Airline review: Air Canada Boeing 777-200LR Signature (business) class, Vancouver to Sydney

THE PLANE

Boeing 777-200LR. There are six of these aircraft in the Air Canada fleet.

THE ROUTE

Vancouver to Sydney

CLASS

Signature Class (Air Canada's newly-named business class)

LOYALTY SCHEME

Altitude, Aeroplan and Star Alliance

DURATION

15 hours and 25 minutes non-stop

FREQUENCY

Air Canada operates daily non-stop services to and from Sydney and Vancouver, its western Canada hub whose airport is consistently and rightly rated as North America's finest. Earlier this year, Air Canada introduced thrice-weekly non-stop flights aboard its Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft between Melbourne and Vancouver.

SEAT

25K (window) in 1-2-1 configuration providing all-aisle access. The Signature Class seat, or pod, converts to a 203.2-centimetre long flat bed. It's accompanied by newly-introduced quilted mattress pad, duvet and pillows as part of Air Canada's upgrade of its business class offering. There are also new amenity kits stocked with products by leading Canadian brands such as WANT Les Essentiels and Vitruivi. The seat, with an awkwardly-positioned foldable tray table inside a fetching white and grey cabin, is not going to challenge any of the leading Middle East or Asia carriers for luxury and features. But it's perfectly comfortable and congenial on this marathon route. Unfortunately the excellent and affordable Wi-Fi offered on Air Canada's domestic routes was not available on my two flights to and from Canada from Australia.

BAGGAGE

Two pieces are allowed at a maximum of 32 kilograms for business class passengers.

SERVICE

The Signature Class cabin crew on this Vancouver to Sydney service are professional, attentive and caring. However, based on other international and domestic Air Canada flights on this particular visit to North America, service standards in the air and on the ground can vary from being at times pleasantly unpolished to curt and dismissive. They're traits not typically associated with the famously courteous Canadians and tend to be encountered when you're not travelling at the front of the plane. At the stylish and compact new Maple Class Lounge at Vancouver International Airport, a rather premature announcement was made that the lounge would be closing even though passengers on the Sydney service were not yet ready to board.

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FOOD

Sleep was the imperative on this extended flight – one of the longest to Australia from any destination – coupled with the near midnight departure of the service. I skip the "late evening express supper", consisting of dishes such as grilled beer tenderloin with a cabernet peppercorn sauce, red wine braised duck leg and salmon and prawn Thai coconut bouillabaisse (meals on my earlier Sydney to Vancouver flight on this trip were a tad below standard for a business class service). As part of its business class upgrade, Air Canada has engaged David Hawksworth, a Vancouver-based celebrity chef, with sommelier Veronique Rivest providing input for a revised wine list.

ENTERTAINMENT

The entertainment Signature Service pod features a personal touchscreen along with a decent range of films, television programs, podcasts, music and audio books. Interestingly, and perhaps in keeping with Canada's unrivalled reputation for tolerance, there's even programming friendly to gay passengers with the in-flight safety video featuring a same-sex couple.

ONE MORE THING

It's worth remembering that Air Canada's service offers a viable alternative gateway to US destinations with passengers able to pass more seamlessly, if not with complete ease, through both Canada and US customs in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto. At the time of my flight, lie-flat seats were due to be introduced on selected and extended domestic Canadian and US routes.

THE VERDICT

Air Canada is making a commendable attempt to overcome the burden of its long-held moribund image and curiously below-the-radar profile. It's not there yet but considering the reserves of goodwill that Canada attracts from much of the civilised world, not least Australia, there is considerable potential for Air Canada to eventually position itself among the top carriers.

OUR RATING OF OF FIVE

★★★½

Anthony Dennis travelled courtesy of Collette and Destination Canada and with the assistance of Air Canada. See gocollette.com/en-au; au-keepexploring.canada.travel; and aircanada.com

See also: Canadian working holiday visas for Aussies extended to mid-30s

See also: The best airlines for flying from Australia to the US

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