I had made a last-minute booking on Air Canada 777 business class en route to Switzerland at the turn of the year. As I mentioned in the last installment, this booking was made via the Aeroplan account of a friend of mine with Air Canada Super Elite 100K status, which allowed me to save on the fuel surcharges that I’d otherwise have to pay.
This overnight flight from Montreal to London would be onboard the Boeing 777, which gave me the opportunity to sample the third, and arguably most acclaimed, variant of the premium experience onboard our national airline.
After killing some time in the Montreal Maple Leaf Lounge, I headed to the gate just in time for boarding, joining the ranks of top-tier elite members and fellow business class passengers in the Zone 1 boarding queue.
Air Canada | AC864
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Cabin: Business class
Route: Montreal (YUL) to London (LHR)
Date: Thursday, January 2, 2020
Time: Departing 7:50pm and arriving 7:30am the next day
Duration: 6 hours 40 minutes
Boarding was conducted at the second door of the aircraft, and I was welcomed aboard and shown to my right-hand side to enter the business class mini-cabin.
There are actually two variants of the Air Canada 777-300ER – a premium-heavy version with 40 business class seats spread across a main cabin and a mini-cabin, as well as a premium-light version with 32 business class seats in a single cabin.
Tonight, I found myself on the former variant, and it’s always my preference to sit in the mini-cabin when one is available because they tend to feel a lot more intimate.
The main cabin contains the first six and a half rows of business class, and that’s where most of tonight’s passengers chose to sit.
Meanwhile, the mini-cabin was looking sharp as I made my way to the back, where I had assigned myself Seat 11A in the very last row of business class.
At first glance, compared to the very similar pod-style reverse herringbone seating on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Boeing 777’s seats felt slightly larger and roomier as a result of the additional width of the aircraft, although the seat shells also looked just a smidgen older, given that the seats were installed on the 777s at an earlier date.
Waiting at my seat was the blanket, pillow, headphones, bottled water, and the amenity kit by Want Les Essentiels. The crew member who’d be taking care of me also came by to introduce herself, mentioning that there were only two passengers seated in the mini-cabin tonight, so she’d try her best not to forget about me!
I went ahead and took a close look at the business class seat around me, which felt very familiar from my previous flight onboard the Dreamliner. The 18’’ entertainment monitor is found at the very far end of the reverse herringbone seat, its startup screen displaying the skyline of our destination this evening.
Beneath that, the tray table slides towards you along a sloped rail, and can be folded over into a full-sized table, as well as locked into position along several notches in the rail.
One of the greatest strengths of reverse herringbone seats, and a major reason why they are so popular, is the generous amount of personal space that is afforded to each passenger.
Here on the Boeing 777, the surface space feels genuinely abundant, and I really valued the ability to put my laptop on the surface beside me while eating dinner later on in the flight.
Among this surface space is a storage hatch, which reveals a large storage unit and another set of seat features housed within. There’s the pull-out entertainment controller, the headphone jack, and the USB and power outlets, which allow you to keep your electronics safe and secure while they charge.
Even better, the lid of the storage hatch allows for a tiny gap even when it’s shut, which also lets you use your electronic device in your hand even while it’s charging. Genius!
The electronic seat controls allow you to fine-tune your seat in terms of its position, angle, and in-seat massage features, as well as the ambient lighting, with two additional analog buttons providing quick access to the upright and lie-flat modes. I won’t go into too much detail here about the electronic seat controls; you can refer back to my Air Canada 787 business class review for all the particulars of the system.
Finally, the literature pocket is found along the bottom wall down by your legs, and there’s one more storage compartment on the other side, at the base of the seat underneath the armrest.
Soon, the flight attendant returned to officially welcome me to the flight with a pre-departure beverage, and I naturally selected the Laurent-Perrier champagne.
She also passed out the in-flight menu, which had one slight oddity about it: it was a paper copy of a menu, rather than the real thing.
Okay, I get it. We business class passengers are a pretty spoiled bunch, and there are a lot of items that need to be handed out to us before and during the flight. Sometimes those items don’t get stocked properly by accident, and in this case they clearly ran out of the standard menus with the sleek black covers.
It just so happens, however, that browsing through the menu prior to takeoff is one of my personal favourite rituals when travelling in premium cabins, so I was feeling quite let down by this. What’s more, the paper copy of the menu didn’t even include the drink list, which is definitely one of the best parts of the menu to casually browse.
Anyway, the photocopied food menu read as follows:
Since this was an overnight flight, the menu also came with a breakfast card (which happened to be printed on the proper material, rather than a photocopy). I continue to wonder why airlines offer these breakfast cards rather than simply having the crew take your breakfast order, but I can’t deny that there’s something fun about filling in the card and handing it off anyway.
As we waited to push back, I also took apart the amenity kit by Want Les Essentiels, a Montreal-based fashion designer. This one was made of a coarser material than the smooth leather bag I had received when I flew with Air Canada back in May 2018, and I have to say I liked the other variety better.
However, I was happy to see one of my favourite items that Air Canada includes in their amenity kits: the glass cloth, which is incredibly useful for cleaning my glasses.
Other items in the kit included tube socks, eye shades, earplugs, a dental kit, and a small box of skincare essentials by Vancouver-based scent maker Vitruvi.
It was shortly prior to takeoff that my flight attendant swung by once again to let me know that I was free to move over to the opposite side, over by the right-side windows, if I wanted more privacy from the only other passenger in the mini-cabin who was seated two rows in front of me. It didn’t matter too much to me, but a little more privacy is always nice, so I went ahead and switched over to Seat 10K for takeoff.
