AC 7 Flight Report
(Vancouver - Hong Kong)
Premium Economy

Air Canada's stopover program gives international passengers a chance to stay overnight in one of the large hub airports en route to their final destination. Depending on the fare, it would either be a discounted hotel rate or even free. Since I was flying Latitude today and Premium Economy on the next transpacific leg, my 1 night stay was free, with only $3 tax charged. Booking the hotel is quite easy on the airline website, which has a dedicated section for the stopover program, showing the hotels available for the dates and the prices. However, there must have been some IT bugs as it showed my flight had been cancelled when I logged in after booking to try to change the hotel, with another message urging me to cancel the hotel.

The hotel section for Vancouver is primarily around the airport area in Richmond and courtesy shuttles are offered. With a lunch-time departure, I decided to head to the airport first thing in the morning to check-in before heading out to the city to sightsee. That way, I didn't need to head back to the hotel and match their 2x an hour shuttles back to the airport.

The shuttle dropped me off at the international arrivals stop and I headed upstairs looking for the Priority check-in counter. Like in Toronto, check-in is segregated between domestic, US, and international flights even for the same airline. Signs were lacking, so it was a confusing scramble across the terminal looking for the right place. The first Priority counter I came across was for Air Canada's US departures only. Their international check-in area didn't have a Priority counter, so I needed the info desk to direct me back to the domestic area, where there is a Priority section for my use today. There were some arrows pointing that way but they stopped short of the actual area. Very confusing.

There were few people at the dedicated Priority check-in area, and I was processed quite quickly and efficiently, with a priority tag affixed to my luggage right away. I was kindly reminded of a flight delay from 1:10pm to 2:30pm today, giving me more sightseeing time in the city.

There are no Priority lanes for international flights in the international check-in area.

The next stop would be the left luggage counter for my hand carry. This is located at domestic arrivals, next to the open baggage carousels that are not separated from the public. Typical of Canadian complacency, my hand carry was not scanned but accepted upon filling out a form, showing my onward boarding pass, and paying the $7 fee.

Then I headed to the city for some sightseeing!

Half a day later, I headed to Waterfront Station for the ride back to the airport. A new rail line connects the airport with the city, but levies an extra $5 surcharge when you start from the airport station, although not when you return to it. The ride takes about 30 minutes from downtown Vancouver, so it was only shy of 1pm when I arrived back for my flight. With an extra half hour before boarding time, I would pick up my hand carry, do some shopping, and perhaps grab a bite as well.

Apparently, for international departures, there is a dedicated Priority line to clear security - not just for the special pass holders. This was not marked at the air-side entry, but the agent had to direct me to the premium line and unknowing Economy passengers back to their regular line. Very confusing once again.

Luckily, security processing was quick and I emerged at the duty free shop soon after, helping myself to a selection of Ontario iced wines, which would have been troublesome to buy in Toronto as my luggage could not be checked through. By the time I was done, the boards were showing my flight is boarding.

There was a delayed Beijing departure at the gate next to mine and a whole mess of people were already radiating out from the various zone lines. I laid my eyes onto the premium zone 2 line and since the plebian zones were on the other side, I didn't need to weave through the rest of the flight to find my bearings. Some gate lice in zone 4 were in my way but another agent called me over to get me on my way.

I was greeted at the door by a surly flight attendant who didn't do much of a greeting or directed me to the correct aisle. I knew where I was going to reach my window seat already. Inside the pocket were a big bottle of water and an amenity kit, while the seat had a blanket and pillow. Being seated about an hour before the revised departure time, the huge Economy cabin strolled past as the lower zones slowly boarded. Air Canada's 777HD seats quite a big load of passengers.

Premium Economy was in a 2-4-2 configuration, so we gained 1 extra seat of space shared amongst the 8 of us.

Welcome drinks of either water or orange juice were offered and menu cards were distributed. Not long after, the crew came to take lunch orders, which were either beef or chicken. Service is quite decent in Premium Economy so far. I scanned around and saw a few empty middle seats.

We were pretty much fully boarded by around 2:10pm but we waited a bit before pushing back as the captain announced a mechanical problem that had been rectified. As we started pushing back, we suddenly stopped since our neighbouring Beijing flight had also pushed back, blocking our way. I could see the ground dispatch in disgust gesturing with his red sticks both flights moved at the same time. We had to give way.

Today's transpacific crossing of 12h10 was not much different than the inbound, which seemed weird since the prevailing winds would be in our favour heading eastbound. We taxied slowly to the western part of the airport island, watched the Beijing flight and a JAL 788 take off before we headed into the sky.

With a left window, I had spectacular views of Vancouver's skyline. We didn't loop around but continued heading east then turning left to head north, which provided wonderful views of the city all along.

The crew worked quite quickly and were serving us hot lunches in nice plates and metal cutlery just 500km into our journey. The lunch had a salad plate with balsamic vinegar / olive oil sauce, a cold but decently-tasting roll, a big plate of BBQ sauce chicken, carb portion, and a tiramisu dessert. It was presented to look more Business Class than Economy, and lived up to its good looks. By the time the first hour of the flight was over, they were collecting the trays.

The seat had ample legroom, although the seat flap does not come up to give more support. Nevertheless, I dozed on and off thanks to the comfortable space. It would be a long crossing back to Hong Kong.

A second meal was served as we flew over Russian airspace approaching Japan. This one was not plated and looked more like Economy Class fare.

Then it was a bit more rest and I woke up over China. This is the final stretch! We took an interesting route further west rather than over Japan and the East China Sea.

I had grabbed some snacks from the cart in the galley as I watched some television. Unfortunately, the clouds rolled in as we neared our destination and we were then placed in a holding pattern south of Hong Kong for a while. So I had plenty of time taking photos of the paperwork and IFE.

Like my Haneda flight late last year, there was a selection of programming from Fairchild TV, the Canadian Chinese channel.

As we pulled out of the holding pattern, I noticed we flew east. We were coming in to land the scenic way today, and my left window would have all sorts of great views.

We finally parked at the outer reaches of the terminal. I'm home!

For a flight of this length, Premium Economy offers a good hard and soft product to make the trip more endurable. The seat has ample legroom, but insufficient leg support which a simple flap can solve. Catering was better than expected, and the 3 rows of seats made the cabin a bit more cozy. The curtains were not drawn down to shield us from Economy, but apparently the lavatories at the front of my cabin were available to Economy passengers, which they didn't seem to have noticed.

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