Heaven = YYZ


With apologies for mixed posting of things from further back than Istanbul, I started this a few weeks ago, but have only now found time to finish it!

It seems that I have located heaven, and it is the Toronto Pearson International Airport.  On my last work trip of 2012 to Sao Paulo, Brazil, I traveled on Air Canada via Toronto.  I know that may sound strange – if you draw a line from London to Brazil it doesn’t pass through Canada – but the direct option on British Airways was out of the budget, and I found a great deal on Air Canada (well, actually Lufthansa tickets on Expedia, operated by Air Canada). Of course, it did mean a 8360-mile journey instead of a 5870-mile one, but you know I like my miles!

There were two other factors in my decision – timing and comfort.  Because I had business planned on Thursday and Friday at the end of the week, I needed a flight leaving Sao Paulo pretty late at night, and the BA flight leaves at 18:15 – which due to the crazy traffic and distance of the airport from the city means that you have to abandon the whole afternoon.  Furthermore, an 18:15 departure from Sao Paulo doesn’t exactly encourage sleep, so what happens when you show up at Heathrow at 5:20 the next morning?  Air Canada’s 22:25 departure was perfect!  Furthermore, they have pretty nice flat-bed seats in business class as opposed to the much-less-good angled lie-flat seats offered by many other airlines (such as those offered by TAP Portugal, which is a cheap and convenient option from Europe to Brazil via Lisbon).

So, my first trip on Air Canada was set.  I should point out that I’m lucky to have the easy option of changing planes pretty much anywhere including Canada or the US – but not everyone is so lucky.  I’m not sure about Canada, but the US requires anyone changing planes there to have an American visa, even if they don’t intend to stay (e.g. London to Brazil via Miami, which is a popular option).  I don’t know that much about it, but I assume this is part of the whole US immigration and security thing – but actually, it is a real pain and cost for some people and probably a real detriment to business.  Certainly we’ve had people who would have preferred to travel from South America to Asia via the US (i.e. on American Airlines) but instead wound up going through Europe (i.e. not on an American carrier) just because of this problem.

Anyway, I’ve already digressed – why is the Toronto Pearson International Airport possibly a slice of heaven?  I will offer four reasons:

1. Tim Hortons!  My favorite donuts (and related goodies) in the world, hands down…

Tim Horton, my long lost buddy - a welcome sight!

Tim Horton, my long lost buddy – a welcome sight!

I got quite a lot of looks from the staff at the gate and the old flight attendants, but it was well worth it for a mint chocolate iced capp and some timbits!

I got quite a lot of looks from the staff at the gate and the flight attendants, but it was well worth it for a mint chocolate iced capp and some timbits!  One particularly surly gate attendant said “a healthy breakfast, I see” – normally I would be at least a bit enraged by that, but I was so happy to have my Tim Hortons after an 11-hour overnight flight and a couple of early-morning hours in the terminal, that I didn’t really care.

2. Meat ravioli!  Ok, so I didn’t manage to take a picture of the ravioli, but the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge had meat ravioli for dinner while I was there outbound, and it was excellent!  Maybe it was venison or something, I’m not sure, but it was very nice (and quite an improvement over the rather lousy small bites and packaged crap that you often find at airport lounges).

This is the Maple Leaf Lounge in the international section of Toronto Terminal 1 - Air Canada's premier facility at their key international hub.  It was quite a nice and calm environment.

This is the Maple Leaf Lounge in the international section of Toronto Terminal 1 – Air Canada’s premier facility at their key international hub. It was quite a nice and calm environment.

These were all of the long-haul international flights on their board - from Toronto they serve Asia, South America, the Carribbean, and Europe.  Air Canada is actually the 10th largest passenger airline in the world by some measures.

These were all of the long-haul international flights on their board – from Toronto they serve Asia, South America, the Carribbean, and Europe. There are also quite a few more seasonal destinations in Europe for the summer (e.g. Barcelona, Madrid, Dublin) and of course some that are less than daily.  Air Canada is actually the 10th largest passenger airline in the world by some measures.

3. The Express Walkway

On my way off the plane from London, with the intention of entering Canada briefly and stepping outside for some fresh air (and, ok, to ride the train that operates between the two airport terminals – hey, I had 4 and a half hours to kill!), I encountered this beast.

