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Trip Report: BWI-YYZ-DCA

Thu Jul 27, 2000 5:47 am

I've been *really* delinquent in posting my trip reports lately, as I have been on three seperate trips in the past two months, and haven't written a single word about them (Technically, I have, but the site 'ate' my long volume/manifesto on my DCA-EWR trip). I'm hoping that writing about this one will help get through the backlog.  

Air Canada #1435 BWI-YYZ Dash-8-100 (Reg. Unknown--Operated by Air Ontario)
I live just outside Washington, D.C., and though it would have been more convenient to leave from National or Dulles Airport, seats were not available on the afternoon flights, so I settled for BWI. I don't mind leaving from BWI, usually, as it's a decent airport; the only trouble comes in getting to the airport.

Since I came in for a half-day at work (in downtown D.C.), I got off at around 12:30 and proceeded to Union Station, where I narrowly caught the MARC commuter train I needed (running down the platform with two bags in hand is not my idea of fun). Actually, I made it with a few minutes to spare, but only because the train pulled out late. I sat down and enjoyed the ride through Maryland to the BWI Rail Station.

This is what I don't get--why couldn't they have connected the terminal with the rail station using the MTA's light rail, or a seperate light rail line just for the airport? This is the main problem with both BWI and IAD...little convenient connection to the rest of the area, save for highways. Instead, I had to hop a shuttle bus over to the terminal and pack my bag in the bottom of the bus, which cost me quite a few minutes (especially in *waiting* for the bus to arrive). If I were in a hurry, I'd probably have been screwed--fortunately, I left enough time for just this situation, and I got into the terminal a full hour and a half early.

BWI is a very average airport. It's pretty decent, but nothing to write home about. That is, the main terminal is like that. The International Pier, however, is something else entirely. It's like a tale of two cities--or terminals, as the case is here. The main building has a reasonable amount of space, but it's a bit closed-off and shadowy at times, even with the glass wall facing the roadway. I think that's mainly due to the fact that so much of the terminal is *black*, which tends to absorb light.

The International Pier, however, is anything *but* dark--located off the main building, it has a large glass pyramid atrium that cascaded light upon the entire triangle-shaped hall. On this day, it felt particularly bright and open because the sun was shining and there wasn't a cloud in the sky.   A model of the China Clipper hangs from the ceiling, bearing the wonderfully nostalgic logos of Pan Am. I thought that was a very nice touch, given the area's connection to the old Martin flying boats.  

Air Ontario obviously has a very small operation at BWI, because there were only three people at the smallish AC check-in stand, and two of them were handling paperwork. One, a nice lady who seemed to be from the Caribbean, was doing the check-in. The line wasn't really long--just three people ahead of me--but it took a rather long while for them to get checked through. One man ahead of me had to buy another ticket after he lost the original, and AC could find no proof of his credit card being charged, so that held things up quite a bit. However, the lady working there got to me and checked me in rather quickly, which I appreciated.

I took a quick tour of BWI before heading to the gate, stopping in at the BWI observatory, where they have a beautiful panoramic view of the apron between the C & D piers (I believe), as well as a small exhibit on flight. The most impressive things there, though, were the sections of a 737 on display, with the tail (painted in Maryland flag colors!  ) and cabin towering high over the rest of the area. I'd seen it a few times before, though, so I didn't dally. Unfortunately, as I was told on this site some time ago, the Smithsonian aviation store up by the observation deck had been closed.   The golde-plated elevator to the observation deck (complete with a painted-on runway on the floor and landing lights leading to it) *was* open, though.  

After touring the rest of the airport for quite a bit and grabbing a Pizza Hut pizza and a tangerine drink from one of the food shops, I proceeded to the gate in pier E. (Two things I noticed: 1.) there is a *serious* lack of major-name eateries at BWI...they had a Burger King and a dirty Pizza Hut/Taco Bell outlet. That's *it*, as far as I could see. They really need to get on the ball. 2.) Pier D is not the place you want to be right now, as it is undergoing *serious* construction that makes it look like a war zone. Unfortunately, the Pizza Hut was there...)

