Quelling that burning itch

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by igloocoder, Jul 19, 2012.  |  Print Topic

  1. igloocoder
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    igloocoder Silver Member

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    In 2010 and 2011 I racked up 225+ BIS miles per year. 2012 has been different. So far I've only managed to do about 50k BIS miles. Of those, only about 20k have been qualifying miles for next year (lots of reward miles from the previous two years to burn).

    In 2010/11 I flew Air Canada using tickets from a program called Flight Passes. You buy a book of one way trips for a certain region at a preset, up-front cost. For my business it offered price stability and budgeting ease. When my last gig with one client ended I was stuck with 4 orphaned one way trips. The tricky thing with flight passes is that the tickets expire one year after they're purchased....and that date is rapidly approaching.

    Rather than see about $4000 worth of plane tickets simply disappear into vapour, I did what anyone would do; I started planning how to use them to maximize the mileage I could accrue. The great thing is that my Flight Pass was for the "North America Transcontinental" zone. Basically that means that I can go anywhere that AC flies in Canada, the US (Alaska and Hawaii included), Mexico, and the Caribbean. So the planning begins.

    I put a lot of effort into putting the planning for this off. You see, I'm a horrible flight booker. When I was commuting across the country weekly on the Flight Pass I'd book my flights 48 hours before departure and all was good. I now forget that when you need to actually purchase a ticket, you probably should do it sooner, rather than later, unless you're willing to pay for those higher fare buckets that are the only ones left.

    You see, I'm based out of YEG...and while Canada is not a great place to do mileage running (due to flight prices), YEG is one of the worst big airports. It's right in the 'middle' of the country. I can't fly west to head east so I can maximize miles and east direct is just too close (due to direct flights and AC's tight routing restrictions) to make a trip to the east coast worthwhile. So the plan, once I finally started working on it, started to look like this.

    I'd buy a positioning flight for as far east in Canada as I could go.Then I'd find the best routing to the farthest point west that my Flight Pass would take me. I'd round trip that route and do the whole thing two times.

    The purchases are all done, the tickets in hand (some upgrades still waiting to clear) and I'm ready to go. Until then...off to board a plane.
     
  2. igloocoder
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    igloocoder Silver Member

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    When I was planning the trip I had three goals; finish the 4 one way trips as quickly as possible, maximize the miles collected, and incur as little extra cost as possible. Maximizing miles turned out to be an exercise in understanding Flight Pass rules and the Air Canada network. Minimizing time was all about the schedule and minimizing cost was...well...something I failed at a bit.

    To maximize the mileage I'd collect I could fly anywhere Air Canada flew in Canada, US, Mexico and the Caribbean. It's hard to maximize anything from YEG so I decided that I'd need to buy a positioning flight. My inability to decide meant that I didn't purchase that positioning flight until way to late and I completely blew the goal of minimizing cost. Lesson learned.

    It turns out that the best routing I could find for mileage accumulation was YYT-HNL with a number of stops. So off I went and booked all the flights I needed to make that happen. The nice thing about having a Latitude Flight Pass is that you get complimentary upgrades to business class 48hr prior to your trip starting. All that is needed is J>0 space on your flight and it's yours. You skip by all the people one the upgrade wait list and are immediately confirmed. This is, as far as I know, the only way to get complimentary upgrades out of Air Canada. Because my flights were so condensed I was able to apply for all of my upgrades using this method before I started flying any of them. By the time I arrived at YYT the first morning I knew that I was sitting in J which was a huge relief for my arse.

    So here we go....
     
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  3. igloocoder
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    igloocoder Silver Member

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    Day 1, Flight 1
    Booked: AC1160 YEG-YYZ on an A320 (C-FCKR) sitting in 18C (aisle + exit row)
    Watched: Safe House

    I was taken to the airport by The Charming +1 before she had to go to work which meant I had some extra time to relax in the lounge. Unfortunately they don't put out the booze in the MLL until after 11am so I wasn't able to numb myself before having to fly transcon in Y for the first time in over 2 years. Before boarding I checked out the aircraft registration for my records and realized that any day starting with fckr is going to be a good day. And sure enough it was.

