You’ve probably heard the radio ads: Sunwing Airlines, traditionally a sunspot charter airline, will begin operating trans-atlantic flights from Canada to various locations in Europe this summer.
Sound familiar? Well.. there was Zoom Airlines, which went bust in August 2008, stranding thousands of passengers, and there was also Globepsan Airlines, which operated cheap flights from Hamilton to the UK, which was notorious for equipment-related delays and also went bust in December 2009 after acquiring Zoom.
Montreal-based Air Transat and UK-based Thomas Cook (which code-shares with Air Transat) are the only discount transatlantic airlines to have survived the test of time and continue to offer scheduled flights to Europe.
This year, a new player has entered the market: Sunwing Airlines. Do you have reason to hesitate when booking Sunwing?
Sunwing’s main selling point is their service. Whereas Air Transat is a no-frills airline, Sunwing boasts comfortable leather seats and a glass of champagne upon boarding the aircraft to start off your vacation. In terms of pricing, Air Transat appears to be matching all fares from Sunwing for their popular YYZ-LGW route. So, given that Air Transat and Sunwing offer the same price (and will likely continue to match each other when battling for ticket sales this summer), which should you book?
First off, Air Transat has a stable track record. It has been operating flights since 1987 and is Canada’s third-largest airline (after Air Canada and WestJet). Sunwing has been operating charter flights since 2005, and this is the first year they are operating transatlantic flights. It goes without saying that Air Transat services many more European destinations than Sunwing, which provides you with greater flexibility in booking your eurotrip.
In terms of equipment, Air Transat owns all of its 21 planes. It typically operates its Airbus A330-200 series aircraft to Europe, with an average equipment age of 8 years.
In terms of cabin layout, Air Transat features a seat pitch of 31 inches for economy seating (Thomas Cook offers slightly more) with seating arranged 3/3/3 (and 2/3/2 near the rear of the aircraft). Sunwing’s aircraft features a seat pitch of 30 inches for general seating with seats arranged 2/3/2.
In terms of baggage, Air Transat permits ONE checked luggage weighing 20kg max, and ONE carry-on luggage weighing 5kg max. Air Transat is generally quite strict about this policy and will ask you to weigh all your items upon check-in. Sunwing offers a total combined allowance of 25kg (30kg for flights to Rome), including both checked and carry-on luggage.
In terms of service, Air Transat offers complimentary snacks, meals, wine (served with the meal), water, soft drinks, tea, coffee and juice. Sunwing offers the same as Air Transat, plus a glass of bubbly and a comfort kit.
So, what’s the verdict?
Well, if you want to fly on newer, more spacious aircraft, with a well-established airline that services all major European destinations, then you should stick with good ole’ Air Transat. Let Sunwing establish itself a little more, and perhaps purchase some newer aircraft before choosing to fly with them. If the Champagne is still enticing, remember that 8 hours after leaving Toronto, you can enjoy real French Champagne in France (or Cava in Spain) served to you in a quaint, outdoor terrace, rather than cheap champagne served to you in plastic cups on a crowded aircraft.
I’ve only just caught my breath after being submerged under a sea of changes in my life over the past 2 weeks following my return to Canada. In retrospect, arriving back on the same day that school started was not the greatest idea! I’ve been severely disconnected for the past few weeks as I’m still on the waitlist for an iPhone after one month of waiting, and the internet was out for a week at my downtown residence! It’s funny, actually, how far we, as the modern human civilization, have progressed in the past decade. I’m closing in on my 10th year anniversary of owning a cell phone and I’ve realized over the past few weeks just how dependant I have become on it! Without receiving calendar alerts in my pocket, beamed to me from Google Calendar, I’ve actually forgotten a few appointments and sheepishly walked in late after running across campus after suddenly remembering where I was supposed to be. Without being able to keep in touch with my friends when I’m out and about, it has been impossible to make spur-of-the-moment plans: I’ve had to start arranging to meet people in set places and set times again. Without being able to check my e-mail on-the-go I often miss important emails. Nowadays, people send you emails with the expectation that you’ll receive and read them instantly, and this is no longer the case for me (especially since I didn’t even have internet access at home!).
