When flying between Vancouver and Toronto, there certainly isn’t a shortage of airlines to choose from. Following my Premium Economy flight with British Airways, I decided to hop on board with Air Canada to review their Premium Economy product. I booked this fare through SkyScanner which is undoubtedly the best after its interface upgrade.
Originally when booking this flight, I was supposed to be travelling in the economy cabin. However when checking in using the Air Canada mobile app, it gave me the option to upgrade Premium Economy for $295 CAD.
Premium Economy passengers can check in using the Priority desks, usually reserved for Air Canada frequent fliers or Business class passengers. The morning of my flight from Vancouver, there had been a number of cancellations to scheduled services, meaning the queue for economy check in was full of people trying to get onto alternative flights to their destinations. Luckily for me, the priority desks were almost empty meaning just 10 minutes after arriving at the domestic terminal, I was through security.
Ac34 vancouver – toronto:
The flight I was booked onto, Air Canada 34, doesn’t start it’s journey in Vancouver. It is actually the long haul service from Sydney to Vancouver then Toronto. Today the Sydney to Vancouver sector was being flown on a Boeing 777 that was delayed leaving Sydney by approximately 3 hours; rather than delay the service onto Toronto, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner was put onto the route.
Air Canada also implement a zonal boarding system, much like that of British Airways. Being in ‘Group 2’, I was on the aircraft in no time at all, and took to my seat 14A. Immediately I was very impressed with the modern look and feel of this cabin, something you would expect from an aircraft that is just under 2 years old. Already, this put it ahead of the British Airways Premium Economy offering on my flight to Vancouver.
After settling into my seat and getting a few pictures from my window seat, I was offered a choice of orange juice or water as my boarding drink. Shortly after the Captain came over the PA and announced that we would have a short delay in departing Vancouver as we would have to be deiced. At 9.20am local time we pushed off the stand and taxied to a remote part of the airfield for deicing.
Departing from Runway 08R at 9.43am, we started climbing to our cruising altitude of 41,000 feet. The seat belt signs were switched of promptly after take off and a crew member came around the cabin to hand out our breakfast menu. This mornings options were either Pancakes or a Parsley Omelette. Unfortunately as I was the last to be served in the cabin, my first choice of Pancakes were all gone, leaving me with little choice but to sample the Omelette.
Before choosing from one of the many blockbuster films on offer to watch, I decided to wake myself up with a freshly brewed Lavazza coffee from the drinks service. Only the Brave (A brilliant must watch film that’s based on a true story) was my selection from the In flight Entertainment System. Watching on my Panasonic ex3 system, the latest addition to Air Canada’s IFE offerings, I was impressed at both the screen size and clarity of the image. Just as the film was reaching it’s mid point, breakfast was served.
The Parsley Omelette was accompanied by a chicken sausage, potatoes and relish. Also offered were fruit, yogurts and a warm bread roll with butter and jam. As appetising as the omelette looked, it wasn’t quite to my taste. Leaving the Omelette I enjoyed the rest of my breakfast. Much to my annoyance, the passenger seated next to me (who had ordered the last Pancakes dish available), decided to leave his breakfast after taking only one bite. It was only after long deliberation that I decided not to try and steal the remains!
As we reached the mid way point of our 3 hour 50 minute flight, I decided to stretch my legs and take a wonder around C-FGFZ, the 787-9 Dreamliner I was flying on. After being given a few odd stares when walking through Business class in my hoody and trainers, I went into the galley to find that the crew had laid out a selection of complimentary snacks to choose from. Picking up a Kit Kat, Bacardi and a Coke, I headed back to my seat.
There are 21 seats in the 787-9’s Premium Economy cabin. All with a legroom of 38″ and a seat width of 19″. Found at every seat are power ports that can be used to charge devices via USB or Canadian plugs. Most of the seats can recline approximately 7 inches, however row 14 is slightly limited due to the bulkhead located behind. Seats 14A and 14K do offer some superb shots of the Dreamliner’s wings and the General Electric built GEnx engines. With seat selection complimentary to Premium Economy passengers, it would definitely be my recommendation for anyone travelling with Air Canada in the future.
