[I'm now at home, and didn't manage to get this published while in New York, but I figured since I'd written it I might as well publish it!]
Preparation: it’s been about a year since I’ve had a flight last over 90 minutes, so right at the last minute I realized I should have loaded up some DVDs or TV shows to watch on the 4.5 hour flight. Managed to get one ripped DVD onto a USB flash drive before I headed out the door, but that’s it. My wonderful wife got my suitcase packed and off to the airport.
Airport Check-In: Air Canada’s slogan should be “Giving you the longest lines since 1959”. They’re the worst when it comes to getting people checked in fast. They’ve added electronic check-in, but guess where the machines are located? About 20 people deep into the line for the human-powered check-in. Why wouldn’t they be outside the main line? And when you use the machine, people pass you, so if the machine doesn’t work for you, you’ve lost your place in line. The process was very slow, but it did manage to get me checked in ok. I took my printed boarding pass and went through security, where my D200 camera in my carry-on bag managed to get flagged for a bag search. “Keep smiling even if they’re looking at your underwear” is my motto at security.
Airport Waiting: I think all airports should offer free WiFi. They charge so many damn taxes, the least they could do is provide something useful like WiFi. The Calgary airport has WiFi powered by Telus, our local overcharging-happy communications company, and it’s pretty expensive so I skipped it. I ate some fast-food lunch because the much healthier Jugo Juice is on the other side of the security glass. It’s lame that once you get past security you have to be “partitioned” off.
Technology On The Plane: I don’t know what kind of Air Canada plane I was flying on (it’s either a B777 or a refurbished Beoing 767), but it looked and felt quite new – and it actually had some very cool technological features. A first for me on a North American flight was having laptop power. And we’re not talking some funky airline-only power plug (which is what they normally are), we’re talking a simple three-prong power jack that any North American laptop power supply can connect to. The only problem is that it’s tucked away below the seat, so I had to practically get down on the floor in order to plug my laptop in. There’s also only one port, so I guess if two people had laptops you’d have to take turns. It was mostly for fun anyway, because my Dell XPS M1330 with the extended battery lasts about five hours (I still miss the 10+ hour battery life of my Fujitsu P7010). Strangely enough they’re still using the old dual-prong audio plugs – you can use regular headphones if you don’t connect the jack all the way and find the stereo connection, but a slight touch will put the headphones back to mono. I have an adaptor but never remember to bring it.
The plane also had a 7 inch wide-ratio LCD screen on the back of every seat. It had a touch-screen interface, so I could access movies, TV shows, music, etc. Screen quality wasn’t that good, but it resisted sunlight wash-out quite well. I watched most of Die Hard 4, but the experience was less impressive than it should have been for two reasons: the movie was in a 4:3 ratio, not a wide-screen ratio, and even though I was watching the English version (I confirmed it twice) there were Chinese sub-titles through the whole movie. It also looked overly compressed and mushy. The last cool tech feature was a USB port to the left of the screen, used for recharging any USB-based device (MP3 player, PDA, phone, etc.). That’s an awesome feature that all planes should have – kudos to Air Canada for having it! The only thing missing was connectivity, although sometimes it’s nice to be disconnected for a while. If all planes I flew on had the technology features that this flight had, flying would be much nicer.
Service On The Plane: As impressive as the technology was, the flight was Air Canada all the way. In-flight drinks were served a couple of times, but even on an almost five-hour flight, they served no food. Not even a 25 cent bag of pretzels! They will sell you food, but I’ve always felt it was a rip-off to pay for an expensive flight and not have any food included. Charge $5 more for the ticket and give everyone some basic food. No one will remember saving $5 on a ticket, but they will remember being hungry on a flight. Buying food on a plane has the psychological barrier of seeming expensive, and it’s a hassle to carry cash (they always ask for exact change). At least the flight attendants were nice.
From Airport to Hotel: Because of the looming taxi strike, I called a town car company named Carmel and booked a car to and from the airport in advance. I had only my carry-on bags, so I was ready for car pick-up pretty much as soon as I got off the plane. They told me where to stand so the car would find me, but after 15 minutes of waiting (they said 5 minutes) I phoned to ask where my car was. While I was on hold with Carmel my town car called and asked where I was. I said right where they told me to be and he said “Oh, ok, I’ll be right there”. A few minutes later the driver arrives, and it’s a blue mini-van. Town car my ass. 40 minutes later I arrived at my hotel. I now remember what a noisy city New York is – you can’t go 10 seconds without hearing someone honking at someone else. It’s sure a city that feels alive though!