The subject of this report is my recent trip from Washington, DC to Montreal, Canada over the 3-day Labor Day weekend of August 30-September 1, 2008. My girl and I live in Arlington just outside of DC, and we had been discussing for quite some time that we’d like to visit her brother who lives in Montreal. I had never before been to that part of Canada and was eager to visit. We booked rather spontaneously 3 weeks in advance and decided to use some of our UA
Mileage Plus miles to pay for the tickets. Unfortunately, there were no Saver awards (25,000 miles instead of 50,000) to Montreal, so we opted to fly to Ottawa, which was book-able as a Saver Award, and then take the train to Montreal. The total price in the end was: 50,000 miles (2 tickets), plus USD $78 in taxes and fees (both tickets) plus CAD $140 for the train from Ottawa to Montreal (both tickets, roundtrip). Hope you enjoy this report, and as always, feedback is greatly appreciated!
August 30, 2008
7575 (United Express/Shuttle America)
Scheduled Departure: 08:17
Scheduled Arrival: 10:01
Actual Takeoff: 08:46
Actual Landing: 09:49
Actual Flight Time: 1:03
Distance: 450 mi/724 km
Seat: 4A/C (Economy Plus)
Load: Y 60%, F 0%
We awoke at 5 am, left the house at 6 and made the 25 mi/40 km drive out to IAD
. Flying out of Dulles is often a pain, but on this early Saturday morning the drive was quick and easy with hardly any traffic. We parked in the distant economy lot (blue lot) and caught the shuttle bus over to the terminal, where we arrived around 7 am.
Online check-in had been completed the evening before, and as we only had carry-on bags, we proceeded directly to security. We were through in about 10 minutes and hitched a ride on one of the famous Dulles “mobile lounges” over to the D Concourse. One comment now regarding the mobile lounges: I sometimes complain because they seem like a hassle when compared to, for example, ATL
’s very efficient and quick train (or, for that matter, the train currently under construction at Dulles that will replace the mobile lounges). But as we rode across the tarmac on this occasion, it occurred to me that perhaps I’ll be a bit sad when Dulles’ mobile lounges are gone. They are certainly unique, and furthermore, as a passenger one gets to experience the action of the ramp quite directly. It’s very cool to be riding along in close proximity to a taxiing 777!
At any rate, we arrived at the D Concourse and had about 40 minutes until boarding began for our flight to Ottawa. We grabbed a couple of breakfast sandwiches at Subway and a coffee at Starbucks, then headed over to gate D16. Here’s a pic of the little bird about to take us up north. I’ve always thought these Embraers are great looking aircraft!
Boarding began on time at 7:45. We took our seats near the front of the Y cabin, 4A/4C on the left-hand side. Here’s the view out my window while at the gate.
And a pic of the legroom. It’s a little tight, but sufficient.
About 8:15 or so, the Captain made a welcome announcement, notified us that our flight time up to Ottawa would be about an hour, and that we’d experience a slight delay of about 10 minutes pushing back.
The economy section filled up to about 60% capacity, while the small first class section remained completely empty. With the door closed, we backed away from the gate at about 8:30 and onto the apron, the tug swinging our tail to the west, our nose to the east. The engines quietly spooled to life and we began our taxi out to RWY 1R. As the pictures indicate, the weather was low-overcast, but not raining, with visibility at a couple of miles. Here’s a pic while lining up on the runway.
At 8:46 am, we began the takeoff roll and smoothly rotated up and away into the cloudy murk.
We entered the thick clouds and the visibility dropped to zero—only for a few seconds, though. Just as quickly as we had entered the clouds, we popped out into clear skies above. I always love this experience of taking off in the gloom below, only to find sunshine just a thousand or so feet off the ground.
As the aircraft climbed straight out to the north, the ride was silky-smooth and the sensation of surfing the cloud puffs was very cool indeed!
Here we are far above the overcast layer, yet still a ways below the contrailed-remnants of another airborne traveler.
The drink service began from a somewhat unfriendly flight attendant. She was not overtly rude, but seemed a bit grumpy. In her defense, though, she was forced to deal with a passenger across the aisle from us who was very flirtatious—and in a way that I’m sure was annoying. He also was protesting because she would not serve him alcohol at this early hour. I am sure being a flight attendant is not easy most of the time! At any rate, I ordered an orange juice with no ice, and also received a pack of pretzels. The pretzels weren’t really appropriate for a morning flight, but they were a snack and better than nothing.
We leveled off at FL350. Here is a pic while cruising along.
Before beginning our descent, the flight attendant announced that normally we would receive Canadian customs forms to fill out prior to landing. However, she explained they did not have any aboard and that we could fill them out upon arrival in Ottawa. A minute or two later, she made another announcement saying that we did, in fact, have them aboard and the two attendants proceeded to pass them out. Here’s a pic of the paperwork I attended to during the descent.
