This is my first trip report and I have often wanted to try my hand at one but haven’t had the nerve. After our last journey (I usually travel with my husband) I finally decided to have a go at it, although, in retrospect, I know realize there are a lot of details that I forgot to record. But here goes anyway!
This trip was to be my second to Hanoi and I was really looking forward to going back. We debated about adding on a couple of side trips and finally decided that we would like to see Ho Chi Minh City and, since we were connecting through NRT anyway, why not spend an extra night and do a day trip to Tokyo. As the best routing home was through HKG, we booked a couple of extra days there, as well. In addition we decided to overnight in YYZ on the outbound so that we wouldn’t have to leave YHZ too early in the morning the next day.
With the itinerary decided, it was time to make reservations. Given we wanted to fly Star Alliance as much as possible, in order to use up our 2012 e-upgrades before they expired, and to take the most direct routing, it was a simple decision to book Air Canada on the flights to and from Asia. We chose Vietnam Airlines for the intra Asian sectors because of the scheduling and because there wasn’t a fuel surcharge on the NRT-HAN portion. At the time, I hadn’t considered that these flights would also be eligible to register for upgrades through Optiontown, so that was an added bonus. The final itinerary looked like this:
AC YHZ YYZ
AC YYZ NRT
VN HAN SGN
VN SGN HKG
AC NRT YYZ
AC YYZ YHZ
With visas in hand and reservations made, we settled down to wait for the day of travel and hope the waitlists would clear for the upgrades! As anticipated, four days before departure, we received the email that said our AC upgrades YHZ-YYZ-NRT had been cleared and we were able to go online and reselect our seats. Now we could actually look forward to a 14-hour flight, knowing we would be ‘pod people’ on AC as far as NRT!
Seats: J 7A, 8A
On the day of departure we were madly scrambling to fit in four seasons’ worth of clothing into one suitcase each! Our taxi arrived promptly at 1:15i and 20 minutes later we were standing in the Air Canada Executive Class check-in. Even though we had already done this online, the queue for baggage drop was much longer than the Executive one and this way we would get ‘real’ boarding passes. After that, we proceeded to security, which fortunately, on this particular day, was quick, despite only 2 stations being open. And for once we didn’t have to stand on the ‘naughty mat’ to see if we would be sent to the dreaded ‘nuderator’ or bodyscanner, as it was not in use. This gave us enough time to make a quick visit to the Maple Leaf Lounge, which had recently been renovated to add a bar area, where you could set up your laptop.
|renovated YHZ lounge|
The lounge has some great views of one of the runways and gates
And eventually we were also able to see the arrival of our aircraft from London. A little bit later, we made our way to downstairs to the gate, where we didn’t have long to wait until boarding began. At this point, it looked like we would have an on time departure. However, we were soon to discover that this was going to be a really long trip to Toronto!
We had a friendly greeting at the forward door by the Flight Service Director and weredirected to our seats. Air Canada’s J class, on the 767s and 777s, are configured in a herringbone pattern. Despite the fact that the seats fully recline, I am not a big fan of the layout or the seats because there is little storage space in the pods and they feel cramped. Whereas pods on the right side offer a little more privacy, the middle and opposite window seat face towards each other and you find yourself staring at another person. It might just be me but I find the angle of the seats throws off my balance on takeoffs and landings.
Middle Seat in the J cabin
Anyway, these were just small niggles because, hey we were in J class and we were on our way to Vietnam! As we were getting settled in, one flight attendant assigned to our side of the cabin took our coats to hang up, while another came through the cabin offering the pre takeoff drinks … water or orange juice. Shortly after this menus were handed out for the dinner service. Boarding was fairly quick, doors were closed the captain came on to welcome us and to say that we were just waiting for some last minute bags to be loaded and would soon be on our way. He then gave us the bad news that due to extremely strong headwinds, an extra 45 minutes would be added to our flying time! At this point, an audible groan could be heard throughout the cabin, but there wasn’t much anybody could do, and maritimers are a pretty laid back bunch, so we decided to take the Captain’s advice and sit back, relax and enjoy the flight, which was going to be pretty easy to do in the business class pods!
