Not too long ago I finished my [url]series[/url] on the trips around my study abroad experience in North Carolina and I concluded with something along the lines of “wanting to come back as soon as possible”. Well, occasionally life plays out in my favor, and it ended up doing so this summer, so this envisioned next visit actually happened very soon.
A backstory: During this spring, when I grew really close friends with my housemates, we came up with this running joke that I should come back in fall because it would be one of their 21st birthdays and we had always been seeing it as a stain on our friendship that we had never been able to go out together.
What had seemed like a complete pie-in-the-sky idea suddenly became a very real prospect this summer when I found out the internship I was doing not only paid me a lot more than I had expected it, but also ended with about 2 weeks to spare before my classes would restart in fall – the exact timeframe of that birthday!
So I started browsing google flights just for kicks and after some searching found flights that would get me to RDU for just slightly over 440€ roundtrip! I texted my friends asking them if they were still serious about the idea and willing to host me for around a week and their excited response was all it took for me to click that button!
I’d still had flight credit with Delta due to volunteering, which allowed me to book a flight into the cheapest port of entry (New York – LGA) and play around with split itineraries for the domestic sector again, the way I had done twice before. This time it saved me roughly 250€ over a direct FRA-xxx-RDU trip on a single ticket. It also allowed me to log 2 new airports, 2 new types and an entirely new airline – Air Canada!
If my layover at YYZ had been longer, I could even have earned a new country’s stamp on my passport but no complaints here.
My flights were to be the following:
FRA-YYZ AC873 B77W -> YYZ-LGA AC716 A319 -> LGA-RDU DL3438 CRJ9 on Oct. 9th
RDU-EWR UA3741 E175 Oct. 18th -> LGA-IAD UA6367 CRJ7 -> IAD-FRA UA932 B772 Oct. 19th-20th (for these flights I chose to fly up to NY one day prior to ensure a safe connection but also to enjoy some time in the actual city and so I wouldn’t impose too much on my friends who already hosted me for free for over a week.)
After interning for about two months and a week to spare which I spent buying German gifts (read: beer) for my friends, time had come for the much awaited trip! I set an alarm and went to bed early on October 8th, as I had chosen to go by train.
Since AC873 was a 9:20am departure, reaching FRA by train was easily possible from my hometown and this way I could save my parents the stress of driving me up to FRA and then hurrying to get back in time for work.
My phone alarm woke me up at 5am and after getting dressed and quickly downing a coffee, I left our house for the quick 10 minute walk to our local train station. I took the 5:39 commuter train to the next biggest city, Mannheim, where I arrived on time and had no issues making my 10-minute connection onto the ICE taking me to FRA’s train station. The train was rather empty and despite having to drive a detour, arrived there only a bit behind schedule.
My local train station at 5:30 in the morning
And the much brighter one at FRA, a bit over an hour later.
I walked over into Terminal 1 and arrived at Air Canada’s check-in counter around 7am. After about a 15 minute wait I was checked in and received some very pretty cardstock boarding passes.
Terminal 1 and some of the first hints of light on this October day
The line at the Air Canada check-in desk
Easily some of the nicest boarding passes I've ever received
I spent some time joyriding the people mover train before getting into a very short line at the Terminal 1B security checkpoint and arriving airside 7:40. I continued straight past the passport control to the outer gates of pier B, where my gate (B42) was already a madhouse – lots and lots of people and two separate lines for a secondary document check. At first I thought it wouldn’t apply to me, since so far I had only witnessed those for connecting pax but then I saw some people with AC cardstock boarding passes and German passports like mine being checked so I got in line, waiting some 20 minutes to receive a sticker on the back of my passport.
The sun beginning to rise over FRA as seen from the SkyLine people mover
A Lufthansa A330-300 on the opposite pier of the B concourse
And finally, a first glimpse of my gorgeous ride today: C-FITU, already sporting AC's new livery
Boarding began very timely, ahead of the 8:30 remarked on my BP. This early time had surprised me, but the process made it clear that it was dearly needed. This 400-seat 777 was fully booked and it seemed like a lot of passengers were not used to flying at all. I also feel like over 95% of the people I saw had at least one connection at either end.
