Aug 302019
 


Thanks to the jetlag which was worse than usual I woke up pretty early and managed to go for a short few mile run around Paris before heading back to the hotel for breakfast.

I have to admit: I was really looking forward to breakfast. I’m not generally a big breakfast person, especially big hotel breakfasts, but when I was in Paris for work a month or two prior I hadn’t found a Starbucks nearby to grab my mandatory morning caffeine, so went with the hotel option.

Since the Renaissance doesn’t have a club lounge, breakfast is served in the regular restaurant, and I was super impressed the four nights I was there that not only wasn’t it buffet, but the staff insisted on taking your order and serving you anything you wanted.

It seemed in a few weeks that had changed, and they were happy to take hot orders for eggs, but everything else was now self-service from a buffet table. Quality was still the same, but the relaxing element just wasn’t there any more. It was still excellent quality as far as included free hotel breakfasts go, but the “magic” was gone a bit. That said, come on, hard to argue with amazing espresso, a great omelette, and unlimited delicious pastries!

Left a bit earlier than I normally would for the airport, mainly because I’d never actually been to Orly Airport before, and didn’t know how easy the metro to RER to “OrlyVal” connection would be. Easier than expected it turned out, and I have to admit OrlyVal was cute. It’s basically a light rail with just a couple of stations that runs from the metro to the airport. I know there’s a long history, probably dealing with union issues, but hey, it was more efficient than I expected!

Plus, when I got inside the terminal at Orly, nirvana awaited me in the form of proper high-voltage coffee:

While drinking my coffee, I started to feel really “off.” A bit of alternating hot flashes, chills, dizziness, and just not feeling right. I actually debated if going to Tunisia feeling off like this was a great idea, but since this had happened a few times in the prior few months decided I might as well go for it. YOLO and all that.

Off to the TunisAir check-in, red carpet and all:

Walking to the lounge, through duty free, I found the most French duty free display of all time, avec baguette:

They lounge was a major disappointment, I scarfed down a couple bottles of water on the off chance that the previous diagnosis when I went in feeling “off” like this of dehydration was the problem, and headed to the gate to try my luck.

TunisAir flight 717 operated by GetJet
Paris, Orly (ORY) to Tunis, Tunisia (TUN)
Depart 12:00, Arrive: 13:25, flight time: 2:25
Airbus A330-300, Registration LY-LEO, Manufactured 2006, Seat 03K
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 48,719
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,741,307

So, if you read carefully, you’ll notice this flight was operated by GetJet, which I admit I’ve never heard of. There was no indication of this at all, except when checking FlightRadar24 you could see for the past two weeks the flight had been operated by a GetJet plane, so I figured chances were high.

Boarded, and I wasn’t disappointed….if you can call GetJet that. So, what’s GetJet? Turns out it’s a Lithuanian airline with one A330, who’s trying to get permission to fly from Vilnius to New York. Until they get it, they’re leasing out their A330 and crew to the highest bidder. I’d never been on a wet lease flight before this trip, and now two in a row! What are the odds!

Orly tends to be where a lot of low-yield and leisure flights from Paris operate out of, so I was extra alert on the plane spotting. Plus, business was only booked about 25% full, so there was no problem moving to a window seat and having the seat next to me empty as well.

Air Caraïbes heading somewhere nice and tropical

I was really curious to see what TunisAir operated by GetJet would serve for food, and it turns out to have been the typical TunisAir offering, which for a two hour flight was super impressive. Several things not to my taste including the prawns/cockroaches of the sea, the extra tough beef, and veg that had seen fresher days, but at the end of the day I wasn’t feeling well so wasn’t that hungry and it was still impressive the quantity on such a short flight.

Yes, I still had to try the Tunisian wine despite not filling well. I had water too…don’t judge me!

Besides, if I started feeling REALLY badly, there was a barf bag, which you were instructed to “PLIEZ FOLD” when done:

No troubles at all at immigration (I think the dude honestly gave up trying to understand my accent) and soon I was fighting with the taxi mafia to get to my hotel. I actually enjoy this game in French-speaking countries, and it’s a chance to really practice negotiating tactics. Reasonably fair price and off we went.

