This morning, I flew from Toronto to Montreal onboard the new Air Canada Jetz service. It was the first time I got on an airplane since mid-March, and it’s safe to say that it was a radically different experience from every flight I’ve taken in the past.
Even though this was only a quick and straightforward one-hour hop, I wanted to write a review of this flight and share with you some of my impressions of flying in an emerging post-COVID-19 world.
In addition to the full review below, you can also watch a video that I made about the flight as well:
Booking Air Canada Jetz
Air Canada recently announced that they’d be scheduling their fleet of three specially-configured “Jetz” Airbus A319s for use on the Toronto–Montreal and Toronto–Ottawa passenger routes for a limited time. These Jetz planes consist of a single cabin of 58 regional business class seats, and are normally used as charter aircraft for Canadian sports teams and public figures.
The planes would be sitting empty in the hangars anyway, so the airline may as well use them to drum up a modicum of excitement around the flying experience at a time when said excitement is at a historic low.
The Jetz aircraft will operate a total eight flights per day, which consists of two flights in each direction from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal. These flights can be identified by their flight numbers between AC490 and AC499, according to the schedule below.
All seats on the Jetz aircraft are marketed as premium economy, even though they’re on par with a regional business class seat.
While the cash fare is still significantly higher than economy class prices on these routes, the cost when booking through Aeroplan is much more reasonable: you’ll only pay 10,000 Aeroplan miles (the short-haul premium economy pricing) for a one-way ticket on Jetz, compared to 7,500 miles for a regular economy class seat.
That’s exactly how I booked today’s flight, redeeming 20,000 Aeroplan miles and about $165 in taxes and fees for two seats on the inaugural Jetz flight on the Toronto–Montreal route.
(If only I had taken action to qualify for Prestige 25K under Travel at Home earlier, instead of leaving it to the last minute – I might’ve saved about half of those $165 in fees!)
For what it’s worth, the purpose of the trip was to essentially to return home. As many of you may know, Jessy and I left Montreal in early April to “hunker down” at her family home in Ontario. Our apartment lease in Montreal, however, happens to be ending in June, so we needed to return at some point to take care of all our belongings – and we decided we may as well take advantage of this limited-time opportunity to fly Air Canada Jetz.
Arrival at Toronto Pearson
I was fully expecting to see Toronto Pearson International Airport, a place of which I have such fond memories as the starting point of new adventures aplenty, in a near-deserted state given the record-low passenger numbers these days.
Nevertheless, it was still pretty shocking to be confronted with the reality before my eyes.
Never once have I seen the parkway or the sidewalk outside the main departures level so eerily empty.
With most of Terminal 1’s other occupants suspending their Toronto flights, all doors other than those near the Air Canada check-in counters were closed, in order to limit unnecessary foot traffic across the terminal.
The doors that remained open would carry a sign saying that only passengers and airport employees were allowed beyond this point. It’ll be a while before bidding farewell to your loved ones at the security checkpoint will be allowed again, that’s for sure.
(Not pictured: the second set of sliding doors beyond this one, bearing a sign that masks or face coverings are required inside the airport at all times. It’s my understanding that both of these rules came into effect today on June 1.)
Inside the terminal, the scenes of desolation continued. I counted about a dozen other passengers between Zones 2 and 3, where check-in for Air Canada’s domestic flights was being handled.
I presume that Zone 1, which is typically used for Air Canada’s premium passengers travelling domestically or internationally, was closed for the time being. I didn’t get around to checking it out for myself, though, as Jessy was much less curious about our surroundings than I was and just wanted to get through everything as quickly as possible.
We therefore passed through to the Priority check-in lane at Zone 3, which I assumed we’d have access to as premium economy passengers. I was pleased to see that plexiglass barriers had been erected at the check-in desks as part of Air Canada CleanCare+.
The passenger in front of us was taking his sweet time, though, and since we had already checked in online and just needed to print out a bag tag, we headed over to the self-serve kiosks to get it done.
Here’s where I was disappointed with the Air Canada CleanCare+ initiative. Several of the self-serve kiosks were not operational. The machines that were turned on displayed a mix of the usual “Touch here to begin” and “Touch-free check-in”, inviting guests to scan their passport or boarding pass directly; however, both machines failed to scan our passport or mobile boarding passes properly.
If you’re going to promote a “touch-free” flying experience, you’d better make sure everything works smoothly, or else you’re going to have a whole lot more touching around the machine than was necessary in the first place.
Doing my best to minimize contact, I eventually entered our booking reference into one of the machines and got the bag tags and boarding passes printed that way. Then, it was off to the self-serve touchless bag-drop station, which thankfully did its job just fine in transporting my bag into the bowels of the Airbus A319.
Onwards to security. An airport associate took our temperature using a contactless thermometer before we were allowed into the queue.