Air Canada offers one of the more well-stocked in-flight entertainment systems out there, with hundreds of movies and TV titles to choose from, and I was pleased to see that the user interface had been updated since I last flew with them to be more in keeping with the times.
While I’ll sometimes indulge in a movie or two when flying, most of the time I’m working on my laptop instead, so I usually put on the airshow to track our progress.
Tonight’s flight path was a relatively short hop across the Atlantic, and even though the flight time had been blocked at 6h40m originally, we’d only require a flying time of 5h30m due to the strong tailwinds this evening.
It was therefore no surprise that the crew was extremely proactive in commencing the meal and drink service as soon as the seat belt sign was turned off. With relatively few travellers choosing to fly shortly after New Year’s Day, the crew on this flight was quite efficient and attentive.
In fact, I even got the sense that there were too few passengers to keep them fully occupied, since there were a few times when one flight attendant came by to check if I needed anything shortly after another flight attendant had just done the same thing.
To drink, I started with a glass of red wine. Since there was no drink list available, I asked the flight attendant if she could describe the wines to me, and I was given the choice of “strong, light, or candied” red wine. I went for the light one, which turned out to be a glass of Italian red, and it was served with a ramekin of mixed toasty nuts.
As she served my drink, my flight attendant said to me, “I wish you a very happy new year and all the best accomplishments for the next one.” How sweet!
The appetizer was served 20 minutes later: a smoked yellowfin tuna with mushroom and artichoke escabèche. I was quite impressed by the smoked tuna, which I found to be a novel mix of sour and salty flavours, but I left the escabèche mostly untouched since I’m not a big fan of either mushrooms nor artichokes.
While the service was initially very proactive, it slowed down noticeably at this point, and it took another 30 minutes or so after my plate was cleared for the main course to be delivered.
I mostly spent this time on my laptop, so I didn’t mind too much, but I did wonder why the initial pace of service was not kept up, especially given how short this flight would be.
Anyway, I was clearly in the mood for some seafood in the sky, as my meal continued with a salmon fillet in green curry sauce as the main course. The salmon was a little bit overcooked, but the flavours still shone through pretty well, and the green curry sauce gave everything a nice kick.
As much as it’s a national pastime of ours to give Air Canada a hard time, I have to say that I’ve had mostly positive experiences with their food in business class, and I’d choose Air Canada’s catering over quite a few other airlines out there any day of the week.
When the cheese plate was served, I asked the flight attendant if she could also help me prepare my lie-flat bed for some rest. Since the mini-cabin was so sparsely populated, I had my pick of all the other vacant seats to use as my bed, and I chose to sleep in Seat 11A right behind me.
I washed down the cheese with my customary cup of black tea. Somehow, while a cup of coffee would be enough to keep me awake at night, a cup of Earl Grey simply soothes my spirits and doesn’t really affect my sleep at all, even though I know it has plenty of caffeine as well. It’s totally a placebo effect.
Anyway, I headed to the restroom while my bed was being made. With few passengers using it, the business class restroom here in the mini-cabin was squeaky-clean, although the amenities were limited to a bottle of Vitruvi-branded hand soap and not much else.
I returned to Seats 10A and 11A to find myself with a very satisfying setup: one seat for hanging out, and one seat for sleeping.
After spending a few more minutes finishing up my work, I finally headed to bed, with only about three hours left until our scheduled arrival in London.
Since the journey to my final destination in Switzerland the next morning would be by no means a short one, I decided I’d need as much sleep as I could get, so I asked the flight attendant to cancel my breakfast order and let me sleep for as long as possible. It’s not like I haven’t eaten Air Canada’s signature parsley omelette far too many times on domestic business class flights, anyway.
Sure enough, I slept very comfortably for the next three hours or so, and I think it’s worth pointing out that the Boeing 777’s additional width means that I found the footwell here in Air Canada business class to be noticeably less restrictive than that on the narrower Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
I was nudged to wake up as we were already flying over London. Those of you who often fly into Heathrow Airport will know that these flights most likely involve circling London a few times due to the busy air traffic around here, and so I caught a few more minutes of rest after heading back to Seat 10A and reclining my seat ever-so-slightly.
Eventually, we touched down in Heathrow under cover of darkness, taxiing over to Air Canada’s gates over at the Terminal 2B and bringing my first flight of 2020 – a short but mostly satisfying one – to an end. After clearing transit immigration, I’d dip into the Priority Pass lounge for a shower and some English breakfast before catching my next flight on Swiss, bound for Geneva.
While you aren’t likely to come away from Air Canada business class with a life-changing luxurious experience, it’s undoubtedly a leading premium product among North American airlines and a competitive one in the global reckoning.
In terms of the hard product, the wider aircraft relieves some of the space constraints that I had found on the Dreamliner, especially in regards to the limited space of the footwell. Meanwhile, like my previous flights, the food and drink was a solid showing, and the service was upbeat and professional, even if the pace and flow of service was a little hit-or-miss (not to mention the lack of printed menus, too).
For me, there’s always something more exciting about flying with foreign airlines, and I’ll continue to actively seek out those experiences going forward. However, I take comfort in the knowledge that if I absolutely needed to take the most direct and convenient route from Canada to somewhere else, then business class onboard our flag carrier can always be relied upon to get me there in a timely and comfortable manner.