Anyone who's ever tried to book something on Aeroplan knows that booking long-haul Air Canada business class flights using Aeroplan miles comes with a hefty "fuel surcharge" of hundreds of dollars. Unless, of course, you make the booking out of an Air Canada Super Elite account, in which case the fuel surcharge is waived. That's exactly what I did on my Latin America trip in order to get myself to Buenos Aires as conveniently as possible.
This was going to be my first time flying in the posh seats with Canada's flag carrier, given that the fuel surcharges usually make Air Canada awards prohibitively expensive. I was intrigued to find out what the experience would be like, especially seeing as the airline has recently made significant improvements to their premium cabin product.
I arrived at Toronto Pearson about two hours before the flight, and was delighted to finally be able to make use of the Air Canada premium check-in section. Since I fly Air Canada business class so rarely, this was the first time I was able to complete the check-in formalities at these particular desks.
At the end of the day, there was nothing too special about the premium check-in section, except for the beautiful model of the Air Canada Dreamliner that was on display – the very same aircraft that would be taking us to Buenos Aires!
Security was an absolute breeze since we had access to the priority lanes, and before long we were hanging out in the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge waiting to board our flight. We made for Gate E71 at the stated boarding time of 6:55pm, although we ended up waiting there for over 20 minutes for some unspecified reason, before we were finally on our way down the jet bridge...
I boarded through the second door on the left side of the aircraft, turning left to enter the forward cabin. Business class on Air Canada's Boeing 787 Dreamliners consists of 30 individual pods, known in the industry as "reverse herringbone seats", all with direct aisle access.
My first impressions of the cabin were quite positive – I thought the ultra-sleek finishes and natural colour palettes looked very cool.
Jessica and I both wanted to sit by the window on this flight, and so we had assigned ourselves Seats 6A and 7A. I settled down in Seat 7A, the window seat in the penultimate row of the cabin.
Waiting at each seat was the blanket, pillow, headphones, amenity kit, and a bottle of water.
The most noteworthy feature of the seat is the storage nook that dominates the seat console. With the latch open, you have a spacious compartment in which to store loose items or small electronic devices. The entertainment controller is latched here as well, while the USB and power outlets are located along the walls of the compartment, meaning that you can charge your devices whilst keeping them secure.
Meanwhile, flip the latch down and you find yourself with ample surface space instead. I thought this was a very cool feature, since it effectively lets you "put away" many of the usual business class seat features that can take up quite a bit of room.
The touch-screen seat controls are located along your armrest, facing you. There are also two analog buttons that you can use to change the seat from upright mode to lie-flat mode and vice versa.
A push-button reading light is mounted within the upper shell of your seat, adjacent to your headrest.
A few more features can be found in some rather interesting positions. The literature pocket is down by your feet, underneath the console of the seat in front of you. Meanwhile, there's a small storage unit near the ground by the aisle – I'm not sure what this is useful for, besides perhaps storing a bottle of water that you can easily reach when waking up in the middle of your sleep.
Your aisle-side armrest is tucked away by default, although you can push a button on its forward side to raise it into position.
The tray table is interesting as well, and unlike any other tray table configuration I've seen. It's initially locked in place underneath the entertainment screen and acts as a small countertop that's good for placing a cup or a small dish.
You can release the tray table by unlatching a small handle on its underside, bringing it towards you along a diagonally downward-sloping set of rails. There are a total of three positions in which you can secure the tray table, and in each of the latter two positions, you can either use it as a thin countertop or fold it out and make it a full table.
The flight attendant came by to the pass out the welcome drinks and the in-flight menu.
I also took the time prior to take-off to flip through the Want Les Essentiels amenity kit, which I must say is one of the most stylish kits I've seen recently. I'm definitely keeping these around to use in day-to-day life.
The contents of the kit were rather bare-bones, consisting of socks, earplugs, face lotion, an eye mask, a dental kit, and a cloth for cleaning your glasses. Having said that, I did really enjoy the design of the glass cloth, which was emblazoned with the three-letter airport codes of various Air Canada destinations.
Our take-off was delayed by a little while due to some maintenance issues, so I kept exploring the space around me to keep myself occupied. The aircraft had self-dimming windows instead of window shades, and you control the amount of light you want using a small button beneath the window.
What I had never before realized about the Boeing 787's self-dimming windows was that they could be controlled electronically as well. Indeed, you can choose the dimness of your seat's windows in the "Ambience" sub-menu of the seat controls...
...as well as the touch-screen entertainment system! How awesome is that?
I flicked through the entertainment system a little more as we finally began our takeoff roll. There was a very wide selection of movies for you to enjoy on the HD screen.
While Jessica enjoyed a movie or two over the course of the flight, I had opted to get some work done on my laptop, so I put on the airshow instead. To my delight, Air Canada has one of those extensive airshow programs that let you pan, zoom, rotate, etc., including the amazing "command centre" viewpoint.
We had reached cruising altitude by the time the crew was coming around to take meal orders. The menu read as follows:
I ordered a glass of the Spanish red to drink, and for my main course I picked the Chef David Hawksworth signature dish, the red wine braised duck leg with crushed fingerling potato.
The Monteabellón wine was served quickly alongside a small dish of mixed warm nuts.
The flight attendant set my table before bringing over the appetizer and salad on a tray. Shortly after, I was also offered my choice from the breadbasket. With my table set for dinner, there was no place for me to use my laptop, so I put it away for the time being. I kind of felt that Air Canada's business class seat was a little on the small side – certainly more restrictive than EVA Air, which also has reverse herringbone seats in business class.