Check in at the Sheraton Tunis was a nightmare, and I waited nearly 30 minutes to check in due to front desk staff who seemed way more interested in chatting with their friends. Not impressive, especially when I had fond memories of my last time at this hotel when the staff took great care of me when I got a fierce cold.

At least I was upgraded to a spacious junior suite?

The paintings in the common areas, however, were traumatizing, and I’m still having nightmares about them weeks later.

Then there was this. I’m guessing it was some sort of Wizard of Oz thing, but I seriously have no idea what this was supposed to be!

Headed down to the bellman, and asked for help getting a taxi, and was looked at like I was from another planet. “You need to order taxis at least two hours in advance.” Uh, I’ve been all over the world, and even in the most developing countries it’s easier than that to get a taxi.

So, I headed down to the street and tried to flag one down on my own. 30 minutes later, after being ignored by 100+ taxis, I finally gave up. I don’t know what the game here is, but fair warning….Tunisia has a unique taxi game apparently.

Since it was late afternoon anyways, and I wouldn’t have much time to see anything, I retired to my room and rested before heading up to the club lounge which I had such fond memories of due to the way they had looked out for me.

What. The. Hell. Happened. to this place in the intervening 6-7 years or so. The lounge felt only marginally above a high school cafeteria, with pretty terrible reheated frozen snacks are really terrible wine by the 1.5L bottle. I get cost-cutting, but when did this lounge go from memorable to terrible?! For comparison, this was my stay in 2013. The cake and cheese look the same, just a bit worse for wear.

Back to the room to rest a bit more before finding dinner, and they’d left some nice tunisian sweets, water, and fruit. While the facilities had clearly taken a hit, I have to say service was pretty good.

View from the balcony of my room…not bad at all!

Being exhausted and wanting to get to bed early, I decided to head down to the hotel bar/restaurant for some dinner. Had some mini “sliders” which were surprisingly tasty and a couple of local beers and was out cold pretty early. I would have another chance to get to the Bardo Museum in the morning, so a day of rest was just what I needed after starting off feeling so poorly.

Up to my room to retire, and there was a security goon in a chair watching tv on his phone (working really hard). I decided to ask what he was up to, and he was “protecting a VIP” in the room across the hall. I never did find out who it was, but hey, just another day in Tunisia!

Bed time, I had a big day the next day and wanted to be well-rested!!

Aug 212018
 


Following in the trend of airlines giving their business class products fancy names (American kicked it off with “Flagship Business,” then came “Delta One,” followed shortly by United “Polaris Business,” and finally (just like with their five year behind the game WiFi installation) Air Canada got onboard with “Signature Class.”

What was different about “Signature Class?” Well, first, a little review.

American Airlines: When I started flying them 5-6 years ago, I was shocked to find they were still running 777s in a 2-3-2 configuration with seats that didn’t even go flat! Talk about a majorly updated program. Fortunately, they now have 1-2-1 pretty much across the fleet, although from what I can tell there’s been no major upgrade to the soft product.

Delta One: Delta was ahead of the game, already running 1-2-1 configurations on all its aircraft when Delta One was announced, and when they rolled out the A350 the game changer was “suites” with doors that closed – something no other North American airline has tried to emulate yet.

United: while marginally better than American’s non-180 degree flat 2-3-2 config for awhile, United has now fallen way, way behind with it’s atrocious 2-4-2 on some legacy planes, and 2-2-2 or 2-1-2 on the majority of the rest. Polaris soft product was a huge upgrade at first with better food and much better bedding, but the death by 1000 small cuts is already well underway with several of the soft product improvements yanked back. At least they are slowly (and I mean slower than a DC bureaucrat on a hot August day) rolling out a 1-2-1 product across the fleet, expected to be complete in 2089. I kid….maybe 2020. Next blog up will be a review of this hard product, which is actually pretty nice!

