Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why Emirates Continues To Beat Air Canada Hands Down

I recently had the opportunity to fly both Air Canada and Emirates. As some one whose work took him all over North America a few years ago I have experienced almost all of the North American airlines. I was also familiar with Etihad and Emirates, flying both regularly to UAE some time back. This time my journey gave me the opportunity to compare both Air Canada's current international experience, and Emirates' world famous hospitality first hand.

Verdict: Emirates by an overwhelming margin. It's not even close.

The Experience

As soon as you walk into the Emirates A380 you feel it. It's a more refined, high end, customer service oriented experience. The colours are brighter, the atmosphere more welcoming and the attention is on your comfort. And I am talking about Economy. Air Canada's first class is not even in the same class as Emirates' first class.

Compare this interior to Air Canada's dark and gloomy design.

 Air Canada's colours seemed to be picked with an eye on functionality. Which is the easiest to clean, and will hide stains the best, and so on. Emirates colours are bright and lively.

Another big difference, and perhaps the most important one, between Air Canada and Emirates is the flight crew. Emirates has a much younger group, and therefore more energetic and eager to go the extra mile. They are fit, pretty to look at and even smile at you when you ask for an extra glass of water. Air Canada has an older group of flight crew who do their job mechanically. They don't seem to take any pleasure in doing their work. Anything extra results in a grumpy frown.

And it's the little touches on Emirates that makes it a winner. As soon as the aircraft took off, one stewardess went around giving toys to all the little children on board. My son had the whole collection of the flight animals once our journey was over. Not only that, when he told them he already had one of the toys, they actually took the time to search and bring back the one missing toy that completed his collection.

Food and Entertainment

First of all, Emirates served all Halal meals. That itself makes it a winner. Second, their food is actually tasty. Air Canada serves rubber. And even their presentation of the said rubber is typical Air Canada. Functional. Mechanical. It Works So Shut Up And Eat It.

I mean they are also flying direct to Dubai, and they cannot serve a Halal meal? Or even a decent meal? Their Muslim meal is a potato.

Now let's talk movies. It's a long flight. You want to watch a lot of movies or TV shows. Air Canada has a huge section on ... wait for it ... Air Canada. Their Bollywood selection is, wait for it, TWO movies. That's it. And one of them is a Salman Khan movie so that doesn't count.

And I am not even getting into other things such as check in experience, boarding experience (a scrum on Air Canada, orderly on Emirates) and others.

Seriously Air Canada needs to up its game big time if it wants to compete on the Dubai sector. I actually don't mind paying a premium just for the better service on Emirates. And to think they are the best airlines in North America!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Should Kids Be Banned From First Class?

As a dad who just flew halfway across the world with two young boys, I can tell you that flying with kids isn't easy. While the older one kept himself busy with movies and games and toys (thank you Emirates!), the younger one couldn't understand why he was cooped in that small place without any seat (that's why we flew when you are less than two, kid, coz it's cheaper!).

I think 8 hours was our longest flight (Toronto to London) and it was the maximum we could really handle. We broke up our flight to India into pit stops. Couple of days in London, some days in Dubai, and then to India, and same on the way back. And I think this kept us sane; we wouldn't have been able to handle a 15 hour direct flight back with a screaming infant. And then a screaming toddler because the screaming infant bit him. Fun!

So when I read on the news about a bunch of passengers miffed about a crying baby in first class (and Delta's awful reaction to that), I could understand. You paid $10,000 to ride first class, and you want to ride in comfort. Screaming baby, especially someone else's screaming baby, does not equal comfort. Though if you paid that much for a Delta seat of all airlines I really have to question your logic, I mean Delta?!!

But you know what, deal with it. You paid for your seat, not someone else's. An aircraft is a shared place and there's all types of people. Just like the uncle who keeps burping in the mosque (and who I really want to take out ban, but can't), you have to tolerate noises from other folks that are discomforting to you.

One flight I spent next to someone who wouldn't take the hint and kept trying to make conversation with me (in case you can't tell, I am an introvert kind of person on a flight, and also not on a flight). Another time this lady behind me did nothing to control her wild toddler who kept kicking my seat. That's what goes on in a public space - you have to deal with inconveniences.

I have noticed this same trend go to other discussions, such as the insane proposal to ban strollers on public transit. Now, granted, some strollers look like SUVs, and some inconsiderate moms really just "park" their stroller at the entrance while blocking the pathway on the bus for others, but most are simply ordinary folks trying to use the public transit just like you and me.

I am often trying to sleep on the subway ride home, but sometimes there's two chatterboxes who sit adjacent to me and talk in a loud voice all the way. I mean, like, you know, it's like ... what the hell .. you spend the entire Islington to Kennedy talking about nothing. But you can't really start implementing "quiet zones" on the TTC subways.

So if a parent wants to pay and take their screaming kid on first class, why not. Deal with it.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Western Canada Diaries - The Complete List

Here's a total complete list of all my posts regarding my great Western Canada road trip of 2016. If you are thinking of visiting the Rockies, or travelling to BC, you may find these links useful. 

This was a rough map of our travels.

- General Introduction
- Olympic Plaza
- Nose Hill Park, Chestermere and Peace Bridge

Banff & Jasper
- General Planning for Banff & Jasper
- Banff Gondola (Sulphur Mountain)
- Lake Minnewanka Cruise
- Bow Falls & Vermilion Lakes
- Lake Louise & Moraine Lake
- Icefields Parkway
- Lake Peyto and Bow Summit Lookout
- The Crossing Resort
- Columbia Icefield Glacier Adventure and Skywalk

A visit to the capital of Alberta, and the West Edmonton Mall (once the largest mall in the world) and City Hall.

