I am home now, writing this the week after coming home, so it is all still fresh in my mind. This was a big high school band trip that had been planned for about a year leading up to it. The purpose of our trip was to experience the unique musical and social culture of Cuba. We were a very large group, overall 43 including chaperones (ages 14-18, me being 14). I thought it would be neat to put trip report on here from a slightly different perspective. This would be my first time flying AC mainline (flown Jazz before). Unfortunately, I only have pictures for the HAV-YYZ portion of this trip, because I either did not have a window seat for the other flights, or it was dark. These pics will be on the return portion of my report. Also, I was not able to get the registrations of the aircrafts, because we were usually in a hurry, or I could not see the aircraft. Sorry about that! Hope you enjoy my trip report anyways, please do no hesitate to leave a question, comment, complaint, etc.
Air Canada 162
My day started as any other day did, except for the knowledge that after school, I would be off for Cuba. I found it very hard to focus that day, as did my other class mates. I left school early at 3:00, to head for the Swartz Bay ferry terminal. Since I live in Victoria (on Vancouver Island), we had to take the ferry over to Vancouver. We took the 5:00 sailing, which got us into Vancouver at 6:30. We had purposely allowed a huge amount of time for error (the ferries run only every 2 hours, the 7:00 ferry would have been tight). We arrived in the Tswwassen (no typo) ferry terminal (near Vancouver). We had chartered a school bus earlier to take us to the airport. Our luggage made its way separately on a rented van. After about a 45 minute drive, we made it to the domestic departures area of the Vancouver International Airport. We quickly unloaded, and began the long group effort of unloading our luggage (this included all of our various instruments and equipment). I personally had my suitcase, my tenor saxophone case (quite large), and my carry-on backpack. The check-in area was absolutely dead at this time, thus Air Canada only had one desk open (in addition to the e-check-ins). As we were a group, we were forced to use the single desk. Luckily, AC printed out all of our boarding passes when we got there, but we still had to go up individually to show our tickets, passport and to get our baggage tags. I was at the very end of our line, and ended up waiting almost a full hour until I got to the front. When I did get up there, I received my boarding cards from 2 tired looking AC agents, and got my baggage checked right through to Havana. I was told to carry my suitcase over to the regular baggage drop off area, but to take my saxophone to the special luggage area. I made my way over to the normal drop off area (just across the hall) and put my luggage on the belt. As I walked over to the special belt, a CATSA-ACTSA (Canadian Air Transport Security Authority) agent called me over. I was lucky enough to receive a random explosives check on my saxophone case . The lady took me to a desk, where we struggled to remove the belt keeping my case closed. When we finally got it open, it was swabbed and quickly looked over. This security process was relatively painless, but very annoying (yes, I know it has to be done…) After this, pretty much everyone was checked in and ready, so we headed off to the international departures terminal (not airside) to get some food. After spending an hour there, we decided it was time to head to the domestic departures area and clear security. We all lined up in the deserted area, and I was one of the first to go. I emptied my pockets, and put my backpack on the belt. I walked through the metal detector and… BEEP… I got the wand for the first time. The man told me to take off my belt, and then he frisked me. Not a fun experience in front of all of your friends . It turned out that a lot of our group ended up beeping, but we finally made it through and took the short walk to our gate (which was deserted). We killed about 2 hours of time playing cards, listening to music, etc. I could see our nice A321 outside, with the jetway connected. It was in the old colours. About 45 minutes before our scheduled departure time, pre boarding was called. We waited (un)patiently until it was our time to board. The AC agent checked my passport and boarding pass, and I headed down the jet way.