We, as a culture, have gotten so accustomed to getting things instantly that when we have to wait, it drives us crazy. One of my professors was talking about how people lose their mental sanity when they are sensually deprived (sensually NOT sexually, although that perhaps, is another theory worth considering). He talked of an experiment whereby a healthy human being would be rendered crazy after just 24 hours in a dark, quiet room, after of course, they had caught up on sleep. I’ve therefore gone through somewhat of a rehabilitation process and have now discovered new ways to keep in touch with people. For example, when I used to come home to Oakville in off-peak hours, I usually called my parents from the train to pick me up. Now that I don’t have a phone, and it costs 50 cents to make a call from a public phone, I take a bus for 65 cents and get home just fine. When I need to call my girlfriend, I just go to her apartment building and use the front-door buzzer, which conveniently is routed to her cell phone (although it’s a little hard to have a private conversation when there are people impatiently waiting to get into the building).
I’ve also realized how ridiculous Bell Canada can be. Not only were they responsible for my 5-day internet deprevation, but they also wanted to charge me $50 to activate my old cellphone as a prepaid phone until my new phone arrives! In Spain, I could have bought a prepaid phone + a sim card + 2 euros of starting credit for just 19 euros! Perhaps they were afraid I would just stick with the prepaid plan and not end up buying the iPhone… who knows?
Anyways, now anyone following this blog can understand why I haven’t been able to update it in a while. There are many pictures that I’ve still got to post, and I wanted to write a little about Sweden and Norway, and my newfound love for Scandinavia (partly due to my newly furnished room with Ikea furniture and a few sumptuous meals in Ikea’s restaurant). There is also the big question as to what will happen to my blog now that I’m back. The blog used to be directed towards my travels in Europe and a means for keeping in touch with everyone back home. The blog now needs a new direction, but this I believe, will naturally evolve along with my inspiration. You can look forward to the same level of reflective insights and a new direction that will take you on a journey with me to bigger and better things.
Y para mis amig@s de España, ¡un abrazo muy fuerte! Ya os echo de menos. Estoy encontrando nuev@s amig@s aquí in Canadá del mundo español (la mayoría son de Sudamérica, pero bueno) y también voy a seguir con las clases de salsa 🙂
Ya he hablado con Geoff. Él está muy bien, todavía de buen humor y con el pelo largo. Nicole está bien también, estamos estudiando juntos y a veces, recordamos de todos las experiencias, viajes, y buena gente que conocimos durante nuestro tiempo en España. Seguiremos recordando durante toda la vida. Espero que estéis bien, y que nuestros caminos crucen en poco tiempo. Si aún no has hecho, añádeme a tu cuenta de Facebook para que podamos hablar (google: Raphael Sammut).
This past summer, I had the opportunity to work with a prominent Civil Engineering professor at the University of Toronto. Professor Evan C. Bentz specializes in structural engineering, and his work focuses on developing software to aid in the analysis and simulation of structures. Professor Bentz has an incredible personality, great sense of humour, and can talk about almost anything to almost anyone for as long as he is able to talk and someone is able to listen. Some of the most interesting and random conversations of my entire life were had last summer in Professor Bentz’s office. This was my first research position, and I really lucked out because I got to work with some incredible people, and ended up doing something I found enjoyable.
My main projects this summer were centred around making Professor Bentz’s software run more efficiently and accurately. The software suite includes Membrane-2000 and Response-2000 for modelling walls, beams, and columns, and Augustus for assembling elements into a structure and running tests on them.
One particular project involved writing a Visual Basic script to accept data from a large spreadsheet database of experimental test results for beams and convert individual tests into a series of input files that could be read by the software. This allowed for an automated way of verifying the simulation test results with real data. Once completed, the macro generated all necessary files in under a minute for over 2000 entries, whereas it probably would have taken a year to do them all by hand.
