After over a week in Canada, it was finally time to head back home. After checking out of the Marriott Fallsview Hotel & Spa, we drove our rental car the 1.5 hour drive to Toronto Pearson International Airport from Niagara Falls. There was no traffic during the drive east to the airport. Since we needed to fuel up the car before returning it, I set the GPS to the Petro-Canada gas station right next to the airport entrance. After filling up the the tank full of gas, I followed the sign that directed traffic into the airport. The Petri-Canada station was literally across from the street from the Pearson Airport Entrance.
As we looped through the airport road, I was looking for any signage that pointed to where the rental car return was. It was at the last minute at a fork that there was a sign directing cars to the left side of the fork for rental car returns. I had to change lanes fast to not miss the fork or else it would have been another long loop around to come back around again. It turned out that Hertz return area was the very last entrance to the semi circular rental car building. I pulled the car into the return lane where a staff member came over and inspected the car before handing me a receipt for the rental. I informed the staff that I accidentally entered the 407 ETR and he explained that it will take about a month but Hertz will automatically bill my credit card once Hertz gets billed for the toll. Google Map decided that it wanted to route me through the 407 ETR toll road and there was no warning of it. Generally, when a route involves toll, Google will warn you ahead of time but this time there was none of that.
After getting all of our stuff out of the car, we followed the signs to Terminal 1 which is where United Airlines has its checkin counters. First thing that I noticed when we entered the main checkin hall was that it wasn’t busy at all. When we finally arrived at the United Airlines checkin counter, which is located at the far end of the checkin area, there was no line there as well. We walked right up to the business class check-in counter. There was one other person checking in at the regular checkin line but overall, the whole checkin area of Terminal 1 seemed deserted at this time of the morning.Once we had our boarding passes in hand, we headed over to the security check area for flights to the US. There is a dedicated security line for passengers with NEXUS and GLOBAL Entry which we used by showing our Global Entry cards that we brought along with us. The agent manning the entrance to the NEXUS and GLOBAL Entry waved me through while her attention was focused on her cellphone. While I was about halfway to security, she realized that she screwed up and she frantically called me back to “REALLY” check my Global Entry Card this time. If you want to use the expedited security line as a Global Entry Member while traveling in Canada, you need to bring your physical Global Entry Card with you. This is one of the few times that you do need your actual Global Entry card to receive the benefits of expedited security screening.
Security check area for both NEXUS/Global Entry was light and we were done and through quickly. Once we were done with security, my parents and I used the Global Entry Kiosks to perform the required US entry procedures. My mom had a little issue with the machine reading her fingerprint but it finally worked after couple of tries. There was no line to see the US CBP officer and I was the first one up to talk with the CBP officer. He asked me how many bags I checked and after I responded 1, he handed back my boarding pass and passport and waived me through. My parents followed behind me and after all three of us were done, we headed straight for Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge located in the US Pre-Clearance section of Pearson International Airport.
We took the only way up, the elevator to the Maple Leaf Lounge, where our boarding passes were scanned and handed back to us by the agent. We found ourselves seating in the main area of the lounge. It wasn’t very crowded in the Maple Leaf Lounge at this time so there were plenty of seating to choose from. I headed over to the food area which was still setup for breakfast. If I had to use ONE word to describe the breakfast spread it would be “SUCK.” There were some muffins, cold/hot cereal and some bread. I’ve seen much better breakfast spreads at United Clubs. The three of us did not touch anything in the food area and decided to wait to see how the lunch spread would look like. I overheard the agent telling another passenger that lunch items would be setup around 11AM.
With the breakfast spread not worth touching and still some time left until the lunch changeover, my mom and I decided to go down to the terminal. She wanted to do some shopping and I wanted to take pictures. We left my dad in the Maple Leaf Lounge with our stuff since he was too busy reading something on his iPhone. Once we were down in the main terminal, we walked the whole length of the F gate area before coming back to do some shopping. My mom was shocked at the prices in the retail area. The maple syrups being sold in the airport stores cost twice what we paid for in Montreal. Same 100% maple syrup and same size but different brand. I looked at my mom and asked her: “Why on earth with all of the traveling you have done would you still think the airport would be cheaper???” For some reason she can’t grasp that Duty Free = Ripoff. Now, she wishes she had bought more syrup while we were at the Bonsecours Market in Old Montreal.It turned out that my Mom still needed more gifts for her many coworkers. One of the retailers was selling boxes of maple cookies at four boxes for $20.00 CAD which my mom decided to buy. Originally when we came down for shopping, my mom brought her backpack with her and when I asked why she needed it, she replied that her wallet was in the backpack and that she might buy some stuff. At the register, she turns around to me and asks me for a $20.00 CAD bill. I was like huh??? I’m buying your coworkers gifts now? Long story short, I paid for the four boxes of cookies and we left the store. On our way back to the lounge, I stopped at the Duty Free Liquor Store to buy a bottle of Maple Whisky to try when we got back home. This was impulse buying at its best. When we got back up to the Maple Leaf Lounge, I told my dad that mom took me with her shopping and then suckered me into paying to which he replied “OH I remembered I needed something as well. Lets go shopping!” By this time, lunch prep was in full swing in the Maple Leaf Lounge and almost completed. The beer on tap along with the self service liquor and wine were opened up. Once the main lunch items were out, a line started to form as people who had been waiting for the changeover all got up to get lunch. I got in line as well and made myself a plate with some of the quinoa salad and chicken soup. After dropping off my plate where we were sitting, I came back and poured my dad and myself a glass of Chivas Regal on the rocks. I wasn’t impressed with the food. My parents were ok with the soup but other than the cookies, my mom finished the rest of the items on my plate. The cookie and Chivas Regal were the best items from the whole buffet.
