Having purchased a 'Starlite' round the world fare on the Star Alliance network, I recently left Sydney to visit friends in Toronto, London and Beijing.
The first leg of the journey was courtesy of Air Canada. Flight 34 from Sydney to Honolulu and Vancouver, with a connection to Toronto (again on Air Canada). All this happened on 22 August 2003.
I had heard mixed reports about Air Canada so my expectations were mixed. Having said that, I was excited to be flying an A340 again and to cross the Pacific eastbound, as this would be a first for me.
Greeting me at the gate was C-FYLD, the A340 Star Alliance logojet, whose paint job was looking a little tired. Inside was spotless however. Legroom was also more than adequate (I am 6ft 1 in height). Pushback from gate 55 was a little behind schedule but we were soon on our way. The flight was absolutely full in Y class on 22 August. My window seat on the starboard side toward the rear of the aircraft afforded a great view of the wingtip and furthest starboard engine.
We departed a grey skied-Sydney to the north, flying past my office building in central Sydney before banking right and heading out over the Pacific. Our flight path then tracked north parallel to the New South Wales coastline before heading north east just near the border with Queensland.
Initial impressions of onboard service were good. The crew on AC34 this day were doing a fine job. The flight time to HNL was just over 9 hours, and the flight went very quickly. Before long, we flew over the northern tip of New Caledonia. No PTVs but many screens allowed for adequate viewing of the inflight entertainment and the lunch served was more than adequate. Not much else in the way of land before we reached Hawaii.
It was approaching 11pm local Honolulu time (the previous day, Aug 21, having crossed the International Date Line) when we started our descent, the inflight magazine showing us heading directly for Oahu.
We had made up time enroute so landing at HNL was on time. The landing itself was smooth and we were at the gate after a moderately long taxi. While waiting to disembark, I looked up the brightly lit sign underneath the control tower 'Aloha - Honolulu International Airport'. It was great to be on the ground.
Not much else in the way of aircraft on the ground. I recall seeing a couple of United 767s, a Delta 767, a Hawaiian 767 and of course the ubiquitous Omni Air DC-10. (I seem to see Omni Air every time I leave Australia for some reason). Parked near us was AC33, the A340 doing the YVR-HNL-SYD run.
This was the first time I had travelled internationally post 9-11 and was aware of the increased security arrangements now in place. US law required us (transit passengers) to clear immigration in Honolulu and re-enter security before we could board our flight for the continuation of AC34 to Vancouver. After standing in line for nearly 45mins (by which time we were mingling with the Qantas passengers who had arrived some 10 mins after us on the B767-300 flight from Sydney), I was through immigration.
A brief pause to look at my aircraft at the gate amongst the glimmering lights and warm evening air of HNL at midnight. C-FYLD had flown half way across the Pacific and was getting ready for another long sector.
We eventually reboarded and were soon pushing back for our departure. AC33 was still at the gate as we taxied past. A long taxi to the reef runway. It was time to leave Hawaii. Steady take off ensued and we were on our way again.
This part of the flight was all in darkness. Most passengers used the time to sleep. Crew change meant new faces from Air Canada. These guys also did a good job to Vancouver. No problems on this leg of the flight either. Crew were all very professional and friendly.
Some 5 hours later, dawn broke over the northern Pacific, and we were making a bee-line for Vancouver Island. By the time we got there, it was light outside so nice views were had of the first landfall since Honolulu. From memory, it wasn't long after flying over the 'Island' before we were on the ground in Vancouver, having arrived on 08L. I had been to Vancouver in 1997 and remembered how nice the airport was. Nothing had changed, and the airport was still amazing. After many hours crossing multiple timezones, I was now in Canada.
I had to clear Canadian immigration and customs, before re-checking in for the next flight. Started to feel tiredness creeping in, as I waited in line for AC16. I had a 3 hour layover in YVR and spent a lot of the time in security lines (having my shoes checked, camera swabbed for chemical residue, and generally having my identity checked and rechecked and rechecked). Managed to get to my gate and relax for an hour or so. Spent most of that time watching the arrivals for the morning, some of which were new for me - Horizon Dash 8 400s, the Zip 737s, Continental 737NGs.
AC16 was also an A340. C-FYKZ was on the last leg of her journey from Hong Kong to Toronto. Most of the passengers on board had originated in Hong Kong and like me, were tired. A few 'locals' boarded for the cross-country flight of 4 hours 20 mins and again, the flight looked completely full in Y class.
We pushed back some 45 mins late due to late connecting passengers. I could not fault Air Canada's dealing with the delay. We were kept informed the whole time and the crew on board did their best to keep everyone happy. By the time we pushed back, quite a long line of departures formed behind us. An hour after we were meant to leave, the wheels left the runway and AC16 was airborne, enroute to Toronto.
This was a lunch flight and the flight attendants did a very good job at serving everyone on this full flight, as efficiently and friendly as possible. They realised that many passengers wished to continue sleeping and allowed for some 'quiet time' which was thoughtful. Our flightpath took us what would be a geography lesson of western/central Canada. We flew east over each province, Ontario being reached sometime around 8pm local time.
Dusk was setting in, but enough light to allow me to have my first glimpse of Toronto. Lake Ontario sprawled out in the distance as far as the eye could see, and there was downtown Toronto clinging to the edge of the lake in the distance. It was not long before we landed at YYZ, during the evening rush hour. Aircraft all around us, including lots of Air Canada of course, and the atmosphere was amazing! I had made it. Some 19 hours after leaving Sydney, I was disembarking in Toronto, ON.
Thank you Air Canada for a fine start to my vacation.