A Last Star Alliance Fling? To Chicago with United Airlines and Air Canada
Air Canada AC856 Toronto Pearson International – London Heathrow T3 (Including the joy of Canadian Immigration and the Air Canada O’Hare and United Club B7)
- An Apology and The Introduction
- To London Heathrow, BMI Lounge, Star Alliance Lounge
- United UA923 London Heathrow – Washington Dulles International
- TSA Shenanigans, United UA221 Washington Dulles to Chicago O’Hare
- InterContinental Chicago, North Michigan Avenue
- One Time Exception: Chicago Water Taxi
- Hyatt Regency O’Hare
- United UA474, Chicago O’Hare to Toronto Pearson International in United First
- Maple Leaf Lounge, Air Canada AC856 Toronto Pearson International to London Heathrow (this entry)
- Homeward bound
- No more Star Alliance?
Upon exiting the plane, I headed down the long walk that is Toronto Pearson Airport, and headed for the transit point.
Canadian Immigration and I… don’t get along if I’m exceedingly nice. So I was expecting yet another 1 hour grilling why I had dared to transit the Canada border on the flight home. For transit purposes, I had my immigration form filled. The form was examined, and was asked which flight I came in on. Answering that to the agents satisfaction and another grimace on the agents face, he stamped both the immigration form and (more importantly) my passport – allowing me to continue.
From this, I was directed past the agent and back into the International Secure Area.
Well – that could had been worse I suppose.
It was then on the express travelators and straight to one of my favourite lounges in North America – the Air Canada International Maple Leaf Lounge
Lounge Stop: Air Canada International Maple Leaf Lounge
I was welcomed into the lounge, and my credentials were accepted. I then enquired about the load for the flight to London, and was informed that the seat next to me was clear – and the plane wasn’t looking busy. Whilst bad for Air Canada’s balance sheet, it’s not bad at all for me.
It was then off to my usual spot near the separating glass on the comfy chairs to relax before what was looking like a comfortable flight home.
Now, why is this lounge one of my favourites? There are little things – like for example proper food in the lounge (not just cruets and packet crackers), self pour alcohol, and a general “nice” atmosphere that you don’t get in some United Clubs or US Airways Clubs.
After having enough vodka and nibbles, it was time to head to the gate, where I thanked the staff politely, and headed down to the main waiting areas.
After a quick diversion through duty free, boarding had still not commenced for the flight. A quick nose out of the window, and I recognised the bird that would take me home – An Air Canada Airbus A330 Star Alliance logojet. Now, this bird and me have a little history, as this bird took me to Vancouver before in Gold Run 2: Blame Canada – It’s only a mileage run anyway!
A short time passed, and boarding was called. I took my opportunity, and was beeped through the elite boarding lane and headed down the jetway.
Air Canada United Airlines Toronto Pearson International – London Heathrow Airport T3
AC856, Seat 40A, Airbus A330-300,
3547 Miles Flown, 3547 miles earned
I board the plane and was welcomed aboard warmly by the cabin crew. Again, boarding early in Economy means one thing normally – overhead bin space… which lets be honest – wouldn’t be a problem on this flight.
Even though the plane was lightly loaded, everyone seemed to take their sweet time boarding the plane.
Boarding continued slowly, with the plane not filling up completely, but it filled up reasonably enough. Still with two seats for me – and I’ll take a two-seat GhettoCouch* any day of the week on a long haul flight.
*New terms pending as GhettoFlatBed is 3 or more seats across – It’s too small to be a GhettoBed, so GhettoCouch seems more appropriate for two seat configurations…
Legroom whilst the usual 32” seemed ok to sit in, and be comfortable in – but then as this flight was going out lightly loaded, the lack of no-one next door added to the room.
Pushback was on time, and the safety video played in its usual calming tone. That set, the plane begun its taxi around Toronto airport, and after a suitable runway was allocated, we were off into the sky.
Take off video:
Climbout was its usual impressive A330 self, with cruise altitude reached relatively quickly as always.
Lets look at one thing that Air Canada seems to get right, which is In Flight Entertainment. There’s a nice screen in-front of you to start with, normally with some decent content on it
For those of you who don’t like the IFE selection (which can be quite elceptic), there’s always the option of USB Charging and In-seat power too – something Air Canada installed when it did its Project XM (eXtreme Makeover). These features are great as it adds to the inflight experience (and allows you to work or play as you need too). USB plugs are at every seatback, whilst power is 2 seats to one plug in Economy.
Or if you’ve got two seats to yourself, 1 screen with your IFE, 1 screen with the map and a USB charging your phone/tablet/otherwise
Lets move onto food and drink Meals were served in the flight and here’s dinner
The sweetcorn was cold, and seemed nice, whilst the chicken wasn’t overly memorable. It wasn’t tough as boots, which when in the air and only eating with plastic utensils helps a fair olde bit. The cake was sweet and sugary, but still far better than what you’d get on United or American (I’m sorry United and American, I don’t count the prepacked Love and Quiches things deserts… Air Canada has the right idea here).
This being Air Canada, there was also a drinks selection, with wine offered with dinner. I took the white wine, and whilst not the greatest – it was drinkable in teh right direction. Whilst not the greatest meal, it did fill a corner.
Meanwhile outside, the sun was doing its amazing light show turning from daytime to evening and night.
Yes, there’s a reason why I sit on the this side of the plane… and this is it. I always miss out on Central London if I sit on this side of the plane though. Call it force of habit – I like to see the sun set and rise…
As day turned into night and as I watched the Fellowship of the ring begin their journey, I wrapped myself up in a blanket and settled in to a comfortable night’s sleep in a GhettoCouch.
As the lights came on, it was time for what Air Canada calls a breakfast service. I call this a joke, but that’s besides the point.
Well, I suppose this is an improvement on the Banana bread I’ve had before. But only a small improvement. What was I saying that Ex-Continental routes seem to have the breakfast across the pond in Economy?
Yes, still it hurts to type that.
Still looking to my left, morning was breaking across the sky, indicating we were closing in on Ireland and the United Kingdom, tracking in over the North West (Liverpool, Birmingham, and south to London)
The cabin crew were in great spirits even during this early night flight, and they were helpful to all the passengers during the flight – even suggesting reseating for those who wanted 4 seats of economy to lie on for the night. It’s those little touches that make a forgettable crew into a memorable crew.
Cleardown was completed and the plane begun its decent into the London area
Landing was a gentle affair with us landing on 27R, bringing an end to the flying part of this trip.
After landing, it was time to peel off the runway and head for the T3 Complex
Soon enough, the plane had docked at the far end of T3, and it was time to bid farewell to Air Canada. After negotiating the queues the queues, I thanked the crew and headed into the bowels of Terminal 3
Overall: I rate Air Canada highly as a carrier – not just highly as a North American carrier (which has some very low benchmarks to start with if we’re all honest). The service is friendly, well executed and combined with an excellent hard product – even in economy. These are good things in my book. The only two minor blots are the size of the main meal – which could do with being a bit larger, and the embarrassment that is the breakfast service. I should be glad they don’t serve yoghurt I suppose..
Next: Homeward bound.