As soon as I was notified by the United App that our aircraft had arrived from Chicago, we gathered our stuff up and headed downstairs to the gate. When we passed by the same retailer that my mom bought the four boxes of maple cookies earlier, she stopped and started counting and came to the conclusion she needed two more boxes. Again she asked me for $10.00 CAD. When my mom got up to the register to pay, the cashier informed my mom that she needed to buy 4 boxes to get the special $5.00 per box price or else its full price. So we ended up buying four more boxes of maple cookies and I gave my mom a $20.00 CAD bill. BTW, I’ve spent $40.00 CAD so far and not a single box of cookie is for me.
When I checked the FID, it showed that the gate for our flight had changed to one further down the concourse. When we arrived at our new gate, boarding had already started and they were finishing up boarding Group 1. At the gate, we were told that we needed our passports along with our boarding passes so we had to go dig them out again before boarding at the tail end Group 2. Once we were aboard the United Express Embraer 175, we found our seats in row 1 and tried to stow our backpacks along with the items that we just purchased in the terminal. Due to the smaller size of the overhead bins, it was not so easy trying to fit everything into the bins. The bins on both sides were empty but they were just too small. Also, the overhead bins are asymmetric. The bins on the left side is smaller than the bins on the right side. I was barely able to fit my backpack into the smaller overhead bin on the left side of the aircraft above the seat I was sitting in.
Except for the inconvenience of the small overhead bin, the seats were comfortable and roomy. My parents sat in 1C and 1D and I sat in 1A. The first class seats on the A side of the cabin are all single seats which makes it really nice for someone traveling solo or for introverts. The FA came by and asked if I would like some water before departure. It seems that water was the only item on offer for pre departure beverage on this flight. I accepted the glass of water and after the drinking that my dad and I did in the lounge, water was perfect and very refreshing.After all of usual procedures were completed, we taxied to the runway and took off for Chicago. There wasn’t any delay or a lot of other traffic at the airport when we departed. One thing I noticed about this flight was that most of the announcements were prerecorded vs on the mainline aircrafts where the FA’s make all of the announcements. As soon as the FA’s were released from their jump seats, the female FA working the first class cabin, sprung into action in the galley and even closed the gallery curtain. Other than on foreign carriers, I have not seen the FA’s use the curtains ever since 911. When the prep work in the galley was completed, the FA came out to take drink orders. Our flight today was a “refreshment” flight which means drinks and the snack basket. My parents passed on both the drink and snack basket and slept for most of the flight to Chicago. One of the male FA who was working in the rear galley came up to first class with the first class snack basket. I asked him if it was okay to snap a picture and he nodded in the affirmative. Once I was done with the picture taking, I grabbed two items from the basket and thanked him. He looked at me held the basket closer to me and asked “thats it??” I grabbed two more items from the basket and only after I thanked him and told him that really I was fine, he smiled and went to the next passenger. Once all of the passengers in first class were served both beverages and snacks, the FAs got busy serving drinks and selling snacks in economy class. Whenever the female FA came through the first class cabin on her way to grab something in the forward galley, she would collect trash and offer refills to the first class passengers. I politely declined another gin and tonic, but the next time she came through I asked her if she had any stroopwafel onboard. She said that she would go look for some and shortly afterwards, the same FA brought me two stroopwafels which are normally served to coach passengers only on morning flights.
Rest of the flight was uneventful and it wasn’t long before announcements were made that we would be landing in Chicago. We came over Lake Michigan and passed Downtown Chicago on the lefthand side as we landed at O’hare Airport. There was some minor delay in getting into our gate at concourse E due to traffic jam of departing and arriving aircrafts but we still arrived early by about 17 minutes.
The crew aboard our United Express Flight 3400 were fabulous. They were friendly and efficient and I could not have ask for anything more on a short 1 hour flight. The crew, based on their thank you announcement, were Newark NJ based crew which surprised me because of what other flyers have said about the gruffness and lack of friendliness of the Newark based crew. Just another reminder why I have to read reviews with suspicion.