Decided to try something new, and asked one of my frequent-traveling friends, John Chamberlin, to write a guest blog on one of his recent flights. I thought it would be interesting to people to read, since I’ve yet to travel Air Canada outside North America, so I thought the perspective would be interesting. Feedback welcome…and hopefully more guest blogs soon!
Greetings from the great white north of Ottawa, Canada readers! Having been a friend Jason’s well over 10 years now, I owe my obsession and hoarding habits of airline miles all to him pretty much. Most of my friends will joke that I’m the real life George Clooney from the movie “Up In The Air”. When I fly or stay somewhere, if it doesn’t involve me earning miles or points, I just don’t do it!
I’m a Youngstown, Ohio native, and have worked in IP or telecom engineering now well over 15 years now. In 2007, I was presented the opportunity to make a large career change and go to work for a telecom OEM in Ottawa, Ontario. Six weeks later I was settled and starting my new life in Canada. Since telecom is pretty “wrapped up” in most of the modern developed world, my company finds itself working in emerging markets and many developing nations. Azerbaijan, Fiji, Nigeria, Ghana, Republic of Benin, Korea, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka just to name a few. So I am not stranger to long haul routes to say the least.
Jason scolded me early on while flying Air Canada and BMI on a YOW-LHR-GYD routing to Baku, Azerbaijan- and not even fully aware of WHAT or WHO the Star Alliance was. The rest, as they say, is history. Since 2008, I have banked approximately 350,000 EQM and flown well over 750,000 in combined reward travel. In 2008 I easily tiered into Star Gold status for 2009, as AC only required 35,000 EQM to make the alliance status back then. In 2010 and 2011 I tiered in to Air Canada “Super Elite” status, which is their 100k program. AC’s rewards programs are administered by a spin off company called Aeroplan. Reward miles on AC are typically worth a tad more that of your standard UA or US levels. Fares on AC are a bit higher in Canada given the industry structure, and I’ve commonly found that my miles are worth as much as $.06 each. In 2011, I booked two business class tickets from YOW-YVR via YYZ for 100,000 Aeroplan miles- a website booking fare of $6300.00 that same day when I checked! The taxes and fuel are the only gotcha in Aeroplan. You have to pay them, unlike that of programs with UA or US. On the other hand, they also allow regional reward fares. I fly YOW-PIT via YYZ for 15,000 miles + $173.00 in taxes etc on a very regular basis. That fare is typically $600.00+. So it’s a bittersweet relationship.
Now onto the good stuff! When Jason asked me to review and guest write for his quite well known blog, I was pretty stoked. A good bit of him has rubbed off on me, and I take note of the smallest things anymore regarding air travel. I fly the Air Canada metallic baby blue as my mainline carrier. Air Canada has been voted the #1 Full Service North American Airline for 3 straight years including 2012 by the Sky Traxx reader survey. I have to admit, Air Canada goes above and beyond the call of duty many days in handling passenger issues and giving a custom touch to their Super Elite fliers. Even Jason has been witness and first hand helped by Super Elite representatives in a pinch! They have a one of a kind top tier system, in that Super Elite members also have access to EVERY single open seat on an AC route.
Air Canada maintains a “Super Elite Concierge Desk”, both virtually via phone and in all their main Canadian/International points of presence. These Super Elite representatives work in private unmarked offices and function to personally handle all their top tier customers. When I arrive at YOW, I go directly downstairs outside of CATSA security to this unmarked office. Inside the ladies or gents happily greet you by name (they DO remember you), print your boarding passes, tag any luggage and then walk it back upstairs to the belt, while you continue into priority screening. It’s a service that I have come to respect and love so much, that the mere thought of losing it makes me wanna cry! These folks accomplish miracles in a pinch and they have helped me SO many times in international connection situations. Their admin levels to the AC reservation systems seem to be at “Super Concierge” levels. Ok ok, bad joke.
Now- on to our flight! Today, we’re on board:
Flight: AC839, FRA-YOW
Tail: C-FMWU, Manufactured 1995
Gate to Gate: 8hrs 15mins
Distance: 3916 miles
AC runs this service 6 days a week and regularly does turns on the equipment with YVR, CGD, LHR etc. So you never know which plane of their 28 – B763 variant you might wind up sitting on.
I’m connecting into this flight from LH595, LOS-FRA from the night before. That’s right, Lagos, Nigeria haha. After a refreshing shower at the LH Senator Lounge around B43 in T2, I have a good breakfast and zonk out for 4 hours in the sleeping lounge section. I awake 2 hours before this lengthy layover comes to an end and catch up on a few work related items.
Priority boarding starts promptly 30 minutes prior to gate push back. I am greeted by Tom, who takes my coat and introduces himself as the Service Director for today’s flight. I make my way to my seat and happily set my eyes upon the famous AC J cabin pod layout. AC is the only airline in North America to offer this business cabin product they market as “Executive First”, which has featured fully lay flat seating/beds since the mid-2000’s. This is complimented by a large swivel out IFE monitor providing a full selection of entertainment options. (This IFE exists for every single passenger in Y cabin, but a smaller monitor in a seat back head rest arrangement.) AC does not offer any “true” first class cabin product at this time. Seating is arranged in a 45 degree angle into the aisle with a 1-1-1 configuration on the B767 and a 1-2-1 configuration on the B777 line. High pod walls separate the line of sight vision between you and other passengers, offering a level of privacy that I have come to really enjoy overall. You feel like you’re the only person sitting there and you have private space to relax. Of course, if you’re traveling with a spouse or companion, this could be viewed as a detriment (or a positive!).