As we descended into Toronto, the crew passed through the cabin to clear our waste and prepare us for landing. It was at this point that I felt my good experience throughout the flight was ruined slightly. I had asked the Cabin Manager if it was possible to visit the flight deck after arrival on stand, a request that was met with a short, sharp “No”. I am fully aware that flight deck visits are strictly on a request basis, but the fact that the Captain wasn’t even asked annoyed me.
The rest of the flight passed without incident and as we touched down at Toronto Pearson International, I was left feeling that the upgrade had been well worth the money.
When compared to a similar product such as the British Airways’ World Traveller Plus, It certainly leaves me with no doubt in my mind which airline I would choose to fly with when planning my next trip to Canada. BA however were spot on with the customer service, and certainly made me feel welcomed and valued as a paying customer. Ultimately when flying comfort has to be a number one priority, and that’s where Air Canada comes into a world of its own.
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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
Age: 26.8 years old
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.
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
Age: 3 days old
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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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As we glide into Autumn, airlines are well and truly giving us some great excitement with route planning for next summer. Here’s my monthly pick at the most important news.
Norwegian – Yet again, Norwegian dominates the route review – with new services from London Gatwick to Denver and Seattle both launching this month. Both services are to be operated by Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and compete fiercely with BA’s current London Heathrow-Denver service and the plethora of carriers serving London Heathrow-Seattle. With Thomas Cook starting Manchester-Seattle services next May, one may ask, is the UK-Seattle market becoming oversaturated? The proof will be in the figures.
In addition, on 28th September 2017, Norwegian launched their new Gatwick-Singapore connection – the first long haul flight to be operated under the Norwegian UK subsidiary. This flight will also operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner equipment, and marks the entry of Norwegian into the Singaporean market.
Loganair – Loganair broke free from it’s Flybe alliance – starting it’s own services on September 1st. With the new services, comes the increase of Manchester-Glasgow flights to 6 a day, and a beautiful Tartan livery. What’s more, they’ve done all that without IndyRef 2
Washington D.C. to Edinburgh (marketed cleverly by Edinburgh Airport as ‘Capitol to Capital’)
New York Newark to Reykjavik & Porto
San Francisco to Zurich
All services will be operated by Boeing 757-200 aircraft, with the exception of Boeing 787-8 operated SFO-ZRH. The new European connections will begin next summer.
Air Canada – A transatlantic revolution is taking place, and for that we can thank the Boeing 737 MAX. The MAX opens up long thin markets for airlines to operate profitably; it’s why we are seeing routes such as Belfast to Providence, and Edinburgh to Stewart. Air Canada clearly didn’t want to miss out, and has announced services between Toronto & Shannon and Montréal & Dublin. This marks a massive vote of confidence in the Irish market for the Canadian flag carrier – as they will now serve three destinations from Dublin (Vancouver, Toronto, Montréal) and are the only foreign airline to offer a transatlantic destination other than New York, from Ireland’s second airport – Shannon.
Delta – For Delta this month, it’s a very mixed story.
Firstly, let’s get the bad news out of the way. Next summer, Delta will cut two destinations all together – Moscow (SVO) and Stockholm (ARN). In addition, it will end service from Philadelphia to Heathrow (already announced) and Paris, suspending service from Newark to Amsterdam.
Now, on to the exciting route development news. Among the aviation community, it is widely seen that Delta is employing a rather different strategy than the other US airlines. Instead of expanding out of hubs, they are adding flights from smaller US markets to their main hubs of Paris and Amsterdam in Europe. Whilst in August, Delta announced a new Orlando-Amsterdam service, this month they went further. Delta will start a new 767-300ER service between Indianapolis and Paris in summer 2018, which will go on sale on the 23rd September. This will be the first transatlantic connection for Indianapolis – so, unsurprisingly, the route has been supported by subsides of $5 million, Indiana Business reports. They will also launch two new routes between Los Angeles and Paris/Amsterdam with Boeing 777-200LR equipment, adding to their joint venture partner’s (Air France and KLM respectively) frequencies. Finally, and perhaps the most surprising, is between New York JFK and Ponta Delgada (Azores). This makes Delta the only US airline to serve the Azores, and gives Delta two destinations in Portugal.
