Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: A Last Minute Decision to Fly an Air Transat Widebody

Air Canada, Trip Reports

After my time in Montreal, I was looking forward to a solo adventure with no known destination. My wife had given me the ok to take a week to myself, and all I knew is that I would not be flying home with them. I went to the airport with her and the kids in order to help her avoid being alone with them for as long as possible.

Though I thought about a train, I quickly opted for a flight since I knew it would make renting a car easier. As I thought about where to go, I decided my only rule was that I had to get closer to Indianapolis with each step since I had to be there a week later. After searching the web, I found a little bed and breakfast outside of Fergus, over an hour northwest of Toronto’s Pearson airport. This sounded like an idyllic spot, so I booked it.

After my family went through security, I had to figure out how to actually get to Toronto. I tried to get my ticket home canceled — I had used Aeroplan miles — at the airport, but the Air Canada agents there said they couldn’t help me. I had to call Aeroplan which was surprisingly not that long of a wait. With that done, I walked over to the domestic side of the terminal and started looking at options.

Though I want to try the airline some day, Porter wasn’t a good plan this time since it would make for a far more difficult drive out to where I was heading. Pearson was a better option. Besides, Porter seemed pricey at about US$450.

Air Canada was even more expensive and nothing new, so I focused on my other options. The two best bets seemed to be a 1:15pm flight on a WestJet Encore Q400 or a 4:30pm flight on an Air Transat A330-200.

I figured Air Transat would be a really interesting one to try, especially on a widebody for such a short hop. I could book it in Sabre, but I couldn’t see the seat map and wanted to make sure I could snag a window. I tried the Air Transat website, but it wouldn’t let me book a ticket for travel the same day. So, I just walked over to the check-in area where there was someone finding out what everyone needed before allowing them in to the counter area.

I told her I wanted to buy a ticket and she looked at me like I was speaking a language she did not understand. I suppose it’s not a surprise that few people actually walk up to buy tickets here, but she quickly snapped to it and told me that they could not sell me one. I would have to call the call center. Could I ask someone to pull up a seat map? No, absolutely not.

So, I got on a long hold, waiting for the call center, while walking over to talk to WestJet, just in case. WestJet said the 1:15pm flight was too close to departure by that point, but they had a 3:20pm which was available… but she could not tell me the price. I would have to call their call center again to buy a ticket. This was very frustrating, so I just grabbed a corner of the cold tile and logged back on to see how much that was running in Sabre.

WestJet wanted well over US$500, and there was no way I was going to pay that. I did an award search, however, and found a winner. For a mere 10,000 Qantas points transferred from Amex plus C$79, I could take that same flight. I stayed on hold with Air Transat just in case, but I decided I’d take the Q400, and I went to book the ticket.

I didn’t get very far. When I tried to transfer the points, Amex said it didn’t recognize my Qantas account, I tried a couple of times and then finally gave up. Instead, I decided to open up a new Qantas account and just transfer the points in there instead. That worked, and I then went on the Qantas website… to find the seat was now gone. I’m guessing it had taken so long that it was then too close to departure. I was just mad at this point and wanted my plans settled.

After half an hour on hold with Air Transat and not getting anywhere, I hung up, because I realized I was being stupid. I just bought the ticket in Sabre, knowing I could void it if I didn’t like my seat options at check in. I then went to check-in online and… nothing. *sigh*

It said it didn’t recognize my information. Crap. I went back to the Air Transat counter and the line-minder let me pass the gauntlet this time, so I could check in at the kiosk. I tried scanning my passport first, but the kiosk said no reservation was found. Then I tried using the record locator but the keyboard only had letters on it and my record locator had some numbers in it. What on earth….

At this point I got in a short but never-moving line to speak with an agent. I was holding my computer trying to look at other options when I decided to try to check in online again. This time, it worked. I guess there’s some lag in the system before it recognizes a Sabre booking. I got out of line and finished check in. I was given seat 24A, so I was happy, even though I did have a fairly long wait ahead until that flight departed. No matter, I had a lot of work to do, and it didn’t matter where I did it.