Before long, one of the pilots announced we were about 15 minutes from touchdown in Ottawa. He reported the weather—sunny but with broken clouds and light winds, temperature about 16* C. And then he said: “Thanks very much for flying with us and we hope that your future air travel plans once again include Delta or Delta Connection. Good day.” That’s right—Delta or Delta Connection?!?! I know Shuttle America also operates DL
Connection, but this was clearly a UA
/UEX flight with United paint on the aircraft, United logos on the napkins, and of course was in no way affiliated with Delta. I wonder if pilots for Shuttle America switch around between the various brands under which the carrier flies? At any rate, it was kind of funny. And I’m not sure any of the other passengers even noticed!
As we continued our descent, the overcast gave way to green fields covered by some light haze and a few scattered clouds.
Next, we entered an area of scattered but thick cumulus. It was a beautiful approach as we weaved our way through the cloudy canyons.
Lower and lower we go…
…such a beautiful wing, in my opinion. And almost down…
…over the threshold…
…and the bump of the wheels came at 9:49 am on RWY 25. I was very happy to be back in Canada for the first time since completing my MA
studies in Vancouver a year ago. Here we see the spoilers up and the thrust reverse engaged while slowing rapidly.
The aircraft exited the runway to the right and made the short taxi to Gate 6. Here is our flight path from IAD
We were the first people off the aircraft and the first to the immigration and customs counter. The entire area was vacant except for the few folks coming off our flight. Our passports were stamped and we were through in 30 seconds.
we hopped in a cab to the train station, where we arrived at about 10:45 am—plenty of time to wait for our 12:45 VIA
train to Montreal. Here’s a shot of the main hall at the Ottawa train station.
And another shot passing the time with my feet up. I even closed my eyes for a few minutes while my girl sat next to me, engulfed in her book.
We eventually went over to the lone café on one end of the station and had lunch—a couple of burgers, some fries and a coke. The time passed quickly, and about 12:15 or so, everyone began lining up for the Montreal train.
At 12:30, the train pulled in and the boarding process began. This was definitely a different system of boarding than I am used to at European stations. Our tickets were checked inside the station before we were led to the train; it was also mandatory to check my suitcase as one would when flying (it was slightly too large for the overhead bin of the train). Here are a few pics to share from the platform.
We pulled out of the station on time and were soon speeding through the lovely countryside. The trip took about two hours. Here are a few shots while en route.
A mediocre-tasting coffee I purchased for CAD $2. My girl had a tea.
Shortly before arriving in Montreal, we made a stop at the Dorval station, close to YUL
And here we are pulling into the city. Skyscrapers plus lots of containers—trade and globalization in action!
Finally, we pulled into the main station at about 14:45 and hopped in a cab to my girl’s brother’s apartment. The next two days were tons of fun. Here are a few pics of what we saw—I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.
Saturday afternoon, Sunday and Monday morning all passed in a flash and it was time to go back to DC. We left the apartment at 14:15 and arrived at the Montreal station with plenty of time for our 15:10 train back to Ottawa. After a quick bite at McDonald’s we lined up and were eventually ushered to the platform. This time I did not have to check my bag (in fact it was not an option on this train). At precisely 15:10, we chugged away from the station. Here’s a pic as we pulled out of Montreal.
Again, the ride to Ottawa was about two hours. We ordered a couple of white wines—not great but not too bad. It tasted nicer than it probably was because we were on a train rolling through the pretty farmland.
And here’s what our train tickets looked like.
We were seated in the last car, so at one point I got up and went to the very rear to look around, which provided an interesting view out the back window.
We pulled into Ottawa on time at 17:15, quickly disembarked, and grabbed a cab to the airport. The very friendly cab driver whisked us away and 15 minutes later we arrived curbside at the terminal.
September 1, 2008
7716 (United Express/Shuttle America)
Scheduled Departure: 19:11
Scheduled Arrival: 20:52
Actual Takeoff: 19:14
Actual Landing: 20:23
Actual Flight Time: 1:09
Distance: 450 mi/724 km
Seat: 4 D/F (Economy Plus)
Load: Y 70%, F 50%
With a good 1:40 before our scheduled departure time, we proceeded leisurely to the United check-in counter. Here are some shots of the terminal at YOW
There was only one agent at the counter and it took several minutes for the person in front of us to check in, but no big deal. Once it was our turn, the agent printed our boarding passes and slapped a tag on my suitcase (I had to check it as I decided to bring some good Quebec beer back to DC, which ruled out the option to carry on). And unfortunately, this agent was quite rude. When I asked for an envelope in which to put our boarding passes, she began to say she didn’t have any…at which point I pointed to the stack of them next to her computer. She then rolled her eyes and reluctantly handed me an envelope. I was not impressed.