I nab my iPad and headphones from my man roller bug out bag (which I have famously lived out of for 3 days on more than one occasion) and settle in for the flight. AC provides a nice amenities kit in J cabin that comes in a reusable zipper pouch with a lot of your standard essentials.
- Ear Plugs
- Toothbrush Kit
- Lip Balm
- Hand Lotion
- A Mentos
- Shaving Kit
- Wet Nap
I’ve collected so many of these kits, that I jokingly give them out to house guests now when they arrive to visit in Ottawa!
Tom is suddenly at my side holding a tray of orange juice or sparkling wine. I choose the bubbles , take my shoes off and tuck them under the foot rest. I fasten my seat belt and sit back to enjoy my drink. During the boarding process, AC flight attendants offer both current day Canadian and German newspapers to their J cabin customers and pass out the dinner service menu.
The meal service selection on board AC in J cabin I have found reasonably comparable to that of the UA and LH business class products. Overall, I find the 5 course meal service on AC a little more desirable though after having been able to compare several over the last couple years. If you don’t wish to take part in the staged meal service, they offer an express option available at any time in the flight, which provides pretty much any selection you desire from the menu.
AC takes care of their Super Elite and revenue based customers in J cabin a tad differently. When menu orders are taken, the attendant will go from person to person in a tiered fashion first. This way they try to offer their more valued status customers the widest selection, should a main dish run out in the ordering sequence. Tom comes and asks me first today (woo-hoo!). I select the fish dish, trying to keep it on the lighter side. I already know that I can’t stay away from the port wine and the amazing ice cream on the desert tray later on! We push back from FRA B44 gate a few minutes early and proceed to the sky in a normal and routine fashion.
As soon as the seatbelt sign goes out, Tom and his team start right into action behind closed curtains. Dinner service, as I mentioned, is a 5 course staged roll out. Each course and in between the FAs travel between the aisles offering you refills on your beverages of choice.
They waste no time rolling out the drink cart and warm assorted nut mix. Today I have chosen the Dumangin Champagne.
The first course rolls out and I look down happily at this newer option.
I finish up my cold starter try, warm nuts and my champagne is topped up as Tom sits down my main course with a hot tray grip.
The cucumbers are a little overdone and mushy, but overall, I really enjoy the blend of flavours in this newer main course offering. I finish it off without hesitation.
Champagne refill number 3 comes along as they roll out the cheese, fruit and crackers cart. I can’t ever pass this up. Ever. They pair the offer with a small glass of port and you suddenly start to feel the warmth of a hot meal, alcohol and now this rich port settle over your body.
At last the dessert cart comes out. I’ve been looking forward to this for hours I won’t lie. I even skipped having some Hagen Daas in FRA because I knew I’d have this later. THE ICE CREAM. It’s a 3 scoop pairing of homemade pallet sensation explosions. Vanilla, Chocolate and Cappuccino. It’s the things in flight dreams are made of at this stage. I couldn’t even finish my port wine, because I opt for some Bailey’s with a single ice cube to finish this out! The vanilla sugars stick to your spoon and remind you of the churned ice cream grandma used to make on the farm (for me at least!). The chocolate has little flakes of dark chocolate that slowly melt in your mouth as you let it age upon your palette. The cappuccino- small bits of coffee (or some other dreamy comparable) that explode in your mouth with flavorful delight. I am in heaven at 37,000- or at least the closest I can be! I take my time allowing this final course to wind down. By the time an FA picks up my try and removes the tray cloth, I am falling into a slumber. I push the ZZZ button and allow the bed to lay me out…into an alcohol and sugar laden snore.
Four hours later I awake to the lights coming up and the drink cart rolling back out again. Holy cow- did I really sleep this long?! Since this is an afternoon arrival, the cold snack tray is rolled out. I’ve never been a huge fan of a cold plate service at arrival. But it logically makes sense from a standpoint of the FA’s rolling it out around 90 mins prior to landing. It’s tasty- and I waste no time finishing it off with the two very very tasty chocolates.
Before the flight lands in Ottawa on time, Tom spends a moment with EVERY SINGLE passenger. He personally thanks you for flying Air Canada, extends appreciation on behalf of the carrier for choosing them when they know you have other choices to fly for business. He shakes your hand and wishes you a good evening. It’s such a stunning conversation, that you sort of don’t know what to say. They actually look you in the eye and express emotional thanks for choosing to fly Air Canada. What a great experience from take off to landing in Ottawa.
We land in a normal fashion, my coat is returned to me from the hanger closet and off the plane we go! My next flight pairing is an AC/LH pairing for YOW-ICN. I have 14 hours to turn and burn in Ottawa. It’s time to get a taxi!
John A. Chamberlin
Ottawa, Ontario Canada
Star Alliance Top Tier Member Since 2008