Jul212022

Air Canada SFO to Lisbon outbound was bad, return was worse

Air Canada had cheap summer tickets from San Francisco SFO to Lisbon, Portugal at $469 round trip for a mid-June departure and mid-July return when I booked our Europe summer travel last October 2021. Actually, our tickets were originally departing San Jose SJC with a two stop routing via Vancouver and Montreal, then in February 2022 Air Canada changed the flight itinerary to a one-stop SFO – Montreal YUL – Lisbon routing. One stop looked more favorable for travel, until we wound up stuck in Montreal Airport for 23 hours on our outbound flights – without a hotel.

Air Canada Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner aircraft model in Maple Leaf Lounge, Montreal Airport international terminal.

Flight 1: AC 758 San Francisco SFO – Montreal, Quebec  – Seven Hours Delayed

The day of our flight started with a midnight text alerting us to a 7-hour flight delay. Unfortunately, I was only alerted after we had driven to SFO, stayed at Villa Montes Hotel, San Bruno, an Ascend Collection property I booked for 20,000 Choice Privileges points, after I had woken up at 5am and showered, woke Kelley up, and as she was in the shower I saw the text from Air Canada.

Our 8:40am flight departure had been delayed to 3:30pm “due to an operational issue from an earlier flight which is causing the aircraft that is scheduled to operate your flight to arrive late.”

This change meant I redeemed 20,000 Choice Privileges points for a hotel we had not needed to sleep at for an afternoon flight departure. We could have slept at home in Monterey and driven up to SFO during the day for a 3:30pm flight. We went back to bed for more sleep in the San Bruno hotel before heading to SFO airport at 11:00am.

As an aside, the rental car line was insanely busy at SFO car rental center with traffic backed up all the way onto Airport Road streetlights. After 20 minutes to drive 300 meters from Airport Road light to the rental car gate entrance we learned from a couple of employees that the entire backup was due to nearly every car heading to Budget Rental return on 3rd floor. The road narrows to single file. Up to that point every car rental I had driven in 2022 was a Budget rental. Budget had consistently lower prices than other agencies when I needed a car during the first half of 2022.

We arrived at SFO to hang out for several hours at the United E gates lounge. Knowing we would miss our flight connection to Lisbon and have to overnight in Montreal, I called Air Canada for rebooking information. After a couple of tries to reach Air Canada customer service and being disconnected due to heavy phone call volume, eventually I got through the messaging system to be placed in the hold queue. The automated message informed me the estimated wait time was over two hours.

Our flight finally departed at 4:00pm. The Air Canada flight attendant assured passengers with onward connections from Montreal that we would be accommodated for rebooking when we reach Montreal and provided hotel and meal vouchers for our overnight stay.

After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang down

Air Canada passengers in queue for flight rebooking at 1:00am in Montreal Airport YUL.

12:05am scheduled arrival in Montréal-Trudeau International Airport YUL 

Final words from flight attendants after landing in Montreal is ‘go to Air Canada customer service center for rebooking your onward connections’.

We wander along brightly lighted corridors and reach a Welcome to Canada passport line. Seems like our flight are the only people in line since passport control waved people through quickly. I asked the airport cop, “Where is Air Canada Customer Service?”

Officer’s reply: “Air Canada, what customer service?”

We make our way down to the main floor of the terminal and eventually walk to a bank of Air Canada desks lining one side of the terminal space. There are about 16 stations with 5 or 6 stations covering the general passenger line of more than 100 people waiting for rebooking flights and 2 stations covering the priority line for Business and First Class and program elite flyers. I went priority. Both lines moved at the same slow pace. After about an hour we reached the Air Canada desk, already knowing no hotel voucher would be offered. 

Montreal’s Grand Prix Formula 1 three day racing event had concluded on Sunday with 300,000 race fans in the city. There were no hotels available in Montreal or the Dorval airport area at 2am in the morning.

At 2:30am we were given $40 CAD in $10 food vouchers and rebooked for the flight we missed flying from YUL in 18 hours at 8:30pm. There looked to be as many people in line for rebooking flights as were there 90 minutes before when we arrived at the Air Canada counters.

The airport was packed. At 2:30am every chair was occupied, and just about any elevated flat surface had people laid out on it. There were some people sleeping on tables at a closed restaurant with clothes under them and clothes on top, hard granite benches were sleeping surfaces for two yoga mat carrying backpackers, many dozens of people slept on floors between baggage drop machines and staffless check-in counters and some families stayed up conversing through the night.

The 24 hour restaurant across from the Air Canada counters did not accept Air Canada airline food vouchers.

Kelley laid out clothes on the durably hard airport floor near a door to a room adjacent to the bag drop automated equipment. There was no machinery noise happening in the wee hours of night. Kelley made a pillow from her luggage scarves and put her earplugs in totry and sleep. I listened to music and shut my eyes resting up against my roller bag.

Around 4:30am passengers were arriving for a new morning of check-in anxiety. I woke Kelley up at 5:15am as soon as access to the gates opened. We were through the security line and screening by 6:00am. After walking through the duty-free mall we found the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge to see it would open at 6:15am.

We were not the first people in the lounge. Third and fourth inside the lounge as it happened. 13.5 hours later we exited to catch our evening flight.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge – our hotel for a day

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge YUL – our airport salon seating for the day.

Advantage to being the second couple in the lounge that day was our choice of seating. There were dark places, quiet places, open spaces, and a few hideaway nooks in front of the windows. As I recall there were two singles and three doubles, each kind of walled off from each other and the rest of the lounge by dividers and plants. The photo shows our nook for the day in Montreal Airport.