Around an hour and half drive north east of Calgary lies the town of Drumheller, also known as the Dinosaur Capital of the World, or Dinosaur Valley.

Recalling our journey through Canada's deadliest highway, Route 99's Duffey Lake Road, and a pit stop at Whistler.

- The Capilano Suspension Bridge
- Stanley Park
- Other highlights of Vancouver

A trip to this beautiful, historical city on Vancouver Island, and nearby attractions such as the Butchart Gardens.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Western Canada Diaries - 20. Victoria

[ Continued from Part 19 - Vancouver's Highlights  ]

This post will be the last in the Western Canada series, as Victoria was the last city we visited before heading back to Calgary, and then flying home to Toronto.

To drive from Vancouver to Victoria, you have to take the ferry. That means driving from Vancouver down to Tsawwassen, which is where the ferry terminal is.

The cost is both based on the type of vehicle, as well as the number of people on board the vehicle (hint: it's not cheap!). If you are lucky when you arrive, you can board the next ferry if there's room, otherwise you will have to park your car in a queue, shut it off and spend some time in the ferry terminal. We were lucky on the way to Victoria, but on the way back we had to wait an hour.

There's hundreds of cars inside the huge behemoth ferry, and once inside you get set for a roughly 90 minute ride.

The ferries are really huge, multi storied, and have excellent washrooms, restaurants, and seating arrangements on board. If the weather permits, you can even go outside and take in the lovely scenery as the ferry traverses past numerous islands.

Some of the richest people in the country own homes in these islands. The weather is moderately warm throughout the air, and most of these parts may not even get snow in the winter. It's really a different type of Canada.

A gong and an announcement lets you know when you should be returning to your car, since once the ferry docks, every one has to exit in queue, and you don't want to be holding everyone up!

We had started out quite early, so by noon, we had crossed the strait and the ferry had now docked at Swartz Bay. Our next destination was Victoria, but on the way we would visit the world famous Butchart Gardens.

The Butchart Gardens is actually a group of several floral display gardens. It's located in Brentwood Bay, which is a short drive north from Victoria.

The gardens receive close to a million visitors each year. They have been designated a National Historic Site of Canada. We met people who told us they visit the gardens every year - as there is always something new.

In 1964, the ever-changing Ross Fountain was installed in the lower reservoir to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the gardens.

The whole place was huge, and had numerous ponds and reflecting pools to relax and take a break.

It was a hot sunny day, but the garden provided respite from the heat. We were also quite unprepared for exactly how big the whole area was!

The layout was easy and straightforward, and wherever there were stairs, there was also an alternate accessible route, which was great for those with strollers, like us.

They even had a children's carousal (which surprisingly is the only carousal on Vancouver Island).

Even though tickets were slightly on the expensive side (something $30 odd), it's well worth it.

By the time we had finished sightseeing the Butchart Gardens, it was late afternoon (5 pm) and we hadn't eaten lunch yet. So we drove to our hotel in Victoria, had some lunch and rest, and then ventured out in the evening for the inner harbour.

Victoria is the capital of the province of British Columbia. It's also, as we soon realized, one of the most picturesque and British of Canadian cities. Named after Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, Victoria is one of the oldest cities in the Pacific Northwest, with British settlement beginning in 1843.

Lots of people were out, taking in the glorious sunset and admiring the buildings lit up in bright colours.

The famous Empress hotel (which is where the royals usually stay) is a good place to go for British High Tea if you are inclined. The cost is about $60 per person.

The city has retained a large number of its historic buildings, in particular its two most famous landmarks, the Legislative buildings (finished in 1897) and the Empress hotel (opened in 1908). The city's Chinatown is the second oldest in North America after San Francisco's.

This reminded me of Kolkata's Victoria Memorial.

The Royal British Columbia museum is nearby, and is something many tourists visit when they are in Victoria.

It wasn't chilly at all. Slightly breezy, given that we were in the harbour, but fantastic weather overall.

Victoria is very popular with boaters with its beautiful and rugged shorelines and beaches. Victoria is also popular with retirees, who come to enjoy the temperate and usually snow-free climate of the area as well as the usually relaxed pace of the city.

The next day we visited Mile 0 in Beacon Hill Park.

Beacon Hill Park is also famous for its statue of Terry Fox. It's a myth that this is where he started running from (due to Mile 0, which is actually for the Trans-Canada highway).

Then it was time to head back to Calgary. This time we would choose a SANE route (unlike the crazy highway 99), and return to Calgary via Kelowna.

It was actually a long first day. We drove from Victoria to Swartz Bay, took the ferry to Tsawwassen, and then drove by Vancouver all the way to Kelowna, where we stayed for the night.

The next day we drove from Kelowna to Calgary. We started from Kelowna in the morning, drove to Revelstoke, where we rejoined the Trans-Canada Highway 1. Then it was simply going back the way we had come. Around two hours away from Calgary, we crossed the border from British Columbia back into Alberta.

We made a quick stop at Lake Louise (after all, how could we not) and then in Banff, before heading back, late at night, into Calgary. The only thing open that late was a halal pizza store, which was fine by us!

And that was the end of our great Western Canada road trip. We would fly back in two days to Toronto.

Over all, we spent slightly over three weeks, had lots of fun and adventures, and made highly cherished memories. I fell in love with the great Canadian Rockies. I would gladly redo this journey again.