On a recent personal trip, I had the chance to fly on Air Canada‘s A320 from Montreal to Edmonton. How would the North American carrier fare on this transcontinental flight? Keep reading to find out.
Depart from Montreal
After spending the afternoon with a few friends, one of them offered to drive me to the airport, and I arrived at P.E Trudeau just past 18:00. With no bags to check-in, I made good use of the automated kiosks and had my boarding pass in hand within a few minutes.
With all I needed by my side, I made it towards A gates security. Unlike peak-times, which can see some very significant queues, today’s screening was done within a few moments.
With an hour to boarding, I arrived at my gate, number 3, with plenty of time to spare. This section of the terminal was rather uninspiring compared to the more modern international departures area. Ceilings here are low, and the architecture left something to be desired.
That said, this section of the airport has seen a lot of investment in terms of food and beverage. What used to be a food desert, with only a small handful of restaurants, now sports numerous options. While there were many choices available, some of them seemed to have run out of “quick serve” items such as sandwiches by 19:15.
Rather hungry, I grabbed a mozzarella and tomato pizza from YUL Pizza. With a Perrier sparkling water, the total came to CAD $16.37, the pizza costing me $10.49, the water $3.75 and tax making up the rest. I should note that regular water is free at the airport, with multiple drinking stations available in the corridors and restrooms.
As for my pizza, while a bit doughy, it was alright., and a bit of chili made it much more interesting.
Having misread my boarding pass to read a boarding time of 19:35 instead of 19:25, I was one of the last to board. Though my tardiness caused a slight increase in heat rate, it allowed me to miss Air Canada’s boarding by zone – an event I truly do not enjoy as I find it inefficient.
An old bird – Air Canada’s A320-200
Once onboard I found my assigned seat, 25B. Although I was one of the last on the aircraft, I had no issues finding space for my metal carry-on case.
As a side note, I have no clue how the airline assigns seats, but I ended up in 25B, right at the back of the Airbus and straight down the middle. While my grumblings may seem unnecessary, and admittedly are, my surprise comes from the combination of my ticket class, frequent flyer status, and the fact that I was 63rd to check-in. Oh well… luck of the draw, I guess.
Awaiting at my seat, bar two seatmates who seemed displeased by my late arrival, was nothing. No blankets, pillows or any other “comfy” amenities.
Though nothing plush was offered, the seat had an IFE system. Like the aircraft itself, which was 28.7 years old according to Air Fleets, the AVOD was aging and rather slow by modern standards.
The touch-screen controlled system offered a decent selection of movies, TV-shows, music and a map. While I personally don’t follow TV series, some readers may be reassured to know that Air Canada has a significant HBO offering. Also present was a universal power supply, a USB port, and a headphone jack in the armrest.
My seat measured a standard 18 inches, offered an immobile headrest, and with 31-33″ pitch, was spacious enough. That said, my seat was very well-loved, and while it might have been initially plusher then Lufthansa’s NEK, I soon found the seat hard and unforgiving.
As boarding completed the crew made their welcome announcements. Along with the standard “welcome on-board” and flight information, spoken in English and French, the crew reminded everyone of Air Canada’s 4-star status and “best carrier in North America” award. With that out of the way, I was excited about the award-winning service to come!
Taking off into the Western sun
At exactly 20:00 we pushed back from our gate and the crew played the safety video and some advertisements. The adverts were varied, some were for financial services and others were for products such as mattresses.
At 20:15 the two engines went to full thrust and we sped down the runway and into the beautifully warm Quebec sunset. Five minutes later, the crew came back on to remind passengers that this was a non-smoking flight. Adding that they would be offering a buy-on-board service and that headphones could be purchased. Before signing off, the crew informed the passengers of WiFi availability once we reached our cruising altitude.
WiFi prices were okay, starting at CAD $6.95 for 30 mins, $12.95 for the flight, $26.95 for the day, and $65.95 for the month. Additionally, the WiFi homepage offered a few perks like a map, access to Air Canada’s website and a bank advert.
Curious about the advert by a certain Hong-Kong / London domiciled bank, I clicked on it and found links to numerous international business insights. Though the topics, such as international trade and currency movements, were right up my alley, the connection was rather slow, and I was unable to read the articles. With that, I stuck to my geopolitics book.
Four-star bistro service
The crew came by my seat just past 21:00 offering a choice of non-alcoholic beverages. Aware of the late flight, and the two-hour time change to come, I ordered a coffee and some water. Unfortunately, the seat-belt sign was turned on, so I’d have to wait for my hot drink.
With no small snacks offered with compliments, my tray looked like this. Waiting and wanting coffee, I sipped on my water while thinking of airline awards.
Aside from a free-drinks, Air Canada offers a buy-on-board service on North American flights called the Bistro. Within a multi-page menu card, one can find items such as snacks (crisps, sweets, cheese, etc.), hot and cold sandwiches and plates, in addition to alcoholic beverages. Prices were fair, with snacks selling between CAD $3-5, and meals between $8 and $13.50. Prices for drink started at CAD $7, going up to $9.
The airline also proposed so-called “combos” consisting of a snack, meal, and in some cases a drink. Prices for combos varied between CAD $10.50 and $16.50. As Air Canada is a North American airline, taxes are not included, and could be added “where applicable”.
Though I didn’t personally have a taste of the Bistro, my seatmate did, ordering a pizza and two beers. While the beers looked fine, sporting a well-known Dutch brand, I found that my airport pizza looked more appetizing.
The second half of the flight
By 22:00, I had yet to get my coffee and had grown tired of reading, so I turned to the seat-back screen. After reaching the half-way point of the movie I was watching, Tolkien, the crew came around for a secondary complimentary drinks service and I finally had my coffee.
After the movie ended, at around 23:30 I went to the back of the plane to use the restrooms, which were kept immaculate. As I came out of the lavatory, I recognized a kind flight service director from a previous flight.
While we were having a friendly chat about the flight, Air Canada’s “new” A330s and the flight-attendant lifestyle, the captain came onto the speakers to announce our forthcoming descent. Not wanting to be in the crew’s way, I bid them farewell and headed back to my seat.
As we descended, we came through some light turbulence and the seat-belt sign was turned on around 00:10.
No more than two minutes later, the turbulence went from what could be described as mild, to unnerving. We shook from left to right, pitched up and slanted down, with pockets of air pushing and pulling us in all directions. Though not a soul screamed, the eerie silence and the rocking of the craft in the pure black night left some feeling uncomfortable.
With the storm behind us a long few moments later, we banked right to our approach. At 22 minutes past, the Airbus’ wheels stamped the ground and we had finally arrived in Edmonton with time to spare on the schedule.
Overall, Air Canada offers a serviceable, few-frills, economy class offering on North American flights. While a snack would have been nice, especially as other North American carriers have recently introduced meals on transcontinental flights, we arrived on time safely.
Have you flown Air Canada? Did your experiences match ours? Let us know in the comments.