat beside you), but now I avoid WestJet altogether because of the slimline seats on the Encore leg.

As for the “folksy” bit from the WestJet crews, I usually enjoy it, but I think they need to need to read their audience a bit more. My last YYZ-YQT was delayed by almost 2 hours and didn’t land until 2:30 am. At that hour, no one wants to hear the extended 5-minute version of your “If you’re going to forget personal articles like phones on the plane, please leave the chargers with them…. If you enjoyed your flight, my name is Steve. If you didn’t, my name is Bob!” fake-happy arrival monologue. Make it short and sweet and then (with all due respect) just STFU.

As a frequent flyer, though, what drives me nuts about flying with WestJet is not the planes or the crews, it’s the PASSENGERS. Air Canada and Porter seem to have a lot of business travellers who are at least semi-familiar with the bags in the bin/seatbelts fastened/tray tables upright routine. Every time I fly WestJet, I swear half the people have never even seen a plane before. They wander down the aisle in confusion as if the whole 1-then-2-then-3-then-4… row numbering system is beyond them. They bring 7 bags on board and try to keep their purses or backpacks on their lap for takeoff. After landing, aisle passengers stay seated until everyone ahead of them has left instead of standing up and getting their bags ready. I don’t know how the crew deal with it!

And the smoking – is it mandatory for every Encore passenger to reek of tobacco? I swear, it’s like riding the damn Greyhound. Or travelling with my parents. It’s like riding the damn Greyhound with my parents, that’s what it is!

So I what I’ve gathered here is that if you’re wide or large- flight an Airbus. Thanks for the suggestions.

Karl: much of the customer and traveller experience boils down to the airline. They choose the cabin materials and layout, seat manufacturer and model, set flight attendant service standards, etc. The aircraft manufacturer’s hand often ends early (ie. a few airlines will even take delivery of empty airframes, preferring to install their own interiors and seats themselves).

There are some airlines that will deliver an awesome Boeing experience and some that will deliver a subpar Airbus experience. Very tough to generalize nowadays as much as we admire the machinery.

Phoenix,

I agree with you, but I was being funny.

I was recently in A380 LH Ft#446 to FRA. The coach or standard seats were too tight and a bit warm for me, but the plane was quiet- in fact so quiet that if I or my neighbor farted it would be heard. Normally Airbus aircraft are noisy- but not this one. Incredible plane. A better seat location would have been nice. On the way back I was on a B777- that seat was nicer, but it was definitely showed its age compared to the A380- still a nice plane too.

I forget which airline is charging passengers or is considering charging passengers by their weight. I don’t have a problem with this as it does take more resources (fuel and accommodation).

Regarding cabin layout- in the US there reconsideration to seating on airplanes- supposedly the complaints are prompt a reevaluation of airline seating layouts. I hope so. I love planes and traveling.

I have to disagree about the cabin of Airbus aircraft being noisy. When I flew to LHR from YYZ in February, the flight was on a 767-300ER and the cabin was extremely loud compared to the A330-300 that I came home on. I don’t have the numbers in front of me but I have seen several comparisons that have always rated the Airbus wide and narrow body families as being quieter than their Boeing competition. I can’t personally speak to how the 787 factors in but I know that my 737 flights have always been louder than the A320.

But, to each his own.. .

Karl: heh, no offense taken nor harm done. I do suggest adding a /s or emoticon in the future if you’re going for sarcasm, sometimes hard to detect thru the internet 😉

Only reason I posted my explanation is the (still widespread?) misconception that the manufacturer is responsible for everything nose-to-tail. I still often hear “Airbuses make me sweat like a pig” or “I’m at the chiropractor because of Boeing” – blame the airline instead!

One comment I often hear about A380s are their smooth and quiet takeoffs, almost makes you feel like you’re not moving. And lucky you, riding a superjumbo….

As for regulation of cabin layouts in the US, there was a bill drafted (by Chuck Schumer, no less) that provided for a minimum seat pitch and legroom. I believe this bill died in the Senate. I’ll leave further reading as an exercise to those interested.

Peter Murnane

Yes the A 380 is quiet and comfortable. On a recent trip, BA LAX to LHR, we were sitting in the center in business, visability from the center is a bit obstructed, my wife did not know we had landed until we saw buildings outside the windows.

Next time in YUL , you should take time for dinner at Archibald (Gate 56) good food and home brew.

I admit that I can’t get excited about flying to Montreal for no reason, but then I can’t get excited about flying to Montreal for a good reason. The one constant that I recognize from Peter’s essay is the petulance of the AC Gate Agent. From Victoria to Saskatoon to Toronto to Albany to Boston, the one thing I can count on w/ AC is the “The Customer is Always Wrong” philosophy of the Customer”Service”. One of the perks of being a government-funded monopoly, I suppose.

In my past experience with AC, as long as you are in their mainline aircraft, it’s OK, but for AC Rouge, I would stay away.

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