With the peak summer travel season imminent, it was time to escape the humid Hong Kong heat and head to cooler shores. Air Canada had a reasonably-priced fare on their High Density 777. After a search through the seat map, I decided to go for it thanks to the back seats being available, where the row of 3 becomes 2 so it is slightly more spacious. The return leg in Premium Economy did not cost an arm or a leg either so I wanted to give it a try. The biggest attraction was the cheap stopover option available where passengers transiting in Canada's largest cities can pick from a selection of hotels for an overnight stay. I wanted to break up the long flight anyway so this sort of itinerary was naturally appealing.
My last trip on Air Canada was nothing to boast about. The flight was late, the crew weren't too friendly, but at least the plane was empty. I didn't expect tonight's Hong Kong - Vancouver flight to be anywhere near that empty, but it got off to not such a good start with a 40-minute departure delay, albeit that was decided well before check-in opened.
By the time I reached the airport at around 6:30pm, or about an hour before the original departure time, the check-in counters were deserted and they had started to remove the Air Canada accessories to prepare for Turkish Airlines. I guess everyone came well before the original departure time and not the revised later one?
Check-in took a while as I had an onward domestic leg from Vancouver to Toronto, which the agent wasn't sure whether she could thru-check my bag. To my disappointment, only same-day transfers could be tagged all the way to the destination. I had to retrieve my bag in Vancouver and store it overnight with me, bringing more inconvenience.
With a 2 hour buffer between the inbound and my departure, I thought a 1-hour delay for the inbound's arrival was still enough to clean and restock the plane. I guess they really needed a full 2 hours and there was no slack time built in. As I approached the gate, I noticed long confusing lines snaking out from Gate 63. You know it's Air Canada when the crowds emerge. Even boarding an Emirates A380 doesn't stir up such a scene.
By now, the priority Zone 1-2 lines pretty much emptied out and they announced Zone 3 would board. The problem is when a full 777 with such a huge Economy Class clusters around 2 zones, it's a recipe for disaster. The lines snaked out to the next gate and I had no idea which was which. I eventually found the line that was moving and kept walking up with the crowd. Good job, Air Canada.
The back part of the 777 curves so that the window only has a row of 2 instead of 3, making it a bit easier to jump out for the bathroom while providing more stretch room for the legs and storage beside my seat. I wouldn't have gone for the 777 if I couldn't get one of these seats. At first glance, the plane wasn't vacuumed properly and there were plenty of food bits still lying on the floor by the fuselage.
We ended up departing about 50 minutes behind schedule in pouring rain. The moving map is quite good to track our movements. With bad weather in the area, it was a bumpy ascent to cruise.
A late dinner emerged. It looked obviously worse than Cathay's selection. The portion was quite small and there was just a pudding for dessert and no ice-cream. There was already small bottle of water in the seat pocket when we boarded.
As we flew over Taiwan and headed towards Japan, persistent turbulence disturbed the otherwise calm cabin. Things got progressively worse as we flew over Japan, and the announcement came to stay put with "light to moderate turbulence". That statement was a bit of an understatement. It got so bad that we had to descend below 27,000 feet. It's going to be a long night!
Luckily, the skies cleared as we approached Hokkaido. The routing seemed a bit odd that we wouldn't ride the jet stream across the Pacific southeast of Japan.
Welcome to Hakodate.
We continued a fairly northern trajectory and the sun was poking out already. By the time we crossed into Alaska, it was all bright and sunny.
Mid-flight, a sandwich and cookie snack was served. I wasn't too hungry since I sat and dozed throughout the flight. The sandwich didn't taste anything special but the delicious cookies from my prior Tokyo flight were back.
A watery congee breafast was also served before landing. I suppose the small dinner was OK given we were fed 3 times for tonight's transpacific crossing.
Then the clouds rolled in south of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The forecast in Vancouver wouldn't be too good today.
I was hoping for a decent photography opportunity on descent. At least it wasn't raining ...
We landed well over an hour behind schedule after a seemingly lengthy flight despite favourable prevailing winds. Luckily, summer days are long so it was still bright at 5:40pm.
The airport was much quieter and had lots of narrowbodies.
Welcome back to Vancouver. It has been over a decade since I last visited.
There were a few announcements during the flight that customs arrival forms were no longer necessary as machines have replaced humans for much of the arrival process. Although I sat at the back of the plane, there wasn't a big line for immigration since there were rows of machines available. Scan your passport, answer the old paper questions on screen, take a photo, and a receipt prints out with your photo and a big number for the customs check. Many passengers couldn't get it right since families can group together to take that photo. Seems this is a new piece of automation for everyone.
Luggage didn't take excessively long and with the machine receipt. For those connecting in Vancouver, they still had to drag their luggage out but re-deposit them in a transfer belt. How annoying to do this yourself after a 12-hour flight! Since I was staying in Vancouver tonight, I lined up for the customs check. Unlike Japan, there are no proper counters to put up your luggage to allow the agents to properly investigate it (I guess they would go into the hidden rooms for that). The agent just grabbed my receipt and I was on my way.
Vancouver is a mid-sized airport and everything looked cozy. Hotel shuttles were just outside international arrivals and the Canada Line trains depart across the street and upstairs.
From time-to-time after booking my flights, I double-check my reservations to make sure nothing has changed so I won't arrive surprised. The stopover program's website keeps a running record of my hotel reservations. Interestingly, there was a disclaimer on it that hotel transfers are not included. But that is probably a standard sentence embedded into all reservations, since my stopover hotel does provide a free airport shuttle for the 10-minute ride.
Air Canada is not reknowned for premium service. Best in North America doesn't mean anything. That's a pitiful continent to fly in the first place. But it will give you a fairly good offer for a nonstop flight. Just find a cozy spacious corner and not somewhere in the middle of the huge HD cabin. The 3-4-3 configuration is quite a torture for such a long flight and the seats are indeed noticeably narrower.
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To re-use these photos or notify of errors, please email me. Thank you.
To re-use these photos or notify of errors, please email me. Thank you.