I stepped onboard our A321 and was welcomed by two smiling, enthusiastic AC flight attendants. They directed me through the first class cabin, to my seat in the second Y cabin. I sat down in my aisle seat, but immediately a friend of mine offered to trade me for a window (I of course accepted   . It was a few rows up from my original seat, behind the emergency exit seats, two back from the bulkhead. I don’t remember the seat number. I sat down in the nice looking green seat, and was content with the comfort. The seat was a bit hard, but very clean, and the adjustable headrest was nice. My seatmates were two of the chaperones coming on our trip. The plane was loaded surprisingly quickly considering our full load. The flight attendants welcomed us onboard, and so did the First Officer. The FO told us that we would have an indirect flight routing today, lengthening our flight time. This did not worry us, as we had a scheduled 4 hour connection in YYZ. He also said that they were still deciding whether to de-ice the aircraft or not (it was snowing quite heavily). He came back on two minutes later and said that we would be de-icing. I looked outside to watch the de-icing process, which I had never seen before. The lead FA then announced that the FO would be coming back to the emergency exit to look at the wing. He came back, looked out both windows with a satisfied look and returned to the cockpit. Finally, we pushed back and started our taxi. The safety video was shown on this amazingly long taxi, considering there was hardly any action at the airport. The only aircraft I saw were an HP 733 and a MX A319. When we finally made it to the runway, we held for about a minute, then began our takeoff roll. The takeoff was quite powerful, and the engines roared more than I remember on an IAE powered plane. We rotated surprisingly early considering our heavy load, and were quickly in the sky in a lazy climb. The flaps stayed deployed for a very long time, as we climbed higher. As we cut through the cloud layers, we experienced some moderate turbulence. The FO announced that the seatbelt sign would likely stay on for a while. When we finally did reach our cruising altitude, the seatbelt sign was still on due to the turbulence. It was not until we crossed the Alberta border that it was switched off. Mild turbulence still ensued for most of the flight on and off. By this time, the flight attendants started a drink service, and the IFE was begun. A smiling FA offered me a drink and I chose a Coke. The service from the all female cabin crew was excellent throughout this flight. They always had a smile, and were very professional. Throughout this trip, all of the crews I had were good, but this group the best. I watched the IFE on and off, but my seat partners were already sound asleep. Eventually the feature movie was started called “Prime”. I watched this movie, but did not find it very good or to my taste. I sort of zoned out while watching the movie, and do not remember most of the middle portion of the flight, until we were over Minnesota. I saw a big city that I think was Minneapolis, along with other smaller towns. The sun was beginning to peek over the horizon, and the cabin began to wake. Another round of drinks was served just as we started to encounter some more moderate turbulence. I noticed the engine noise die down, and we started our descent. The airshow was restarted at this point, and I noticed we descended all the way down to 21,000ft. I decided to get out of my seat for the first time to use the bathroom, just as the turbulence was increasing. As I was walking to the rear restrooms, the FO came back on the PA and announced that our flying time would be another 45 minutes and that they were expecting some very heavy turbulence in about 25. He also mentioned that we would be staying at this higher altitude until the last moment and descend quickly. He ended his announcement by restating that the turbulence coming would be quite heavy, and continue all the way until landing. I got in the restroom, which was clean, but small, just as we started hitting some more turbulence. I had to grab a hold of the railing in the restroom just to stay balanced. I heard the chime of the seatbelt sign, and the knocking of an FA on the door. I got out and the FA said “you need to go back to your seat now sir, we are going to experience some heavier turbulence.” Boy was she right about that! As I sat down, things were getting increasingly choppy. We began a very quick descent through the cloud layer, and I laid my eyes on Ontario for the first time. The turbulence seemed to go on forever, but very quickly, our flaps were lowered part ways. The sky was gloomy, and the air hazy, so I could not see any of the city, as I had been hoping. We continued our approach, until the flaps were fully lowered and we were on final. I could tell the pilot was doing his best to fight the strong crosswinds and turbulence. The engine noise varied a lot in pitch, and the brakes were used until at last we were over the runway. We flared, and slammed hard into the runway. This is on of the roughest landings I have experienced. The airbrakes were fully extended, and the engines roared in reverse thrust, for a quick stop. We turned off the runway, and the cabin seemed to relax more. Quite a few passengers had been noticeably nervous. The crew welcomed us to Toronto, and told us what gate we would be arriving at. We taxied to our assigned spot, and as soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off, everyone in the cabin stood up. It took much longer to deplane, then to load in YVR. At last, I was off the plane, and stepped in Lester B. Pearson Int. Airport.
Once our whole group was off of the plane, we decided it would be best to all find our gate together, then go off as we liked to eat breakfast and shop. As we walked, my first impression of the airport was very good. It was wide open, modern and clean. However, the design and colours are a bit dull. Once we reached our gate, some people decided to wait, to rest and get organized, but many of us decided to go out looking for food, and more importantly, coffee. A group of us went to scout out a Tim Horton’s which we eventually found, but was very busy. We ate, and then most people dispersed to look at the various shops. I milled around myself for a while, sometimes spotting planes, but there was not much to look at that I do not see in YVR. However, I did see one of AC’s brand new A345s about to head off to HKG. Eventually, I returned to our gate, to repeat the things we had done in YVR to kill time. I watched our crew board the aircraft, about an hour ahead of departure, which made me hope that we may be departing earlier than expected. About 15 minutes later, boarding began, and I lined up to board the waiting A319 (in partial toothpaste colours).
