Since my flight to Shanghai had been booked to depart out of Toronto, I needed to tag on a separate flight from Vancouver to Toronto at the start of the journey.
I’ve flown Air Canada business class quite a few times on my recent transcontinental trips, so I thought that it would be worthwhile to try out Air Canada 787 premium economy this time around and offer you a quick review of the domestic premium economy experience.
The pricing made sense, too. When I was looking at this flight with Aeroplan points, the business class redemption was priced awfully high under Aeroplan’s new dynamic pricing model – around 60,000 points one-way.
Meanwhile, I booked premium economy for only 17,300 points; not only was that a significant savings compared to business class, but it was still good value compared to the cash price of ~$790 one-way as well.
I had only flown Air Canada premium economy once before, on a very short journey between Toronto and Montreal, so I was eager to find out what the experience would be like on a medium-haul journey.
And since I’ll be making plenty of Vancouver–Toronto trips in the future, I was hoping that it would be a viable alternative to business class in terms of the comfort and service, so that I could save some Aeroplan points for larger and more meaningful redemptions over time.
A friend dropped me off at Vancouver International Airport at about 6am, in advance of my 7:30am departure. All of the check-in desks for domestic departures had been consolidated into the international zone, so I walked over to drop off my bags before heading for the security queue.
Even though I was travelling in premium economy, I had access to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge thanks to my Aeroplan 50K status. The lounge was relatively empty at this early hour, with only a few occupants who were on the same morning flight to Toronto.
I sat down to order a helping of the avocado toast via the “Maple Leaf Lounge @ la table” service, which has become a popular breakfast staple across the Maple Leaf Lounges of the new era.
Heading to the boarding gate, I arrived just in time for Zone 2 boarding, and made my way onboard the Dreamliner just behind the business class folks.
Air Canada | AC104
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Cabin: Premium economy
Route: Vancouver (YVR) to Toronto (YYZ)
Date: Saturday, April 24, 2021
Time: Departing 7:30am and arriving 2:49pm
Duration: 4 hours 19 minutes
Despite all the passengers ahead of me being invited to turn left into the business class cabin, I was instead directed to turn right at the far aisle towards Seat 14K in premium economy.
The premium economy cabin on Air Canada’s Boeing 787 Dreamliner consists of 21 seats, arranged across three rows (Rows 12, 13, and 14) in a 2-3-2 configuration.
The seats are decked out in a navy finish, with a splash of Air Canada’s signature red on the headrests.
My initial impression of the seating arrangement was that it’d be an ideal choice for couples or families travelling together who wanted a little bit of extra comfort on top of economy class at a modest premium, but didn’t want to shell out for a full business class seat.
Meanwhile, solo travellers in premium economy would be taking the chance that they find themselves sat next to a stranger. In my case, the flight wasn’t anywhere close to full today, so I had snagged myself Seat 14K on the correct assumption that no one would be assigned the seat next to me.
I settled into the window seat, making use of the under-seat storage across the entire row.
Air Canada premium economy has a 19.5’’ seat width, which was more than wide enough to sit comfortably.
Let’s take a look around the seat features. Each seat is equipped with an 11’’ entertainment monitor, accompanied by its controller underneath it and a coat hook to the right-hand side.
I didn’t end up making much use of the entertainment screen, since I was working throughout the entire flight. However, I was quite impressed by the system’s screen resolution and responsiveness, which is an upgrade upon the older-generation system that was implemented a few years ago.
The screen can also be lifted up for a better viewing experience, as well as revealing a USB charging port on its underside.
Further down, there’s the seat back pocket and a legrest that can be lowered into place. I’m 5’11’’ and found the seat and legrest to be a very comfortable sitting position for the five-hour transcontinental flight.
The power ports are located in the middle of the two seats, down by the legrest. Compared to the charging ports in business class (which are positioned at arm’s length in your seat’s storage compartment), these were a little difficult to use for my MacBook charger, which kept slipping out of the port. I needed to give it a serious twist to get it to lodge in place.
There’s a small surface for placing a drink or a snack along the armrest between the seats.
Each armrest also lifts to reveal the tray table, which swivels down into position in front of you, and then folds over to become the full table.
