Airline review: Air Canada economy class, New York to Vancouver

Our rating

4 out of 5

THE PLANE

Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

THE ROUTE

New York (Newark) to Vancouver

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Air Canada Altitude, part of Star Alliance.

CLASS

Economy class, seat 25K.

DURATION

Five hours, 40 minutes.

FREQUENCY

Air Canada offers one direct daily flight from New York (Newark) to Vancouver, leaving at 7pm and getting in at 9.40pm. If you're prepared to endure a multi-hour layover, there are numerous earlier flights via Toronto.

SEAT

Economy features a 3-3-3 configuration of pleasantly comfortable seats which squeak and spring like a new sofa. Each seat is 43.9cm wide (17 inches) with up to a 78.7-cm pitch (31 inches), depending on the row. The seats recline 12.7cm, which, combined with the ample leg space, is just enough for me to stretch out my 1.8 metre body without causing a commotion.

BAGGAGE

Air Canada charges CAD$25 for the first checked bag of up to 23 kilograms, and CAD$35 for the second. Unless this flight is part of a longer international journey, as mine is, in which case two checked bags are free.

COMFORT

There are several features about this plane that draw more of my attention than they usually would. The first is ventilation, which is excellent. I never feel stuffy or dry – two conditions that plague me on many long-distance flights. The windows are also remarkable, some 65 per cent larger than standard airplane windows. There are no shutters. Instead, electrified gel sandwiched under the glass brightens or dims on command, like a pair of smart sunglasses. I am obsessed.

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ENTERTAINMENT

The seatback touchscreen is big, clear, and responsive. Written material boasts some 600 hours of film, TV, and music, though the selection feels a little more limited in practice, particularly when it comes to current movies. A nice touch is the 2016 Air Canada enRoute Film Festival, though, which offers a variety of Canadian films from three to 17 minutes in length. Each display has a USB port for charging your own devices.

SERVICE

Have you ever met an unfriendly Canadian? Not on an Air Canada flight, at any rate. The crew members are chatty and smiley; one woman spies my neighbour reading sheet music and engages her in a length conversation about Bach; another distributes activity books for kids with all the jolly benevolence of Santa.

FOOD

Air Canada Cafe tantalises you with art-directed pictures of its food on the touchscreen display. Nothing ever looks this good, of course, and also it costs money – a surprise on a nearly six-hour flight across an international border. After realising there are no free snacks (not even a pretzel), I cave and purchase a sriracha chicken wrap for $CAD7.50; it is thin and of questionable texture. Alcohol also costs money – another death blow.

ONE MORE THING

As of late last year, even transiting through Canada requires an Electronic Travel Authorisation (ETA), at a cost of $CAD7. The ludicrous formality must be processed in advance, a fact that has been poorly publicised by Air Canada to its customers, many of whom (like me) have found themselves frantically applying on their mobile phones at the airport. Be careful: incorrect information locks you out for 72 hours.

THE VERDICT

A gorgeous plane and gracious service is let down by the frugality of air travel in North America, where even minor comforts (a snack) come with a price tag. But if you're travelling onwards to Australia, never fear: All is corrected in the next leg, where wine flows freely all the way to Brisbane.

Lance Richardson paid for his own flight.

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