Star Alliance Gold with Food on My Mind

Kelley had been unhappy with me through the night. Sometime around 3:00am she spit out something like ‘you’re a hotel blogger and you can’t even get us a hotel room in Montreal!’ 

While the hotel was a no, I could access the Air Canada Montreal international lounge due to maintaining Aegean Miles+Bonus Gold elite status, which equates to Star Alliance Gold elite. One of the benefits of Star Alliance Gold elite is access to Star Alliance member airport lounges when flying with a member airline. My Gold elite status with Aegean Airlines allowed me access to the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge in the internatiponal terminal.

During our trip to Lisbon, Portugal in June, we planned a two day Greece excursion to Thessaloniki, Greece and back to Lisbon to complete four Aegean flight segments I needed to requalify for Aegean Gold elite after 26 months away from Europe. We made four flight segments, although learning in Greece I had contracted Covid meant our two day trip turned into a week long trip as we isolated in Thessaloniki until we were clear to return to Portugal.

I spent 3 hours in SFO in the United E gates lounge and 13.5 hours day in the Air Canada Montreal lounge waiting for flights on this single two flight segment outbound trip. In April, I spent about 18 hours in airport lounges in SFO, Frankfurt and Venice on a United Airlines ticket to Venice. Aegean Gold elite with some priority benefits on Star Alliance airlines for extra bags and sometimes seat options with airport lounge access is worth the extra effort to make an annual trip to Greece.

Breakfast food at Montreal International terminal Maple Leaf Lounge

Air Canada Montreal YUL International Maple Leaf Lounge-breakfast

It’s In the Water, It’s Where You Came From

It is not often I desire a shower in an airport lounge, but when I do it is one of the best benefits of lounge access at many international airports.

I gave the Air Canada lounge front desk staff my passport in exchange for a shower key. The shower was packed with amenities.

I went back to our cove in the lounge to find Kelley gone. I figured she went for a shower. After an hour or so passed I started to wonder where whe was and soon found her sleeping on a couch nearby.

a relaxing aspect about Montreal Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge in the international wing is there were no flights scheduled between 9am and 5pm. The morning flights were Caribbean destinations and the Europe flights did not start until the afternoon, so we were in a quiet lounge most of the day with fewer than 20 people. 

Around 3pm people started moving into the lounge and the noise volume steadily increased until around 5pm it was a party atmosphere with 150 to 200 passengers and a lively bar.

The bar at the Montreal YUL Maple Leaf lounge was a happening space after 5pm.

Belle Gueule is a local Montreal brewery and restaurant.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge international terminal Belle Gueule party.

Kelley displayed abstinence while I relished in three pints of pre-flight Belle Gueule to finish out hours 10 to 13 in the Maple Leaf lounge.

Outside the lounge and heading to our gate at 7:30 for our 8:30pm flight, we looked for a place to spend our $40 in food vouchers to take food on the plane. 

We decided to save the food vouchers for our return flight layover. The vouchers are good for one year.

8:20pm and it is obvious we are not flying anywhere at 8:30pm. There are no announcements and nobody looks like they are prepared to do anything at the gate. We are notified flight is delayed an hour. At that point I decide to walk back to a food diner and pick up some sandwiches. After waiting in line for 20 minutes I arrive at the counter to be asked if I want the last $20 turkey sandwich at the restaurant. That used up half our $40 in vouchers.

We boarded the plane around 10pm.

Air Canada YUL-LIS departure at 23:11 was 26.5 hours after our original ticket time.

Finally, Lisbon.

Lisbon street scene Bairro Alto

 

Part Two – Flight from Lisbon link to come when written.

 

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Comments

  1. This was our exact trip only 3 days earlier (July 17) , same airport, same floor, same lounge.

    We ended up buying a nonstop last minute air transat flight in economy vs. taking the rebooked flight (also economy, downgraded from biz class) via Barcelona which inevitably got delayed . $2400 for a pair one way.

    Still waiting for reimbursement as of today.

  2. Thanks for the report. I am wondering how the return could have been worse………

  3. Thank you for the summary. I love Greece, and would never have thought to take visits to Greece to gain/maintain status. Years ago, when I could use the lounges for international flights based on status tier, I always relished a hot cocoa before my flight.

    I was looking into flying to Finland as a reward for completing the 1990s Moomin series on Youtube. However, flying from MRY, SJC, or SFO to Helsinki is nearly 20 hours regardless of routing. I do not know if I could last that long, especially with flight delays and changes. My upcoming flight from OAK-PIT now has an eight hour layover!

  4. How were you able to use the business class line at customer service when you were on what I assume Economy tickets at $469 roundtrip

  5. Done 5 AC international sements in the last 2 months. Every single one over an hour late and total chaos everywhere.

  6. AC would normally provide a hotel voucher in this situation. However, if the hotels are sold out, there’s not much the airline can do. I do agree with Kelley, though – Ric should have been better in identifying a hotel room, or even a day room.

    Instead of spending a day at the airport, I would have taken the 747 bus into downtown and spend a day in the city instead of hanging out in the lounge.

    @Noa he is Star Alliance Gold, which allows them to use the Business Class line (but not the AC Super Elite 100K line).

  7. Usually I would expect to find a hotel somewhere but thats a tough one. Still not as bad as arriving in Ethiopia at 4am with zero customer service, zero data service and no way to exit airport.

    Does not speak well to AC not to have designated staff waiting to handle the incoming passengers.

    No regrets now passing up all those AC “deals” earlier this year.

  8. Type #AirCanada into a social media site and there are dozens, maybe hundreds of customers angry this summer with canceled and delayed flights, but overwhelmingly issues with lost luggage.

    My return flight issue was a lost booking for flights home after arriving in Europe.

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