    I boarded with the priority boarding call which Air Canada has recently changed to be before the call for families. When I got on an sat in 18C I realized I had been smart (and lucky) enough to pre-select an exit row. This was the first flight that I remember where I'd been seated in an exit row. Standard boarding must have started because a gaggle of teenagers from some kind of sports team streamed up the aisle. The conversations were all centered around who is sitting where. "Oooo. I want to sit beside so-and-so"..."ME TOO!" (because yelling is really necessary I guess). It all kind of settled down when someone declared "Don't worry we'll just change seats during the flight so that we can all spend some time next to each other." At this point I just dropped my head and said a prayer to the seat back asking for it to mercifully save me from being surrounded by these girls. Turns out that seat back has some divine power and I was spared the most of the ordeal I feared. The middle seat next to me was taken by one of the group, but after take off it was arranged for her to switch back to be with the group.

    So we take off and all is good in my world...or so I think. The guy at the window (18A) is studiously working on his laptop while the lady across the aisle from me (18D) is vigorously trying to get his attention. They talk across myself and the middle seat occupant a couple of times. Am I the only person that is smart enough to ensure that I select seats together when I need to work with someone on the plane? Obviously these two med school students weren't that smart. I hope that isn't a reflection of the capabilities of the health care professionals I'll be dealing with when I get older. Anyways, we're up in the air, the seat belt sign goes out and the middle seat decides to make the switch. That's fine. I saw that coming. So I get up and let her out. Instead of sitting right back down only to have to stand back up again, I remain standing. The pre-med lady in 18D looks at 18A and says "I'm just moving over there now. I'm sure the other person won't mind" and she starts moving across my seat. So much for fearing the sports team as the biggest musical chair offenders. Luckily that was the end of it.

    We arrived in YYZ on time and I was hoping the next flight would be quick and painless.

    Day 1, Flight 2
    Booked: AC694 YYZ-YYT on an A319 (C-GITR) sitting in 17D (aisle and exit row)
    Watched: Money Ball

    The connection wasn't super tight, but there just wasn't enough time to warrant heading to the lounge. That meant I was going to have to tackle the entire day of flying with a drink. I'm not sure I've done it before which makes me worried that some Y class passenger will push me over the edge. Luckily my gate was near the A&W in YYZ so I was able to scarf down a burger and fries before boarding.

    I get on the plane with priority boarding and settle nicely into another exit row seat. On the Air Canada 319s row 16 has a missing seat near the exit so the window seats in row 17 have lots of leg room. Who the hell selected seats for my ticket and didn't realize that I could have had that option? I settle in and prepare for the onslaught of Newfie kettles to board.

    You see, Newfie kettles are a special kind of kettle. They're like all other kettles except their constantly laughing and joking about the fact they don't have a clue. It's self deprecating flying humor taken to another level. Another thing is that everyone on a flight to or from Newfoundland knows everyone else. You have to listen to people walking up the aisle and saying things like "Hamish! Didn't know you were out n about. Been a long time baie. It's good to see yous again baie." The first time it's cute. But the family reunion thing wears old pretty quickly when it's done 10" above your ear.

    Across the aisle from me confusion is starting to reign. Two people have boarding passes for 17C. The lady who arrived last swims back upstream and disappears back to the gate. A few minutes later she comes back on board and continues past my seat. Thirty seconds later she's swimming upstream again muttering something about "I can't believe this". Next time I see her she's settling into 1F. I guess she got upgraded. So much for my status making a difference when upgrades are handed out.

    Turns out I get a couple of Newfie kettles next to me, and as is expected they're wonderfully kind and, of course, commenting on how they "don'ts have no clue". By the time boarding has ended they've already switched seats once and are thinking that they're ready to go. The FA comes around to do the over-wing exit talk and notices there are a couple of kids in 16A and 16C. Technically this is the true exit row and neither of these kids is over 7 so now it's time to play musical chairs again.

    The FA asks 17C if he'd mind switching with one of the children to which he responds "No, I'm 6'6" and I need this leg room!" The FA looks at row 16. I look at row 16. The FA looks back at 17C and says "Okay". If dude in 17C was so damn tall it wouldn't have hurt him to peer over the seat and see that the row in front of him had as much, or more, leg room than his current seat. Whatever dude...whatever. Myself and the Newfie kettles off up our three seats so that the kids can sit together with their mother. All is good in exit row land.