The ThyssenKrupp Express Walkway, claimed (but not cited) by Wikipedia as the world's fastest moving walkway - one operates in each direction to connect the main Terminal 1 with Pier E, which serves international but non-US flights.

The ThyssenKrupp Express Walkway, claimed (but not cited) by Wikipedia as the world’s fastest moving walkway – one operates in each direction to connect the main Terminal 1 with Pier E, which serves international but non-US flights.

Now, I’ve seen a fair number of moving walkways around the world – but this was a first…and with a New York City subway background, you know I love the idea of an express and a local!  There are three “local” moving walkways to the left along the length of the express one.  In most airports, you might have a train to connect the landside terminal with the airside, but here they have a long bridge instead.  Actually, it is above the F gates, which are in the US zone serving flights to the south.  According to Wikipedia, there have been a few other attempts at high (well, higher) speed moving walkways in various locations, including the Paris Metro – but seem to always fail because they are different from what people are used to.

Without going into too much detail, the walkway starts and ends with the lighter-colored plates above together, and then it starts to accelerate and the plates separate.

Without going into too much detail, the walkway starts and ends with the lighter-colored plates above together, and then it starts to accelerate and the plates separate.

I can’t say that it is any different here, really – and getting on was no problem.  At the end, however, I almost got dumped into a pile of weary inter-continental travelers…people who have just spent 5-15 hours on an airplane, possibly overnight, and who probably have never been to this airport before, probably aren’t the best “passengers” for this express walkway.  As the plates come together, people who were spaced out on the walkway suddenly become closer to each other!  Anyway, it was an interesting find, especially when I certainly wasn’t expecting to come upon anything new.

4. The Amazing Space

I arrived at about 6pm on a Monday, and was thinking that airport would probably be very busy – after all, it is the busiest airport in Canada, with 33.4 million passenger in 2011 (38th busiest in the world – 23rd busiest by international passengers) and the largest hub for Air Canada, which is by some measures is the 10th largest airline in the world.

This was the "bustling" scene outside the airport - not what I expected.  Unfortunately, the fresh air at the curb was no good due to all of the smokers!

This was the “bustling” scene outside the airport at about 6:30pm – not what I expected. Unfortunately, the fresh air at the curb was no good due to all the smokers!

As I was wondering what the deal was, I started thinking about where I was…Canada is the second-largest country in total area in the world (after Russia – in terms of land only, it is just slightly smaller than the US and China) but is the 35th in population – with just 35 million to the US’s 315 million.  So, a lot of space with not so many people…which means it is spread out, and just not that crowded!  Taking it a step further, it is also a pretty wealthy country, so things are pretty nice.  As a result, the airport in Toronto has a lot of nice facilities with not really so many people using them – especially notable when coming from Heathrow, which is the third-busiest airport in the world in a relatively small space, and in a densely populated city and country.

The airport's LINK train has a huge station with absolutely no passengers!

The airport’s LINK train has a huge station with absolutely no passengers!

Interestingly, as I thought about it, I realized that this was quite similar to some other places I had been – Scandinavia and Australia.  There seems to be quite a link between Canada, Australia, and Scandinavia in terms of wealth, density, etc.  Maybe this is obvious, but after a long flight of hard work it seemed like quite a mental discovery!

I know, I'm a nutter - you know I've always loved elevators!  I include this because it seems to illustrate the excess - the elevators connecting the airport train platform that nobody was using with the level below that is already connected by two escalators.  Of course, I had to give the three elevators to serve just two floors a go, but still had to wait after pressing the button - what insanity!  They must have had one or two permanently turned off.

I know, I’m a nutter – you know I’ve always loved elevators! I include this because it seems to illustrate the excess – the elevators connecting the airport train platform that nobody was using with the level below that is already connected by two escalators. Of course, I had to give the three elevators to serve just two floors a go, but still had to wait after pressing the button – what insanity! They must have had one or two permanently turned off.

So, to recap – Canada is a great place (even though I constantly make fun of it) and the Toronto Pearson International Airport is not at all a bad place to change planes and spend a few hours.

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Posted on 06/01/2013, in travel. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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