AC 8224 & AC 158 Flight Report
(Yellowknife - Calgary - Toronto)

Turboprop and the New Boeing 737 MAX

With hundreds of other tourists roaming Aurora Village during my stay, and the full flight from Vancouver on the inbound, I was a bit worried my departure may come with a surprise. My friend had departed earlier in the morning for Vancouver and reported back it was oversold and they were trying to lure volunteers off with a hefty price tag.

I had originally wanted to book that seasonal morning Vancouver flight and connect there back to Toronto with a few hours to walk around in a more balmy environment, but Aeroplan only had 1 redemption seat for my friend so I had to book the evening Calgary flight instead.

Air Canada doesn't run that many flights to Yellowknife despite the busy winter tourist peak season. In fact, they are not really a dominant airline here. Trying my luck, I decided to head there half a day early to standby for the afternoon Calgary flight.

My tour's airport shuttle came early to pick me up for the short 10-minute trip to the airport. There was a big Japanese tour group on it, which was sign that this plane won't be too empty today. There was 1 priority, 1 web check-in, and 1 Economy line.

The check-in area is not large but many smaller airlines besides Westjet and Air Canada share the space.

Air Canada flies the Q400 turboprop for its twice daily Calgary service. That's less than 80 seats. Unfortunately, I was told they couldn't allow standby as the plane had a weight cap, which also was the reason why it was delayed because it encountered load and balance issues in Calgary.

Meanwhile, the sun was coming out in a break from a light flurry.

Smokers can hide in that cold shack for their dose of chemicals.

There are only a few major hotels in town, and they are served by a common complimentary shuttle. If booking a package, airport transfers are typically included as well, so the likelihood of using a taxi is quite low in this town.

On the same floor across a short walk away from the check-in counters is the arrivals hall with the luggage belt in the public area. This is where tour companies pick up their package guests.

There are windows here to peek out onto the tarmac, but no planes to spot yet.

Looking at the departures board, 1 screen can pretty much handle everything from lunch to end of day.

Disappointed, I took the tour bus back into the city and decided to walk around the Old Town once again before enjoying the warmth of my hotel's business centre for the rest of the afternoon.

In the frigid weather, planes can land on Great Slave Lake just steps from the city's streets. The terminals are dotted around the lakefront. In the summer, they become seaplanes instead.

The last hotel shuttle of the day matched my flight time, unsurprisingly. I took the 6:30pm shuttle but I had already been informed by an email notification about a flight delay to 8:25pm from 7:55pm. There was barely anyone at the check-in counter at this point but a long line snaked out of the lone security checkpoint since there was also a delayed Westjet departure at 8pm. The landside cafes seemed to be closing down and it was only 7pm.

I chose not to get into the long line and get stuck air-side. The glass partition showed a busy scene inside with not enough seats and passengers sitting on the floor. I waited until the Westjet started boarding before I went for it, and even then the whole process took a good 20 minutes as the line slowly moved. Several announcements were broadcasted at the terminal to remind passengers to go through security check for each flight.

There wasn't much to boast about in the small air-side lounge. It doesn't have enough capacity to handle 2 flights of passengers at the same time. There was 1 cafe open, a few vending machines, and a small washroom.

The gate agent did a good job enforcing the zoned boarding system, turning away passengers who came when their zone was not called. A line stretched from the door as people waited for their zone to be called, so the agent asked whether there were any more previous zone passengers so we won't all be confused.

Boarding involves walking out exposed to the elements on the tarmac for the stairs onto the plane. The Q400 looked fairly new with comfortable leather sets and overhead compartments that could fit a standard hand-carry. I was lucky that my neighbouring seat was empty, but otherwise the flight looked quite full.

I had bought a sandwich in the terminal for $8 already, which was still cheaper than the on-board cafe.

As we settled in, the flight deck announced a further delay of about 15 minutes since we needed de-icing and there was only 1 piece of equipment for the job and it was de-icing another flight, presumably the Westjet. My 2.5 hour connection in Calgary was slowly being eaten away.

Not long after, more bad news came as there was a technical problem with the de-icing truck and they had to bring in a new one, and they expected a further delay of 20 minutes. The crew came by with a water round while we waited.

My seat was blocked by the engine so I could only see the de-icing fluid drop onto the ground as the process unfolded.

After de-icing, we departed past 9pm for the slightly over 2 hour flight to Calgary. The turboprop engines were not too loud and the weather was smooth enough en route. I managed to get a quick nap after the 2nd drink service passed.

The captain waited until close to arrival before flicking on the fasten seat belt sign. Calgary's lights were bright outside.

Before leaving, I captured the safety card and a few cabin shots with the thick leather sets and overhead compartments that can fit a standard hand carry.

Service Summary - AC 8224
Scheduled Time : 19:55-22:25
Actual Time : 20:25-23:32

Similar to other Canadian airports, departing and arriving passengers share the same space. Upon being let off my flight at gate 59, I scanned for the departures monitors to find my next flight. It was conveniently a few steps away. Despite being over an hour late, I still had time to wander around for about 45 minutes before boarding at 00:15.

Departures are sorted by destination city and not time.

Not long after, I saw my new Boeing 737 MAX arrive at the gate with the new racoon eyes livery.

At this hour, there weren't many other passengers in the terminal.

I walked around the terminal and found a new, brighter construction with little carts transporting passengers around running on a BRT-like set of lanes. There was a station with benches right before the arrivals exit. Bright red lights turn on to warn passengers as one of the carts near as they must cross the vehicle lanes to get to the exit, or to the gate. For a less-trafficked airport, perhaps this sort of space-sharing can still be safe.

With empty gates everywhere, I could take a close-up of the horrible zoned boarding lines and why Air Canada can screw up boarding even for a narrowbody.

Boarding commenced late and it seemed quite full tonight. The cabin had a new plane smell and everything looked quite refreshing. The seats were comfortable with a large TV screen. The IFE was, however, not turned on and would remain off for the entire journey.

I don't think passengers were hungry on this overnight flight, but there was a bistro menu in the seat pocket anyway. Air Canada only provides complimentary water, soft drinks, tea, and coffee for these domestic flights. Despite being a red-eye, blankets were not provided. The joy of flying in North America ...

The flight deck greeted us and explained the late boarding was due to maintenance being on the aircraft after it had arrived. They were only able to get on the plane shortly before our boarding and we would need to wait another 10-15 minutes for security checks before we could depart. We were also told there would be some "light chops" in the first part of our flight, then smooth afterwards.

I dozed on and off and 3 hours passed fairly quickly before we were descending into a clear Toronto sunrise.

Since it was a fairly full flight, I waited until arrival to take photos of the new plane's cabin.

What surprised me were the many rows of these supposedly elite seats at the front part of the Economy cabin. There didn't seem like a noticeable amount of additional legroom, and it was still 3 seats a row. Is this another excuse to milk a few more bucks from the passenger?

There were a few rows of Business Class up-front. No lie-flat beds here.

Good morning, Toronto.

We were let off into a busy concourse where it was a straight line walk to the exit. There are actually 2 exits. For those with checked bags, they need to head downstairs to the baggage claim. Since I was hand-carry only, I could continue on to the upstairs exit, then escalator down to the curb.

Service Summary - AC 158
Scheduled Time : 00:50-06:35
Actual Time : 01:12-06:52

So I crossed the continent in 6 hours of flying with no complimentary meal, but enough drinks to stay hydrated on both flights.

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