    We take off and I wake up to hear an FA asking the mother (who's now in my old seat) "Who is it that moved for you m'dear?". The mother points at the Newfie kettles and the FA turns to engage them. She looks at the gentleman and says "I'd like to offer you a drink for being so kind as to move." The FA makes sure that she's partially facing too-tall in 17C when she says this. I just about piss myself because of the FAs tartness. So Mr Newfie kettle looks at her and says "oh?" like he didn't realize they served any beverages at all on the plane...ever. And he asks for an apple juice. The FA says to him "No dear. You don't understand. I want to offer you a real drink." Mr. Newfie kettle is more confused than ever now. He has no idea what to say. While he's trying to rationalize the though of beverages on planes the FA says to him "Are you a Super Elite?" He looks at her like she asked him to properly conjugate a verb. Now the FA is confused. Having heard this, and seeing the opportunity to get a bevvie, I step in to stop the spiral of confusion. Shortly after I have a plastic glass of white wine in my hand....as if I were in business class on US. I guess my status really does matter after all.

    The rest of the flight is uneventful. When I deplane and head through the baggage area I can hear the lady that was upgraded in the seat confusion complaining to someone about "how they just can't get the seats right" and "I shouldn't have to deal with that". I just shake my head and try to figure out where the hotel shuttle bus parks in YYT.
     
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  4. igloocoder
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    igloocoder Silver Member

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    Day 2, Flight 3
    Booked: AC113 YYT-YOW on an E90 (C-FNAP) sitting in 2D
    Watched: read instead

    I got into the hotel in YYT plenty early the night before, but the combination of time zones and a 01:30 time for requesting complimentary upgrades had me up very late. By the time I realized what was going on it was about 3am and I needed to be up and getting ready to go before 5. So I stayed up all night. I was staying at the Comfort Inn St. John's Airport and was almost impressed. It's not 5 stars by any stretch, but it has 24hr shuttle and complimentary breakfast which starts at 4 am. I've never heard of a hotel starting breakfast that early, but it was awesome for those of us out on the first flights of the day.

    Off I go to the airport which is a 2 minutes shuttle ride away. I get my boarding passes for the day and head for security and the lounge. Security at YYT is the same as anywhere else in Canada with one exception. There never seems to be anybody standing in line at it. There's always a gaggle of CATSA staffers standing around, but who doesn't see that at all the other airports? So security takes about 48 seconds. I'm happy I decided to travel in flip flops and shorts. There's way less metal to slow me down. The Maple Leaf Lounge in YYT is one of two in the Air Canada system that has no moat dragon. Instead you get the door key code from the check-in agent and let yourself in. Don't ask me for the code, I already know that it has changed once during the rest of this trip. Unlike the MLL in YQR (the other unmanned lounge), YYT is actually a pretty good size. And it has a great view of the tarmac. If only the fog wasn't limiting visibility to about 750m I'd be able to see all the planes parked in the private aviation area. YYT is pretty good for plane watching. A lot of military aircraft stop here on their way to/from Europe. Today there were 5 US C130s on the tarmac.

    Boarding is nothing special and I again note the aircraft registration. After being up all night it's appropriate to how I feel at this point. I doze on take off to try to make sure I'm awake to have the hot breakfast offered in J. Dozing seems like a bad idea as I know that I'll pass out for the entire flight and go hungry so I start reading. I spend the flight reading The Hunger Games. I noticed that the movie was on the IFE the day before so I figured I'd read the books and watch the movie during the flights.

    All is good and we arrive in YOW slightly ahead of schedule.

    Day 2, Flight 4
    Booked: AC445 YOW-YYZ on an A320 (C-FFWJ) sitting in 2D
    Watched: the back of my eyelids

    I have no idea what happened on this flight. I was asleep before they closed the door and pushed back and I only woke up with about 5000' left in the descent. My first hour of sleep in something like 28hrs.

    Day 2, Flight 5
    Booked: AC181 YYZ-YVR on an A321 (C-GIUE) sitting in 4C
    Watched: read instead

    This was the first of my flights where it seemed like a reasonable time to ask for an adult bevvie. I always hate being the guy that kills a bottle of wine on an 8am flight. People just don't think about the fact it may be my 4th flight in a row and that I'm arriving from Asia and it really is drinking time to my internal clock. Anyways....I drank a Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma...twice....okay maybe I had 4 or 5 glasses. I knew I couldn't try to dry out the catering cart since I had to connect through US pre-clearance in YVR and part of that was going to require me to be on top of my game explaining how and why I was only going to be in the US for 2 hours. So semi-sobriety was the order of the flight.

    I don't know how she managed to do it, but the lady in 3D turned her seating area into a disaster zone. I would have considered it for dirtiest seating area in economy at the end of a YVR-SYD flight. Garbage on the floor (don't worry, it got covered by the newspaper eventually). Garbage cascading out of the seat back pocket. Garbage stacked on the console between the two seats. It makes me wonder how quickly she can turn her house into a disaster.