I initially just sat in the Air Transat check in area doing work, but then I realized that was not the best place to sit, so I went through security which was yet again another mess of an experience. I don’t know how anyone travels in this country.

I first entered the queue where someone scanned my boarding pass to make sure I was actually traveling. It was pretty quiet there, and there were several bored-looking agents standing around. The second my boarding pass was scanned, one of those agents got up… “hello, you have been randomly chosen for a search.” Ok, so we step to the side, he swabs my laptop, opens my bag, etc. After a couple minutes, I’m free to go, though he again has to scan my boarding pass before I can move on to the next stop.

The line was pretty empty, so I got to the front in no time. There, I had to pull my laptop out again, put it in a separate bin, take my shoes off, rip my belt off… all the usual fun stuff. I can’t remember if it was here or somewhere else, but my boarding pass was scanned for a third time. This was just silly.

I got through the checkpoint, but my bag didn’t do so well. It was flagged for further inspection yet again, despite already having been searched a few minutes earlier. When I got through, there was an angry English guy yelling at the agents that he was going to miss his flight. It was going really well for him… they seemed to care deeply. Just kidding, they told him it’s not their fault and had scowls on their faces since I’m sure they get this on a regular basis.

Having already gone through so much, I tried to lighten the mood. I whispered to the agent that I wasn’t going to miss my flight so she could take her time. She flashed a smile before it quickly disappeared as the angry Brit went on and on again. Despite all this, I’m going to bet he didn’t miss his flight.

The agent then looked at my bag, opened my toiletry kit, and took a deep, long look at my shaving cream. She then said there was nothing there, gave me my bag, and I was finally free to wait it out on the concourse as our A330 pulled into the gate.

I sat down at a power outlet and realized I had done absolutely nothing to figure out how I was going to get a car and all that. So I hammered that out, got up and walked around, and realized I probably could have driven to Toronto already. But this would be way more fun. When would I get to fly Air Transat?

The monitor said boarding would begin at 3:50pm, and it did indeed. The agents announced that there were two lines for boarding, and they would be open to all in whatever group number was being called. It was surprisingly efficient, considering that passports/IDs had to be checked by the agents even for this domestic flight. They were so good at getting people through quickly that they filled up the single jet bridge and had to pause for some time.

Once group 7 was called, I boarded.

Air Transat 460
August 13, 2022

Depart Montreal
➤ Scheduled: 430p, Actual: 443p
➤ From: Gate A51 on Runway 24L

Arrive Toronto
➤ Scheduled: 555p, Actual: 557p
➤ At: Gate B2A on Runway 24L

Aircraft
➤ Type: Airbus A330-243
➤ Delivered: April 29, 2003 to Emirates
➤ Registered: C-GUBC, msn 518
➤ Livery: Light blue tail with star

Flight
➤ Cabin: Coach in Seat 24A
➤ Load: ~85% Full
➤ Flight Time: 49m

There were several things I noticed about the cabin upon entering. First, there’s a funny little bulkhead-less entry at door 2 where there is a gap in the overhead bins above. Second, there is cool blue lighting that runs through the entire cabin. And third, wow, there are a lot of seats on this airplane… 345 of them in a 3-3-3 abreast coach configuration instead of the standard 2-4-2.

There was no trouble getting things in the overhead bins, but when I sat down, it became instantly clear that these seats were remarkably narrow. The guy next to me wasn’t huge, but he did stake his rightful claim to the armrests as a middle-seat occupant. And the guy on the aisle was bigger, so the middle guy leaned toward me, and I leaned toward the window. It was really uncomfortable.

Legroom, on the other hand, was perfectly fine.

Each seat had a TV, and the seats looked nice and new. The captain came on to welcome us aboard and said it would be a short 50 minutes to Toronto. He actually beat that by a minute. We were a little delayed pushing back due to late arriving baggage, but eventually we did get going and made our way to the runways on the south side of the airport.

We took off effortlessly and instead of a 10,000 foot chime, the captain simply turned the seatbelt sign off.

There was a chorus of clicking seatbelts as people undid them. I will never understand why people do that.

