One of the advantages of flying out of ORD's terminal 2 is that it never seems quite as crowded United's or American's, and today's flight was no exception. Because I had only hand baggage, I checked in for my Air Canada flight to Toronto (A UA Codeshare) at the gate, conveniently located just past security. I was given my boarding pass and a card in which I had to provide my name and optional contact address in Toronto (why, I have no idea). Boarding commenced about 20 minutes prior to the 9:55 AM departure and proceeded swiftly. The A-319 was only about half full, and the legroom at my seat (16F-the row behind the exit row) was surprisingly spacious. Everyone was seated quickly, so we pushed back 5 minutes early. We taxied directly to runway 22L and only had to wait a minute or so before takeoff.
Climbout was a bit bumpy due to rain in the Chicago area, but once we leveled off the cabin crew began distributing headsets for a brief video program (CBC News and Sports in English and French, plus Airshow before and after). A snack of bran muffins and cheese danish plus beveriges were served. The fare was a bit meager but the rolls were warm and served from a basket - still a vast improvement over the stale, cellophane-wrapped tidbits the US carriers provide. The coffee Air Canada serves was particularly good. Cabin staff were friendly and solicitous throughout the flight (What, only one more muffin?).
Landing was smooth and we touched down on Runway 22 at YYZ arriving at the at the gate in Terminal 2 on time. After a long wait in line in Immigration and an interrogation from a surly Canadian Customs offical I was through customs and out the door. Overall a pleasant and hassle free trip.
The return flight was less enjoyable. I arrived at Terminal 2 about 7:15AM for an 8:35 AM departure and noticed the long line at the Air Canada counter (You cannot check-in at the gate for transboarder flights in Toronto because you clear US customs there). Noticing no line at the United counter I hoped (half knowing what the answer would be) I could use the fact I had a United flight number and tried to check in there. The agent said because I was actually flying Air Canada I had to check in with them. As an afterthought she asked me if I was a Star Alliance Gold member. I said I was not, and she just shrugged and said "sorry."
I trudged back to the Air Canada counter and noticed a bank of self-service check-in machines. I walked over, inserted my credit card and waited only to find my card was not accepted. Defeated, I walked back and got on line whereby a smiling Air Canada agent invited me to use the self-service check-in. "I just tried, and it wouldn't take my card" I said. The agent seemed genuinely perplexed and suggested I go to the baggage check counter beyond the bank of machines. I went through and tried my card in one of the machines one more time (hope springs eternal). Still no dice, and so walked up to the empty counter and explained my plight to the agent. She looked at my ticket and said "Yes, I think I know why. You purchased your ticket under a United Airlines flight number, and the computer only recognizes flights booked on Air Canada." Mercifully, she checked me in anyway and gave me my boarding pass, US Customs form and that card for providing my name to someone. So much for seamless air travel across Star Alliance.
I was cleared through US customs in all of 30 seconds by a friendly official (Usually it's the Canadians who are friendly and the Americans who are rude - very strange) and went to my gate to wait to board.
Boarding commenced about 30 minutes before departure, and the A-319 was about 3/4 full. The Economy cabin was patrolled by an icy Quebecois flight attendant in her mid-50's who exhailed audubly a couple of times looking clearly peeved about something. To an older Chinese man who did not appear to speak English and having trouble finding his seat she tersely said "back of the plane, obviously!" he abled back and she kept shouting "in the back, in the back" The other flight attandant assigned to Economy never showed his face except when he absolutely had to.
We pushed back on time but had a long taxi to runway 23 where we took off almost immediately. Service was about the same as the outbound leg, although the muffins served appeared to be taken straight out of the fridge and were hard as a rock. You could not get anything else without having to beg.
The flight time was about 65 minutes and we landed on runway 22R at O'hare with no delay. We taxied to the gate and arrived about 5 minutes early.
1. The outbound and inbound legs were like flying two different airlines: one friendly and efficient, the other chaotic and indifferent. I can't say if the AC-CP merger had anything to do with this, but on the surface I would doubt it in this case.
2. Star Alliance really needs to try harder to make its codesharing arrangements less frustrating, particularly for us poor unfortunates who do not travel often enough to merit gold frequent flyer status.