That brings us to Air Canada.

Their seats have been 1-1-1, or 1-2-1 for a while, and I found their food pretty good. Even their Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto was significantly nicer than anything their US competitors offered, so perhaps that explained why they were so late to the rebranding game. I was quite curious what the rebranding would mean in practical terms, and the answer turned out to be: practically nothing.

I recently flew Air Canada on two flights: Toronto to Zurich on a 777-300ER and then a couple weeks later Sao Paolo to Toronto on a 787 (Plus connecting flights to/from DCA, but those are hardly worth a mention). Both were really nice flights, but I seriously noticed absolutely nothing different from before. So, lets start with the over to Zurich.

Up first, was the short flight up to Toronto. The flight is about 80 minutes and our flight attendant today was from Newfoundland, and a real character. A bit over the top, but the passengers seemed to love him, and he was very friendly and hard-working. Air Canada even served a small snack on the flight (I can’t decide if I like the single choice pre-plated snacks better than the US’s snack baskets or not) but A for effort. Unfortunately, today’s option was cockroaches of the sea with a tiny dab of hummus, one olive, and one tomato. Strange…

…and there was no question of refills. We were pretty much told we were getting refills, because, well, “you can’t let the rest of the wine stay in the bottle all lonely.” Perfectly good rationale if you ask me.

The transit experience in Toronto is seamless now, and you can head straight from US arrivals to international departures without having to go through an immigration check. Quite slick.

The one thing I was pretty excited to check out was the new Air Canada Signature “Suite”, only open to business class passengers. No Star Gold or Maple Leaf Lounge passes accepted, only passengers flying in business class, and only revenue tickets. Nobody on upgrades or award tickets, or those flying Star Alliance partners – in this way, it’s much more exclusive for access than even United’s Polaris lounges. (We won’t talk about American, because their “Flagship First” lounges let in every Exec Platinum under the sun, and often feel one step removed from a elementary school playground.)

I wasn’t all that hungry, so skipped the seated dining area in favour of the buffet. Quite tasty, some nice local offerings, and the Montreal smoked meat sandwich was a great touch!

Service in the lounge was fantastic and attentive, with the staff doing a great job clearing plates and refilling drinks, even when it got completely packed as the evening departure bank approached. I was quite surprised how crowded the lounge got, and unfortunately it really wasn’t that peaceful. Good for Air Canada selling so much business class, but there was nothing “suite” like about the lounge. Same complaint I have about the Polaris lounges – they get super crowded. It makes me wonder how the previous lounges handled all these people before…or are more people coming early for the “lounge experience” now?

Boarding was a complete and utter mess. With several departures at the same time, all pretty much sold out in business class, the departures area was a nightmare. We were between flights to London and Brussels, all of which were completely sold out, and boarding was a chaotic mess. It wasn’t even clear where the queues were, but that said, once aboard things were much quieter.

Amenity kit was waiting for us…filled with everything you’d expect, but didn’t rise to the level of one I’d want to keep to reuse the bag for toiletries, electrical cords, etc:

Tonight’s menu:

…and drink list:

Pre-departure bubbly was offered – I often wonder why airlines pour the pre-departure glasses like 1/3 full. What is this, maybe 1/2 glass of champagne? It can’t be cost saving, because they’re much more generous after takeoff.

The usual wine for me, and typical mixed nuts from Air Canada. Perfectly acceptable, but nothing original here.

Unfortunately at this point the crew was seated for just under two hours, because we ended up fighting some pretty terrible turbulence until we were off the Newfoundland coast. It was still not even 9pm for me by body clock, so I opted to continue the meal, as did most of the passengers since the turbulence was so bad there was no way anyone was sleeping.

The salad was boring but fine, and definite points for the duck and edamame starter. Nice and unique, while being relatively light. Plus, I’ll never complain about garlic bread!