    I managed to get a couple hours of sleep on the flight. I suspect I was at the point where I was snoring like a lumberjack. Apologies to those that were around me....except you 3D. You didn't need to make obvious comments to 3C about how you were glad I was back awake. Why don't you just clean up your little episode of Hoarders?

    Day 2, Flight 6
    Booked: AC47 YVR-HNL on a 763 (C-GSCA) sitting in 6A
    Watched: worked instead

    When I arrive in YVR, I'm ready to bust a move to hit US pre-clearance. While I'm a NEXUS holder CAN->US connections in YVR don't have a NEXUS lane so I'm at the mercy of the lineups. I check the first flight board after I deplane and I notice that my flight is delayed by about 3 hours. No need to hurry now. Off I go. Security is quick and easy for connections. There's only a couple of lines, but there's only about 3 people being processed when I get there. Because there's nobody connecting the connections lineup for immigration is short to. Within 2 minutes I'm up at the kiosk explaining to the agent what a mileage run is, how I got the tickets, why I was doing it and rebuffing his assertion that I was insane. Probably the biggest hassle is that I'm scolded for not putting "in transit" on the form. Like I knew that was an option for "Where are you staying when in the US?" Less than 5 minutes later I'm on my way to the trans-boarder MLL.

    The moat dragon (who was very kind I must add) and I spend a while trying to get my boarding passes for the return flights printed out. For some reason she said she couldn't print them out until I checked in and she couldn't do that for me. I went off and did it online and then all my boarding passes, except one, were printed for me. I have no worries about anything in HNL now. Just get off the plane and wait to be asked to get back on.

    Unfortunately the delay is on this flight is going to delay my return. It is the same plane after all. Delaying the return is going to make my connection tight or impossible. I call the Air Canada concierge services to see what we can sort out. For those that don't know the concierge service is a set of AC staffers stationed at all the larger airports that AC services. Their services are available to Super Elite status members and J cabin passengers. I have no idea how a J passenger would even know they exist since I think they're only ever advertised to Super Elites. Anyways, they can help you with connection issues, seating, finding lost phones, etc. Calling about a possible missed connection is pretty normal, so I do that. The concierge and I talk for a bit about the outbound flight that I'm on and I find out it'll be a 3 hr delay guaranteed. I ask what that means for the return HNL-YVR flight and then explain what I'm doing. She's baffled, like everyone else it seems, as to my schedule but agrees that I will probably mis-connect in the morning. She adds me to a concierge "watch list" for the next morning so that they can prepare a solution for me, if it's needed, before I touch down. I thank here and pour another white wine knowing that I shouldn't be in too bad of a mess come morning.

    The flight itself was rather boring. I ate. I worked. I did my best not to doze off as I wanted to sleep the entire flight back.
     
  5. igloocoder
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    igloocoder Silver Member

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    Day 2, Flight 7
    Booked: AC48 HNL-YVR on a 763 (C-GSCA) sitting in 7D
    Watched: the back of my eyelids

    Honolulu is just strange as airports go. There are the open air parts where you feel like you can reach out and touch the aircraft sitting at the gates. Then there's the boarding/seating areas. Air Canada sees fit not to allow you into the seating area until just before the flight is ready to board. I understand that they want/need to check all of the passengers' passports, but forcing us all to stand in the hallway is just stupid. When the flight is late, like it was this night, people get tired and start to hate you for making them stand and look at a room full of empty chairs.

    So eventually we get let into the seating area and within 10 minutes boarding starts. It's about 2hrs later than it should have been due to us being late on the inbound. Originally I only had 2.5 hours to connect in YVR on my way back so this is looking bleak as I had to clear immigration and take the long walk in the hamster tubes to the domestic area. I'm at the point where I'm too tired to care and I have placed my full trust in the YVR concierge team to take care of me. I get on board and I'm out sitting up. So much for needing the lay flat pods. Something wakes me and I notice we're at cruise altitude so I make the seat into a bed and pass out again. I woke up just as we started our descent into YVR. I missed all the meals and snacks so I'm hoping that, if I indeed was rebooked by the concierge, it'll be on another YVR-YYZ flight with pods. I think I could do with some more sleep and a breakfast.

