*Those on a slow internet connection may want to go get some coffee or something*
Each year for the past few years, my family has done a weeklong escapade to somewhere hot to get a break from the soul-crushing depressing-ness of Canadian winter
In 2008, we ventured to CUN with AC. In '09, we went once again with AC to PUJ. And this year, we decided to trust good ol' AC once again to take us to VRA.
We booked this in August to take advantage of $1215 in early booking discounts. We used this to take advantage of a $299 per person round trip Executive Class upgrade. We were able to get a couple of lovely direct flights right to Varadero through Air Canada Vacations. The 6 months leading up to our break passed slowly, but it ended up creeping up on us, and soon enough, the 7th of February arrived.
The evening before, we used Air Canada's website to check in.
Getting ready to go late the evening before.
We called the taxi to arrive at 4:30AM, getting us at the airport around 5, which gives us a leisurely 3 hours to eat breakfast, go through security, drop our bags, etc.
We dropped our bags and ate and the finest food establishment in the whole of Canada, Tim Horton's
After eating the true Canadian cuisine, we went right to Concourse A security. I always chuckle during security, because my completely harmless Dad is always searched head to toe.
As soon as finishing security, we proceeded to the nearby Air Canada/*A Maple Leaf Lounge
A few shots inside the MLL. It was dark and photography was difficult
AC 767 pulling in, to do AC1864 YYC-CUN
We spent most of our time dozing in a few chairs in the mostly empty MLL. At about 7:45AM, we left for gate A16, where our flight, Air Canada 1878 would depart for Varadero.
It was a short walk to the gate, where I looked out the window, and to my delight I found I would be travelling on one of two special livery A319s that belong to AC. AC has 2 319s that don't have standard colours - C-FZUH in retro Trans-Canada Airlines livery, and C-GBIP, the Kids Horizon's/Horizons Enfance. We would be flying on the latter.
Operated by Air Canada
Departing Calgary International Airport (YYC/CYYC)
Arriving Juan G. Gomez International Airport (VRA/MUVR)
Scheduled departure (gate) / actual departure (gate) 8:40AM/8:40AM
Scheduled arrival / actual arrival 4:10PM / 4:40PM
30 minutes late - deicing delay
Delivered to Air Canada in April 1998
Special Livery: Air Canada Kids Horizons/Horizons Enfance
Photo © Yuda
We boarded the aircraft right on time, and the aircraft was ready to push back on time. However, after sitting at the gate for a while our F.O. came on and informed us that our aircraft was not a priority for deicing this morning and there would be about a 20 minute wait. No big deal, just more time to enjoy the Executive Class seat I was sitting in. This was my first time in Executive, so it was kind of a special flight for me.
The snow was blowing so hard that there wasn't much to see during taxi and departure, so no pictures.
A powerful takeoff roll in the sportscar-like A319 got us quickly rolling down the runway and into the air. I really love the roar of the CFM engines on the 319. My parents and brother immediately turned to me upon application of full throttle and asked "what is that awful noise?!" I chuckled and said the engines, and assured them it would start to fade in about 10 minutes. The load factor on our flight was quite high, I'd say at least 95%. There were no empty Executive seats and I think I saw maybe 3 empty seats in Economy.
A fairly powerful climb, and we burst through the clouds
AC's transborder/North American Executive Class
Our menus for breakfast
I chose the waffle meal. It was delicious. (I made a mess of the cutlery, it was presented nicely).
After breakfast, I sat back and enjoyed Air Canada's enRoute touchscreen AVOD system. The system has always been pretty good, the only thing I didn't like is the overall sluggishness of it and the usual lack of a working map. However, when I started to use it today on this flight, it felt fairly fast, and to my pleasant surprise, I did not see "This feature is currently unavailable", but a map.
