Trip Report: Trans-Canada to Toronto

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Nothing wrong with the weather in Vancouver; unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for Toronto. Prior to departure, we faced a three-hour delay. (Photo: John Jamieson, February 20th, 2019, YVR)

After six weeks of strenuous studying, I was in need of a break. Things had begun piling up at college and reading week was looming on the horizon. A trip across the country seemed like the perfect way to unwind. While the best-laid plans factored in some time for studying and assignments, in reality, very little work was completed.

Being a certified “AvGeek”, I wanted to be involved in the planning process. Knowing that Air Canada regularly operates wide-bodies on the Vancouver-Toronto route, I tried advocating for particular flight numbers, with little success. With financial dependency being a key factor, I had little bargaining power; that being said, we did manage to choose a return flight operated by one of AC’s remaining 767s. As the weather worsened in Toronto, this shimmering light would eventually go out. However, as I haven’t had a chance to review Canada’s flag carrier yet, the Trip Report still has potential value. Read on!

Flight 1: AC 112-(YVR-YYZ)

At 11 am, we began lining up at gate C51. With a scheduled departure time of 11:30 and an estimated flying time of 4 and a half hours, we expected to be in Toronto around 7pm (EST). Little did we know of the storm brewing in Southern Ontario.

Shortly after boarding the aircraft, the flight crew announced that our flight had been given a 3-hour delay. Due to the severity of the storm making its way towards Toronto, flights into the region were being monitored. Operations at YYZ were expected to be impacted by the storm, and priority was being given to international flights. It seemed our trip was destined to get off to a sour start.

However at 11:50, less than half an hour after being given the 3-hour delay, we began pushing back from the gate. Our crew had been able to negotiate a slot for our arrival into Toronto. Everything seemed to be back on track. Then, while we were taxiing out to Runway 26L, we got another announcement from the crew. We now had to wait until 12:30 (PST) before we could takeoff. After an hour of confusion and discomfort, we finally lined up on 26L and began our journey east.

While on the ground, my sister mentioned that we shouldn’t expect a snack during the flight. Apparently, on flights over two hours, the airline offers snacks and sandwiches for purchase but cuts out their complimentary snack. I was curious to see if this was true. To my surprise, my sister was right. While we were served our choice of soft drink, juice, tea, or coffee, there were no complimentary cookies or mini pretzels. I suppose the airline is looking to drive additional ancillary revenue by cutting out the complimentary snack. I would be prepared for our return flight.

Once we reached cruising altitude, there was very little to do except sit back and enjoy Air Canada’s seatback IFE. enRoute has been a fixture on Air Canada’s short & long haul fleet for the past few years, and once again their selection didn’t disappoint. After scanning through the “New Releases” and finding nothing to my liking, I switched to the comedy section and selected The Lego Movie. Approximately 2 hours later, somewhere over Saskatchewan, I returned to the menu and settled on an old favorite: Captain America: The First Avenger. With my movie selection complete, I settled back into my seat and waited for the forecasted turbulence around the GTA.

Sure enough, as we descended through 10,000 feet, we hit some minor turbulence and visibility dropped significantly. As we made the approach to runway 05, it was difficult to get a sense of our surroundings. While it may have seemed dangerous to the untrained, the lack of visibility clearly didn’t phase our excellent flight crew. At 5 minutes past 8 (EST), we touched down and began taxiing to Terminal 1. By 8:30 we were off the aircraft and picking up our bags in the arrivals lounge.

By the time we finally arrived at our hotel on Wednesday night, it was time to unpack our pajamas and crawl into bed. After weeks of sacrificing sleep for studying, I was looking forward to some shut-eye, then I remembered who I was traveling with. While 7am may seem like a reasonable time for some, I’d have loved a few more hours of sleep. Time in Toronto was short; efficiency would become the order of the day as we explored downtown and visited the local museums.

Three days in T-O

With our return flight scheduled for Sunday morning (February 24th), we effectively had three days to explore and sightsee. While it would have been nice to have a couple extra days, the trip was meant to be a minor respite from college, not a fully fledged vacation.

Day 1 Highlights: 

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The CN Tower dominates the Toronto Skyline

After being enticed out of bed via the promise of a breakfast buffet, we left our hotel and started walking in the direction of Toronto’s Island Airport. After traversing the underground tunnel, exploring Porter Airlines’ terminal, and grabbing some photos of the aircraft, we headed back onto the mainland via the airport’s dilapidated ferry.

