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Calgary to Las Vegas – Air Canada

by Continental Club on July 30, 2008  |  Leave a comment

Air Canada flight AC546 was, at the time of booking, to be Airbus A320-operated and two Business Class seats showed available for Star Alliance redemption. Using the bmi British Midland ‘cash and miles’ system, these were snapped up for 11,250 miles and £75 plus tax each, with the third seat required being cash purchased to earn at least some of those miles back. Air Canada’s website is clear and straight forward, with fares presented under differing names rather than just cabin service classes. The Las Vegas flight was to operate two-cabin, with Business Class service being the newly refitted Executive Class. This gives wider seating, greater recline and Maple Leaf lounge access amongst other benefits.

A couple of weeks after booking however, the flight had been downgraded to an Embraer E190 and further idle searching showed no redemption seats being offered on other flights now using the smaller aircraft. We were very lucky to have got in when we did. A slight timing change flagged up the equipment change, which was notified by email immediately from AC with reference to the paid-for booking. To this day we await the booking confirmation or schedule change notification from bmi. The earlier seat selections were knocked out with this change but were swiftly reset with a call to Air Canada in London – taking all three seats of row one.

Check-in at Calgary was very quick, even though we’d not completed the formalities on-line in advance. Seat selections had been maintained however and I looked forward to my first ever Air Canada flight. The check-in agent advised that US Immigration pre-clearance was on site at Calgary and we were directed towards it. She was unable to provide I-94W Visa Waiver forms however and said we could sort this at the US desks. Baggage check is post-immigration, so with our cases still in tow, we lumbered off.

I hate US immigration.

The tensa-barrier queue snaked around, but moved reasonably swiftly. Eventually, we were called to a desk, whereupon we had our passports examined. The official did not trouble himself to disguise his heartfelt pain at being presented with non US/Canadian documents and, with much harrumphing, rummaged about for I-94Ws. He broke into a new pack, thrust them at us and told us that we should have filled them in already. Ahem. He sent us off to a naughty desk, telling us to walk back to the front of the queue to be recalled, and we quickly filled them. Back at the front of the queue, a different official called us. In the hurry, we’d all forgotten to fill in that bit of the form underneath where it says ‘For Government Use Only’. Amazing how, when under pressure, one follows instructions even more closely, even when experience tells you that the instruction is wrong. So, we get sent away with thinly veiled venom again – trudging to the naughty desk with our cases once more for the three seconds it takes to fill in a flight number and then wait to be called again. Officious fool.

We finally make it through and the longed-for relief of the Maple Leaf Lounge and Air Canada hospitality. No darts. There is no Maple Leaf Lounge in the pre-cleared area of Calgary, despite all the airline website’s sales patter, promises and justifications of the Business Class fare. Very poor.

The inbound aircraft is running 30 minutes late, so we linger with the proletariat until we are finally called, all of about 2 minutes after the crew have boarded. Clearly the ground staff want shot of us, although special assistance, status and premium pax are at least called first. Which, as it’s North America, means that everyone, apart from the Ukranian who didn’t understand the announcement, stands up and surges forward.

At the door of the aircraft, we shock the still-unpacking crew and I hold back the increasing force of high-rolling fortune-seekers behind until the chief steward has fixed his hairpiece and cleared the cabin for boarding.

The aircraft decor is fresh, new and pleasantly fitted and the seats rapidly fill. There are three rows of Executive seating, arranged 1L 2R and then a kink in the aisle to centralise it between 2-2 Economy Class seating. Executive seats are proper non-convertibles, with decent recline and a curtain separates the forward cabin from the veal at the rear. There are seat back (or bulkhead) screens and On Demand Audion and Video, even on this basic bird. A pre-departure drink is hurriedly offered – orange, water, a beer if asked nicely.

Doors are closed and pushback is as swift as could be hoped for, and we commence a short taxi before take off at just after 8pm.

So, so far, immigration has been a joke, we’re feeling a bit short-changed by the lack of lounge and less than impressed by sloppy boarding. Still, the seat is comfy and there is a spectacular sunset above the clouds. Roll on great Canadian service.

And roll off. The entertainment system is inoperative. The seatbelt sign is off, but the cabin divider curtain curtain remains open and Economy passengers fill the Business Class aisle queuing for the loo. The curtain to the galley is drawn however, to ensure that the full-of-bladder wait in the cabin, not at the trap door. The pale bluey-green curtain is filthy with the stains of the previous hundred sectors.

There is a choice of salmon or chicken salad, on the same ‘base’. Remarkably, given the cheapness of the ingredients, it is presented in a china receptacle. Which is chipped. And sadly it seems as if the caterers have used at least as much aviation fuel as has been wasted on flying the weight of the china pots as a quite unique alternative to vinaigrette. The beer does little to overpower it. The quantity of the food can’t be faulted, but the quality certainly can. It is, quite honestly, rotten, and anyone who has the temerity to complain about British Airways Club Europe food should be beaten with an Air Canada salmon fillet. Now I know what happens to the stuff that John West rejects.

The entertainment system eventually gets booted into some sort of action, but never really settles during the two and a half hour flight to Sin City. I spend most of the flight with Gloria Gaynor stuck in a loop (interspersed occasionally by Dame Burly Chassis asking if she could touch me here), while the participants of various bachelor parties scratch their crotches in the aisle next to me prior to pebble-dashing the reverse side of the bulkhead in front. And all for a bargain £360 one-way.

At least the crew are friendly, even if they do seem rather dejected at the abysmal level of service they are cost-controlled to deliver. Hairpiece Harry chats happily with MCC and FCC on approach to Las Vegas, as Gloria continues to wail that she is what she is, she is, is she, she is. Ad nauseum.

The pain is eased by a smooth landing, a short taxi and then a not too lengthy walk to the baggage hall. The driver from CLS Limos is waiting for us and the bags pop out surprisingly quickly given previous tedious experiences at McCarran Airport.

Final verdict for Air Canada: a disappointingly low 5/10. No-one was physically injured, I guess, but the bmi Diamond Club Miles credit for the paid-for Business Class ticket was stingy too at just 1039.

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