This is the sixth and final post in a series covering my June/July 2018 trip to Iceland. You can read an overview of the trip here.
My flight back to DC from Reykjavik was pretty much the reverse of my outbound, but with only one stop (with a reasonable connection time) and the flight from Montreal to DC would be on Air Canada instead of United. Except for the poor Air Canada ground experience at KEF and a really abysmal US Customs and Border Protection experience at YUL, it was a pretty smooth journey.
I arrived at the airport at 8:15am for my 10:00am departure to Montreal. I didn’t think that was cutting it very close, but I was wrong. There was a massive line for check-in, and it took me a full fifty minutes. That’s insane, especially since the only flight was on a 737, and there were dozens of people behind me. There were only three counters manned – notably, the Delta counter next door had five counters for its single flight to JFK. It really was inconceivable what was taking each passenger so long, even if checking luggage. Two people from the business class line (who weren’t actually in business class) took more than 15 minutes each at the counter. Another couple occupied the podium for ten minutes because they didn’t have an address in the United States they could provide. It was strange.
I finally headed to security at 9:05, 15 minutes before scheduled boarding. It was a long walk to immigration, which was itself super crowded, as there were only two counters open despite a ton of flights. Finally, they opened a third lane, which I dashed over to, and made it through immigration at 9:23. At this point, I really needed to pee, but I couldn’t find a bathroom anywhere, and boarding had already gotten onto zone 4! (So, the lack of any lounge access didn’t matter!) There was a huge line, complete with passport checks, and zone numbers appeared completely irrelevant. I made it onto the plane at 9:36am.
I had been offered an upgrade to “business” class for about $300 via email prior to departure, but not worth it for such a short flight. Despite only a 90-minute turn, there was a blanket and pillow on each seat. I was in “preferred” seating again, in Row 20, which had a weird disconnected armrest and misaligned windows as on my outbound. Again, despite the numerous signs and instructions, no one was placing their rollaboards on their side in the bins. This time, though, the flight attendants were not turning them.
The coach cabin was pretty full. A few folks were pulled up to the front for an upgrade, and then we waited for what seemed to be a long time. The IFE worked, so I watched some episodes of Barry. Finally, the captain got on and announced we were waiting for some people who were delayed at check-in. (This is why you pay for a fourth counter, Air Canada.) In the interim, I attempted to use the miniscule bathroom where it is physically impossible to wash your hands. Finally, at 10:15am – fifteen minutes after scheduled departure – the missing passengers, a family of four, boarded. BUT…. then they realized two of the seats were in an exit row, and the children were too young. So, the whole plane had to go through musical chairs and it wasn’t until 10:30am that the door was finally closed. As we taxied, the older gentleman seated behind me decided that the touchscreen IFE required pushing with all of his might, repeatedly, so that was fun. Finally, at 10:44am, we were wheels up.
About 30 minutes into flight, lunch was served, followed by a drink cart. The choice was chicken or pasta, despite the early hour. I went with the chicken, which was actually fairly tasty, despite its look. The mashed potatoes less so. There was a weird carrot salad as a side, along with a packaged roll, butter, shortbread cookie and a bottle of water. Not notable. A coffee cart followed. The service was friendly, but pretty slow given how short the flight was- a little over five hours.
I dozed about 90 minutes, and watched a bunch of Schitt’s Creek and Portlandia. Around an hour before landing, there was a snack service- which was a choice of “vegetable or chicken hot wrap.” I realized mine was supposed to be a “chicken fajita” wrap, and both presentation and flavor were lacking. It desperately would have benefited from a salt and pepper packet.
By 11:38am, we were on the ground. Passing through Canadian immigration was nothing, but when I arrived at US TSA/CBP preclearance, it was a mess. It was 11:53am, and I followed the sign that said “Global Entry.” When I got to the front of the line, the agent said there was no global entry. So, I went back around to the main line and waited on a queue that was not moving. It can’t be that US preclearance shuts down for any part of the day, given the flight schedule; indeed, there are 13 flights to the US between 12pm and 2pm. For the next ten minutes or so, people kept going on the Global Entry line, only to be told there was no Global Entry. After a while, people started to insist they would wait on that line anyway, and then when the security line decided to open, there was a mad rush of global entry passengers on that line going ahead of everyone else who did as they were told.
After security, everyone goes to a kiosk. The Global Entry kiosk wasn’t working for me. So, I went to the regular kiosk. Once you go through, you have to wait in a space for your name on a screen to turn green. A few people were having trouble with the kiosks but there was no live person to provide assistance. Once your name turned green, you proceed to a line for an interrogation by a single CBP officer (a single line for Global Entry and everyone else). He was a real jerk, and took several minutes with each passenger – you know, because so many US citizens are sketchy when returning from Canada. When one woman approached the podium separate from his husband, he made one of the most offensive “jokes” possible. He left his podium and shouted to the whole line. “Folks, don’t believe what you read in the news— we don’t separate families.” Notably, this was in the height of DHS’ unlawful family separation policy tearing children from their families. Inexcusable and disgusting.
He was a jerk to me, as well. He asked me what I do for a living, and I said I was a lawyer. Then he said “Who do you work for?” “A nonprofit.” “NO, don’t say that. What the hell does that mean? A nonprofit can mean anything. The NFL is a nonprofit.” (Reader, it is not.) I don’t remember what I said to appease him; despite the temptation I did not say “one that sues government agencies including the Department of Homeland Security for abuses of power.”
I finally made it into the US-bound area of the terminal at 12:20pm, meaning it took about 30 minutes just to clear US preclearance, which is ridiculous. On the plus side, it made my 2-hour 45-minute layover, which seemed long, go pretty quickly, as I had only an hour to kill. I had no lounge access, so got a Starbucks and a mediocre egg salad on a Montreal bagel.
At 1:38pm, boarding started, and folks remarkably were patient in queuing – with the least gate lice I’ve seen in years. The plane was a single cabin CRJ200, with a 2-2 layout, operated by Air Canada Jazz. It wasn’t a new plane, but was certainly in better condition than the disgusting United aircraft I flew up to Montreal. Due to shallow overhead bin space, all rollaboards were gate-checked. The heavily-accidented Quebecois flight attendant advised that it was a full flight, but only about 2/3 of the seats were actually occupied. The FA strictly enforced a “no headphones during safety briefing” rule.
There was a drink service with a limited buy-on-board food and booze service. The man in front of me had his own row, but still reclined fully as soon as he could, which meant I couldn’t use my computer. There was no in-flight entertainment, so I just dozed a bit and read. On landing, there was a pretty long wait for checked bags at DCA’s terminal A – about 20 minutes. But overall a better experience than United, and a more comfortable trip. I don’t think I’d want to fly Air Canada on a 737 Max again anytime soon, and will continue to attempt to avoid United and its bad planes, bad service, and utter lack of caring for economy passengers.