AC 8 Flight Report (Hong Kong - Vancouver)

Although Hong Kong returned to the world and opened up finally after a long COVID slumber in early 2023, flights to North America remain abysmal and extraordinarily expensive. While I could still find deals to Europe and within Asia, the Russian airspace closure and geopolitical tensions have kept capacity below pre-pandemic levels. Air Canada no longer flies nonstop to Toronto while Cathay still doesn't fly double daily everyday. To get this itinerary going, I had to compromise, and a stop in Vancouver was a little more affordable on Air Canada, although at almost CAD $1000 one-way, quite expensive.

Arriving at the airport an unusual 2 hours before departure, I was surprised to find no queues to check in. The day before, I had checked in online and the seat map looked quite full. The agent asked whether I wanted to also check in my hand luggage for free, which I happily sent to the hold, although that was a cue it'd be a busy flight.

The airport has gotten much busier and has seemingly returned to pre-COVID crowds. Security took a while to clear but luckily, gate 25 isn't far away and I had plenty of time left before boarding.

Blue Bottle Coffee has arrived at the airport, serving a brew out of their blue box upstairs, a bit out of the way from the other restaurants but not hard to spot.

The Dreamliner was already parked at the gate, having arrived at around 4pm from Canada. I was a bit relieved that they're flying this aircraft type, as their 777s are in a high density format (although Cathay is following suite now).

Boarding was timely although staff did not use the automated gates to board, which actually made things go a little faster. It was a full flight out back tonight, and I heard quite a lot of foreigners (speaking Mandarin) on the flight. Seems international connectivity from the mainland remains very limited. With many folks taking advantage of checking in their hand luggage for free, the overhead compartments were not full and we even managed to push back 3 minutes early just shy of 6pm.

Vancouver's weather forecast is already loaded into the IFE, as well as many other cities.

With a short crossing of just under 11 hours, the flight deck warned of some light turbulence during the middle section of the flight. We took off into the sunset and the crew sprang into action after take-off to serve a hot dinner. The menu was already loaded into the IFE so we didn't get any paperwork, and there was no amenity kit either.

I picked the Western option - beef with potatoes. The tray was quite packed and almost overflowed with bread and a dessert both in plastic packaging on top. The beef was a bit overdone but overall, the portion and variety seemed quite an improvement from my last flight with them in 2021.

Some staff were trying hard to complete their service quickly though, reaching for my finished tray from behind me. I was a bit startled when a hand appeared from behind my shoulder.

The bathroom was reasonably clean and had tissues available on my several visits.

The turbulence picked up a bit as we left Taiwan and just off the Japanese coast with the seat belt sign turned on for quite some time. Many passengers were nevertheless out and about for the bathroom, with the crew making repeated announcements to buckle up. They also announced snacks are available in the back galley before breakfast, which had a decent selection of pretzels, biscuits, small water bottles, and sandwiches. The crew were quite good, popping in and asking if you need anything even when the galley was not staffed. Despite a full flight, there was never a long line for the lavatories, with a few in the middle and 2 more at the back.

The IFE has also improved with a lot more movie and TV selections although there is no live television or news programs. There was also an Asian music remix channel with plenty of Korean hits. Under the flight info, I could search through a list of connecting flights and pull up my next leg to Toronto with gate details.

Throughout the night, I saw the crew came by with water twice and the cabin was quiet as passengers slept. I browsed through the IFE's duty-free catalogue and a short trailer for Barbie. The movie is not yet available in the system. While wifi is free for simple texting, I tried multiple times during the flight and could not connect.

Breakfast came as the sun has risen over the Pacific about 90 minutes before arrival. I picked the pork noodle which was a little salty but otherwise paired well with a Chinese tea. Afterwards, we were ready for descent straight in from the west.

The weather was grey with pockets of brightness. We landed at 2:17pm and pulled into our gate at half past, 30 minutes ahead of schedule, making my short connection much more realistic.

The Air Canada experience was surprisingly pleasant. Food portions were bigger than before and tasted good. The Dreamliner's seats are decent with good legroom. Coupled with the blanket and pillow for back support, it was a comfortable long-haul flight.

I was initially quite concerned about my 70 minute international to domestic connection, fearing a long line at immigration. Now, all checked baggage are sent straight through and I no longer need to pick them up at the baggage carousel to then walk a few steps to drop them off at the domestic connection belt.

From the arrival gate, I headed upstairs where there was a clear sign marking domestic connections. Plenty of immigration kiosks are set up here so there was no wait to get to one, followed by a human inspection with 2 counters. I was surprised so few from our flight were transferring, so the entire process took very little time. Security was a bit more problematic though, with a long back up due to items needing extra screening. While they had 3 staff handling these extra due diligence cases, it appears all laptops need an additional swab test, so overall this part took much longer than immigration.

Nevertheless, I still had plenty of time left before my next flight to Toronto. My boarding pass was scanned multiple times during this workflow and I exited into the domestic area near where regular customers coming in from the outside would start off.

Connecting onwards to Toronto on AC 122

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