My 2022 Air Travel Review
As air travel rebounded, I had the opportunity to take several trips throughout 2022. Most of the flights I took were short-haul but I did make one transatlantic trip. In this post, I want to share some highlights of my air travel experiences in 2022.
Interesting Boarding and Disembarkation Methods
During my 2022 travels, I experienced two fairly ways unique boarding and deplaning. The first was Ryanair’s built-in staircases. Airports and ground handling companies charge airlines fees for using jet bridges and movable air stairs, so Ryanair has retractable mechanical stairs on its Boeing 737 aircraft. Boeing offers this option to customers but not many airlines have chosen the option. While many regional aircraft have built-in stairs, its rare for larger planes like the Boeing 737 to have them.
I then had something even rarer: I disembarked a flight where the only available option was to use a passenger transfer vehicle (PTV) via the rear door. We were at a gate with a jet bridge, but because we were an international arrival parked at a domestic gate, we could not use the jet bridge. The airport therefore brought a PTV, also known as a mobile lounge, which is a bus-like vehicle that connects directly to the plane.
I wrote an entire post about these two boarding and deplaning experiences. For more details, including where PTVs/mobile lounges are used, check out the post here.
Two New Canadian Airlines for Me
I tried both Air Canada Rouge and Air Transat for the first time. Both are Canadian leisure airlines. Despite flying both of Canada’s major carriers (Air Canada and Westjet) many times, I haven’t had the opportunity to try Air Canada Rouge or Air Transat until this past year.
Air Canada Rouge is a leisure airline that started flying in the summer of 2013. It is a wholly owned subsidiary of Air Canada and is fully integrated into the Air Canada network. Their flights carry Air Canada flight numbers (but are listed as “Operated by Air Canada Rouge”) and you book them through Air Canada. Rouge operates a fleet of narrowbody Airbus A320 family aircraft mostly to leisure destinations throughout North America, the Caribbean, and Central America. They previously also operated long-haul flights to Europe and South America with Boeing 767-300ERs but these planes were retired during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I flew Rouge from Montreal–Trudeau International Airport to Orlando International Airport in the spring. I sat in their business class which is called Premium Rouge.
Flying with Air Canada Rouge is in many ways quite similar to flying with Air Canada mainline. In many ways, it felt like Air Canada just with slightly modified branding. Booking and pricing is fully integrated with Air Canada. Everything on the ground was the same as flying Air Canada, from the check-in options, to lounge access, to boarding procedures. The catering in Premium Rouge is very similar to what you get in business class on mainline and economy class passengers are offered the same Air Canada Bistro buy-on-board menu. The only real differences were some variations in the hard product. For example, economy class seats on Rouge have less pitch/legroom and there are no seatback entertainment screens. Overall though, except for the lack of a seatback screen in front of me, it felt like any regular mainline Air Canada flight.
In the summer, I flew with Air Transat, Canada’s third largest airline. Air Transat started flying around 35 years ago and is based in the French-speaking province of Quebec. It operates a fleet of narrowbody Airbus A321 and widebody Airbus A330 aircraft. Air Transat focuses on leisure travel and its route network is very seasonal: in the summer months, it flies mostly between Canada and Europe and in the winter months, it focuses on “sun” destinations in the United States, Caribbean, and Central America. Current operations are mostly based in the eastern part of Canada but it had more flights from western Canadian cities like Vancouver and Calgary before the pandemic.
We flew round-trip from Montreal–Trudeau International Airport to London Gatwick Airport. Not only was Air Transat a new airline for me, but the Airbus A321LR was also a new aircraft type for me. My experience with Air Transat was pretty much exactly as expected. They are a well-established leisure airline in Canada (and particularly in Montreal) with a decent reputation. They are not a traditional mainline carrier that caters to both business and personal/leisure travellers but don’t call themselves a low-cost carrier either. Instead, they position themselves as an inexpensive and friendly leisure brand (and they were indeed the most inexpensive option for our trip). We were flown to our destination in relative comfort, fed palatable warm meals, and served by friendly flight attendants. I am glad I got to try them out and would definitely consider flying with them again.
For more details about my flights with Air Canada Rouge and Air Transat, including additional photos, check out my in-depth post here.
United Airlines Sandwich
After reading a number of reviews that ranged from unflattering to horrible, I had the…pleasure…of experiencing a United Airlines domestic first class sandwich. United started serving hot pre-packages sandwiches in business class during the COVID-19 pandemic and let’s just say that they don’t look all that appetizing.
There were two options available: a roasted chicken sandwich or a tomato, basil and mozzarella sandwich. I had actually overheard the flight attendant saying that you could opt for one of their buy-on-board snack boxes instead so I went for one of those but my travel companion picked one of the sandwiches. Here’s how it looked…
So I didn’t actually have to eat one but from what I’ve heard, they taste about as good and as nutritious as they look. The good news is that these sandwiches are gone now. About a year before our flight, United started reintroducing regular meal service (a full meal tray) for first class on flights more than 1500 miles and for flights between hubs of over 800 miles. Unfortunately, our flight was around 1200 miles and was not a hub-to-hub flight so we were stuck with the sandwich. United has since restored meal tray service in domestic first class on flights of over 800 miles (passengers on shorter flights either get no food or a snack bag) so it looks like these sandwiches are a thing of the past.
Last Minute Redemption
I normally plan trips that involve air travel well in advance but I did something pretty last-minute in 2022 (at least it was last-minute for me). A group of friends was gathering in New York for a weekend and it was only planned about two weeks in advance. I live in the Eastern part of Canada and wasn’t super keen on paying a few hundred dollars to fly or drive for seven hours so I initially wasn’t planning on going. I ended up redeeming 12,000 Aeroplan points for round-trip United Airlines (United Express operated by Republic Airways) and paid most of the taxes and fees using an Air Canada gift card that’s been sitting around for years. Air Canada’s frequent flyer program, Aeroplan, uses a dynamic pricing model for its own flights and a fixed reward chart for partner flights. Since my flight was a partner flight (United) between 0 and 500 miles, it cost me 6,000 points each way plus taxes and fees.
With a points value of around 2.5 cents/point in this case, I was happy with the redemption. I ended up only paying about $20 on top of that and then stayed at a friend’s place, making it a pretty affordable New York weekend trip. Doing something last-minute like this was definitely a bit out of character for me. I feel like a weekend away in New York is almost a bit romanticized or cliché and I certainly felt quite spontaneous taking the trip.
Photos from one of my Embraer E170 flights (Slideshow)