Map before the adjustment to our new arrival was made
|on our way|
Take off was smooth and once the seatbelt sign was switched off , our flight attendant started to take our meal orders. Since this was a mid-afternoon flight, I wasn’t expecting more than a sandwich and a salad, which is often the norm on AC, so I was pleasantly surprised to see a full dinner was being offered and there were three choices!
I was torn between the beef and the risotto. I have had bad experiences with AC’s beef, but the description of the vegetables convinced me to give it another try. I was lucky to get my first choice too because usually meal orders are taken starting at the front of the cabin, but on this flight, the FA started with me, in the back! By the time he got about halfway through the cabin, I heard him telling people that the beef was gone. The other advantage of my seat was that the bar service started with me! AC normally has a good selection of spirits in J and on this particular day, the wine offerings included an Argentinean Malbec and a French Shiraz, as well as two white choices—one was French and one was Canadian, as I recall. I chose the Shiraz, which was served with a dish of warmed smoked almonds.
A second round of drinks was done and then the dinner service began. As this was a domestic flight, the salad, dessert and appetizer were all on the tray and the entrée were brought down individually. You will have to take my word for it because in my hurry to eat I completely forgot to take pictures, but the meat was perfectly cooked and very tender and flavourful. After dinner, I had been looking forward to some port but I forgot that is only boarded for international flights ☹.
I played a bit with the entertainment system, eventually putting it on the rotating map option, while I read a bit of my book, listening to my ipod and then dozed as we slowly made our way towards YYZ. When I first heard about the strong winds, I anticipated a bumpy trip but it was smooth all the way and eventually the lights of the outskirts of Toronto started to come into sight. We made a direct approach into YYZ, taxied for 10 minutes or so and eventually the long trip ended.
Baggage claim was quick, as our bags were the first ones off the belt. Luck stayed with us because when we got to the hotel shuttle area, our shuttle to the Hilton Garden Inn pulled up.
Seats: 10K, 11K
The next morning we got up at 7.30 and had a full breakfast before catching the 9 am shuttle back to the airport. Our flight was at noon but we wanted to allow some time to go the lounge and not feel rushed. The check-in area was empty and although we had checked in through to NRT the day before, we still had our luggage to deal with and again wanted ‘real’ boarding passes. Since it wasn’t busy, the agent took a few moments to ask us about our trip and to give us some shopping tips for Hong Kong. Security was equally quiet at this time of day and we got through quickly and then made the long trek to the International Maple Leaf Lounge. This is miles away and involves one more security check of your passport and boarding pass and 2-3 escalator rides (the high speed escalator was not operating).
Again at this time of day, there were very few people around and the lounge was fairly empty, as only a few flights were departing for Asia. Although this is one of ACs flagship lounges, the food offerings just don’t compare to LH or SK or any of the Asian carriers. Breakfast was just ending (cereal, toast, cold boiled eggs) and the soup and salad were just being put out. All the alcoholic offerings were kept locked up (local laws) until shortly after 11.
|ACs Toronto International Lounge|
Drinks under lock and key until 11 am
|YYZ Lounge pretty empty in the morning|
|AC001 YYZ NRT|
Our ride to NRT
At about 11.20 we made our way down to the gate where boarding was just beginning. The load appeared light in both cabins and it was clear that AC wasn’t going to be making any money from this flight. We boarded through the ‘middle’ front cabin and turned right to the second and smaller J cabin and took our seats 10K and 11K. I had chosen this cabin because when I had gone on line to look at the seat chart there were only two other people booked in whereas the front cabin was nearly full and there were no window seats available. In the end, there were 7 of the 24 seats occupied in the second cabin---and those seemed to be non-rev upgrades. Here we are in our own private jet!
View from my seat for the next 13+ hours
When we boarded, I thought I recognized the Flight Service Director from a flight to Copenhagen we had taken in December and when he later came through the cabin to introduce himself, this was confirmed. He had been excellent then and I knew we would have a good trip. Because of the length of this flight, AC has a lot of crew on board, including two Flight Service Directors. After the first meal service, they take turns in having 2 hour rest breaks.