I played with the inflight map which seemed to be functional but of a previous generation. There were plenty of movies, TV, and games available. How did I know there were games? Because the person behind me seemed to be in a vigorous battle with her boyfriend to see who could punch the screen the hardest. Games on touchscreens in seatbacks are always a bad idea.

With such a short flight on a leisure airline, I didn’t expect inflight service, but sure enough the crew deftly rolled out the carts with a full beverage service. They were absolutely rock stars. I just had water, and I marveled at how quickly they worked the cabin.

We cruised briefly at 34,000 feet before we started descending. The crews flew through the cabin, took all the trash, and the seatbelt sign came on to indicate it was landing time.

It was a somewhat hazy day as we glided in abeam Lake Ontario, but there was still a nice view of Toronto to the south as we came in on final approach. After touching down, we a really long taxi to get to our gate in the seventh circle of hell in Terminal 3. Parking at gate B2A on this odd random finger extended from the actual terminal meant we had to walk to the beginning of the concourse, go downstairs, walk underground, pop back up in the A concourse, walk again, go back downstairs for awhile, come back up, and then go down to baggage claim.

I walked outside and followed the signs to car rentals. Of course, I had to walk all the way to the far end of the concourse to find National. I crossed into the garage and found… nothing.

There were no cars anywhere. It was weird. An old paper sign posted on the National kiosk said that due to the pandemic, all car rentals were over in Terminal 1. I don’t know if there were signs about this earlier, but I never saw them.

So now I had to go back across the street, head into the terminal, go upstairs to ticketing, go to the middle of the terminal, go upstairs again to the train, wait for the train, take it to Terminal 1, go downstairs into the garage, take the elevator down to level 1, and then I was finally there. I hopped into a Hyundai Kona and made my way out of town. What a miserable experience.

As much as I can’t stand flying in Canada, I have to say I enjoyed Air Transat once onboard. I just can’t imagine flying in that narrow seat all the way to Europe, so I’d probably look for an A321neo instead since they’ve yet to find a way to put 7 abreast on that airplane. Still, it was a nice overall experience with them once I got myself booked.

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28 comments on “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: A Last Minute Decision to Fly an Air Transat Widebody

  1. My wife and I flew roundtrip YUL-ATH on Air Transat 9 years ago when we lived in Vermont. A great option in terms of price, although we did spend extra to get a group of two seats in the back where the narrower fuselage means it’s impossible to squeeze seats into a 3-3-3 configuration. I think those seats are slightly wider.

    1. Joe – AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, well that would certainly explain it. Of course, it wouldn’t have worked anyway because the system hadn’t synced with the Sabre PNR, but that’s apparently how delirious I was by the time I got to that point.

      1. Wouldn’t it have been much easier to buy it directly on the air transat website so you wouldn’t have had the sync delay and may have even seen the current seat map?

        1. He tried: “I tried the Air Transat website, but it wouldn’t let me book a ticket for travel the same day. ”

          I still can’t over not being able to buy one at the counter – never heard of that.

          1. I’ve had to rebook at the airport twice in Canada recently, once after an Air Canada cancelled flight (mechanical) and once after a missed connection (WestJet, at their headquarters hub of YYC). In both cases, ground staff couldn’t even rebook me. They said call the call centre (1.5+ hour queue, even in the expedited queue for those with at-airport issues), even when I was standing at the gate of the alternate flight I wanted to get on. That’s an even more basic function of airport staff than selling new tickets.

            (I was automatically rebooked on flights that were not satisfactory; no online option to choose the alternative flights I wanted.)

            1. Assuming it’s not an Aeroplan ticket, AC staff at the airport can rebook you. I know, since both the agent and I were looking for options in a weather-related delay. The second time was that I arrived too late for baggage check-in.

          2. Wow I did miss that. I’m not sure what’s more insane, not being able to buy a sameday ticket on the website or at the counter. That’s really, epically, moronic.

  2. I thoroughly enjoy non US carriers who actually turn the seatbelt sign off soon after takeoff. Here in the US, I feel like the seatbelt switch in the cockpit has a label that says “Self Destruct” on it.

    1. I imagine US airlines are afraid of getting sued if the seatbelt sign is turned off too soon and someone gets hurt if turbulence happens.

