- United Business Class Denver to Chicago & United First Class to Toronto
- Hyatt Regency Toronto
- Air Canada Executive First Toronto to Tokyo, & Delta Business Tokyo to Seoul
- Park Hyatt Seoul
- Tour of the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
- Thai Business Class, Seoul to Hong Kong
- Grand Hyatt Hong Kong
- Cathay Pacific First Class, Hong Kong to Tokyo/Haneda
After a quiet ride to the airport, the bus dropped me off directly across from the Air Canada ticket counters. There were no passengers waiting in-line, so a friendly agent immediately motioned me forward. He thanked me for flying in Executive First and for my loyalty to the Star Alliance. The agent confirmed my flight information, and mentioned that he was printing out the boarding pass for my connecting flight to Seoul, on United, as well as tagging my bag all the way through. Just as he was about to handover my boarding passes, the fact that I was on a one-way award ticket came up. I tried to explain that I was on a round-the-world trip, ticketed with one-way award segments, but that didn't seem to phase the agent, who insisted that I would have trouble with Customs and Immigration in Seoul if I arrived with a one-way ticket (I didn't, fwiw). To settles his concerns, I provided the ticket number for my reservation out of Seoul, and was allowed to continue without further delay.
As with most airports outside the United States, security happened to be a very pleasant experience. Approaching the checkpoint, I was not yelled at to ensure that my laptop or liquids were in a bin. The agent working near the x-ray smiled as I unpacked my belongings, and mentioned that I could keep my shoes on. And, while the checkpoint did feature one full body scanner (Millemeter Wave), it was tucked away in a corner, not being used. All in all, security took me about forty-five seconds to navigate, which is about five times faster than my average experience with the TSA. The agent even wished me a pleasant trip, as well as a happy New Year.
Although I've flown out of Toronto several times, this was the first time that I wasn't confined to the trans-border terminal. At first glance, the Maple Leaf Lounge in the international terminal looked much larger than the trans-border version, and it had a lot more natural lighting.
It took about five minutes for me to find a seat, which was surprising, given the size of the MLL. However, there were a number of passenger using the chairs to sleep, which was mostly due to the delay of two long-haul flights to Europe, as well as a flight to China.
Air Canada 1
Toronto – Tokyo-Narita
Wednesday, December 28th
Scheduled Departure: 12:00PM
Actual Departure: 3:20PM
Scheduled Arrival: 2:28PM (+1 day)
Actual Arrival: 5:46PM (+1 day)
Duration: 12hrs 26minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300
Seat: 2K-Executive First Class
Boarding was scheduled to commence at 11:15, but it took another fifteen minutes before the agents welcomed aboard Executive First Class, AC Super Elite & Star Gold passengers. Unlike the majority of my flights on United, the boarding process was very orderly.
Once aboard the aircraft, the purser thanked me for flying Air Canada, and offered to hang my coat. At the same time, another flight attendant brought by a menu for the flight to Tokyo, the amenity kit, and a large bottle of water.
As the boarding doors closed, the safety video began to play, first in English, then French, and finally in Japanese. Until now, we were scheduled for an on-time departure, that was until the Captain came over the PA to say that we had to unload some bags from the cargo hold, and it shouldn't take more than fifteen minutes. We were still scheduled for an on-time arrival, so I was too concerned about the delay.
Over an hour later, both of the boarding doors were opened, and a supervisor came over the PA to say that we would be delayed at least another hour. Passengers seated in the Economy cabin were free to visit the Tim Horton's by the gate for free food and drinks, while Executive First passengers were asked to proceed to the Maple Leaf Lounge. I decided to stay on-board the aircraft for another half-hour, when I heard shouting coming from the galley behind the forward section of Executive First. Two passengers, agrivated by the delay, starting to yell at one of the flight attendants, thinking she could shorten our delay. As the supervisor intervened, the passengers began to yell even louder, causing six Toronto police officers to appear at our gate. Whoops.
