Reg. #: N624AA
Departs: 7:24 PM
Arrives: 9:39 PM
Date: June 30
I had really looked forward to this flight. I thought there would be ample photo ops from seat 28A as the plane chased the sunset for several hours. Plus, I figured there would be the usual monsoon rains over the Rockies providing towering thunderheads that would add character to the photos.
My wife and I usually have an annual trip to Vermont in October to take in autumn in New England, but this year she beckoned me to look westward. We had heard so much about the beauty of Vancouver, Victoria, and British Columbia that we thought it would be a pleasant diversion. Since for a number of reasons she doesn't travel well (headaches, nerves, etc.), I booked seats 28 A & C, hoping we could luck out and discourage someone from taking that middle seat, giving us a little room to stretch out.
We arrived at DFW at 4 PM under threatening skies. I figured with extra security and anticipated problems with the security people (more on that in a minute), we ought to get there early, handle the hassle and then relax at the gate. We bypassed a long line with an AA ticket agent and, since we had electronic tickets, walked right up to another agent who quickly checked our bags and our birth certificates. Since this was our first venture overseas and since Canada doesn't absolutely require a passport, all we had to have were birth certificates and photo ID's.
Next stop was the security station. I'm always a problem to these people for a couple of reasons. I had a spinal fusion 4 years ago and have two titanium rods in my back. Plus, because of other physical problems, I wear a $900 titanium knee brace at all times. It's like the ones you see NFL offensive linemen wearing, the poor guys who have had 300-lb.ers roll up on them from behind, ripping MCL's, ACL's, and anything remotely connected to the patella. Naturally when I step through the metal detector, I set it off and the fun begins.
Usually the first thing I do is inform security of the rods in my back. I've even, in pre- 9/11 days, rolled up my shirt in the back to show them the rather long scar I have. This time, though, I didn't have time to even start explaining. (Just a note here: Don't mistake what I'm about to say as being racist; it's just a statement of fact. Each person I dealt with during the 15 minutes it took to clear me seemed to have a West African accent, perhaps Nigerian. At no time was there a middle-aged white person (like me) in the process. I found it interesting.) I hiked up my left pants leg for the first security guy, showed him the bottom part of my brace, and told him why I always have it on. He felt it all over, like someone in the market for a new pillow. Unsatisfied, he called for another security guy, an older fellow, to join in the process of assessing my terroristic candidacy. The new guy ordered me to take my brace off. I was thankful I was wearing slacks, because had I worn jeans, there would have been no way I could have rolled up the pants leg enough to unhook all the velcro latches on my brace. As it was I barely was able to complete the process anyway. The brace was immediately set aside and examined by a third person. Then I was asked to stand, unbuckle my belt, and stretch out my arms. I was checked with the hand-held detector and every time it got close to the middle of my lower back, it sounded like a fire station alarm going off. Eventually, however, they became satisfied with my body situation, but then asked me to remove my shoes. So here I am in full view of all the people parading through security, my shoes off, my belt buckle undone, and one pants legs rolled up to the middle of my thigh. I felt stares digging into me as folks went by. It was not pleasant, but eventually the group of security wizards grudgingly became convinced of my harmlessness. I was allowed to put myself back together and join my wife, who had bemusedly been watching the whole deal. I didn't really have a problem with what had happened. I expected it and was glad to see that they were doing their jobs. But it wasn't a lot of fun.
My wife and I headed to gate 35. After 30 minutes or so, we were told to move to gate 26. We settled in there but it concerned me that there was no 757 parked at the gate. And pretty soon, moderate rain began to fall. At 6:30, it was announced that we would be leaving an hour late. The gathering crowd at gate 35 groaned a little, but seemed fairly content to go with the flow. About an hour late, another announcement: our plane had yet to arrive from SFO and was being delayed by the Texas weather. Our takeoff time of 7:24 was now long since a joke, and the new expected liftoff time was 9 PM. Eventually, a 757 arrived at 9:10. It was announced that after the plane had been cleaned and catered, we would board and take off. Here is the plane:
Photo © AirNikon
It was 9:50 PM when the tired and stressed out passengers was allowed to board. I had traded my precious 28 A & C seats for the back of the plane, seats 34 D & F, because someone had bought the 28 B while no one was in 34 E. As I walked through the plane, it was obvious that half of the "cleaning and catering" had not taken place. There was debris everywhere. The plane had been trashed, and in their haste to get this flight going, AA had skipped this step. My wife and I collapsed into our seats, ready to get up, out, and down. At precisely 10:10 PM, nearly 3 hours late, the 757 blasted down 18R, sending spray everywhere, scooping massive quantities of air and water through those massive Rolls Royce engines and loudly announcing to the world that we were finally airborne. My plans of photographing perpetual sunsets had long since been abandoned. I was on the wrong side of the plane and it was half-past dark, as they say in Texas.
Seated in the three rows in front of us were Hispanic teenagers who must have been on some kind of tour. Before takeoff, they were being typically pre-adult. The kid in 31B had been chunking paper at his friends behind him, but a FA saw him and warned him not to throw anything on this plane. She continued down the aisle and when the coast was clear, 31B again fired a missile at someone in row 33. Since I've taught middle school for 32 years and have a little experience with teens, I had determined that if this Roger Clemens wannabe threw one more fastball, I was going to get out of my seat and handle it. I don't want to divulge what "handle it" entails, but it would have successfully terminated the throwing session.
