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January 23, 2015 / oneworld82

Transiting in Toronto (YYZ): Never Again…? An unplanned overnight in Canada and back home on Air Canada Business Class

From the moment I landed to the moment my flight to Dallas was supposed to leave I had exactly 55 minutes. One of the perks of flying first class is the ability to leave the airplane first, so that in no time I was running (literally!) to try to catch my connection. I figured that, perhaps, my checked bag wouldn’t make it, but that Lufthansa/Air Canada would have it delivered for me to my apartment in Dallas soon enough anyways.

I followed the signs to U.S. pre-clearance, and within literally five minutes I was in the immigration area. Here there are kiosks for both regular passengers and global entry. You need to scan your boarding pass, and the system will automatically check your connection flight and your checked-in bag (if any). If you have a bag checked in, you need to proceed to a waiting area, and need to wait for your bag to be processed before proceeding to immigration.

Now, fate wanted that I had checked a bag back home – bringing to Dallas mostly my old college books that my dad had threatened to throw away (after all, why would he need Anthropology books?!). This, eventually, made sure I missed my connection in Toronto, as my bag didn’t clear on time. Hadn’t I checked in any bag, I am pretty sure  I would have made it to Dallas that very same day…

I waited, and waited, and waited… until my Air Canada flight disappeared from the “Departures” screen, at which point I gave up. I proceeded to the Air Canada transfer desk, and the agent helped me re-book on the first flight out to Dallas the morning after (as there was no way I would make it back home at this point). She also said I would now have to clear Canadian immigration, collect my bag, and head to the Lufthansa check-in desk to see whether they would provide accommodation for me. Sigh.

I left the U.S. Pre-Clearance area to head downstairs to the Canadian immigration, only to find the longest of lines. It took me a good thirty minutes to clear immigration – and by evesdropping on people it looked like many other folks were in my same situation (flight delayed, connection missed, Toronto for the night).

I then proceeded to the baggage claim area, and I went on to a find a Lufthansa representative to inquire about my bag. Now, every customer is supposed to collect his or her own bags in cases like this one. But the agent at the desk said that, since my transit was less than 24 hours, she could just keep the bag there unless I needed it. Since I only had books in it, I gladly accepted the offer and proceeded to the main arrival area.

After walking upstairs to the check-in part of the terminal, I located the Lufthansa desk and I saw many people trying to get something out of Lufthansa given all the dalays. While I had no expectations, I must admit Lufthansa went above and beyond for me! They provided accommodation, transportation, and meals to ALL the passengers stranded – regardless of class of service. I, as First Class passenger, received an even better treatment. The hotel we were accommodated in was the same (Crowne Plaza), but I received $100 worth of meal vouchers and a private limo to take me to and from the hotel (while other guests received half that amount and were shuttled all together on a minivan). I was, once again, very impressed with Lufthansa ground services, which made my experience much less painful overall.

The Crowne Plaza near the airport is literally a quick 5 minutes drive from the terminal. This is your typical Crowne Plaza North America airport hotel – nothing fancy but perfectly functional. A major annoyance, though, was the lack of wifi internet – to be more precise, the hotel does offer it, but it was down at the time. As you can imagine, being in a foreign country (albeit Canada) with no wifi after being stranded because of weather is not the ideal solution – and making a few calls here and there to arrange my next day cost me a couple dozen dollars that I could have otherwise saved.

Anyways, the morning after my limousine picked me up at 6am as previously agreed. I was planning to go through immigration and then grab something at the Maple Leaf Lounge before my flight, but – unfortunately – that was not going to happen.

U.S. Pre-Clearance now only lets people through immigration in bands. That means that they call only people whose flights depart until a certain time to go through immigration – no one else. Even though I was at the terminal by 6.15am, I couldn’t get to immigration until 7.45am – only one hour before my scheduled departure time. As you can imagine, lines were long and lots of people were rushing in order not to miss their flights, which made the whole situation rather messy.

Even though I had access to the priority lane (since I was holding a business class ticket) I only made it to my gate five minutes before boarding started. Pre-Clearance is, overall, a messy business in my opinion.

Flight AC7483, E75
Dec. 29th, 2014 – 08:45 – 11.15
Business Class, Seat 3A

Air Canada operates this route with an E75 – a Regional jet that resembles a mainline plane in many aspects. Coach is on a 2-2 configuration, while the front cabin is 1-2. The plane feels spacious, not cramped. I was seated in the last row of the Business Class cabin, on the lone seat on the left side of the cabin. The seat was pretty spacious (almost as spacious as a seat on a 737 in domestic US configuration) and – most important of all – the seat featured IFE! In fact, all seats on Air Canada’s E75’s have personal IFE systems – a welcome upgrade from domestic US carriers. The entertainment system, much to my delight, was working while sitting on the ground, which allowed me to browse for some tv shows; it also featured a good selection of music.

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Air Canada E75 Business Class seat

Air Canada E75 Business Class seat

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Coach cabin

Coach cabin

A pre-departure beverage was offered by our cheerful flight attendant – a gentleman with a distinct Canadian touch – who was also very busy properly stocking carry-on bags in the rather spacious overhead compartments. I had some orange juice while waiting for the plane to fill up, which took about 15 minutes. After a little while (and after de-icing) we started to pull back, and we soon were on our way to Dallas (about 20 minutes late, which we would not make up for given strong headwinds).

After taking off, the flight attendant took breakfast orders. Options were yogurt and granola or omelette. Feeling hungry, I opted for the omelette. I was also asked whether I wanted anything to drink, and I asked for a Bloody Mary and coffee.

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Menu

Menu

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The flight proceeded smoothly, and after about ten minutes my breakfast tray appeared. The presentation was very good, coming out of a regional plane. Yet, E75’s have ovens and are spacious, so that nice things are possible!

The omelette was very good, as were the potatoes and the sausage accompanying it. The tray came with some fresh fruit and jam; fresh bread was offered from a basket. Also, a Greek yogurt came with the tray. My Bloody Mary was decent, and the coffee was alright. Overall, this was a much better breakfast than expected – and of great quality!

Breakfast tray

Breakfast tray

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After about one hour, another round of drinks was offered, together with a ramekin of warm nuts. If you ask me, this is pretty remarkable: a full breakfast and then warm nuts on a 3h15m flight… Air Canada really went above and beyond!

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We landed about 20 minutes late, and after a short taxi we were at our gate at Terminal E. Overall, this was a pleasant flight on Air Canada; even though this was only a regional flight, the quality of hard and soft products made it a very enjoyable experience.

My trip was now over and it was time to go back to work. Overall it was a short but fun Christmas break in Italy. Visiting my family is always good, and I look forward to see them all again soon.

Next up: my short weekend trip to Paris in January and my Thanksgiving trip report to Amsterdam and Dubai featuring AA new Business Class (awesome product!) and Etihad First Class!

One Comment

Leave a Comment
  1. aleksawal / Jan 24 2015 12:16 am

    Having been through this airport many many times, I can attest to the ever-present lineups around US customs/security! Going thru Canadian immigration upon landing is usually quite quick now that they have automated machines for most passengers, but looks like you got unlucky. Glad to hear the AC flight was good at least!

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