I recently flew to the Province of Québec as part of a whistle-stop tour of the region.
My Economy flights were serviced by Air Canada. I thought I would share my experience and a few tips.
My return flights from London Heathrow Airport (LHR) to Montréal–Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport (YUL) were happily uneventful and landed on-time too. Both were in the comfort of a Boeing 777-300ER (77W) jet and sadly not the fancy new Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.
The flights from and to London Heathrow were from the newly renovated Terminal 2, known as The Queen’s Terminal.
This light, spacious terminal was very comfortable to wait in – and I did a lot of that. I had arrived the suggested three hours before the international flight departed and effortlessly breezed from the terminal entrance to airside in less than 10 minutes. That includes checking in, dropping off my bag, and passing security. Was I just lucky?
The Terminal may well be newly built, but it has one flaw – it is massive. Air Canada flights all took off from the opposite side of the main terminal building, a good 10-minute walk at a brisk pace. Buggy carts are available for those not up to the challenge, but vast walking distances seems a result of poor planning. A mass people mover (perhaps pods similar to the parking pods at Terminal 5 or even a small train system) would have been a better option.
As for the flights, here is what I made of them.
- Good legroom – There was a generous amount of legroom in economy class, with a seat pitch of 31 inches. I did not expect to find acres of floor space around my economy seat, but I was pleasantly surprised not having my knees pressed up against the rear of the chair in front.
- Comfortable seats – The black leather-effect seating was comfortable, and the adjustable headrest sides made dozing a little easier. Noise-cancelling headphones would help reduce the ambient noise.
- On-demand entertainment – The on-demand personal entertainment system enabled me to skip around the good range of available programming. Movie titles included the likes of Disney’s Inside Out, Pitch Perfect 2, and Mall Cop 2. TV programmes were relatively recent and included American favourites such as The Big Bang Theory and The Goldbergs. Music programming left a lot to be desired, with albums available from obscure artists, none of whom I recognised.
- Pleasant staff – On most long-haul airlines, flight attendants tend to follow the same sort of pattern as the passengers – everyone is relatively happy at the start of the journey, becoming tired and fed up by the end. The Air Canada teams on both outbound and inbound flights were genuinely amongst the most pleasant I have ever experienced. Considering they have to hop between speaking French and English for every announcement and every passenger interaction, I expected them to tire far more quickly into the journey. As red-eyed passengers filed off the plane, the smiles continued. It is a small touch, but as airlines are as much service businesses as they are travel companies, the little things matter.
- Tasty meals – The main meals were on the whole surprisingly delicious. On the outbound flight, I opted for salmon with orzo pasta and a tomato sauce. Extras on the plate included a chewy white bread roll with butter, a cookie and a pot of couscous salad. On the return leg, I followed the anti-jet lag advice in the in-flight magazine and rejected the main meal (an unappetising pasta dish) but took the extras, including a pot of minted salad and a slice of chocolate cake.
- Bar service – A regular drinks service was offered, with crew wheeling the cart through the cabin several times as well as walking through occasionally with cups and a large bottle of water in hand.
- Mood lighting to reduce jet lag – Coloured lighting illuminated the cabin throughout the flight, and periodically it changed shade. On querying this with Air Canada, this is part of an initiative to reduce jet lag. I wondered if the pattern was random, but a spokesperson from Air Canada told me it was all carefully choreographed. “The changes in the lighting are intentional and are part of the aircraft’s mood lighting programme. The mood lighting sequences match activities in the cabin and are designed to create a calm, relaxing environment while easing jet lag. The lighting sequence during the first service slowly diminishes, emulating a sunset, until the cabin reaches dark blue tones, ideal for rest and sleep. Prior to beginning the second service, lights slowly illuminate in varying shades of orange and pinks, similar to a sunrise, gently rousing passengers and getting the cabin ready for arrival.” It is a good use of passive technology that many passengers may not pay much attention to but could benefit from. So did it work? I’d like to think so. I only needed a couple of hours sleep at home to catch up, but that was it. On previous long haul flights, I have been knocked out for days.
The not so good
- Poor placement of entertainment system control buttons – While the economy seats had a reasonable amount of legroom, the inevitable downside was the seat width at just 17 inches. The poor placement of the entertainment system buttons on the armrests was frustrating. Besides accidentally turning on and off my system and the one for the adjacent seat, my clumsy elbows kept turning on the reading light. It can be quite a disorientating experience suddenly having the spotlight thrust upon you as you doze. The flight attendant call button was also located on this pad and from the medley of ‘dings’ in the air, I am doubtful I was the only one suffering from this problem.
- Inedible snack – A spinach and feta cheese wrap sounds like it could be quite delicious. Heating it in its cardboard box made it a vile snack on the outbound flight. Aromas of spinach and feta cheese lost out to that of cardboard. On the inbound flight, the snack was a chilled piece of banana cake. Apart from it being served chilled, it was delicious.
Tips for travelling to Canada
To disembark the aircraft, I had to walk through the Premium Economy and Business Class sections, allowing me a glimpse into what more money can buy you. Looking past the extraordinary amount of mess created by these passengers (how can so few passengers leave so much mess?), my illusions of grandeur were not quite matched.
The seats in Economy class were set up in a 3-4-3 configuration. Premium Economy was set up as 2-4-2 with a seat pitch of 38 inches and a seat width of 20 inches. Perks included a better entertainment system (without the elbow controls!), a hotel towel service, and meals plated on crockery instead of plastic trays.
The very grey Business Class was set up with alternating rows of 2-2-2 and 1-2-1 seats. While this class offered more personal space and better facilities than the other categories, it was not as elegant as I had pictured. The seats were certainly not a patch on the Executive pods on the new Dreamliner. Seats here were only 20.5 inches wide – a tiny fraction wider than Premium Economy – although they did transform into lie-flat beds which would have been very nice to have on the overnight return leg especially. Onboard perks included better meals, a massive entertainment system, and an amenity kit. If I were travelling on the Boeing 777-300ER again, I would most likely opt for the Economy cabin although if the price for a Premium Economy seat were reasonable, I would be tempted to book that as a happy medium between luxury and value. If I were fortunate enough to find a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner servicing my flights, I would love to fly in the very stylish and comfortable Executive Pod.
If you think an upgrade might tempt you, speak to the airline long before arriving at the airport, or book the next category up at the time you pay for your flight. When I checked in at each terminal, I was offered an upgrade for the eye-watering price of C$8,000 (≈ £4,652) each way.
Brace yourself for a relatively long immigration queue when you arrive at Montréal. It took me half an hour to work through the snaking line in the customs hall. There was no special treatment for families either – unhappy, tired babies and toddlers were in the same queue so bear this in mind if you are travelling as a family.
This process may well speed up with the introduction of Canada’s eTA (Electronic Travel Authorisation) system in March 2016.
Have you flown long-haul with Air Canada? What did you think of their service? Leave a comment below.
Disclosure: Montréal and Québec tourist boards supplied my flights. The opinions in this article are my own.