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.
Toronto welcomes Hainan’s 787 Dreamliner – Photo: Philip Debski
What looked to be the first true spring day here in Toronto, March 31, was the day Hainan Airlines finally inaugurated their 787 service to Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). They started operating the route in 2010 with three ex-Cathay A340-600s (B-6508, B-6509, and B-6510, if anyone is interested).
Throughout the years the airline has had its ups and downs (such as varying frequency from 3x weekly to once per week) on the route. However, with the 787, Hainan will go daily this summer, a huge improvement to the Beijing-Toronto route. Hainan was also originally supposed to fly the 787 into YYZ starting May 1, but pushed it up to the earlier date in late February.
The Hainan Toronto crew were kind enough to arrange an exclusive tour for me on their big day of receiving the 787 at their base. Here is a rundown of what happened during that tour.
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