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The rotunda and stained glass at the Hockey Hall of Fame
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One of the few Canucks Artifacts at the HHOF

After picking up a coffee at the Starbucks in Brookfield Place, we decided to drop by the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It had been a few years since we’d last visited; the attraction is definitely worth a visit if you follow the sport.

Wrapping up our first day in Toronto, we stopped by Eaton Center.

 

Day 2 Highlights:

Friday began just like the previous day: buffet breakfast, a single cup of coffee, and an accompanying newspaper. Without any firm plans for the morning, an idea which had once seemed trivial became the defining moment of our day: we decided to take in the views of Toronto from the CN Tower.

Having always thought the attraction a tad “touristy”, the CN Tower hadn’t held a high (pardon the pun) priority on our to-do list. That being said, it became one of the best decisions we made during the trip. Having struggled to gain a sense of distance (while walking around downtown), we were finally able to get a sense of our surroundings. The views were spectacular, definitely worth the 1800-Foot ascent.

After picking up some lunch at the iconic St Lawrence Market, it was time for me to head back to the hotel and get some work done. My traveling companions spent the afternoon visiting the Art Gallery of Ontario. Before turning in for the night, we enjoyed a thoroughly delicious meal at Athens Restaurant in Toronto’s Greek district, followed by a brief excursion through Trefan Court and Regent Park.

Day 3 Highlights:

With bad weather moving into the region and commitments scheduled back in Vancouver, we decided to try and move our return flight forward to mitigate a potential delay. Unfortunately, this meant that I would miss the chance to catch one of Air Canada’s remaining 767-300s. While it was hard to argue with the weather forecast, I was definitely disappointed.

On the bright side, we still had one final day to enjoy the sights of Toronto before catching the Reverse-Red-Eye back to YVR.

After a thoroughly refreshing Breakfast/Brunch at the Hair of the Dog neighborhood pub, we headed over to the Royal Ontario Museum. While the ROM is certainly spectacular in its own right, nothing beats the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. Having strolled through the exhibits, without spending much time in one particular department, it was time to head over to Roncesvalles and Cafe Polonez for our final meal in Toronto with some family friends.

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What could’ve been! (Sigh) (Photo: John Jamieson, February 23, 2019, YYZ)

Flight 2: AC 129-(YYZ-YVR)

I was not looking forward to our return flight, I really had been looking forward to, potentially, my last flight on a 767. That being said, the weather was sufficiently bad that it warranted a change of plans. Having enjoyed another spectacular meal, we left Cafe Polonez and headed out to Pearson International for the 5-hour return flight.

After deciding to take the “earlier” flight home, we called Air Canada, requested two seats together, and were given a row to ourselves at the back of the aircraft. Believing that our troubles were over, we enjoyed our day and showed up at the airport to retrieve our boarding passes at 9:15 EST.

Much to our horror, we learned that our seats would be assigned at the gate; we had forgotten to check in following our earlier confirmation. Personally, I was furious with the airline; they had confirmed our seats over the phone and we believed that we would be checked in for the evening flight. This was not to be. At the time, Air Canada had been in the midst of a major scandal for, allegedly, sending passengers onto the gate with “Gate Assigned” tickets that would never be fulfilled. There was an annoying lack of communication from the Check-in attendant as to why we had not been confirmed.

Eventually, we made our way through security to the gate. In fairness to Air Canada, they did resolve our issue and we were given economy plus seats behind the emergency exit row. It turned out that we were among the lucky ones: a number of passengers with missed connections tried, unsuccessfully, to get onto our flight. Once we knew we had a seat, everything became calmer; even an hour-long delay didn’t really dampen our mood. Also, as a minor consolation, we would be staying at the Fairmont YVR hotel.

As far as the flight was concerned, it was again very unremarkable. Apart from some turbulence over the Great Lakes, the flight sped on through the night arriving in Vancouver at 1:15 AM (PST). The reverse red-eye meant that we were effectively experiencing 4:15 am Toronto time. As such, we promptly checked in to the hotel and fell asleep.

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Conclusion: 

All in all, our experience with Air Canada was perfectly satisfactory. After thinking it over, I decided it would be cruel to fully attribute the delays during our trip to the airline; the weather definitely played a significant factor. While it would have been nice to travel across the country in a widebody, the A321 is a perfectly adequate aircraft with sufficient legroom and overhead storage. That being said, as an “AvGeek”, I’ll make sure to choose widebodies for the journey when the trip is on my own dime.

Also, a final shoutout to the Fairmont YVR for their excellent service and 24-hour check-in desk; the Hotel is among the best as far as Tarmac Views and convenience is concerned.

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