Anyway, we proceeded past the check-in counter to another counter where we filled out our U.S. Customs and Immigration forms (Ottawa, like most major Canadian airports has the U.S. boarder pre-clearance system, where one goes through U.S. Customs and Immigration while still in Canada). We filled out the forms and continued on to the baggage check. After dropping off my suitcase to be x-rayed and taken to the aircraft, my girl and I headed through our own security checkpoint and on to U.S. Immigration. There were literally no other passengers around and we walked straight up to the counter. The officers were extremely friendly and jovial, asked no questions, and waved us through in about 15 seconds. I remarked to my girl that this was perhaps the least complicated border crossing I had ever experienced (except for perhaps driving around within the EU). We proceeded on to the USA departure gates—a relatively small area of about a half-dozen gates at one end of the terminal. We still had about an hour until boarding began, so my girl and I decided to grab dinner and a drink at the lone pub/restaurant.
We ordered a small pizza and a couple of beers, which were quite tasty.
And of course I did a little bit of spotting. There wasn’t a whole lot to see, but nonetheless there were still a couple good-looking aircraft. Unfortunately our UEX aircraft was not visible as it was blocked entirely by the jetway on one side, and on the other side the terminal did not have a window.
Boarding commenced on schedule at about 18:45. The same unfriendly agent from the check-in counter scanned our boarding passes and we headed on down the jet-bridge. We took our seats, once again in row 4, but this time on the right side of the aircraft.
Here are a couple of shots out the window (looking at the same couple of aircraft I photographed from the terminal).
And the wing-view while at the gate.
We pushed back a bit before schedule at about 19:07. The engines came to life, the forward slats deployed and we began our taxi.
On our way to RWY 25.
Here’s an Air Canada Airbus beginning its takeoff roll on RWY 25.
And soon it was our turn. Here we are lining up on the runway.
At 19:14 we began our takeoff roll on RWY 25.
We blasted off powerfully and climbed up and away from the airport.
And a couple of shots looking back toward the city.
The slats soon retracted on the leading edge and we began a left-hand turn to the south.
The sun continued to set as we flew south toward the Canada/U.S. border. I love this evening light on the wing.
Here we are passing the southern shore of Lake Ontario.
My porthole to the outside.
We leveled off at FL300 and beverages were served. I took a coke with no ice. No pretzels were offered this time (even though the time was more appropriate for pretzels).
A couple more sunset pics.
Now this is one sleek looking wing!
Before long we were descending the final miles toward Dulles. The landing lights came on, which illuminated the engine nacelle.
And the sun reached its destination behind the horizon just about the time we reached ours. Here we are descending over the neighborhoods north of the airport.
We touched down on RWY 19R at 20:23—about 30 minutes ahead of schedule. Great job, United Express! We exited the runway to the left and taxied to the D Concourse. Here we are pulling into the gate.
And finally, here’s our route from YOW
We were off the aircraft within a minute or two and headed directly over to the mobile lounge for the ride to the main terminal. At 20:45 or so we arrived at the baggage claim to wait for my suitcase…
…and wait we did! This was the part of my experience where UA
/UEX performed utterly poorly! First of all, one baggage carousel was shared by 8 different flights, which made it extremely crowded. Secondly, my bag did not arrive…and did not arrive…and still did not arrive. How could they have possibly lost my bag on a non-stop itinerary?! At 21:30, after 45 minutes of waiting, and a full hour after pulling into the gate, I queued up in the long line at the baggage services desk. At that point, I noticed a bunch of other people from the Ottawa flight, so I knew mine was not an isolated case.
The line actually went surprisingly quickly, and after about 10 minutes we reached the counter. The agent looked up my info before picking up the phone and dialing over to baggage people in the D Concourse where our flight arrived. He then began yelling on the phone, saying it was absolutely ridiculous that my bag had not arrived yet (at this point it had been about an hour and twenty minutes since arrival at the gate). The agent was quite fired up and really chewed out the person on the end. Although his yelling wasn’t very professional, I definitely appreciated this agent’s efforts, and in fact they were proof that he was taking the problem seriously! He hung up, apologized to us and told us they had not yet brought the bags from our flight but that they were on the way NOW! We thanked him and headed back to the baggage claim to wait. Sure enough, about 10 minutes later my bag and the other YOW
bags began filtering out. All in all, it was almost 1:40 from the time we disembarked until the time the luggage arrived. This is not acceptable!! Again, I really appreciated the efforts of the agent who finally resolved the situation, but it was still a situation that reflects poorly on UA
/UEX. Finally at about 22:15 we caught the shuttle bus out to the blue lot, found our car and drove home.
All in all, it was a great trip! Next time I would definitely prefer to fly into YUL
instead of YOW
(though I would also like to go back to Ottawa to see the city itself). And in terms of the airline experience—well, I’ll give UA
/UEX a final grade of 6 out of 10. I hope my next experience with them (in Oct. to Europe) will be more impressive.
Thank you all for reading and I hope you enjoyed. Again, feedback greatly appreciated!