    2. I’m with Dale that there is a bit of worry about getting sued if there is turbulence after the seatbelt sign is off.

      I’m also curious if some of this is a courtesy to the flight attendants, who at least in the US, have to recheck the whole cabin to ensure everyone is wearing their seatbelt when the light comes back on. Its also why FAs ask that if you’re going to sleep you leave your belt buckle on the outside of your blanket

  3. You’ve never seen terrible, rudimentary IT until you’ve experienced Air Transat and it’s mish-mash of booking systems. It’s amazing they manage to function.

  4. I think the word “omnishambles” works here – except for the actual onboard experience, which other than the cramped seats, sounds like it was just fine.

    CATSA can make the TSA look warm and comforting when they set their minds to it. (Actually, on my last trip TSA on both ends was organized and moving briskly.)

    In hindsight, that flight on Porter might have been better, although I’d imagine rental cars at Billy Toronto City Bishop Island Airport are more expensive (not a lot of choice).

  5. I suspect that Air Transat is struggling to survive and hasn’t got the funds for swish new IT systems or anything else. Make do and mend. Air Canada was all set to buy them up when Covid hit, the Air Transat share price sank like a stone and the deal was off. I believe Air Transat shut down completely for some time. The story is not over yet, methinks. Stay tuned.

  6. Shh… Don’t give anyone any ideas! :-)

    > I’d probably look for an A321neo instead since they’ve yet to find a way to put 7 abreast on that airplane.

  7. > passports/IDs had to be checked by the agents even for this domestic flight

    In Canada for domestic flights, they check IDs at boarding, not at security.

    1. That varies by airport. They didn’t check my ID at security in Vancouver, but I’m pretty sure they did check my ID at security in Calgary.

      CATSA seems to be much less consistent than the TSA.

      1. I highly doubt your ID was checked at security for any domestic Canadian flight; it’s the responsibility of the airlines, not CATSA, in Canada. Now if you were departing for the US in Calgary and therefore going through US Customs preclearance, of course your ID would have been checked.

        1. This was a domestic flight. I of course could be mistaken but I thought I had to show my ID and boarding pass to CATSA in Calgary…

          It might’ve only been my boarding pass, but the process was different between Calgary and Vancouver.

  8. I’ve flown from the UK on both the A330 and the A321neo. The A330 wins. The neo feels so small and more claustrophobic than A330. Plus only one aisle so the wait to get to the toilets can be a chore.

  9. “I went through security which was yet again another mess of an experience. I don’t know how anyone travels in this country.”

    I dunno, perhaps thats just Montreal?

    I had a pretty easy and smooth travels with Lynx between Vancouver and Calgary and back. The only issue I had was in Calgary the check in agent didn’t realize that Enhanced Driver’s Licenses from US states are acceptable documentation. Since she was the only person working and there was a longish line behind me instead of arguing I just fished out my passport.

  10. I was in the same airport on the same day flying home to YHZ, though I arrived about 30 minutes after you took off. I found security surprisingly quick and easy that day, probably because I didn’t get chosen for any extra scrutiny.

    My wife helped a teenager travelling alone who didn’t understand the difference between security lanes and boarding gates.

  11. When there’s an option, always take the airplane! I love it. One of my favorite trip reports in a long time. Thanks for taking us along on the adventure. I think I got my workout for the day just by reading about all the ups and downs of trying to get to your rental car in Toronto.

  12. I have been trying to visualize you managing all of your technology to get on that flight.
    If an expert traveler like you has to go to the steps you took in order to get on the flight, “lesser mortals” would have just melted and given up.

    Curious if there still are and if you qualify for travel agent fares.

  13. Thanks for the insights into your experience.

    Although I am still baffled by your remark about taking your shoes off. You do understand that’s an American thing right and you don’t need to do that in Canada unless flying to the States?

    And CATSA does not check IDs, only boarding passes. IDs are checked at the gate prior to boarding. Again, things are different in the US.

  14. You can fasttrack all the security lines if you hold a NEXUS card (expedited Canada/USA border crossing).
    It’s a deal, because it also gets you TSAPre, faster cross-border immigration, and is cheaper than just buying the TSAPre access.

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