Once I had finished with planning my Islay pilgrimage, I barely had enough time to get excited for the trip before it began. Air Canada would kick this trip off in style. It had been years since I last flew the airline, and I had never flown it in business class. I was hoping this would be quite the treat. Spoiler: it was.
- A Last Minute Pilgrimage to Islay, the Home of Scotland’s Peatiest Whisky
- Air Canada Business Class Via Vancouver to London
- Heathrow’s Terminal 2 and Flybe to Edinburgh
- An Evening in Edinburgh
- Edinburgh Airport and Loganair to Islay
- 50 Hours on Islay
- Transport Potpourri: A Ferry, Bus, and Train from Islay to London
- Air New Zealand Business Class from London to Los Angeles
There was no reason to drive my wife and kids up to LAX for their 11:40am flight to the Midwest and then come home, so I just dropped them off around 10:30am, parked the car at Quikpark, and then made my way back to Terminal 6 for the long wait before my flight.
I went to check in at the ticket counter since it was empty, and the agent handed me a boarding pass for the first flight. I asked if she could give me one for my connection, and she said it wasn’t working for some reason. She tried again and it eventually worked.
Since this was technically a business class ticket, I hoped I could go to the Maple Leaf Lounge to wait for my flight, but she quickly said that wasn’t allowed. Since I had a coach seat to Vancouver, that was all that mattered. Regardless of whether that’s real policy or not, it didn’t sound fair to me, so when I came through security, I went up there anyway. That agent couldn’t have been nicer, scanned my boarding passes, pushed a couple buttons, and invited me in.
The Maple Leaf Lounge in Terminal 6 is very small. There’s a sitting area with a couple couches on one side and then a kitchen area on the other side. Food options were sparse with some cold salads and soups. Then they brought out some flat breads, and the woman working there went around asking how everyone liked it, saying it was something new they were trying out. It wasn’t a bad light lunch.
I took a seat in the mostly uncrowded lounge, plugged in, and started working. The goal was to clear enough out that I could hop on the plane and shut off.
Just as people were getting ready to go downstairs for the flight, the agent in the lounge told us that nobody should go yet. The airplane was half an hour late, so there wasn’t a hurry. This made me a little nervous since I didn’t have a ton of time on the connection, but I just sat and waited it out.
The agent still hadn’t called for boarding, but I decided to go downstairs anyway. It was a madhouse with multiple flights boarding in the same area. A family was busy trying to calm their toddler in the middle of an epic tantrum which just made for an even more crazed atmosphere. (That poor father….)
Even though I was in coach on this flight, I was still in zone 1 so when they called boarding, I got right on. But before I boarded I had to stop and take this photo.
I love the raccoon eyes.
April 19, 2019
Air Canada 555 Lv Los Angeles 230p Arr Vancouver 519p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 69B, Runway 24L, Depart 26m Late
Vancouver (YVR): Gate E83, Runway 26R, Arrive 20m Late
C-FGKN, Airbus A321-211, Raccoon Eyes colors, ~99% Full
Seat 14A, Coach
Flight Time 2h18m
I don’t know if all of Air Canada’s A321s are this way, but this had an old school interior. The seats actually had padding. There were screens in the back of each seat, but apparently a lot of them didn’t work. The flight attendants made an announcement telling everyone that they were sorry, but because of the MAX grounding, they’ve had to push into service aircraft that don’t meet their normal standards. (I trusted they meant service standards and not safety.)
The woman in front of me was particularly concerned about this and kept asking if her screen was going to work. Apparently it was really important, because during the flight, she was watching something so funny that she kept laughing out loud.
My screen worked… sort of. There was a little cursor on the screen that was nowhere near where I tapped. I had to tap and drag until the cursor was over the button I wanted to click. Then I’d let go. It was clunky, and I just said forget it. I got the map going and then took a deep breath and relaxed. This was the beginning of an exciting trip, and I just wanted to be in the moment.
Boarding took a long time, and so we didn’t get out until almost half an hour late. I started to get even more concerned about my connection, but there was nothing I could do.
We took off into the marine layer and soon found ourselves above it. We made a beeline for Monterey and then turned north to go straight to Vancouver.
The flight attendants were quite friendly and they came through with snacks for purchase followed by drinks. Unlike US carriers, Air Canada doesn’t seem to offer any free snacks. I just had some water and literally stared out the window for two hours.
There were strategically-placed clouds most of the way to prevent any good sightseeing. For example, though we passed high clouds right before San Francisco, they parted just in time for us to see… low clouds hovering over the city.
It was a smooth day to fly, and once we got toward Oregon, we were sitting up on top of the rain. Near Seattle, we started to descend into the muck. But a few minutes later, we poked out into clear blue skies. The rain had left Vancouver to make for a very welcoming late-afternoon scene.
After landing, the airport divides you into four groups. An agent was trying to pull people connecting to domestic Canada flights aside. Everyone else kept walking for some time before going one way to Vancouver arrivals, another way to US connections (which obviously wouldn’t happen from our flight), and the third to international connections.
I followed the last one, and it was empty. I had to scan my passport and punch a few things into a kiosk before it spit out a paper I was supposed to keep saying I was a transit passenger. Then I made the long walk to gate D52 which is a gate that can flex between international and domestic, so it’s not with the rest of the international gates.
