Air Canada 737MAX and A320 Review

On the 11th of December 2017, Air Canada achieved a milestone in their history as Canada’s National Carrier; their first revenue Boeing 737 MAX flight. This is a huge moment for Air Canada as their short to medium haul fleet is in dire need of replacement. Air Canada’s A320 type aircraft have an average age of 23.9 years. Unfortunately, their due date is fast approaching.

The MAX will open up many opportunities for the airline, ranging from sending them overseas to regular fights within Canada and to the USA. It is imperative that the MAX will become the workhorse of the airline and will become the common sight of the airline.

Air Canada has ordered 50 MAX 8 type aircraft and significantly reduced their MAX 9 order to 11. Despite Air Canada’s desire to make the MAX the backbone of their short haul fleet, there is speculation that Air Canada is more interested in Boeing’s MoM and would make more sense economically than the larger MAX. Others say that Air Canada is planning to keep their A321’s for longer than expected and would deem the MAX 9 irrelevant. To further enforce this point, all current A321s are going to be retrofitted in Air Canada’s new interior which we will see in the new MAX.

So, background information over, lets get on to the all important flight experience. Before enjoying the experience of an inaugural flight itself, I must first get to Toronto, then jet off to Calgary for the celebrations, turning around and coming back to Montreal (again on the MAX), then finally return home to Halifax. I knew, this was to be some journey.

Route 1: YHZ-YYZ

Aircraft: Airbus A320-211

Registration: C-FTJO

Age: 26.8 years old

Seat: 17A

This is my first leg of my four-leg journey across Canada and back. This morning’s flight is AC608, departing from Halifax at 05:25 and arriving in Toronto at around 06:30. A prime example of the ageing nature of Air Canada’s short haul fleet – this flight is operated by a 26.8-year-old Airbus A320-211 C-FTJO.

Upon arriving at gate 22, I went to see the gate agent if I could get a seat change as I was sitting in 23B which is a middle seat. The kind lady at the desk changed my seat to 17A, an exit row (SCORE!).

Boarding started on time at 04:50. I was Zone 5 so I was one of the last to board. Once at my seat, I settled in. Being that this row was an exit row, the seats didn’t recline, however, what lacks in recline is made up of legroom, a lot of it. I am 5 “ 11 and I had ample legroom, in addition, the middle seat was vacant allowing me to spread out. Frankly, I was very comfortable.

Air Canada’s Airbus A320 Cabin – the old face of Air Canada’s short haul fleet.

The captain made his announcement with the details of the flight: 2h3min flight time,  2h43mins gate to gate and stated that we should be expecting a smooth flight right into Toronto where it was currently -6 Celsius (brrr).

We pushed back on time at 05:15 and taxied to the deicing pad. De-Icing took around 10 minutes, we then made the short taxi to runway 25 and took off at 05:40.

The “Onboard Café” service started right after the seatbelt sign was turned off, following the drink service. I had opted out of food as I had just eaten back at the airport, for drinks; I had the usual: a coffee and water. This is always my go-to for early morning flights –  basically, as much caffeine that I can get.

Flight attendants distributed water, about 10 minutes after the main drink service. This is one aspect that I greatly appreciate from Air Canada, as a frequent flyer, water is a key to surviving these long days. I try to have at least 3 glasses of water a flight, this way, you stay hydrated and alert.

We started descending about 30 minutes prior to landing. The seatbelt signs came on as we neared our final approach onto runway 6R. The landing was smooth and within 10 minutes, we were at gate 26 and disembarked.

Now, the inaugural ceremony!

Route 2: YYZ – YYC

Aircraft: Boeing 737 MAX 8

Registration: C-FSCY

Age: 3 days old

Seat: 31E

I had just arrived off of my Halifax flight, the gate of the inaugural was only a couple of minutes walk down the hallway. Upon arriving at the gate, there was a banner saying “ Welcome aboard Air Canada Boeing 737 MAX”. Lying in wait, there was a large table with multiple croissants, water, fruit and muffins.

The MAX was parked at the gate in full view of the lounge area. The livery on the aircraft looks amazing in person, even better than in photos.

The MAX lying in wait.

It was evident that there was a lot of employees and so called av-geeks around, people were taking pictures and everyone seemed in high spirits given the time of morning (07:00). Boarding started a little late at 08:00.  I Was sitting in seat 31E, a middle seat. Upon entering the jet bridge, all passengers were handed a small gift pack that includes a small package of Air Canada sticky notes, an Air Canada rondelle pin and a keychain.

Once aboard, I settled into the middle seat. First impressions of the cabin are really good. It is modern, clean and has that distinctive new plane smell.

The ‘Sky Interior’ onboard the 737 MAX.

One thing that immediately jumped out at me was the lack of legroom; although not terrible, It closely resembles the legroom onboard Air Canada Rouge A319s and A321s, it is definitely a little tight. My knees were up against the seat pocket.

Once everyone boarded, the enthusiastic captain came onto the loudspeaker to introduce the new aircraft and give us flight times. Flight time for today is 3h50 minutes with a relatively smooth ride. Once pushed back, for the second time of the day, we taxied to the de-ice pad where we stayed for 15 minutes.

One thing I’d like to note when sitting in the very back of the plane, it is just as loud as an a320 on takeoff roll, I am told that in front of the engines is where the real difference is. On my return leg, I’m sitting in preferred so I’ll be very close to the engines. Service started with a champagne service for all economy passengers to celebrate the new aircraft!  The drink and food service soon followed. Since I was sitting in the rear of the plane, I got served one hour into the flight. I  bought a small chicken wrap, it was very tasty.

The Air Canada Café offering.