Take note of the YYZ sign with six-feet distance markets between each letter on the right side of this picture, which was emblazoned digitally and on printed sheets of paper all across the terminal to remind passengers of social distancing.
Also to that end, the security queue was marked with the spots where passengers should stand six feet apart.
On a quiet morning with very few other passengers around, Jessy and I breezed though the regular queue, with no need for our priority security instruments nor our NEXUS cards.
The security experience was very much the same as before, with nothing of note to report on. I was not asked to remove my mask at any point – that would only happen later during the boarding process.
After touching your personal items, the luggage boxes, and other surfaces during the security process (and perhaps being inspected up-close by a screening officer), one would expect to sanitize immediately, and it was good to see a large vat of Purell provided here for travellers’ needs.
In less positive news, the Plaza Premium Lounge in the domestic terminal, like all lounges at Toronto Pearson, was closed until further notice. There’d be no indulgence in complimentary food and drink or a private space to relax before our flight today, and I’d expect this state of affairs to continue for some time into the future.
Heading down the escalators to the domestic gates – have you ever seen this concourse quite so empty?
We still had about 30 minutes until boarding, so I wandered around the terminal a little more. Just like the Plaza Premium Lounge upstairs, both the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and the Air Canada Café were closed until further notice, while only a fraction of the usual retail outlets were open.
I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking here.
Flying Air Canada Jetz
The Jetz services are advertised to depart from “prime gate locations” at their respective airports. Here in Toronto, that means Gate D31, the first gate on your right-hand side as you come down from the escalators after security.
Our bird was already waiting for us by the time we arrived at around 8:20am, having made the journey over from Montreal on the first flight of the day.
Departure wasn’t scheduled until 9:20am, and since Jetz flights are advertised as “boarding only 25 minutes before departure”, that would mean an 8:55am boarding time.
However, since there would only be five passengers on this morning’s flight, the boarding process would be quite effortless, so we actually began 10 minutes early. A scan of my boarding pass, a peek at my passport, and a lowering of my mask – the only time I had to lower my mask during the entire process of flying – and I was on my way.
Air Canada Jetz | AC490
Aircraft: Airbus A319
Cabin: Premium economy
Route: Toronto (YYZ) to Montreal (YUL)
Date: Monday, June 1, 2020
Time: Departing 9:20am and arriving 10:34am
Duration: 1 hour 14 minutes
The Air Canada Jetz Airbus A319 consists of a single cabin of 58 regional business class seats, spread cross 15 rows in a 2-2 configuration. Row 1 has only two seats on the starboard side, while Rows 2 through 15 consist of four seats each.
Row 6 is the emergency exit row, which gives passengers a significant degree of extra legroom (even though the other seats’ 42–49 inches of pitch are already quite generous).
Meanwhile, Row 11 is a row of backward-facing seats, separated from Row 12 with a communal fold-out table.
When the Raptors and the Maple Leafs fly with Air Canada Jetz, this is where the team meetings are held and the celebratory food and drink spread laid out, and naturally I had chosen Seats 12A and 12C for myself and Jessy in order to experience this unique layout.
(On these passenger flights, Row 11 is blocked-off for seat selection purposes, presumably for social distancing reasons so that people don’t end up sitting directly across from each other. However, since there were only five passengers on this flight anyway, Jessy and I were free to sit wherever we pleased, so we spread out across the two tables here on both sides of the plane.)
Rows 13–15 complete the set, followed by the galley and two restrooms at the back of the plane.
Let’s take a brief look around the Air Canada Jetz seat, which, besides the unique layout and the increased seat pitch, is virtually identical to the regional business class product you’d find on mainline A319s.
The armrest between the two seats features two drink holders, the audio entertainment controls, as well as a mini-surface that slides outwards.
The opposite armrest contains the tray table, although it certainly didn’t look very clean, so I didn’t bother retrieving the tray table from its holder (not to mention the fact that I already had a large table in front of me).
Speaking of which, the communal table between Rows 11 and 12 is latched in position for taxi, takeoff, and landing, but can otherwise be folded over on both sides into a larger surface.
In terms of the seat recline, you can see from the photo below that the angle is limited at best. It may be slightly more relaxing to recline your seat during the flight, but it’s unlikely to be a comfortable place to sleep or anything like that.
Overall, there really isn’t much to say about the Jetz A319’s seats themselves, as they’re quite old and outdated just like the mainline fleet.
It’s mainly the novelty of an all-business-class plane, along with the added exclusivity and social-distancing advantages that it brings, that might make Jetz worth going out of your way to try.
Our cabin crew today consisted of a suited-up in-flight service manager and two crew members – all of whom wore masks from start to finish. (The service manager also wore gloves, while the crew did not.)
