The final leg of my relentless round-the-world Aeroplan trip took place in Europe, where I spent a two days in Lausanne, Switzerland and four days in London catching up with some friends, after which I would return home onboard Air Canada A330 business class from Geneva to Montreal.
I was originally scheduled to fly TAP Air Portugal after an additional long layover in Porto, but a schedule change allowed me to rebook myself on the direct Air Canada service to Montreal, thus relieving me from paying Air Canada’s usual fuel surcharges as well.
Air Canada’s newest business class product is found on their Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s (the latter of which I’ve reviewed previously), whereas they use an older-generation herringbone configuration on a fleet of Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s for their non-flagship routes.
So while I can’t say I was feeling particularly excited for this eight-hour flight, I was at least curious to see what the experience would be like, and in particular which aspects of Air Canada’s reinvented Signature Class service would shine through despite the older hard product.
I arrived in Geneva via an early-morning flight from London Heathrow on British Airways Club Europe. While I would’ve liked to remain airside and avoid having to enter and exit EU immigration, the fact that I was checking a bag on two separate airlines meant that I had little choice but to do so.
(Throw in my arrival and departure into Geneva earlier on this trip, as well as my frivolous round-trip flight from Dubai to Geneva and back on Emirates 777 New First Class a few months ago, and these Geneva-minted EU passport stamps were really starting to take up valuable room in my passport!)
Once I picked up my bag from the arrivals level, I headed directly for the Air Canada check-in desk, dropping off my bag for the flight to Montreal and collecting my boarding pass. From there, I proceeded through a Fast Track security lane that was all too familiar to me by now, and then it was off to the lounge.
Geneva Cointrin Airport is a pretty small facility, with most of the airline lounges shunted off in a single wing with a limited area. As a result, none of the lounges here are really anything to write home about, and even the Swiss Business Lounge Geneva doesn’t leave much of an impression, despite this being the airline’s secondary hub after Zurich.
There’s a small buffet area with a handful of hot breakfast items, a solid drink selection, and a few distinct seating zones decorated in the pine and black leather aesthetic that’s distinctive among Swiss lounges.
But don’t expect too much beyond that – forget cooking stations or shower rooms, there isn’t even a bathroom in the lounge, and you have to head down to the hallway to use the facilities that are shared among three or four different airline lounges instead.
I was pretty happy when the boarding hour approached, making my way back through the airport’s long sterile hallways to reach the gate.
Our Air Canada A330 had been parked at a remote stand, so I was transported over by a shuttle bus along with my fellow premium passengers.
Air Canada | AC835
Aircraft: Airbus A330-300
Cabin: Business class
Route: Geneva (GVA) to Montreal (YUL)
Date: Tuesday, November 26, 2019
Time: Departing 12pm and arriving 2:20pm
Duration: 8 hours 20 minutes
Boarding was conducted via the second door on the port side of the Airbus A330, and from there I turned left into the business class cabin.
And as for my first impressions, well, what can I say? At the tail end of a round-the-world journey that included the new Turkish business class, ANA business class, and the new EVA Air business class, Air Canada’s A330 seemed like a decidedly… modest way to finish the trip.
The 27 business class seats are arranged in a herringbone configuration, in which every seat faces outwards openly into the aisle. The layout is 1-1-1, with the “A” seats along the left-side windows having far more privacy than either the “F” seats down the middle or the “K” seats along the right-side windows, since you’re facing out against a divider rather than a fellow passenger.
Naturally, I had selected Seat 7A for myself, and I’d really recommend choosing an “A” seat under most circumstances, unless you’d really value the communal feel of the “F” and “K” seats if you were travelling as a large group.
While I’m usually very enthusiastic in taking my seat when I’m trying out a new business class product, in this case I tip-toed inside rather cautiously, because, well, several parts of the seat seemed like they were in pretty bad shape and were just barely being held together.
As you can see, there’s barely any privacy in this herringbone-style seating, and you really do feel quite exposed to what’s going on in the aisle. I was definitely thankful to be facing the divider here on the “A” side, having to share the aisle with only one set of nine passengers, rather than two.
There really aren’t too many seat features to speak about, given the space constraints. First off, the entertainment monitor is stowed in the wall of the seat adjacent to you, and folds outwards into your field of vision. It’s a pretty bulky and clunky device, so it can take quite a bit of elbow grease to leverage it out of its holder.
Next to that is the handheld controller for the entertainment unit, as well as the seat control buttons. If anything, the way these features are designed should tell you that this business class seat might have been all the rage sometime around the year 2000.
A reading light is positioned closer to your shoulder, whereas the USB and power ports, as well as the three-pronged headphone jack, are found on a single panel down by your legs.
The tray table emerges out of its own separate holder beneath the IFE system. In theory, it’s supposed to pop out gracefully after a gentle push, but years of repeated use means that it’s even more clunky than the entertainment screen to extract, and the flight attendant had to help me finagle it out of its holder on multiple occasions.
Finally, on the opposite side of the seat is a tiny sliver of a surface space where you could keep a small glass or mug, albeit rather precariously given the limited space. I had a glass of the champagne to prepare for our departure.
Overall, I was certainly not expecting to be mightily impressed by the Air Canada A330 business class seat, and I’d say my expectations were just about on par with reality. The seat is way past its prime, lacking storage space, surface space, privacy, and really any sort of thoughtful design.
The seat walls are also noticeably shorter than the general standard that’s expected these days – I could easily reach out and pat my fellow passenger on the back of his head if I wanted to! Moreover, the business class cabin felt extremely open, and it seemed like I was travelling in a huge entourage with 26 other people.