By the time I got to board in group 5, it was already past 9:00.
One of the 2-3 chaotic "lines" for boarding
And a closer view of C-FITU from the boarding gate area
09/10/2019 – Air Canada flight AC873
FRA – YYZ
Scheduled flight time
- 09:20 – 11:40 (8hr 20min)
- 09:51 – 11:28 (7hr 37min)
- 09:39 – 11:32 (7hr 53min)
- Boeing 777-333ER (C-FITU), 12.5 years at time of flight
- 32A, Window, Economy
Staring down the long fuselage of this 777, boarding for economy class was done through the L2 door
After stepping on board, it took me a while to make it to my seat, even though it was in the forward economy section, but there was a lot of commotion in the aisle explaining the slow pace of the boarding process. Nonetheless, when I arrived at my seat, I was pleasantly surprised by the good legroom and how remarkably comfortable the padding felt. The only downside was location – in the dead center of this 77W’s massive wing. AC had not allowed me to select a seat in advance (which I found slightly upsetting since I had booked through UA’s website which usually includes reservations in its Y fares) and upon check-in, all window seats other than this had already been taken. Oh well.
Economy cabin during boarding
Legroom and the IFE screen, which I could use with my own headphones
And the view from 32A, dominated by the massive wing
At the scheduled departure time of 9:20, boarding was finally concluded, however it took another almost 20 minutes until we pushed back. A lot of passengers seemingly had an issue with staying in their seats. 25 minutes behind scheduled departure, at 9:45, we began our taxi out to departure.
The taxi was, as the pilot had already announced in his welcome address, pleasantly brief. We were to take off from runway 25C center, the closest threshold to our gate and indeed, just 6 minutes after starting our taxi, the GE90s roared to life and we rocketed off into the scattered clouds of this October morning at 9:51 local time.
Passing some A++ JV partners' heavies on the way to the runway:
UA 777-200 and -300ER
Some (limited) views during climbout, featuring some vortices from the engine
After getting settled onto our rather northern course for Toronto, the cabin crew began serving a lunch about 90 minutes into the flight, as we were cruising above Scotland. I went with the vegetable pasta, which was a rather standard meal, nothing exciting but also not bad. I liked the sides though, especially the carrot salad / cole slaw and the massive oatmeal raisin cookie as dessert. I also appreciated the fact that bottled water came with every meal in addition to the accompanying drink run.
After that, I killed some time watching a movie and some episodes of various TV shows, since my views outside the window were rather limited this time.
The meal service: Pasta with a vegetable sauce, a bread roll, a salad and a large oatmeal raisin cookie
I have to admit though, besides blocking my views, the 77W's wing is gorgeous
The cabin around the 3rd set of doors (a row ahead of me) mid-flight
An interesting observation about the crew: They seemed to be slightly ticked off by some of the “inexperienced” passengers, many of whom often disregarded seatbelt signs to walk up a few rows to talk to relatives or friends. In those interactions, some of the F/As servicing my part of the cabin seemed dangerously close to “snapping” on a few occasions, making for some awkward glances I exchanged with my seat mate.
At the same time though, they were incredibly cordial and chatty with other passengers including me and those seated in row 31 which was facing the crew seat at the L3 door.
During a drink service towards the end I got a full can of ginger ale and in one of their conversations with those in 31ABC I overheard that upon arrival into Toronto we’d be expecting 40 (!!!) wheelchairs at the gate – that’s one in every 10 pax!
Oh, and another anecdote about medical woes (that could have seriously screwed over my plans):
As we were about halfway between Greenland and the eastern coast of Newfoundland, they were suddenly asking for a doctor on board. Apparently a passenger in the Business class or PY cabin had suffered a stroke and required medical assistance – if we hadn’t had a doctor get up from about 5 rows behind me, one FA mentioned that we probably would’ve had to divert to either Nuuk or Goose Bay.