The service manager handed me an Air Canada CleanCare+ amenity kit as I boarded the plane, which I understand is distributed to every passenger regardless of your cabin of service. Meanwhile, the crew members were in good spirits, welcoming us to the flight with a cheeky “Did you charter the plane?”
Taking a look through our CleanCare+ amenity kit, I counted five items: bottled water, a face mask, a pair of gloves, a bottle of hand sanitizer, and a disinfecting wipe.
It was far from the ideal way to fly, that’s for sure, but along with the crew’s assurances that all the surfaces on the plane gets disinfected before and after every flight, it did make us feel more at ease from a sanitation standpoint – and that’s what counts the most right now.
One of the flight attendants continued to chat with us during the boarding process. She mentioned how these Jetz planes only started flying today, how the inbound flight from Montreal consisted of only a single passenger who had the whole plane to himself, and how their job as flight attendants has been very hands-off lately – greeting passengers at the start of every flight, doing a safety demonstration, and then sitting in the jumpseat for the rest of the journey while minimizing interaction with passengers.
After all, passengers would only receive the CleanCare+ kit with a bottle of water on short flights like these, while they might also get a lunch box on longer flights, but none of the usual trimmings that we’re accustomed to. There was no snack, coffee, or drink service anymore – not even in business class!
She also mentioned that Air Canada was about to let them know about crew layoffs sometime later today. It’s a sad reality as a result of the skeleton schedule that Air Canada’s running these days, and I do hope everyone affected can get back on their feet as quickly as possible.
Anyway, with the boarding of five passengers having been completed in a matter of minutes, takeoff was imminent and ahead of schedule.
We taxied around Pearson for a moment, and our lightweight bird had lift-off before I knew it, embarking on a steep climb into the Toronto airspace.
Let me just ramble on for a bit about how much of a pleasure it was to feel the roar of a plane’s engines, to gain altitude, to take to the skies once again. It’s a feeling that I’ve missed dearly, and I revelled in every second of it – after all, who knows when’s the next time I’ll fly again?
My eyes were glued to the windows, while the grin on my face was massive, despite being obscured by my mask.
The flight itself passed mostly without incident. I took a few walks up and down the aisle, careful not to get too close to the other passengers or the crew. I also removed my mask to take the occasional sip of water, but it remained on otherwise.
Other than that, we mostly sat around, looking out the windows and soaking in the aviation experience – one that I may have taken for granted in the past, but have definitely learned not to going forward.
I visited the restroom at the back of the plane shortly before we began our descent into Montreal.
It’s a pretty standard A319 restroom that comes with a changing table and, of course, a bottle of soap by Vancouver-based scent maker Vitruvi to go with your 20-second hand wash.
Our plane circled around Montreal before coming in to land from the northeast, treating us to some nice views of the city along the descent.
After a touchdown that was well ahead of schedule, there was barely any wait time before we were fully docked at Gate 47 (the prime boarding gate for Jetz flights in Montreal). We said goodbye to the crew and deplaned into… you guessed it, an eerily empty Montreal Trudeau International Airport.
Just like back in Toronto, I’ve never seen this concourse without people hustling around and shoving past each other, so it was bizarre to say the least.
Our lone checked bag beat us to the deserted baggage claim hall, and we exited via Door 20 to meet our Uber driver.
Instead of the usual cacophony of honking and shouting at the taxi rank, it was so empty today that you could hear the birds chirping in the distance.
As someone who loves to fly, it was obviously a real pleasure to fly for the first time in many months today, even if the experience was radically transformed compared to what we’re all used to before.
Comfort, enjoyment, and indulgence have all taken a backseat to the more pressing needs of caution, hygiene, and physical distance. Air Canada’s newly rolled-out CleanClare+ hygiene standards still have some kinks to be ironed out in terms of the implementation, but otherwise performed admirably; we had all the essentials we needed in the form of the CleanCare+ amenity kit, while every crew member we interacted with fulfilled their responsibilities in terms of wearing face masks.
Nevertheless, the whole atmosphere around the flying experience was definitely tinged with an abundance of caution, which we had to remind ourselves not to let blossom into full-blown paranoia. As much as I enjoyed the flight, the feeling of being on edge throughout everything wasn’t something I liked, and it’s going to be a while until flying is something we find fun or enjoyable again.
Air Canada hasn’t announced an end-date to their Jetz service on the Toronto–Montreal and Toronto–Ottawa routes, so I hope that some of you may get a chance to try it for yourselves whenever you decide to travel domestically again. I certainly wasn’t expecting the chance to try out a brand-new airline hard product so soon, but it’s a great way to spice up what would otherwise be a forgettable quick hop along the Rapidair triangle.
Anyway, I hope you’ve found this to be an interesting glimpse into the state of flying as we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the past few months of lockdown. I’ve also shot some video footage from today’s flight, which I’ll be compiling into a trip report video on YouTube to be published this weekend, so stay tuned for that.