I took a quick trip out to British Columbia this weekend to watch the Vancouver Canucks play the Minnesota Wild in game 2 of round 2 of their Stanley Cup Playoff series. Because I had some credit leftover with WestJet, I used that to fly out to Abbotsford with WJ and then back on ZIP as they were charging less for the time I wanted. I was somewhat excited as I wanted to try the ZIP product.
Sunday, April 27
I had been stranded the night before in Red Deer due to a nasty snowstorm that had shut down the highway to Calgary. I managed to make it, although not onto my original flight. I was told by WJ on the phone that as long as I got to the airport within 2 hours of my original flight time, I could be put on standby for $45. I decided to try this as I really wanted to get to BC. When I arrived at the airport, I found a check-in line that stretched all the way to the C concourse. Fortunately, they were pulling people as flight time neared the 15 minute mark. I was almost the furthest back so I was one of the last ones on the flight. I explained my situation to the check-in girl who told me (after a much frazzled phone call to some supervisor) that because they didn't have time to process the change fee, this one was on them. I was handed a boarding pass for 10E on the new flight and escorted to security so I could get through ASAP.
Calgary YYC to Abbotsford YXX
Scheduled Departure: 10:20am
Actual Departure: 10:32am
Scheduled Arrival: 10:40am
Actual Arrival: 11:04am
Photo © Richard Barsby
I was one of the last ones on board and the lady in 10D graciously gave me the aisle so I could have at least some semblance of room on this absolutely packed flight. We pushed at 10:32am from D46 and went for de-icing. The de-ice didn't take long, but for some reason we stopped just before we started our taxi down to runway 34 and waited for about 5 mins.
Anyway, we started up again and made the long taxi down to the end of the airport and runway 34. We were #3 for departure and within about 5 minutes we were airborne into the storm. Our announced flight time was 1 hour and 6 minutes at 28,000ft.
Getting up through the clouds was really rough for about 30 seconds or a minute, but most of the climb was just light/moderate chop. The air at 28,000 was mostly smooth with the seat belt sign staying off even during the bump or two we got. The friendly WestJet service started about 15 minutes into the flight and consisted of the usual coffee, juice or water and cookies or pretzels. I ordered up a water/cookies combo and let my CD player drift me in and out of rest. The legroom in row 10 seemed worse than normal and either my knee was in the aisle or my heel was lifted in order to "fit" into the space alloted to me.
It was cloudy the entire way there so a view wasn't forthcoming. We started down about 90 miles out from Abbotsford, making a sweeping right turn to line up for a relatively easterly runway (sorry, it was my first time into Abbotsford). We came down through the usual smattering of puffy cloudstuffs which, as usual, bounced us around a bit. We came in really fast and our landing was pretty crappy. We pulled up to the "gate" and 2 sets of stairs were rolled up to the aircraft. I grabbed my stuff and headed out the front door into the terminal.
Now, here's something incredible. When I checked in, I was told my bag wasn't going to make the flight. I totally understood, seeing as they'd likely be closing the door about a minute after I got on. When I arrived in Abbotsford, my friend who was picking me up and I went to the WJ counter to tell them that someone else would be picking up the bag. Our info was taken and we had a bit of a chat about the playoff differences between Hockey in Canada and Football in the UK (she was British). Anyway, about 5 minutes after we left the airport my friend's cell phone rang. It was Cindy at WestJet... my bag was IN ABBOTSFORD!!! How in God's name they got that bag onto the airplane is beyond me, but I was just absolutely stunned. Way to go WestJet!
Monday, April 28
The game, while fun, ended in a loss by the Canucks to Minnesota. Oh well... we headed back to Abbotsford so I could spend the night on my buddy's floor before heading back to Calgary.
Abbotsford YXX to Calgary YYC
Scheduled Departure: 6:30am
Actual Departure: 6:47am
Scheduled Arrival: 8:40am
Actual Arrival: 9:05am
Photo © Philip Soon
I made it to the airport only about 25 minutes before the flight left, but my friend said that wouldn't be a problem. I arrived to a lineup at the ZIP desk of about 7 or 8 people. We got through, checked in, and joined an insanely long lineup at Abbotsford security. There are 2 737s departing to Calgary within 5 minutes of each other (one ZIP, one WestJet). I'm not sure what the problem with security was, given that the frequent flyers on this route had never seen anything like this before. Anyway, both flights took delays as a result.
Anyway, got through security and headed out to the tarmac to board my big orange 737. I was quite happy about this, as I thought the aircraft looked a lot like two great airlines... Braniff and CPAir. I boarded to a roughly 2/3 full 737... not bad, I suppose, but certainly not the full 737 WJ appeared to be flying out ahead of us. The interior was absolutely immaculate. The seats looked similar to the new fabric on the A321 fleet and were quite nice. What astounded me was the legroom!!! It was easily 33 inches and even this ardent WestJetter couldn't help but be pleased that I was comfortable. At 6'5", my knees did not touch the seat in front of me... this was the first time this had happened in a LONG time!
Our announced flight time was 1 hour and 2 minutes. We took off on that same runway I landed on. The morning was clear and we had an absolutely wonderful view of Mount Baker. Initial climb was pretty choppy with winds no doubt coming off the mountains. It was pretty smooth once we cleared the mountaintops though. What surprised me was that it took the flight crew nearly 30 minutes after takeoff before they began any service. They were all young and attractive, yet seemed to lack the friendly and boisterous attitude common to WestJet crews. I would have attributed it to the early hour, but i've been on earlier AM flights with WJ and they've been cheery and chipper!
The service was, as I said, slow in coming. The girl making the announcements seemed very nervous, yet identified herself as the incharge flight attendant. Our choices were water, coffee, tea, or juice to drink. I had water... that was free so I don't know if they were charging for any of the other stuff. The "snack" selection consisted of cashews, a carrot muffin bar, or a coffee crisp chocolate bar for $1 each. I abstained from "breakfast". I also found it a bit odd that they announced that beer and wine were available for purchase at $4 each... I didn't know they could serve booze at 7am!
The Captain took the aircraft up to 33,000 feet and the flight was smooth up there. We had great views of the scenery on the ground until we were well east of the Okanagan. We began descent and very slowly and methodically worked our way around cloud patches and down into the solid layer covering the foothills. This was truly well flown and, thanks to a plethora of turns and well-managed descents, we had a much smoother than anticipated arrival onto runway 34 at Calgary... including the BEST 737 landing I have ever had! These ex-CP pilots are among the finest, no question!
ZIP is an interesting airline. I like the low-fare concept, I don't like the fact that they were designed to put WJ out. I like the airplanes, I don't like them when they're pink. I LOVE the legroom, I don't like the service. I LOVE the fact that i'm supporting ex-CP pilots by flying with them, I HATE the fact that i'm also supporting Air Canada in the process.
I'd consider flying ZIP again if the fare was lower than WJ and the flight times worked. If not, it'll still take a lot to pull me away from my airline. That said, with some early tweaking... ZIP could have made a serious run at it.