I love seafood, so the lobster and shrimp appetizer was a real treat. I liked the tomato confit and garlic aioli garnishes, although I have to say that artichoke is far from my favourite vegetable, so I didn't eat too many of those.
Soon after being polished off, the appetizer was replaced by the main course. Chef Hawksworth's signature dish comes presented beautifully, the duck leg propped up by a smattering of potatoes, pearl onions, and peas, all drenched in a rich red wine sauce and topped with crispy potato crumble. And believe me, it tastes as good as it looks.
I spent a good half hour working my way to the bone, enjoying the splendid mix of flavours. It was proper restaurant-quality food, and I have to say that for business class, this is about as good as it gets.
Over in Seat 6A, Jessica had ordered the barbecue salmon with basmati rice and bok choy, which looked great as well.
Throughout the meal, the crew was proactive in keeping my wine glass topped up and seeing if there was anything else they could offer. It seemed to be mostly relatively senior crew members working the business class cabin on this flight, and they were friendly and charming.
Once the main course was finished, I was asked if I wanted cheese and dessert to follow. I gladly said yes to the cheese plate, consisting of oka, camembert, and cheddar, together with some grapes and crackers.
Whenever a cheese plate is offered in business class, I usually find it difficult to finish the whole thing, since I've typically just finished off a big meal. Nevertheless, I still try my best, because it just feels like such a fun and mildly decadent thing to eat. This flight was no exception; I successfully conquered the oka and camembert, along with all the garnishes, but that last block of cheddar eventually proved a step too far.
Nevertheless, when the dessert cart rolled around – consisting of a brown sugar tart, with vanilla custard poured right in front of your eyes – I was again unable to resist. I ordered a black tea to help wash it down and took to the task with renewed vigour, eventually finishing off the whole thing.
With the meal wrapping up, I asked for a glass of extra spicy Clamato, mostly because it was there on the menu and it had been a while since the last time I'd had some. I still can't decide if the taste of tomato and clam juice is something I love or hate.
The meal service concluded about two hours into the flight, and I spent another hour or so working on my laptop. Soon, it was 11pm Toronto time and most passengers were beginning to catch some sleep for the night. There was no sign of any turndown service, and people were making their own beds using the blankets and mattress sheets provided.
I went to the restroom to freshen up before going to bed. The business class restroom at the front of the Boeing 787 is surprisingly tiny, and there's very little room to maneuver.
Later on, I also visited the restroom behind me, which I believe is meant for premium economy passengers. That restroom turned out to be a lot more spacious. So that's something to keep in mind if you're seated in the rows further back in Air Canada business class.
As I returned from the restroom, I took note of the snack baskets that had been laid out at the front of the cabin. I grabbed a KitKat and a bag of chips to keep for later.
Back at my seat, I noticed that Seat 6D opposite me was empty for the flight, so I elected to make my bed there.
The aisle seats have a privacy divider between them, which, as it turns out, couldn't be raised or lowered. That's a major design flaw, in my opinion, since it really limits the usefulness of these middle seats for couples travelling together.
There's also some cool lighting along this divider; the "Ambience" sub-menu in the aisle seats allows you to control this lighting in place of the window brightness.
I shut off the lighting and put the seat into lie-flat mode, hoping to get some decent sleep for the six hours or so that remained (keeping in mind that breakfast would be served approximately 75 minutes prior to landing).
I have to say that I didn't find the Air Canada business class bed to be very comfortable at all. The problem was specifically with the footwell, which felt extremely restrictive. There was simply very little legroom – you couldn't bend your legs at all if you were lying on your back, and even if you turned to your side, you'd only be able to bend your legs very slightly.
This isn't particular to the passenger's body type, either. I struggled with getting my legs in a comfortable position the whole night, and Jessica's diminutive frame experienced the same issues. I ended up propping my leg up outside the footwell and flush against the entertainment screen for a significant part of my sleep. It speaks volumes that I found that to be more comfortable than sleeping in the lie-flat seat normally.
A fitful night of sleep was brought to an end when I was awoken for the breakfast service at T-minus 75 minutes, on the dot. Breakfast consisted of fruits, yogurts, and pastries to begin with, followed by my choice between omelette and pancakes, which were served from a meal cart that was pushed through the cabin.
I went with the omelette with chicken sausage and potatoes, which was tasty except for the cottage cheese, which I don't particularly like. To drink, I had a glass of orange juice and a black coffee, to get me in the mood for a long and exciting day ahead in Buenos Aires.
After clearing away the breakfast trays, the crew passed out the Argentina customs forms.
Before long, we were given the all-clear to make our landing in Ezeiza International Airport, where it had rained early in the morning and was just beginning to clear up. I had dozed off to sleep again by this point, and barely lifted an eyelid when we touched down and taxied to our gate.
Air Canada business class, particularly on the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner and in light of the recent improvements they've made, left me with plenty of positive impressions. I thought the cabin's finishes worked relatively well, drawing upon natural hues of grey and beige to give passengers a feeling of understated refinement. The food was top-notch as well, with Chef David Hawksworth's culinary expertise really shining through in the appetizer, main course, and dessert.
Having said that, I do take issue with how restrictive the business class seat feels, especially when in lie-flat mode, when the objective is to get a good night's sleep. In some cases (such as travel to South America), Air Canada remains the best possible Star Alliance business class option, but in other instances I would definitely look at other airlines, for this reason alone.