By the time I arrived, business class has already boarded, so I didn’t have a chance to see a lounge. I just went up to the Zone 1 line which was empty and got right onboard.
April 19, 2019
Air Canada 854 Lv Vancouver 635p Arr London/Heathrow 1150a (on April 20)
Vancouver (YVR): Gate D52, Runway 26L, Depart 1m Early
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate 242, Runway 9L, Arrive 2m Early
C-FNNQ, Boeing 777-333ER, Raccoon Eyes colors, ~90% Full
Seat 5A, Business
Flight Time 8h25m
I was greeted warmly as I got onboard and I headed back to my row.
It’s probably an understatement to say that I really enjoyed the seat. It’s a reverse herringbone design with some thoughtful touches. My favorite feature was this little compartment on the side that holds the remote control and power outlets. The remote is giant and has a screen of its own, so you can easily watch a movie and then also glance at the map on the remote. But having it in that compartment meant the second screen wasn’t distracting. Also being able to plug my phone in securely in that compartment was ideal.
The main screen is huge. At some point, I even wanted it to be smaller, but it’s hard to complain about that. Content was good as well, except for the skimpy music selection.
At my seat, there was a pillow, a blanket, a mattress pad, an amenity kit, and noise-canceling headphones waiting for me. Yeah, it was a lot. The flight attendants came through with pre-departure beverages and handed out menus.
There was also a breakfast card where you could check off exactly what you wanted to eat (choose as many as you want) and whether you wanted to be awakened if you were asleep or not. I really hate having a big meal right on takeoff since that’s the middle of the night in Europe. I wanted to try to sleep and then have a big breakfast, so I passed on dinner and set up my breakfast request.
Kyle and Stephanie were the two most frequent flight attendants attending to my side of the cabin. Both were excellent at their jobs as frankly were all the others I encountered.
Kyle came by and I asked him if he knew how the ride was going to be. He said there would be some bumps climbing out and then again there might be something over Greenland, but otherwise it should be smooth. Our northerly route kept us far from the storms raging over the northeastern US that day.
Takeoff over the water was absolutely stunning in the late afternoon sunlight. The seatbelt sign went off quickly, but we circled around and crossed the mountains, and that’s when the bumps began. The seatbelt sign went on, but throughout the flight it was well-managed. It came on when bumps started and promptly went off.
Once we reached cruising altitude, the ride had already smoothed out, and they came through with drinks. I just wanted to watch something mind-numbing so I flipped on Tosh.0 and cranked through several episodes. It was just what the doctor ordered.
I slowly but surely kept reclining the seat closer and closer to a bed, and I really wanted to sleep. After exhausting all the Tosh.0 episodes, I switched to what I knew would be a bad movie that would hopefully knock me out, Night School. I pulled out the eyemask and just tried to use the movie as background noise while I slept. It didn’t work. As usual, I couldn’t sleep at all.
After that movie was over, I gave up and sat up. Kyle came through with a tray of drinks for anyone who might want them. (They were doing this constantly, but in a good way, not in an overwhelming way.) Kyle seemed very concerned that I hadn’t eaten, and he asked if, now that I appeared to be awake, I’d like anything. He offered to put together a cheese plate, and that actually did sound good. So I took him up on it.
He came back apologizing profusely saying he thought he had cheese but he didn’t. Instead, he brought the scallop appetizer (above), a bag of chips, and some almonds. (There was also a ramekin of nuts from earlier.) It was very nice of him to put forth such an effort.
I don’t believe the sky ever went fully dark on the entire flight. It was mostly dark at one point, but you could still see a sliver of light on the horizon. Then it started getting lighter, but because we were so far north, it was a slow dawn and I was thoroughly enjoying it.
Once it got significantly lighter, Stephanie came through and asked if I would mind closing the shades so that others wouldn’t be bothered. I normally don’t like that, but she was nice about it and there wasn’t much to see at that point. I made up a feeble excuse that I was hoping to get a good view of Greenland, but she had a good response. We were supposed to get bumps over Greenland, so when it started shaking, I should open the window. (She said it with a smile, but I appreciated it.) Fortunately, I listened to her. It got bumpy, I opened the window, and it was an impressive view.
I watched more movies and TV shows and then decided to take a walk. We had nice warm mood-lighting and all the windows were closed in business, but in the back it was like a bomb went off. There was trash all over the floor, and people were slumping into the aisle asleep. Windows were open and it was a harsh light. I felt even more appreciative of where I was sitting than before when I returned to my seat.
Right at 75 minutes before arrival, as promised, they started turning the mood-lighting on and bringing around breakfast. First I had my fruit, yogurt, and tea.
Then they brought the omelet. It was fine but nothing special by any means.
The bumps picked up again off the coast of Ireland, but they subsided in time for me to head into the lav and freshen up with the amenity kit, brush my teeth, etc.
We descended into London on a hazy yet sunny day and didn’t even have to circle. We unfortunately landed from the west, so there were no great views of London to be had. Once we landed, our gate wasn’t ready, so we had to sit for about 20 minutes. When we docked, I got up and realized just how tired I was. I still hadn’t slept a wink, and there was a lot more day to come.