My next project was meant to push Augustus to its limits by designing and testing a model of a 20-storey apartment building in the Greater Toronto Area that Professor Bentz had previously done some analysis for. After three weeks of interpreting design drawings, mapping out the geometry of the structure, and defining all the structural elements, I excitedly pushed the button to run the tests and the software crashed. While it was disappointing not to get any results, it ended up leading to my most interesting and challenging project.
The core issue, or so we believe, with the Augustus software not being able to run the tests on the building was that the data that the software reads in is not stored efficiently. The software performs its analysis using the “Stiffness Method”, which is an easy way for a computer to calculate displacements on large structures. Every node, or point of interest, in the structure is represented by a number stored in a matrix. The matrix contains all the information about how each node has displaced as the tests run.
This issue lead to the development of a Genetic Algorithm (based on this blog post) to try and optimize the matrix before any calculations were run. After banging my head on a desk for about a week, things started to click, and the development began to progress fairly rapidly. By the end of the third week working on the project, we started getting some positive results that the Genetic Algorithm we implemented performed better than more traditional methods, but took significantly longer to execute (especially for matrices greater than 100×100 in size).
After spending a week on optimizing the algorithms used thanks to MATLAB’s handy profiler, the operation time was cut down significantly and our program could compute matrices up to 500×500 in size within a minute, even on a slow (1.86 GHz) processor.
The Genetic Algorithm project was the focus of a presentation I made at the Undergraduate Engineering Research Day at U of T, mainly since the use of genetic algorithms was such a novel and interesting approach to solving the matrix bandwidth reduction problem. The presentation, which was developed from 10pm – 3am the night before (since we only got results the same day) went very well and I was awarded the prize of a top presenter.
Overall my research experience was fun, challenging, and a great way to spend my summer. While I was paid roughly the same as when I was the Site Director for an entire YMCA camp, I had far less responsibility, got to work with some brilliant and dynamic people, and enjoyed the great flexibility in working hours that the academia world offers. My research team had very little supervision, and the vast majority of our work was all self-driven. The best part of the position was that I was constantly challenged. Whenever I began feeling comfortable and in control of a project, I was thrown something else that seemed impossible in the beginning, but was always successfully accomplished in the end. Furthermore, this project will serve as an excellent lead-in to my PEY work term in Spain with CYPE Ingenieros, and has opened the doors to future thesis work when I return to Canada in 2010 to finish my degree.
It’s about time I made a post about my recent trip to Vancouver from July 24-26. In a following post, you can look for my experiences at the Enlightened Warrior Training Camp in Squamish, BC. Now, this was my first solo trip ever. I usually always travel with friends or family, so I wasn’t quite sure how things would work out…
First off, the flight there was amazing! It was my very first flight with WestJet and I was very impressed. The efficiency of their scheduling and on-time performance is incredible. About 10 minutes before the first boarding call, the ground crews assembled ready to load luggage, clean the plane, and stock it with food. 5 minutes before the boarding call, the plane rolled into the gate, unloaded and was ready to accept my flight’s passengers on-time. The crew was very friendly and were happy to be there! In-flight service was amazing: the crew came by twice to offer free drinks and snacks, and they had no problem providing multiple drinks and snacks each time, if asked. To cap it all off, our flight departed the gate 5 minutes early and landed 10 minutes early. I am very proud, as a Canadian, to have such an incredible national airline.
Amazingly, both flights (there and back), I sat beside someone really nice and we talked for the whole flight! Since I was on my own, I found I was far more open to new friendships, so I ended up talking to just about everyone I met!
While I was in Vancouver, I stayed at the University of British Columbia. During the summer months they run the Pacific Spirit Hostel out of one of their residences. It has super-cheap rates ($30/night with an ISIC card, $33/night otherwise), is fairly clean, offers private and secure rooms, and is surrounded by natural beauty. It is outside of the city, however, so you have to take a 20 minute bus ride into the city, which really is not that bad at all.