While the police were dealing with the disruptive passengers, I got talking to one of the flight attendants working my section. She mentioned how the Captain had gone illegal due to the delay, which meant that the search was on for another 777 Captain. We continued to talk, and I discovered that we wouldn't be leaving until 3pm, which was going to make me mis-connect with my United flight to Seoul. Air Canada was also unwilling to rebook me, as this was ticketed by United, so I was left to call the 1K Desk.
The Honolulu-based 1K agent understood my concerns, and we immediately began to brain-storm ways for me to get to Seoul. There were three ANA flights to Seoul which looked promising, but they turned out to be sold-out. The agent proposed that I overnight in Tokyo, and then take a 6am flight to Seoul, which would have worked, except for the fact that I would be departing the Park Hyatt at 7:00am for my tour of the DMZ. Knowing that I needed to get to Seoul on the evening of the 29th, the agent found a flight on Delta, leaving about two hours after I arrived in Tokyo, and proceeded to call Air Canada to have them rebook me into Business class. Initially, they refused to put me on the Delta flight, but the 1K agent was able to convince them of my need to reach Seoul, and they agreed to put me on the Delta flight. After more than ninety minutes on the phone, I was given the Delta PNR, and assured that my bags would be transfered to the Delta flight. I profusely thanked the 1K agent for helping to save my trip, and and also took down her contact information, which I later used in a compliment letter to United.
At 2:45pm, all passengers were called to re-board the flight as quickly as possible. If we weren't able to leave Toronto by 3:30pm, the flight would have to be canceled. Boarding was completed within twenty minutes, and the doors were shut for a second time. Shortly thereafter, we raced down the runway, bound for Tokyo!
Thirty minutes after take-off, the flight attendants started the service, beginning with drinks and some mixed-nuts. Unfortunately, my nuts were cold. ;)
Less than ten minutes later, three flights attendants came down the aisles, offering hot towles, as well as the appetizer trays. With a light load in my section, the flight attendants were more than happy to offer seconds.
Organic Field Greens, Grape Tomatoes and Parmesan served with Balsamic Vinaigrette.
Smoked Atlantic Salmon with Cucumber Carpaccio, Dill Mustary Sauce and Capera
Grilled AAA Beef Tenderloin presented with Truffle and Porcini Mushroom Sauce, Celeriac Yukon Gold Dauphinoise Potatoes, Green Beans and Cherry Tomato Confit.
Camebert, Yellow Cheddar and Oka served with Crackers
Rhubarb Streusel Tart
About two hours later, the flight attendants picked up the last of the meal items, and the cabin lights were dimmed. Unlike most carriers, Air Canada has LED mood lighting in the Executive First cabins, so we were treated to varying shades of blue and red. Although I like the cabin to be as dark as possible, the blue light was relaxing.
During our initial delay, and throughout the meal service, I was poking around the AVOD system, trying to find something to watch. While they had several feature-films loaded, the content felt stale. This proved especially true during my search for TV shows, many of which were more than six months old. I was also disappointed to learn that Air Canada has commercials before each video selection. For an international premium product, it left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. I can understand playing them in Econony, but not up-front. I later settled on Contagion, which I thought was very well done. For a short period after watching the movie, I felt more aware about the surfaces we touch on a daily basis, and was even more aware at ever person coughing in the immigration hall in Seoul.
After the movie ended, we still have more than eight hours until our delayed arrival into Tokyo, so I took the opportunity to recline my seat to the lie-flat position, in an attempt to get a few hours of sleep. Although we hit some turbulence mid-flight, I managed to get a solid four hours, waking up to sample the mid-flight snack menu. Everything sounded good, so I wandered over to the "bar" to ask the flight attendants for some suggestions.
It took about ten minutes for the flight attendants to prepare the dish, but it was well worth the wait. The quality of the Dim Sum was even comparable to one of the restaurants that we visited in Hong Kong, which is pretty amazing, considering the fact that this had been chilled for the last 10 hours. I went back to my seat, and got another two hours of sleep, waking up just in time for breakfast.
- Parsley Omelette with Chicken Sausage, Cottage Cheese, Roasted Potatoes and Red Pepper Relish.
- Japanese-style Rice Congee with Nameko Mushrooms.