I then decided to venture off the bathrooms. A320 bathrooms are very generous compared to the rear economy bathrooms on the MAX. Although doable, the bathrooms are super small. You can barely move around in them, I couldn’t imagine it for larger passengers, they wouldn’t be able to fit! Literally!

Besides the point, Boeing did a really good job micro-sizing the bathroom and everything is compact and easy to use.

We started descending into Calgary and landed a little after 11 am. We got to the gate and disembarked. I was taken back to the fact that there was no water cannon salute as when Air Canada first flew their 787, there was one.

Route 3: YYC – YUL

I now embarked on my next journey – with the same MAX I had just disembarked. At the gate, there was a similar setup to the inauguration ceremony in Toronto; a small table with cupcakes and water. Complimentary, of course.  The flight was delayed approximately 30mins due to the crew needing to do a safety check of the aircraft as it was new.

I was seated in 15A in the new “preferred section” of the plane. There are 8 rows of preferred behind the business class cabin.

The preferred section of the aircraft had much improved legroom and I’d definitely recommend paying that little extra.

I was relatively restless as the flight prior, I was squished into that dreaded middle seat in the normal economy with limited legroom.  And oh boy what a treat this was: The preferred section has legroom compared to business class! At least double the legroom of the normal economy, I could stretch out and for an added bonus, the middle seat was free!

This was great, however, the only drawback is that the window in 15A is aligned ahead of the seat. In order to see out the window, I must lean forward. Besides that, despite my best efforts to make the most of the flight, I fell asleep right after takeoff and didn’t wake up until the meal service started around 1 hour later.

Climbing out of Calgary!

The preferred experience is the perfect balance between Air Canada’s Business class product and Economy product. It is tailored to the passenger that don’t necessarily have the money to spend on a big Business class ticket but still wants to be comfortable and have decent legroom.

The difference between Preferred economy and Economy is night and day. I would highly advise anyone to pay the extra fee to upgrade as I believe it is only $70, you will arrive at your destination much more relaxed and fresh.

The rest of the flight was uneventful. We started our descent with 20 minutes left into the flight and landed on 24R. It was another couple of minutes to get to the gate where we were parked for about 15 minutes in order to conduct tests.

A320 VS 737 MAX: How do they compare?

To settle all arguments regarding the A320 and the 737 MAX 8, I will do a quick comparison between the two. I’ll go over Legroom, window alignment, seat recline bathrooms, the IFE and overall comfort.

A320:

Window alignment on the 320 is good, it is just below or at head level for me. The windows are typical A320 windows that offer good visibility. However, as an added bonus, the exit windows have a shade that slides up from the bottom allowing full view of the window without that typical notch that is left on the top when the window shade is up.

I have flown on Air Canada’s A320s countless times and the legroom in typical economy is good as it is. Normal economy legroom is usually enough for me while still leaving room for my knees to spread out. The exit row allows more legroom and more room to spread out. As a typical exit seat, the seat doesn’t recline but are matched in legroom.

Seat recline in normal economy is typical, nothing special. It allows for a relaxing position if you want to call an economy seat relaxing. However, one thing on the 320 is that when the seat in front of you reclines, your personal IFE comes right up in your face, you almost always need to adjust it.

Bathrooms on the 320 are yet again, nothing special. Simply typical aircraft washrooms, small with one wall being a mirror. There are no windows (unlike the 787 and the 777), and it is clean. The IFE on the A320 offers Legacy type Personal touch-screen TVs. This Legacy IFE system was one of the first generations of personal IFE. Compared to Air Canada’s new Panasonic ex2 on their 777 and 787 type aircraft, the Legacy system is slow and relatively outdated as this system has been in all of Air Canada’s mainline jets since 2005.  Having said this, selection is extensive with all kinds of new movies, TV shows, and documentaries, it is sure to keep you entertained for your flight

737 MAX:

To have a completely fair comparison, I will compare my earlier a320 experience with my later Calgary-Montreal Experience as I was in preferred.

To start off, legroom is about the same as in an A320 exit row, nice and spacey, enough to stretch out. The seat itself I find more comfortable as the ones on the 320 as the ones on the max are fully padded leather. Window alignment is okay, its a minor issue, but the Airbus A320 takes the prize for this one.

The biggest difference between the two is without a question, the IFE. The IFE on the MAX is state-of-the-art, it boosts fast response times, an incredibly user-friendly layout, an awesome interactive 3D map and probably the best quirk of them all; A city guide to whichever city your destination is. This is really ingenious on the part of Air Canada, instead of passengers not really knowing about a foreign city, they can go on to their IFE’s and read up about the best places to stay, eat and shop. It is truly impressive and I’ve never seen it elsewhere.

The MAX boasts a state-of-the-art IFE system, guaranteed to keep passengers entertained.

Overall, unless sitting in preferred in the MAX, the old-school A320 is better for passenger comfort, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the MAX is uncomfortable, If you were sitting next to people you knew like your family, you could obviously stretch out a little more, also, if you had a free seat next to you it would certainly augment the experience and be more comfortable, and it goes without a doubt that the preferred product on the MAX is nothing short of amazing. It is definitely worth the extra money!

It goes to say that the MAX is the new generation of Air Canada. We will all get used to it over time, it will become the norm.

Final thoughts

Wow, what an amazing trip, traveling 7855 km in one day, across Canada and back, it was definitively worth it. To be the amongst the first 169 individuals to fly on the first flight is a very special feeling. To think that there will be thousands and thousands of people that will sit in that same seat that you did on the first flight is a surreal thought; you are making history. Also, it’s not very often that you get to experience that ‘new plane smell’.

Overall, the MAX is revolutionary, it is an amazing piece of machinery. Air Canada is going to use this plane as their workhorse. From sending them overseas to operating Rapid Air flights, it will change the scene completely.


This month’s guest review is by Will Dalton (@halifaxplanes).


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