Air Canada 988
Onboard the aircraft, there was a male FA watching the passengers board, but not greeting us. I turned right into the F cabin, and noticed that this aircraft has different seats than the A321. They were gray and looked much older and had lots of stains on them. I got to my aisle seat, and put my backpack in the overhead bin. When I sat down, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more comfortable these seats were than the ones on the A321. The only drawback is that the seat did not have adjustable headrests. It looked like another full load today, as boarding was completed. Everyone was seated, and the FAs started the safety video as we taxied. There were two male FAs serving the hospitality section and one female FA in first. It didn’t take too long to taxi to the runway, but we held for a few minutes when we got there. The Captain announced that the seatbelt sign would probably stay on all the way until we reached our cruising altitude of 36,000ft. We got onto the runway, the engines spooled up, and we began our roll. The engines didn’t scream like they did on the A321, and the roll didn’t seem as powerful. We lifted into the air, and were greeted by some moderate turbulence during our climb up. When we did reach altitude, the seatbelt sign switched off, and it was clear sailing for a while. The flight attendants were up and did a round of drinks early. I got a Coke as usual. The movie today would be “Chicken Little” which I wasn’t very interested in watching, so I just occupied myself for a while. As we crossed over the Atlantic states, we started hitting some turbulence. The two flight attendants were just starting the lunch service, as the bumps continued and got stronger. The captain came on and told us that they would try changing altitudes for a smoother flight; meanwhile, the seatbelt sign would be on. I heard the engines rev up as we climbed. About 5 minutes later, the turbulence increased greatly, and the captain came on immediately to tell the FAs to sit down. The FAs were sitting for about half an hour, while engine noise would change every 5 minutes or so, as we apparently changed altitude. It was more of a rolling, turbulence then on the earlier flight. Eventually, the turbulence weakened a bit, but did not completely go away, and the flight attendants were back up serving lunch. They made their way back to me, as turbulence AGAIN started to get stronger. I was offered a choice of Beef or Chicken. I chose the Chicken. Immediately after I was served, the captain again came back on and ordered the FAs back to their seats. I was the last one to be served for half an hour . The chicken was quite dry, but the sauce was good, as was the potatoes and veggies it came with. The meal also came with a bean salad, which was really not to my taste (it seems every time I get a meal on a plane, I get bean salad).
We went through the same thing as before all the way until we had almost reached Florida, when the turbulence got much weaker. Meal service resumed for a second time. The rest of the flight after this was mostly smooth. When meal service was finally completed, all the different customs and visa application forms were passed out. We started our descent. Everything I could see below us was water, until we finally hit the Cuban coastline. The captain came on for a final time, telling us he expected an on-time arrival, and the weather information. I watched across the other seats our approach into HAV. The flaps were eventually lowered, and we were on final. We were moving around a lot on final, when I got on the ground I noticed how windy it was. I saw out the window the runway pop out beneath us, and we slammed down hard very quickly. This landing was even worse than the one in YYZ; guess I can blame the crosswinds. We turned off the runway quite quickly. When we turned, I could see out the window that we still had lots of room left. I watched attentively out the window during our taxi, to look at all the exotic aircraft serving Havana. I saw two derelict DC-10s sitting side by side. I also saw three Loftliedir-Icelandic 757-200s all parked together; one looking like t was being prepared for a flight. Finally, as we were getting close to the terminal, I saw some soviet aircraft such as Cubana IL-62s and IL-96s and various Yakolevs. We pulled up at the gate beside a Livingston A332. The plane was unloaded quickly, and as I went down the jetway, I was hit by a blast of warm air. Our group was told just make our own way to customs, so me and a group of people walked to that area together. When I got there it was not very busy, so I lined up, and did not have long to wait. I was called forward by a female customs agent, and stepped into the little cubicle. I handed her my Passport and other necessary forms. She asked me a few questions, and then stamped my visa. She then said I could go, but go where? To my left was just a wall… I walked up to it, and looked back at her, she gave me a hurrying look, gesturing towards the wall. I finally figured out that the wall was actually a door you had to push to get through (with no handle). I guess that is what 30 hours without sleep gets you… On the other side, I noticed I was not the only person having this problem. It was funny to watch people push through the door hard, and have an astonished look on their faces when they burst through.
Parts of our group met after customs, where we went through another security check, similar to one when you go airside. I of course beeped and got frisked again. Baggage claim was not fun, as we had to wait a long time, since our group had so much luggage. After claiming all of our baggage, which took well over an hour, we finally entered the arrivals part of the airport where we were met by our tour guide. I stepped onto real Cuban soil for the first time as we left the airport.
Thanks very much for reading my report! I again apologize for having no pictures, but I do have them for my return legs. I hope to get the return trip report out sometime this week. Again, thanks for reading and please leave a comment !