Public Transit in Vancouver was really efficient, and will be greatly improved once the Canada Line opens in September. It will offer a direct SkyTrain link from the airport and Richmond to downtown Vancouver. The public transit system, operated by TransLink, consists of SkyTrain (light rail), the B-Lines (express bus routes), an extesnive bus network (both diesel and electric trolley buses), and the SeaBus (a catamaran ferry connecting downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver). Furthermore, if you have internet-enabled mobile, you can access on-demand transit routing via the Google Maps Mobile application, or you can download a TransLink application for your iPhone.
I started my day by taking an hour jog along the coast. It was a sunny Saturday morning, and the streets and paths were teeming with cyclists, dog-walkers, and fellow runners. It seems like a morning ride or run along the beach is the thing to do in Vancouver! Thanks to my handy Frommer’s Vancouver & Victoria 2009 travel guide, I found a great place to stop for breakfast close to Jericho Beach where I had the best Eggs Benedict of my life. After exploring the beaches a bit, I walked down to Granville Island (a public market similar to St. Jacobs and St. Lawrence Market for those of you from Toronto). It was sunny, and the Fraser River was sparkling when I arrived. The market was very busy, and was host to a number of some of the most colourful and talented buskers I’ve ever seen. The food inside the market was far too tempting, so I stopped and bought an apple cinnamon crepe for snack.
After leaving Granville Island, I decided to catch the next SeaBus to North Vancouver and visit Grouse Mountain. I had heard about a particular trail that most Vancouverites fondly know as the “Grouse Grind”. The grind is a 3km trail that consists of essentially climbing stairs and steep slopes for an hour straight. Some people call it the natural StairMaster 😉 I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Akey on the bus there, a recent finance grad from McGill, and we kept each other going as we journeyed upwards. He was nice enough to invite me to drinks that night with some other friends he met at a conference.
Next, I visited the Capilano suspension bridge, which is one of the most advertised attractions in Vancouver. It was pretty neat to cross a man-made suspension bridge (like the ones you often see in movies), but felt the admission was too high and would classify it as more of a tourist trap. I would recommend visiting Grouse Mountain instead.
Although I wanted to rent a bike and ride around Stanley Park, which everyone told me I should do, it had started to rain by the time I got there, so I decided to search for a place to eat instead. After consulting my travel guide, I discovered a fairly new and hip seafood restaurant called Coast. I called the restaurant, made a reservation and hopped on the next bus to take me over there. Unfortunately, I had their old address as they had just moved a few weeks before, so I had to hop on another bus and find the new place. When I got there, It was totally worth the long journey. The atmosphere was amazing, the staff were friendly, and the restaurant was buzzing with life. I sat at the bar which was a round island in the middle of the restaurant and was served by the bartender. There was fresh fish, shrip, and oysters on ice in the centre of the bar, as well as an extensive collection of vodka, whisky, and other spirits.
I ordered the Haddock Fish and Chips and a cool Rickards Red Beer. It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. The fish was so tender I swear it must have been caught that same day. On my right were two thirty-year old women celebrating a birthday. Just past them were two men who were knocking back Vodka Red Bulls, and trying to pick up the women. To my left was a couple who were making bets on whether or not the men would succeed. All in all, a really great time 😉 After dinner, I ordered a shot of the restaurant’s finest Vodka, which turned out to be Exquisite, a premium Wyborowa Vodka from Poland. The restaurant even called me the next morning to ask how my meal was!
I was about to head home when I got a call from Pat Akey telling me that he and his friends were heading out to a night club. I gladly accepted and joined them as we danced the night away (thanks for the drinks, guys!).
My experience in Vancouver was incredible. I could not believe that I was still in Canada. The people are so different there. They are all very active, very friendly, and very laid-back, which was a pleasant change to the people I’m used to in Toronto. I think this Bud-Light advertisement put it the best:
I will definitely have to visit Vancouver again. It is an absolutely beautiful city, and is located in the most beautiful part of Canada. If you have never been, I recommend you buy yourself a round-trip ticket when you visit, because you might be tempted to never come back!