Nick Walton discovers consistant levels of service complement Air Canada’s market-leading business class product to perfection on a recent flight from Toronto Pearson International to Hong Kong.
One of North America’s leading carriers, Air Canada, a founding member of the Star Alliance, operates 1,530 daily flights across its extensive domestic, regional and international network.
Check In/The Lounge
I had already checked in for this flight in Ottawa so made my way from my arrival gate to the Air Canada Maple Leaf lounge located above the E gates. Like all establishments in Toronto Pearson International Airport, the lounge doesn’t serve alcohol until after 11am so forget those bloody marys or mimosas. The lounge was spacious and warm, with a cooked breakfast on offer and great coffee machines that were coughing and spluttering up a storm.
The boarding process onto the Air Canada 777-200LR was smooth and efficient thanks to the airline’s zone system, and I was quickly in my seat, 9A on the port side of the smaller of the two business class cabins, which cater to 26 and 14 seats respectively in a 1-2-1 configuration.
I’m a huge fan of the Air Canada International Business Class product; ergonomic, intelligent and contemporary, it’s a pleasure to fly in and even better to sleep in. My window seat boasts three windows) one partially covered by the in-seat personal monitor; and at 80-inches long and 21-inches wide ensure space and comfort.
There’s pneumatic cushions and a massage function for lumbar support and comfort; a large tray that slides directly from beneath the large 18-inch touch-screen monitor (the largest for any North American carrier), and easily-accessible USB and AC ports, both of which are secreted, along with a remote control for the entertainment system, in a flush, deep-set draw at the centre of a large armrest, which is perfect for storing tablets and other fiddly little essentials while you’re sleeping.
When in bed mode the seat is superbly comfortable, especially thanks to warm duvets and fluffy pillows, although it doesn’t allow for too much maneuvering once you’re lying flat.
With the addition of single-pin audio jacks (for those who like to bring their own headphones), a touch-screen for seat position, supplied noise-reduction headphones, and personal air flow, this is one of our favourite business class set ups to date.
Water and amenity kits featuring Canadian brand Escents Aromatherapy products are already supplied when I take my seat.
After crew offer glasses of water and sparkling wine, take post-take off drink orders, and hand out menus, we depart on time on the 16-hour flight to Hong Kong.
Cuisine is where Air Canada is really trying to distinguish itself from other North American carriers and based on the eight flights I’ve done with the carrier in the past months, they are successful. After a glass of chilled Champagne Drappier and a bowl of warm nuts lunch was served, with an appetizer of smoked trout Nicoise salad with roasted garlic aioli, served with a mixed leaf and grape tomato salad.
Options for the main included stir-fried sliced pork with black bean sauce; grilled chicken breast with chickpea panisee, asparagus and chimichurri; roasted smoky Applewood salmon with maple balsamic butter, white wine risotto, and broccolini; and grilled AAA beef tenderloin with cabernet peppercorn sauce, Yukon Gold mashed potatoes, and asparagus. The Nicoise salad was deliciously light and fragrant while the beef was cooked to perfection and perfection proportioned.
We were also offered a selection of cheeses – oka, camembert, and a medium cheddar – with crackers; fresh seasonal fruit; dark chocolate fondant with hazelnut praline, and blueberry ginger compote; and ice cream. The cheese selection was brilliant and perfectly matched the glass (or two) of Dow’s Port, part of the airline’s Ken Chase-selected wine list.
Savvy to the needs of business travellers, the airline also offers on its long haul flights an Express Light Meal Option, which is served first after takeoff and simply skips the main, allowing for more sleep; as well as a Flexible All-Inclusive Option, which means you can order your main, salad, and cheese whenever you feel like it. There’s also a self-service snack basket kept in the galley (a great excuse to move around the cabin a little), as well as a selection of At Your Leisure snacks, which include hot noodle soup with pork and prawn wontons and gai-lan (which was just blissful); a chili garlic lime chicken skewer; and a salad of tabouli, peppers and grilled zucchini; and a selection of steamed dim sum.
Approximately 75 minutes out from Hong Kong we were served brunch, with fresh orange juice and seasonal fruit, yoghurt, fluffy warm croissants and blueberry muffins, and a choice of parsley omelet with chicken sausage, roasted red skin potatoes, red pepper relish and cottage cheese; Chinese-style congee with chicken julienne, green onion and ginger; or chicken fried rice. The fried rice was hot and fragrant and a culinary welcome home to Hong Kong.
Another aspect in which Air Canada is excelling in comparison to other North American carriers (at least in business class), service on my flight, as it was with the seven others, was attentive without being fussy, and intuitive without being standoffish. My orders were taken by charming guest services manager Holly, and the lunch meal was served efficiently but unhurried (we have 16 hours to play with after all). Cabin crew were always on hand, even when many passengers were asleep, and served the breakfast on our approach to Hong Kong with finesse.
Air Canada’s entertainment system is ideally suited for ultra-long haul flights like Toronto to Hong Kong, with over 600 hours of programming featuring the latest movies and television programs, as well as classics of both the big and small screen.
What We Loved
As with our previous reviews, what impressed the most was the state-of-the-art business class seat, with its user-friendly design, and the quality of the service, with crew that were only to happy to ensure we all had everything we needed.
What We Didn’t
Although the Executive Pod is a great piece of engineering I did find it a little cramped around knee level, below the screen, when in bed mode, which made “rolling over” a little tricky. I found slipping further down the seat eased this quickly.
If you’re going to fly ultra-long haul you might as well do it in comfort, with great service and class-leading dining and that’s exactly what we found on our latest Air Canada flight.
Air Canada Hong Kong-Toronto in business class from US$4,453. www.aircanada.com