Whew, dodged a big one there.
Already well inland, having crossed from Quebec into Ontario and about to initiate the descent
This way though, we were nearing Toronto on time. About 75 minutes out, the crew served a rather tasty snack wrap and before long, we left our cruise altitude of 34,000 feet about 7:15hrs into the journey, or at 11:05 local time northwest of Ottawa. During some of the turns I finally got to catch some better glimpses of the landscape of Ontario below.
Lake Ontario coming in sight ahead of the wing
Some braking action, now already above the Greater Toronto Area
Our downwind approach took us past Toronto’s downtown over Lake Ontario, before making a sharp, 180° right hand turn to align us with our arrival runway 06L, where we touched down at 11:28 local time. This was followed by a brief taxi over to YYZ’s concourse E, where we docked at gate E77 just 4 minutes later next to another Star Alliance 777-300.
On final approach
The field in sight
Welcome to Canada!!
Arrived at the gate
A last look on today's ride - goodbye -FITU!
As my next flight wasn’t to depart for another 4 hours, I stayed in my seat for a while until most non-wheelchair bound passengers had deboarded before making my way into the bright and airy terminal.
After taking a ride on the high-speed moving walkway to get me to the main terminal building, I decided to head for the transborder terminal immediately, despite my long layover.
A view from the travelator, featuring an AC Rouge B763 and my first sighting of a plane in the new UA livery
The main reason for that was that I had gotten an SSSS on my boarding pass for the flight to LGA, so I figured I should give myself some time to get done with the security check. There was no noticeable line at the checkpoint though, so beside my special secondary screening, I was done in no more than 15 minutes. After another short, 5-10 minute wait, my bag had apparently been inspected by CBP and I was allowed to proceed from the waiting room to the actual immigration checkpoint. There was again not too much of a line, so I arrived back in the F concourse, just one level below, around 12:20, or just over 40 minutes after deboarding my flight from FRA.
I was very impressed with the efficient preclearance process, a great alternative to entering at a US port of entry!
A lot of flights departing to the southern neighbor
Now I still had about 2.5 hours until boarding time of my flight to LGA (which was being indicated as on time), so I walked around the transborder concourse for a bit before grabbing lunch at Tim Horton’s and sitting down in a random gate to get some work done on my computer and do some spotting on that glorious October day.
The outside world as seen from my "lunch break gate" - another AC Rouge 767 and still a lot of toothpaste green
With maybe 50 minutes to go until boarding I relocated to my gate, F51, located in the slightly less attractive part of the concourse with construction going on. My plane pulled into the gate with lots of time to spare, having just arrived from YEG.
C-FYKR (still in the old livery) parked at gate F51
Boarding began bang on time at 14:55 and I quickly found my way to the back of the plane, where a few seats stayed empty.
09/10/2019 – Air Canada flight AC716
YYZ – LGA
Scheduled flight time
- 15:30 – 17:00 (1hr 30min)
- 15:45 – 16:55 (1hr 10min)
- 15:31 – 17:03 (1hr 32min)
- Airbus A319-114 (C-FYKR), 22.3 years at time of flight
- 24F, Window, Economy
Cabin view during boarding and the again excellent legroom
I appreciated finding a functioning IFE monitor at my seat, although I later had to realize that the touchscreen was slightly malfunctioning – my inputs always got misinterpreted by a few centimeters, so once I had found the moving map, I left it at that.
The legroom was very good again, around the same as on the 77W which was obviously more remarkable on this Airbus on a short flight.
Window view from 24F - just like on the 777 the windows were quite badly scratched. Does this have anything to do with AC planes being deiced on a more regular basis?
Boarding seemed to conclude very quickly, but then we ended up waiting another few minutes for a final passenger. Nevertheless, doors were closed at 15:18 which not only meant that I had a free middle seat but also that we seemed on track for a very timely departure.