Although hungry, I was confused as to the reason behind a breakfast dish being served on a flight that landed at 5:00pm. I would have preferred a dinner option, instead, as it would have allowed my body to prepare itself for the signifigant time-change. In the end, I figured that I would be getting dinner on the Delta flight, so I wasn't too concerned.
Up to this point, I had been very pleased with the meals that I had been served. However, the breakfast really could have used some improvement. The omelette was extremely dry, the sausage was overcooked, and the taste of the Red Pepper Relish didn't seem to go along with the dish. If I were to rate the meal out of 10 points, I'd have given this on a 4.
About an hour later, we began our descent into the Tokyo area. There was still a good chance that I could catch my originally booked flight on United, especially since we would be arriving less than three gates from the UA flight to Seoul. With forty minutes remaining, I raced through transfer security, and made it to the gate with fifteen minutes to spare. However, the gate agents and the Global Services representative would not let me board. They stated that my checked bag had to follow me, and as it was already re-tagged for the Delta flight, I would not be flying United. I was extremely disappointed, but I couldn't do much, so I made a quick visit to the Red Carpet Club. Inside, the agents were very friendly, and did the best they could to get the documents I needed for the Delta flight. One of the agents even called down to the Delta gate to confirm the flight info, which was appreciated. With my new flight information in hand, I proceeded down to the Delta gate, unaware of my next "surprise".
After ten minutes on the phone with Air Canada, the Delta representative was unable to print my boarding pass. She claimed that the booking was not valid, but another call to AC seemed to fix the issue. Initially, I was handed an Economy class boarding pass. However, United had assured me that I was going to be rebooked into Business class, considering that this was a Business award ticket. Another phone call to Air Canada confirmed that I was supposed to be up-front, and my new boarding pass printed out. Boarding began five minutes later, and I was selected for a secondary search. The agent gave me a full pat-down, made sure my laptop and camera turned on, and then proceeded to ask me several questions. When she was satisfied with my responses, I was free to board the 757 to Seoul.
Tokyo – Seoul-Incheon
Thursday, December 29th
Scheduled Departure: 7:25PM
Actual Departure: 7:30PM
Scheduled Arrival: 10:25PM
Actual Arrival: 10:10PM
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Seat: 4A-Business Class
Garlic Bread (almost as good as Lufthansa!)
Chicken with Mashed Potatoes
Once we departed from Tokyo, the two flight attendants in Business (both L.A. based) quickly delivered meals. While their method of taking orders was a bit strange "Chicken or Fish?", the meal was very filling, and just what I was looking for on a late-night flight (7:30pm departure). With the delay I had taken, I was not going to reach the Park Hyatt until 12:00am, well past the closing time for the local restaurants, so this would tide me over until morning.
About fifty minutes from landing, I got chatting with the Purser, also based in Los Angeles. She mentioned that the crew had expressed interest in visiting the DMZ, but Delta had recommended against it, worrying about an attack from North Korea. We continued talking until the fasten seat-belt sign was turned on, at which point we were less than twenty minutes from landing in Seoul.
Passport control was rather quick, despite the long lines, and my checked bag even managed to make the transfer from Air Canada. However, the late departure had caused me to miss the Airport Limo Bus to the Korea City Airport Terminal (KCAT), which meant that I had to pay USD for a cab to the Park Hyatt. I've been waiting for a reply from Air Canada about paying for the cab fee, but I'll be surprised if they actually did something to make-up for the delay. We did not receive an apology from the ground crew in Toronto, nor a gesture of good-will upon reaching Tokyo.
Baggage in hand, I exited the airport at 10:45pm, and was immediately offered a ride to the Park Hyatt. Even with little traffic on the roads, it took about 75 minutes to reach the Park Hyatt, during which time I managed to get a few minutes of sleep. However, that ended when the cab driver decided to describe each building that we drove past.
As we pulled into the driveway of the Park Hyatt, I was warmly greeted by the staff working the front entrance, and escorted to the front desk. The agent then thanked me for being a Diamond member, and gave me the keys to my room. With less than seven hours until I had to meet the bus for the DMZ Tour, I was looking forward to a real bed.