For a short person, plenty of legroom
Drinks kept on flowing and snacks were offered numerous times. Our flight attendant was very friendly. There was 1 F/A for the Executive section, which on our little plane was only 14 people
Unfortunately, the IFE system began to quit out. My mom wanted to turn off the map and watch TV, but it wouldn't move from the map, although the map worked fine. I wanted to watch something on my iPod, and wanted to stop the movie on my PTV, but the screen just went black, except for the movie controls. Apparently this sort of spread through the cabin, and they had to reboot the system. I've heard stories about reboots taking up to an hour, but it took about ten minutes, and then a few screens at the front of the plane started flashing the bright red "Welcome aboard" screen, and soon enough all of our screens were back and we could watch once again. This same thing happened again in about an hour, but another reboot was done and everything worked well after that.
Staring in to the black nothingness of a malfunctioning IFE screen :P
This serves as my temporary IFE while the system is rebooted
Working again, and watching Two and a Half Men
I thought I had some pictures from our descent, but I guess not, as I remember taking some but I can't find them.
We landed in Varadero on runway 06 at Juan G. Gomez Airport. It was a very short taxi to the fairly small terminal with only 4 gates. Customs/immigration and security was very quick, and I was hoping to have time to take a picture of the Arrivals area, however, I right away saw most of the *A priority bags had been taken off the conveyor. However, I noticed that my bag was not there.
We thought "oh, well, the priority tag doesn't always work" and waited. Bags started becoming few and far between, and then the belt just stopped. No bag for me. You must understand that my bag is the biggest of my family's luggage, and had a lot of extra stuff in it, as well as extra clothes, all of my clothes, and a whole bunch of other assorted stuff in it, so it was a bit of an important bag not to be there. So, after stumbling around for five minutes, we finally find someone that represents Air Canada. She was very friendly, and submitted a search for my bag. My bag arrived at our hotel, the Blau Varadero, the next afternoon.
Now, this was a bit of an accident by the ground handlers in Calgary. Up above, you will remember that I showed an AC 767 a couple gates away from ours. That flight left about a half hour earlier than ours. However, it had a similar flight number, it left at a similar time, and it was only a couple gates away, so I understand this mistake. AC1864 was this flight, and it was going to Cancun. So, my bag ended up in Cancun. They sent it on AC1257 to Toronto, and back down to VRA and had it delivered to my hotel. I was only a day without my bag - hats off to Air Canada.
The all-important blue bag arrives!
Our hotel provided some lovely photo scenes:
Varadero beach was just beautiful.
After spending a week in this beautiful country, it was unfortunately time to return to Canada. Another Chinese bus took us right back to VRA, and dropped us off here:
I love Executive Class.
My boarding pass
Our stubby-looking little 319 pulling up to gate 3
Our departure gate
Operated by Air Canada
Departing Juan G. Gomez International Airport (VRA/MUVR)
Arriving Calgary International Airport (YYC/CYYC)
Scheduled departure (gate) / actual departure (gate) 5:10PM / 5:10PM
Scheduled arrival / actual arrival 9:30PM / 9:35PM (approx.)
Delivered to Air Canada in 1996
We boarded, and quickly taxiied and took off, and then we were served drinks and nuts
Tonight's dinner menu
Appetizer and dessert served together, entrees served later, for some reason
I thoroughly enjoyed the IFE, which on this leg worked perfectly.
Our sleepy aircraft is nearing Calgary
After a kind of rough approach, we touched down on runway 16 at Calgary International. Sleepy people deplaned the suddenly-bright aircraft, and headed down the jetway, back to real life, and their home.
We went through the pretty empty customs area, and then claimed our baggage.
This isn't quite right, but our baggage came out here anyways
Overall, Air Canada produced a very nice Executive Class product for North America. My family agreed that the food was excellent (although on the return leg it was served kind of weirdly, haha). The seats were comfortable for the 6 hour plane rides, and the IFE was outstanding. Overall, AC did a great job on this one.
Ground staff/baggage handling: 7/10
A last note: I know this was probably boring for most everybody, not a lot of people want to hear about a vacation flight within North America, but I had a lot of fun trying one of these Trip Reports for myself, and I enjoyed doing it. I thank you all for reading it (if you've gotten this far). Stay tuned for the probably more exciting bit of this trip report. This one was long, but you didn't think that was ALL, did you? No, there's still plenty more pictures from the side trip to the beautiful city of Havana! Stay tuned for that!