At that point however, the captain came on the PA mic and announced that while we had indeed wrapped up our pre-departure checks and were about to push back, he had been advised that because of weather, an arrival flow control had been imposed at LGA and our departure slot was pushed back by 55 minutes.
He added that we would still taxi out so that we could wait at a hold pad close to the runway in case we ended up being allowed to depart sooner.
We pushed back slightly behind schedule at 15:31 and began taxiing out a few minutes later, headed for the deicing area north of runway 06L.
However, we never stopped there – apparently we had been granted an earlier arrival slot at LGA so we continued the taxi straight to the 06L threshold and after holding for an arriving 77W, it was our turn to depart into the clear afternoon skies over Toronto at 15:45.
Holding short for an AC 777-300 arriving on 06L - just like I had done, a bit over 4 hours earlier
Taking off into the clear skies over Toronto
There were some great views of the city during departure and a few minutes later, having crossed Lake Ontario, I could even spot the Niagara Falls. The skies went overcast somewhere over Upstate New York, so after having had some views of the Finger Lakes, I spent some time listening to music, flicking through the inflight magazine, and nibbling on the pretzels that were part of the quick onboard serving.
Great views over the GTA and downtown Toronto as we turn right to set course for New York
Lake Ontario and Lake Erie in the afternoon sun
The cloud of mist from the Niagara Falls can be spotted below the wingtip fence
Snack and drink service
Just under 35 minutes after departing YYZ we already initiated our descent from the cruise altitude of 27,000 feet and the captain advised that there might be some bumps as we headed down into the rainy clouds covering the New York metro area. The ceiling was indeed low, but there wasn’t any truly rough air.
Quickly peeking through the clouds above Westchester County
Still, we only broke out of the final cloud layer about 3-4 minutes before landing, when we had already circled Manhattan to come in over Brooklyn and Queens from the south, for a smooth landing on runway 04 at 16:55 – followed by a hard brake that allowed us to turn off the runway with only a short taxi left to arrive at gate 51 in the new LGA terminal B at 17:03 local.
Some views on final approach over Queens featuring this huge cemetery...
... and Jackson Heights - Roosevelt Avenue Subway station, where the LaGuardia Link bus connects to the Subway
Arrived at the construction site that is LGA
Still managed to catch a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline behind the construction equipment
Our flight course on the IFE once I had gotten it to work
Walking into the terminal, I took a few minutes to marvel at this impressively well-done renovation. This concourse was an entirely different place compared to some of the horribly cramped, low-ceiling gates I had gotten to know in Terminal C.
Last look back on C-FYKR
And inside - the New LGA
That was where I was headed to next. For my onward journey, I had chosen to book the 8:30pm flight DL3438 to RDU.
Since I was self-connecting, I didn’t want to risk a delay into LGA and when the captain had informed us of the initially suspected delay at YYZ, I was patting myself on the back for that wise choice.
Now however, having arrived on time, I was back to regretting not having booked the 6:30pm flight DL3382.
As I checked my phone, that regret was about to multiply, as I had gotten a notification by Delta that flight 3438 was delayed by at least an hour. This meant that my 3.5 hour layover had just turned into a 4.5 hour one, and that I’d be arriving into RDU around 11:30pm.
Then however, at the bottom of the page in the app, I saw something I wouldn’t even have dreamt of:
Delta offered me to rebook onto an earlier flight, for free! I couldn’t believe my luck – I had booked basic economy but indeed, there were still open seats on flight 3382 (which was also delayed, but from 6:30 to 7:20, meaning I’d still get to RDU over an hour earlier).
I quickly confirmed the change and even got to keep my carefully selected window seat, 18D.
With lifted spirits, I hopped on the bus over to Terminal C, paid to have my bag checked and got in line for the security checkpoint, which took just about 10 minutes to clear.
Lots of delays due to that weather system apparently
Once airside, it was almost 6pm and with a revised boarding time of 7pm I decided against buying anything overpriced to eat, since I wasn’t too hungry yet and knowing that now I wouldn’t arrive at RDU in the dead of night, I could just make my friends stop for dinner on the way home.