Overall, I found the Air Canada 787 premium economy seat to be very similar to Air Canada A220 business class, and I was more than happy with it for a daytime cross-country flight with no need to lie down.
Boarding was completed relatively quickly, and we soon pushed back from the gate for takeoff. There were only seven passengers among the 21 premium economy seats, and we were spread out evenly throughout the cabin for optimal social distancing.
Since this was a very early 7:30am departure, I dozed off for a bit during the takeoff sequence, and only awoke by the time the crew had begun their onboard service.
On domestic premium economy flights during the pandemic era, the breakfast meal service is limited to a snack plate consisting of cheese and fruit, as well as a selection of pre-packaged snacks.
(It’s my understanding that a chicken sandwich is offered in lieu of a cheese and fruit plate on flights that take place later in the day.)
The crew member also mentioned that they wouldn’t be coming through the cabin again, so that I should make as many requests as I wanted right now. I got both an orange juice and a black coffee to drink.
Air Canada is definitely keeping things simple here – some would argue that it’s a little too simple, and that a simplified meal box in premium economy is in fact motivated by cost-cutting rather than a “health and safety” measure as indicated on the meal card.
Indeed, other leading airlines around the world have already restored their full onboard service by now, so I hope it won’t be long before Air Canada follows suit.
I quickly finished up my simple breakfast plate, and I was certainly feeling pretty happy that I had decided to get the avocado toast in the lounge earlier.
Afterwards, I headed to the restroom, which is shared among premium economy and business class passengers. There’s a baby changing table in here, as well as a limited set of amenities including hand soap, hand lotion, and aromatic spray.
On the way back to my seat, I asked the crew member for another cup of coffee, which was promptly delivered even though it was outside of the standard service procedure for premium economy.
I then settled into a video editing session on my laptop. With an empty seat next to me, I had more than enough space to work efficiently, although it might’ve been a tighter squeeze if I had a seat mate nearby.
Besides the wobbly power port, my only other minor complaint about the premium economy seat from a productivity perspective was that the tray table wasn’t very sturdy, and my laptop caused it to tilt downwards a fair bit.
It wasn’t exactly a dealbreaker for me, though if you do prefer a heavy-set working surface, then perhaps you’ll still want to go with a business class seat.
The rest of the flight passed by without much incident, as I finished working on my video over the course of the remaining two hours or so.
While I didn’t get a chance to use the entertainment system, I’ve included here a few pictures of the movie and TV selection that I took on my subsequent Air Canada business class flight en route to Shanghai.
I counted at least two dozen titles under each genre, and with numerous genres available between both movies and TV box sets, you’ll be spoilt for choice if you prefer to watch something on the screens to pass the time on a flight.
One more extra perk that I’d point out about the premium economy seats is that you get some very nice views over the engine and wing of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
My eyes were glued to the windows as we made our descent, eventually making a smooth landing and pulling up alongside those ever-familiar HSBC-branded jet bridges at Toronto Pearson.
While the limited onboard service left a little bit to be desired, I was overall very satisfied with my Air Canada 787 premium economy flight, and I could see myself making this exact same booking on many occasions in the future.
With Aeroplan’s dynamic pricing these days, it won’t always make sense to shell out for a lie-flat business class seat on a transcontinental journey, especially if it’s a daytime flight.
Moreover, if the only reasonably priced business class redemptions are on Airbus A220s or Airbus A320s, then it’d almost certainly make more sense to redeem points for 787 or 777 premium economy instead, as it’s basically the same experience in terms of the hard product.
As more of us focus on domestic rather than international trips as travel resumes later this year and beyond, I think Air Canada’s 787 and 777 premium economy products will play a large part in our domestic travel strategies, allowing us to redeem Aeroplan points at a good value, enjoy a higher level of comfort compared to economy class, and save the rest of our Aeroplan points for bigger international redemptions in the future.
Personally, I definitely plan to book a mix of business class and premium economy on my Vancouver–Toronto trips now that I’ve moved to the West Coast, and I’m looking forward to many more of the serene wing views – hopefully accompanied by a restored full meal service sooner rather than later – from Seat 14K.