After dropping through Customs, I proceded to the gate and got in line just as we started boarding. (Another way one can tell that they have a small operation--the check-in people also handle boarding!) Since BWI doesn't have facilities for international prop aircraft, we had to use a jetway lowered close to the ground with a small step-ramp to get to the apron.

I dropped my larger bag onto the Skycheck cart and boarded the Dash-8. My seat was 4A, next to a portly gentleman who I later found out was from London (Ontario). I took out my pizza to eat, and he responded, "You just *had* to bring that on here, didn't you?", in a rather good-natured manner. I apologized and told him I hadn't anything to eat for lunch, and I was in a rush to get to the airport. We struck up an intermittent conversation that lasted until we got to Toronto. Nice guy.  

BWI was nearly dead at that point in the afternoon, with just a Southwest 737 landing or taking off here and there. It was rather obvious that we were cleared for takeoff right from the ramp, because when the door was closed, the pilot fired up the engines and *motored* to the end of the runway. We pulled onto the runway without holding short, and we were off! The engines surged, and we went speeding down the runway and into the air, with about a 20-second roll. Unfortunately, I had a seat that was blocked by the Dash-8's sizeable engine, but I preferred that to an aisle seat, since all of the windows were full.

The flight was rather unremarkable. We climbed up to a healthy cruise altitude and flew on, over the tree-studded Pennsylvania and New York hills. Since the aircraft was so small, there was no meal service, only a limited beverage selection. However, the nice thing was that instead of peanuts or pretzels or the like, AO had chocolate chip cookies, and plenty of 'em--two to a package, and the flight attendant gave two packages right off the bat! Not bad!  

The cookies were pretty good, and the F/A also gave me the full can of apple juice without me asking, which was a double-plus. The F/A, as an aside, was a pretty, young woman who sounded Canadian and was very nice, although she did seem to have a bit of trouble reading the french translations of the PA announcements.

In any case, we soon broke out over Lake Ontario and flew on northward, descending as we hit the north shore. I had hoped we'd have a view of Niagara Falls, but no such luck. There was a little turbulence on the way down, but nothing much to speak of, just a little bumping and grinding around. Lower and lower we came, over a surprising number of golf courses, finally touching down at Pearson International and coming to a halt.

We taxiied off to the "terminal", which was really nothing more than a small midfield building sitting close to the ground. This was *really* interesting, because the door we entered through resembled a trailer home, and had a crooked arrow drawn on the side in magic marker, pointing where to go. The path took us into the terminal building, then back outside again, where we caught a bus to Terminal 2. I met my lovely girlfriend in there, after jumping through the many hoops of Customs and Immigration.

Air Canada #550 YYZ-DCA CRJ-200 (Reg. Unknown)
After a lovely weekend in the Toronto area (Canadians sure seem to have a lot of glow-in-the-dark outlets--it was the first time I've ever seen a glow-in-the dark miniature golf place), it was time to come home, on the eve of the Fourth of July. It was summer, but the living wasn't easy--I couldn't get a ride to the airport, so I had to take the TTC subway to the western end of the line and take a TTC bus to the airport. I originally thought of taking a taxi, but I was cheap and did it the hard way. The so-called "Airport Rocket" was supposed to operate every fifteen minutes, but I spent near an hour at the subway station, getting attacked by mosquitos, before it actually showed up.Argh.

Fortunately, I had left myself plenty of time to get there, again, so I was two hours early for my flight. After some confusion about which of the three terminals was T-2 (how, exactly, does it make sense to put Terminal One *in between* T-2 and T-3??), I made my way into the airport and looked around for check-in. An AC employee holding a small walkie-talkie saw my confused American face and directed me to the Transborder area, where a nice woman checked me in and informed me that I'd just missed the earlier flight to DC, which I'd wanted to be listed for standby on. Rats.

Made a couple of phone calls to confirm my family's reservations on Delta to Hawaii the following day, then proceeded on down the stairs to the bus area and boarded promptly. The view of all the Air Canada A32X and Canadian 737 aircraft around the gates was pretty nice, from down below.