Therefore, I just spent the next hour in the departure gate listening to some podcasts and tracking the inbound plane.
It ended up arriving a bit later, so the departure was eventually revised from 7:20 to 7:35, but I didn’t mind since it was still an hour earlier than my original flight.
Also, having flown this route before I knew that the flight takes nowhere near the 2 hour block time (usually between 60-75 minutes), so even if the delay should stretch out more I would have no issues being at RDU by 9:30pm.
Indeed, boarding only began at 7:27pm and even though you’d expect everyone to already be at the gate given the delay, doors were only closed about 20 minutes later.
Boarding my new last flight for the night
09/10/2019 – Delta Connection flight DL3382 (operated by Endeavor Air)
LGA – RDU
Scheduled flight time
- 18:30 – 20:27 (1hr 57min)
- 20:14 – 21:21 (1hr 07min)
- 19:56 – 21:25 (1hr 29min)
- Bombardier CRJ-900(LR) (N335PQ), 5.0 years at time of flight
- 18D, Window, Economy
The cabin of this relatively new CRJ seemed decidedly more modern than some others that I had been on and especially the size of the windows struck me for the first time. Legroom was fine for a flight of this length, too. After having waited for “a single piece of luggage” according to the flight deck, we pushed back at 7:56pm and started to taxi out (on a single engine initially) 3 minutes later.
On the neighboring gate: A brand new (about 2 weeks since delivery) A220-100 headed for IAH
After having switched on that second engine and a short wait (as #4 in the line), it was our turn to take off from runway 31 at 20:14 local time, making a right turn soon after leaving the perimeter to get us set on a southern heading and treating me on the right with some great views of the Manhattan skyline.
Turning south over Flushing Bay
The Manhattan skyline including some scattered low clouds illuminated from below, which gave an interesting effect
The Verrazano-Narrows bridge and 3 boroughs in one picture
The lights kept switched off for most of the flight, making the view out of the window even more enjoyable. In fact, they only came on during the trash collection run after the snack service, which I had used to grab some salted almonds and a drink. We were cruising at 26,000 feet and the routing took us down the NJ coastline and the Delmarva Peninsula past greater DC, before turning inland passing Richmond and Petersburg. At that point we had already begun to descend into North Carolina.
A fun side effect of the lights being kept off: The WiFi-sign worked as a makeshift blue moodlighting
As we neared the Raleigh metro area, it became apparent that this flight would be a first for me – all my other flights into and out of RDU so far had used the 23s. Instead, we bypassed the airport to the east for a downwind leg, before making a right turn over suburban Apex to align us with our arrival runway, 5R, where we touched down at 9:21pm local time – almost an hour behind flight 3382’s scheduled arrival, but over an hour before I had expected to get there!
Passing RDU to the east, the big dark patch on the left/center is Umstead Park, at the western end of which the airport perimeter begins
After a quick taxi over the northern taxiway bridge, we arrived at our stand (Gate D13) at 9:25 and deboarded rather quickly. I was now pretty hungry, but even more excited to meet my friends again, so I hurried to the baggage claim and then met them in the parking lot. To conclude this great day of traveling, we got dinner at a taco truck!!
Back inside RDU, it's been 5 months since I've last been here
Thanks for reading all of this already, I’ll post the return in the next days, either as a reply or in a new thread.
A few words on the airlines:
Air Canada was pretty solid – I wouldn’t go out of my way to fly them again, but with such good deals and the convenient YYZ immigration option, I wouldn’t hesitate at all if they came up as an option. The seats on their 777 were very comfortable, even though slightly narrow but that’s every 777 operator nowadays.
Delta once again did a great job on this domestic segment, but their feature to rebook for free onto an earlier flight for a simple delay blew me away – I’ve never seen this with any European airline, very impressed and it definitely improved the high regards that I already held them in!