My wife scrunched up into a reclining position in 34 D & E while I stared out the window at the inky blackness of West Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington. Occasionally there would be the gold and amber glitter of an outpost down there 39,000 feet away. But I spent the entire time feeling sorry for myself for not having the view I had anticipated. Our food was the obligatory bistro bag chicken sandwich, with fresh carrots, a brownie, and a bag of potato chips. AA provides a meal if the flight is four hours or more and ours was just under the limit. So I sat there, my wife's head on my shoulder as she slept, and me just killin' time. This was just a dark, boring flight. Years later, I thought, I won't be able to remember a single detail of it. Boy, was I wrong.
The announced landing time of 12:55 AM approached and we settled in on our descent. We zipped over Bellingham, WA and Victoria B.C., turned to the right and vectored toward our approach. We were about 30-50 feet above the sea and a couple of hundred yards away from the runway when all of a sudden, those RR engines fired up like crazy. The air was filled with the roar of massive engines being told to get the plane up, and NOW!. The front of the plane zoomed up and we powered out of YVR like it was a leper or something. I told my startled wife that this was what they call a "go-around" and that the pilot sure did owe us an explanation. We began a slow circling of Vancouver and, while I admit the city was gorgeous at night from low altitude, I wanted this flight to be over in a hurry. The pilot finally came over the intercom and gave about a one-minute explanation that was filled with "pilot talk". He mentioned "noise restrictions" and "landing gear" and "false signals on the flight deck" and left me totally confused. If I had to guess, I would say he may have been coming in too hot, realized it, and did the prudent thing. Eventually, at 1:10 AM, we touched down the normal way. The steward who had handled all the normal announcements came on the PA again and thanked us for flying American. But he was panting heavily and gave the impression that something dire had just been avoided. When we exited the AC, he was there by the bulkhead and I asked him why the go-around. He mumbled something about "noise restrictions" and basically repeated what the pilot had said. At that point, we were just happy to finally be inside of the Vancouver Airport.
The pristine and gorgeous YVR was a welcome sight. We quickly got our bags, breezed through customs, and headed for the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, one escalator ride up from the main terminal. I had been tipped by an airliners.net reader that this was a fine hotel and that if I applied for their "President's Club" card, I would receive it free of charge and get a complimentary room upgrade as well. So, we walked over to the hotel lobby kiosk, told them we had a reservation, and presented our upgrade certificate. Well, all the "upgrade" rooms had been filled, so they had no choice but to send us past the "deluxe" room and into a "premier" room. I can sum up the room this way: wow. Spacious, spotless, and filled with amenities...and all for $99/night through Hotel Reservation Network. By using a special keypad on the telephone next to the bed, I could raise or lower the room temperature, turn individual lights off or on, and open or close the drapes. Plus, and this is important, the room (on the 7th floor) overlooked the south runways at YVR; a great view, a spotter's dream. The windows are triple-glazed and the roar of the jets can only be faintly heard. I take that back. There was a 727 that shook the place. No amount of glass was going to muffle that baby.
For the next four days, we ate breakfast at the Globe Restaurant on the Fairmont premises. Here, the full-length windows afford a view of the north runways at YVR and many of the gates. THEY EVEN PROVIDE BINOCULARS ON THE TABLES BY THE WINDOWS! Are you kidding me? To say I lingered over breakfast was putting it mildly.
Departs: 10:05 AM
Arrives: 4:15 PM
Seats: 10 A & B
It was quite a contrast to breeze through YVR security and customs. No hassle, no undue delays. We boarded quickly and efficiently (there were no pre-teens on this flight, thankfully). I really enjoy flying the MD-80's, mainly because of the seating situation. This was my first chance to experience the new blue seats and I happily settled into my window seat. We started the takeoff roll at 10:20 AM and rotated 47 seconds later. Here's the plane:
Photo © John W. A. Merer
Our altitude was a fairly low 29,000 feet and I was afforded beautiful views of western America. Saw the Columbia River and its many dams. Saw the rugged peaks of Wyoming, still with patches of snow that resembled sand bunkers on a golf course. I noticed that nearly everyone on the flight was either asleep or engrossed in a book. I have trouble understanding that. As long as I live, I will be entranced by the blessing of being to see this earth from above. It occurred to me that I was seeing sights that only an infintesimal percentage of all the people who've ever lived on this planet have ever seen. God's handiwork is best seen from above and I will never tire of it. If the flight is four hours long, I will be drinking in the scenery for four hours. So be it.
We flew over Jackson Hole and Steamboat Springs, headed east of Denver, and sped toward the Texas panhandle. When we were 280 miles from DFW, the pilot announced that we were entering an area of thunderstorms and to expect some turbulence. Fairly quickly we were engulfed in clouds and experienced some light chop. Twice the plane made turns as obviously we were vectoring around potential trouble. But we emerged from the clouds a few miles north of DFW and floated toward a perfect landing at 3:55 PM. It took another 10 minutes to circle the airport on the ground before we finally pulled up to gate 16. Everyone stood and went through the routine of pulling stuff from the overheads and forming a jagged line to exit. But nothing was happening. No one was moving. No one knew why. Finally the pilot announced they were having trouble with the jetway and to just hang loose for awhile. About 5 minutes later, I peered out the window and saw the jetway rolling toward the plane. Wham! The entire fuselage rocked back and forth as contact was made. We were allowed to depart.
Impressions: I'm 6' 4". The extra leg room, though miniscule, was greatly appreciated. If for no other reason, I fly AA.
I was disappointed in the dirty 757. Given the tardiness of the first flight, AA still should have made at least a token effort to give us a clean plane.
The MD-80 and the 757 are great takeoff planes. On the 80, my seat back had not locked in, and the slingshot down the runway almost pushed me into the passenger directly behind me.
If you ever have to travel to Vancouver, stay at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. You can get very reasonable prices over the internet and you will be rewarded with elegant rooms, a staff that works hard to accommodate you, and spectacular views of the runways.