Got to the midfield terminal (which is actually quite decent, doing its best imitation of the modern regional jet terminal that Comair has in Cincinnati), and grabbed a rather tasty roast beef on rye from the small sandwich/soda/coffee stand there. After quite a few Dash-8's and CRJ's had departed for various destinations, it was our turn. The interesting thing about this terminal is that it had nice little mini-jetways for the CRJ's, so no one had to get wet if it was raining. It wasn't, though.

Boarded and slipped into seat 12D, an aisle seat near the back of the cabin that I couldn't get out of. Fortunately, the two seats behind me went unfilled at departure time, so I slipped back there and took 13F. There wasn't any recline for those seats, as they were crammed against the lav, but I figured that since CRJ seats don't give you much recline room anyway, I wouldn't miss it.

This was really a kind of average flight, but not in a good way (as in the AO flight from BWI). First, we pushed back about five minutes late, and had to sit behind some A320s and a 767 on the taxiway before we got to the runway. We revved up, and took off, wiht about a 25-second roll. There was some bumping around on climbout, but nothing too bad. Then, our flight attendant, a bizarre guy that with the looks of Wilford Brimley and the attitude of a Nazi kommandant, comes down the aisle. He serves us an absolutely wretched peach-cranberry oatmeal cookie with hardly a blink of an eye. I can't believe those things are even legal.

The descent into Washington, too, was bumpy, and a bit unnerving because we didn't break through the clouds until about 500-700 feet above the ground. Obviously an instrument approach into the rainy DC area, we used the south approach track to get us to runway 36. The landing was average, and it felt like the left wheel grazed the tarmac a hair earlier than the right. Not a bad job, considering the weather.

We taxied to AC's lone gate in the second pier of terminal B and disembarked. DCA, as usual, had rolled its carpets up for the night--literally! Since it was after 10:45, there were no more outbound flights, and all of the check-ins were closed. So, too, were all of the restaurants, shops, etc. It was rather eerie, but it made for some nice looting of timetables, bag tags, etc. without the usual "are you flying with us, sir, or are you just a lunatic?" stares from the check-in agents.

I'll save my fawning over DCA for my Newark trip report, but suffice it to say, it's my favorite airport in the world.  

Air Canada is an okay airline, a little better than most American carriers. They have friendly employees, generally speaking, the aircraft are clean and mostly new-looking (the Dash-8 I was on was a little worn, but not too much so), and the service was basically on time. However, they definitely get major points taken off for running a monopoly and the high fares they charge (had I not purchased my ticket from a travel agency, I might have had to pay between $500 and $750 US!).

Hope this will do as a decent trip report!   If you waded through all this and made it to the end here, you get double gold stars. 
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RE: Trip Report: BWI-YYZ-DCA

Thu Jul 27, 2000 6:05 am

Hey that was a great trip report. I too live in Virginia, albeit quite far from DC. I just got back from my vacation up north (NY, Boston, Niagara Falls, Maine), and wrote a "little" trip report, and didn't even cover half the stuff I did. I kindof gave up because I didn't think anyone was reading it and it just took so long to type out LoL. Anyway it was great reading that report and I hope to visit DCA someday (I saw it from the air, on DL flt 540 from ATL-LGA 737-800)

jonathan derden
"my soul is in the sky" - shakespeare
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RE: Trip Report: BWI-YYZ-DCA

Thu Jul 27, 2000 6:20 am


You definitely do *not* want to miss National these days...back in the 80s and 70s, it was a rather cramped airport whose art-deco class and style had been worn away by time and the practicality of a developing regional airport.

But now it's booming. The new National Hall is amazing--open, spacious, bright and convenient, not to mention bursting with places to eat and shop. I absolutely love it! And they're working on renovating the old Main Terminal building to its 1940s splendor, which should look exquisite when it's done.  

re: the trip reports, it's tough to stick with it...for me, it's even harder to leave out all of the piddly details of a trip while putting in all of the relevant ones.   I hope I can do that with my next few!

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