I went with the chicken biryani as a main, probably because I remember the amazing biryani that Etihad served me a couple years ago. This was pretty good, and a nice unique option in flight. Any time I can get something that sounds and is better than the “steak” I’m happy, so this one was a winner with me.

Unfortunately, any positive thoughts I had died here. One of the saddest cheese plates I’ve seen in a long time, on par with some of the bland and boring kraft stuff that United serves. Very, very disappointing…and the cheddar was rubbery, obviously having been portioned long ago. Extremely disappointing.

The lemon cheesecake, however, was pretty tasty and a nice way to finish things off.

I had indicated not to wake me for breakfast, but I woke about 40 minutes before landing, so the flight attendant brought me the breakfast I’d indicated on the card “in case I wake up.” I wasn’t really hungry, but wanted to post this pic for one reason:

Look at that fruit bowl! Probably one of the best ones I’ve ever seen on a plane…nice fresh blueberries, pineapple, fresh strawberries, watermelon, kiwifruit…well done Air Canada!

So, let’s fast forward a couple weeks. We’re in Sao Paolo now, headed up to Toronto on a 10+ hour flight on a 787. The only times I’ve managed to sleep 7+ hours were on a 787, and this was a nice long flight at the perfect time to sleep, so I was looking forward to seeing how that played out. I forgot to mention above, but both the 777 and 787 on Air Canada had individual air vents, which I think are crucial to keeping me a nice cool sleeping temperature.

Let’s start with the meal. Look, more mixed nuts and wine. Boring, but acceptable.

The starter tonight was smoked trout with cucumber, tomato, and onions. I really wanted to like it, but it was pretty bland and boring. Could have used something to add a bit more flavour, but points to Air Canada for a reasonable sized portion which is still not heavy. Remember when United tried to pass two prawns off as an appetizer?

For the main I requested the “Spinach and Minas cheese filled chicken breast, herb sauce, vegetable risotto” but they brought me the beef. “Oh, sorry, I got them mixed up and don’t have any more chicken. Is this ok?” Ugh, not cool. On the upside, the beef was actually cooked close to medium which shocked me, but overall an unmemorable dish.

Oh Air Canada, we really need to talk cheese. This was just about as bad as the previous flight: “Emmental, Camembert, Reino” – so the Reino was interesting, but again it looked very plastic and uninspired. Is it really too hard to make the cheese course better? I suppose that would require cutting it on the plane, but…

Ok, never mind, I can go to sleep happy now with a wonderful Neapolitan ice cream bowl! It’s amazing how such simple things can make you happy even when people think airplane food is supposed to be “fancy” – but give me comfort food any day!

After passing out for a great seven hours of sleep, I was still up in time for breakfast. Another great 787 sleep, except I slept so balled up I’m still dealing with a pinched nerve in my back a few weeks later. Can’t blame Air Canada for that, but it was a good night’s sleep!

After the fruit in the breakfast to Switzerland I had high expectations, but unfortunately it was a swing and a miss this time. The kiwifruit was rock hard, the melon had zero flavour, and the grapes were mushy. Bland omelette, and a even blander muffin. I guess Air Canada breakfast catering must be highly station-specific.

Two flights is a small sample size, but overall my thoughts on Air Canada were positive. Nice seats, air vents to keep things cool, and overall “good” food. I don’t think it’s gotten worst, but the US airlines have definitely stepped their game up a little in this department so Air Canada no longer stands above them. Overall, a solid experience, except for one thing: the 787 had no WiFi, which is still the case with the majority of Air Canada’s fleet. The 777 to Zurich did have it (as do all their 777s now) but the 787 and almost none of their other planes do – to me making it a deal-breaker for most work trips. The only reason it was ok on this route is I was headed home from back to back trips, and just wanted to sleep and not work – which in this case worked out well.

Will I fly Air Canada again? Yes, definitely, especially if the other options are 2-4-2 or 2-2-2 seating on United…and especially if the planes have WiFi. The food and service are pretty much a wash these days, but it was also nice to try Air Canada again after so much Lufthansa and United lately! Next up, let’s look at United Polaris…