As far as pre-flight rituals go, I also examined the amenity kit by Montreal-based designer Want Les Essentiels, which was made of felt this time, rather than their leather kit that I had received on my previous Air Canada business class flight.
I definitely preferred the old leather amenity kit (indeed, I still use my old Want Les Essentiels kit for all my toiletries these days), and was also somewhat disappointed at how lightly-stocked this newer amenity kit was, with only the bare minimum in terms of its contents.
The flight attendant who’d be taking care of me was an older gentlemen, who was quite proactive and friendly in his service. After offering to put up my coat and delivering the welcome drinks, he came around with a selection of newspapers, followed by the in-flight menu, and then returning a few minutes later to take my meal order.
The menu read as follows:
(Given that this was a flight from Geneva to Montreal, the crew spoke to me in French at first, although we eventually switched to English later on when it became apparent that I’d be much more comfortable en anglais.)
Air Canada’s safety video – a distinctly multicultural one, which I’m sure many of you have seen too many times to count over the years – played on our entertainment screens as we taxied for takeoff. It was interesting to see the flight attendant coming through the cabin and actively opening every passenger’s screen in front of them to ensure that everyone was paying attention, before coming through once again to stow all the monitors for takeoff.
This was a daytime flight, so I intended to watch a movie and work on my laptop for most of it. I had downloaded a documentary on my laptop to watch, though, instead of using the low-resolution monitor in front of me, which became a little troublesome once it was time for the meal service.
The service began with a hot towel and my drink of choice – the Laurent-Perrier champagne – served alongside some mixed toasted nuts.
We then broke bread with the appetizer course about 45 minutes after the flight had begun, which came served on a single tray alongside a simple salad.
Now, while I wasn’t very impressed with the hard product on the Air Canada A330, I thought the food on this flight was a very strong showing, starting with the smoked salmon and potato salad, which came with a delectable horseradish mousse sauce on the side.
It was really quite difficult to eat and watch a movie on my laptop at the same time, though, so I ended up delicately placing my tray on top of my laptop, careful not to make any sudden movements and end up spilling something. And as for eating and working on a laptop at the same time, you can pretty much forget about it on these herringbone seats!
(Having said that, if you did want to watch something on the enRoute entertainment system, then it’d be pretty ideally situated for your viewing pleasure during the meal.)
The crew was putting in a good shift, very promptly replacing my appetizer with my main course of chimichurri lamp chops.
I must say that I was very impressed by this dish: lamp chops are pretty tricky to pull off in general, let alone prepare for an airline meal, and while this wasn’t the best lamb dish I’ve ever had on a plane (that honour goes to the Book the Cook dish on Singapore Suites), I thought the meat was cooked to a very pleasing tenderness, and the generous helping of port wine sauce melded nicely with the polenta and vegetables on the side.
Other travellers’ accounts seem to peg Air Canada’s onboard catering as hit-or-miss, but for me, it’s been a reliable hit across all my flights with the national carrier thus far (at least for the appetizers and main courses – the salads are generally pretty depressing, to be fair).
After polishing off every morsel of the lamb chops, as well as a few top-ups of my champagne (for which the whimsical flight attendant had to open a brand-new bottle, jokingly warning me that I’d better drink up as much as possible!), I concluded the meal with some cheese and fruit, as well as a cup of black coffee.
While I intended to continue staying awake, the sunlight outside was getting pretty intense, so we were encouraged to lower our window shades for the remainder of the flight.
I finished my movie and continued working on my laptop as we meandered across the North Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately, this older-generation Airbus A330 wasn’t equipped with wifi, so I could only work offline, and to make matters worse, the power port in my seat wasn’t functioning either, so I had to pop over to Seat 9A briefly to charge my laptop.
After working for about three hours, I eventually felt the temptation to sneak in a quick nap, as the cabin was being kept pretty dark and most of my fellow passengers around me had already dozed off.
I sneaked off to the restroom to freshen up first, which was kept in nice enough condition on the surface, but definitely could use a deep-clean at some point.
Air Canada provides a thin mattress cover for the lie-flat bed, although I didn’t make use of it since I just wanted to nap briefly. One clear benefit of this herringbone seat, compared to the more advanced reverse herringbone seats on the Boeing 777s and 787s, is that there’s no restrictive footwell at all and you can basically moves your legs however you want while you sleep.
However, even then, the lie-flat bed is pretty short, and my 5’11 frame was already occupying most of the seat cushion on both ends, so I imagine it could get quite uncomfortable for any giants out there. If I were flying this product on an overnight red-eye flight, I’d be grateful that I at least have a lie-flat bed at my disposal, but not for any more than that.
The cabin lights were turned on about an hour before landing for the pre-arrival meal service. I’ve generally found these secondary meals to be very light and simple on Air Canada, and this one was no exception: only a few slices of cold cuts were served as the main dish, along with a fruit plate and a box of chocolates. A fittingly humble ending to what was ultimately a very humble transatlantic journey.
I came into my Air Canada A330 business class flight with meagre expectations, and meagreness is exactly what I got.
The hard product was disappointing to say the least, not only lacking many features that modern premium travellers would consider significant, but also showing numerous signs of wear and tear. It’s one of those situations where “at least it isn’t economy class”, but beyond that, you’re likely to find yourself feeling quite unsatisfied.
Thankfully, the food and service went some way towards redeeming my impressions of Air Canada’s Signature Class, but there’s no question that I’d try to avoid the older Airbus A330s and Boeing 767s on Air Canada and choose the newer 777s and 787s, or any of the better transatlantic business class products out there, whenever possible.
With Air Canada’s continued efforts to modernize their fleet while tooting their horns about offering an onboard product that ranks among North America’s finest, I sure hope these older seats will be shown the exit door sooner rather than later.