Of course, there is other less significant news and frequency changes but their is not enough room to report everything here.
Virgin Atlantic – Virgin Atlantic will be increasing it’s operation at Manchester next year. They will be adding 40,000 seats to the market, with an additional 747 base. The new 747-400 will operate four-weekly services to New York JFK and three-weekly services to Atlanta. However, both routes are served daily, with the remainder being operated by the current A330-300 aircraft.
Next year, in peak summer, Virgin will offer 35 weekly transatlantic departures from Manchester, every week.
Icelandair – Iceland’s airlines just can’t stop growing. In fact, I may have to dedicate a whole blog post to them every month! This month, they announced services from their hub to Dallas/Fort Worth. Icelandair’s first venture into Texas will come in the form of a four-weekly, Boeing 757-200 service.
In other news, they also filed the schedule for their 737 MAX services, which will operate to only Birmingham in the UK.
WOW Air – Yes, you guessed it. WOW Air also announced flights to Dallas/Fort Worth. This connection will operate thrice-weekly, but with a widebody aircraft – the Airbus A330-300. Both airlines are clearly trying to upstage eachother, but I fear it could end badly for both airlines involved. On a lighter note, more competition can only be good for the passengers!
British Airways – British Airways announced in mid-September that it’s London Heathrow to Austin route would be upgraded to a Boeing 747-400, from a Boeing 787-9. That’s a massive capacity jump – particularly for the high-yielding cabins – and shows how the 787 really can open up new markets, that can then be grown into a great success.
In arguably more exciting news, British Airways is launching service to the Seychelles in March 2018. The service will operate with Boeing 787-9 aircraft, on a two weekly basis. The interesting development here is that BA will operate this flight from Heathrow, rather from primarily Leisure-based Gatwick. This is clearly to optimise connection opportunities, around Europe and Transatlantic.
Cathay Pacific – After starting the route in 2015, Cathay Pacific has now confirmed it is axing it’s Hong Kong to Dusseldorf route from March 2018.
On the contrary, it will increase its services on the Barcelona and Tel Aviv to Hong Kong connections – both of which operate with Airbus A350 equipment.
KLM – KLM will launch new service from Amsterdam to Fortaleza in Summer 2018, on a twice-weekly basis, with Airbus A330-200 aircraft. This will mark KLM’s third gateway into Brazil, and secures KLM’s position in the Latin American market.
Emirates – Emirates announced plans this month to launch a fourth-daily Dubai-Sydney service, operating with Airbus A380-800 aircraft. It will add more and convenient connections for customers, and an additional 6.846 seats per week in capacity. This, and expansion to the Brisbane service, means the UAE national carrier will serve Australia 91 times every week.
Qatar Airways – Qatar Airways stunned everyone back in May, when they announced the intention to launch Doha to Cardiff flights. This month, they opened bookings for the new route. It will be operated on a daily basis, with Boeing 787-8 equipment. Great news for Wales & Cardiff!
Garuda Indonesia – Garuda Indonesia transferred from London Gatwick to London Heathrow some time ago. Previously, due to the strength of the runway at Jakarta, they had to make a refuelling stop in Singapore. Now, it appears that has been resolved, as Garuda Indonesia will offer non-stop Jakarta to London services from October 31st. Frequency will remain the same, but with an amended schedule, as Garuda wants “to boost connections from the UK to Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Perth), the Far East (Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul) and China (Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou and Shanghai)”.
Royal Air Maroc – Before March 2017, Casablanca had never been served from Manchester before, but Royal Air Maroc came bursting onto the scene, offering a wealth of connections to Africa through their Moroccan hub. Now, they are increasing flights to 4-weekly from next summer; from a standing start, this route can widely be acknowledged as a great success.
Air France – Air France will be launching new service to Seattle and Taipei, after a hiatus from both markets. It will join KLM in the Taiwanese market and joint venture partner Delta in the Seattle market. Both services will operate with Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft, and from Paris Charles de Gaulle.