Since the load was light, we got settled pretty quickly, were offered sparkling wine, orange juice or water, menus were distributed and the captain came on to give us details of our route, which would be due north initially. Once again, a smooth flight was forecast. The safety demonstration followed and we actually got away a few minutes early.
|Bye Toronto, see you in 3 weeks|
We were advised that service on this flight would consist of lunch, a mid flight snack and breakfast about 90 minutes prior to our (afternoon) arrival into Narita. In J class a snack bar was set up in the mid galley and wine, juices, soft drinks, chips, chocolate bars, biscuits and fruit were available throughout the flight.
As soon as the seatbelt sign went off, I put the route map on my screen and we were over northern Ontario, heading towards Hudson’s Bay. It was overcast and when there was a break in the clouds all you could see was frozen white ground. It made you realize how sparsely populated and remote parts of Canada are.
|Heading for the North Pole!|
Lunch requests were taken and menus collected. This time, from what I could tell, everyone seemed to get their first choice. About 30 minutes into the flight the drinks trolley made its first round. Again, there were some very nice wines, including the one I had enjoyed the previous day, so I stuck with it. Instead of smoked almonds, we were given mixed nuts with our drinks. At the same time, orders were taken for the tax-free Boutique shopping---AC has some very good prices on spirits and there is a special selection for items available only on Asian flights. After a top up of drink, hot towels and then table clothes were passed out.
Then the meal service began. The tray set up included the salad and the starter was then served.
|Japanese meal starter|
|Western Meal Starter|
|Scallops, shrimp and crab|
This was followed by the main course. I chose the salmon, which was the Western option and my husband ordered the Japanese meal, which was black cod. My salmon was very good, as was the starter but I think my husband wished he had gone with the Western option because his meal was rather bland. Hot rolls were offered twice during the service. Once the main course was finished, a cheese and port course was offered. This was followed by dessert----fruit or a cake---with tea or coffee and liquers. The crew made sure that glasses were topped up and were very attentive throughout the meal service---well, throughout the entire flight.
|Western Meal Option: Salmon|
|Japanese Meal---Black Cod|
|cheese and port|
After lunch I was feeling very drowsy from the food, wine and port, so I fiddled with the In Flight Entertainment, hoping to finally catch the rest of ‘ The Best Marigold Hotel’, which I had started watching on a previous trip. However, I ended up puting the maps back on and we were now somewhere over the Canadian Arctic
|view of the Canadian Arctic|
Shortly after I fell asleep for several hours. When I woke up, it was time for the mid flight ‘snack’. In Y class, this consisted of a cup of noodles but in J class it was dim sum or a salad cold plate. I went with the dim sum, which was small but hit the spot.
I then dozed off and on until it was time for breakfast. This seemed an odd time and choice for a meal. I know it was the middle of the night YYZ time but it was afternoon in Japan. In any event, I decided that a warm croissant and a cup of coffee was a good middle ground.
Although the flight was long---13+ hours, the time went quickly and in no time we were flying over northern Japan
Eventually the snow disappeared and we started our slow and circular , over water approach into Narita. It was a lovely sunny day and at last we were able to open our window shades. We touched down about 40 minutes early and were soon at the gate.
Narita is incredibly well organized and efficient and after being finger printed and having our photos taken, we were cleared to enter the country. We headed to the ATM but because we were jet lagged, we ended up getting the equivalent of $20 instead of $200 necessitating a visit the next morning before setting off into the city. Again, the hotel shuttle came promptly and 30 minutes later we were in our room at the Hilton.
We had excellent crews on both of our AC flights and the fact that we had almost the whole cabin to ourselves on the long haul made for a very relaxing journey. True to his word, the captain gave us a smooth flight all the way. Now we had to cross our fingers and hope we would hear soon from Optiontown about our upgrade on the flight to Hanoi in two days time.
Thank you for reading, suggestions welcome, please! I do know that I need more flight details and photos, which I will work on ☺. The next part of this report will cover the Vietnam Airlines flights.