    Day 3, Flight 8
    Booked: AC1132 YVR-YYZ on a 763 sitting in business class
    Taken: AC142 YVR-YYZ on a 333 (C-GFAJ) sitting in 7A
    Watched: The Warrior

    I deplaned from my inbound and started to make my way up the jetway as quickly as possible. Just as I'm starting to get my fast walk going I see the concierge standing at the top of the jetway holding a sign with my name and that of a few other people. When I stop to talk to her she says "If it's not a hassle for you we've booked you on the 8am flight since the connection to the 7:30am flight is so tight." Sweet! No need to run through immigration, customs and the hamster tubes. I still have to hustle, but I won't have to take off my flip flops and run. I tell her there's no problem at all, she re-assures me that my connections through the rest of the day will be just fine with this change, and 45 seconds later I'm heading towards immigration with my new boarding pass. Have I mentioned how awesome the concierge service is?

    I make it to the immigration hall and step up to the Nexus kiosk and scan my iris' with the skill of a well practiced person (it's only the 3rd time I've actually used the machine). The machine churns and churns and finally tells me that the scan was unsuccessful. While I'm trying again all I'm thinking is "Unlike when the machine repeatedly failed for me in YEG a couple months ago, I shouldn't have dilated pupils since I've not drank 3 bottles of wine on the preceding flight...so what gives?" The second scan is good and I'm on my way in seconds. It helps that I have Nexus, but there weren't any lines to wait in regardless. I get the feeling that early morning international arrivals in YVR are limited.

    As I'm heading through international baggage claim I walk with the concierge that met me on the jetway. I tell her my trip plans and she makes a note that I'll be back through YVR in the next couple of days and assures me that whoever is working the concierge office will know to watch and make sure my transfers are as smooth as possible. After parting ways I head up to the long walk to the domestic connections security area. It's not that big in YVR (only two lines I think) and I've never seen it overly busy. When I get there this morning it's actually completely closed. There's nobody there to man it and they have to call up staffers from the main domestic lines downstairs so that they can start running people through. Thank god I didn't try to make my original connection because I have to wait for people to arrive and computers to start. In all it takes 10 minutes before I'm on my way to board my flight to YYZ. I make it to that gate and my total time from door to door of my flights is 20 minutes. Not too shabby.

    I get on board the 333, which has the exact same J class layout as the AC 763, and take my seat. At this point I'm feeling fantastic and I have enough energy to eat breakfast, watch a movie and do a bit of work before landing in YYZ.

    Day 3, Flight 9
    Booked: AC458 YYZ-YOW on an E90 (C-FHKA) sitting in 2A
    Watched: the view out the window

    YYZ-YOW is a nice quick flight so I didn't bother breaking out a book. Instead I just plugged in my headphones and listened to some music. One of the nice things about Air Canada is that you can watch the IFE or listen to IFE served music from gate to gate. The only catch is that you have to wear earbud style headphones while you're on the ground or during the initial climb/descent. Even though the flight is scheduled for one hour (and regularly only takes about 45 minutes), AC still provides a full snack to the J cabin. On this flight I got some kind of chicken kabob that was okay. It's not a hot snack, but it is served on a plate and with wine/beer in a stemless glass.

    The flight was quite full and there was even someone in the cockpit jump seat. I couldn't tell what his role was but it seemed like he was there in a regulatory or training role.

    Day 3, Flight 10
    Booked: AC118 YOW-YYT on an E90 (C-FLWH) sitting in 3D
    Watched: read more of the Hunger Games trilogy

    Since this flight is over 2 hours in duration, Air Canada serves a full hot meal on it. For this flight I chose the beef. It's nothing special, but my luck is good and I actually get some pink in the middle. It seems like this happens about 1 in 15 flights where I have the beef. The Service Director is a bit random, unorganized and skittish, but the service goes off without a hitch. Just after take-off he upgrades a woman and infant from Y to J and puts her in the seat across from me. After 2 days and 8 segments I'm fearing the possibility of a screaming child during the flight. Lucky for me all I get through the entire flight are a few giggles, a couple of burps (I swear that they weren't me...honest!) and a cough or two. I don't know why I always fear the child in J, but I do. And every time that it happens my fears are unwarranted. You'd think that I'd start to notice a pattern of good behaviour and stop worrying.

    By the time I'm done my beef I'm starting to doze of pretty hard. I read a bit more and start to re-read the same page of the book over and over. I'm really looking forward to the hotel room at this point. I need a shower and a solid sleep if I'm going to make it through the next couple of days. The only thing I keep telling myself is that all of my upgrades have cleared so it could be worse.
     

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