Ahead of Air Canada's new direct Dreamliner service from Auckland to Vancouver, which starts on December 14, Michael Burgess flies aboard AC36 from Brisbane to Vancouver
A Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. One of 37 Dreamliners in the airline's fleet, this model will be used on the new Auckland-Vancouver route.
Class: Signature Class, which is Air Canada's Business Class product.
The airline: Established in 1937, it is Canada's flag carrier and among the 20 largest airlines in the world. It has more than 200 planes in its fleet, including Dreamliners and Airbus A330s. It services 64 Canadian airports, as well as 59 hubs in the United States and nearly 100 other destinations around the world.
Yes. We took off 10 minutes early. Flight service manager Ernest gave pleasantly precise information; not just the estimated flight duration, but also the overall "gate to gate" time.
The airport experience: Smooth. Brisbane airport is spacious and well laid out. Air Canada provides an exclusive concierge at check in for BC customers and Nick was very helpful. There's also access to the Air New Zealand lounge, which is two minutes from the gate, and an express pass through security.
Vancouver was a breeze, and it's hard to imagine a better North American airport experience. The immigration process is swift, with a simple touchscreen form, and friendly. The airport train is outside the terminal and an easy ride to downtown ($11, for a 30-minute journey). And the added bonus? If you are connecting to an American city, you can clear US customs here too, and don't need to pick up your bags.
The Business cabin was a mix of Australian tourists and Canadians heading back. It was shoulder season, so Economy class was about half full.
The service: Excellent. A welcome drink was prompt (orange juice, sparkling water, wine).Then soon after takeoff a hot towel, and heated cashews and almonds. There was a regular drinks service, with a wide range, including their signature cocktail (Crown Royal Canadian Whisky, gin and cranberry). The staff were friendly and attentive, and nothing seemed to be a problem. They also patiently answered my questions about Vancouver, and ice hockey.
My seat: 3A, a window seat in the Business cabin which is structured in 1-2-1 configuration, with 20 seats in total. A fully lie flat bed (room for my 1.89m frame), cotton duvets and Lavazza espresso coffee. A bonus was the massage capable headrest and lumbar support, adjustable via a touch screen. Large overhead bins and a storage compartment next to the seat. A handy toiletries bag, with "one size" socks and slippers that actually were. It was my first Business Class flight, so no grounds for comparison, but overall extremely comfortable.
Premium Economy (21 seats) offers 38 inches of legroom and a seven-inch recline. Economy (214 seats) has a 3-3-3 configuration.
Workspace: Pull-out tray table was a generous size and enabled hours of work. USB port and universal power socket.
A dizzying array of options, which made me regret the hotel breakfast buffet. From the four-course lunch the appetiser — prawn sesame fritters with togarashi mayonnaise — was a highlight.
My roasted snapper fillet was tasty and one of four main options (Confit Lamb Shoulder, Jerk Chicken and Vegan, all served with crisp green salad. Cheese, fruit and crackers followed, before dessert (baked blackberry cheesecake was a winner).
There was also an express light lunch option, available soon after takeoff. All were served with solid cutlery and on sturdy plastic plates. I had no need for any 'light bites' offered during the flight, then had buttermilk pancakes (quite sweet) for brunch, served 75 minutes from landing. Decent selection of booze, juices, coffees and teas.
Toilets: Different experience in Business Class, rarely occupied. Stocked with face mist, which was a good reviver.
Entertainment: A large 18-inch screen. Wide selection of movies, from Hollywood blockbusters to indie and world cinema fare and fairly easy to navigate through. Music was mostly compilations, rather than albums. Podcast fiends should stock up pre-flight, as there was only a small selection.
The final word: An excellent experience. Food was superb and all of the at-seat gadgets and gizmos worked well. It was a functional workspace and a relaxation station. The aircraft's "smooth ride technology", where the wing flaps automatically adjust to reduce turbulence, seemed to work and takeoff felt like sitting in an elevator. The crew appeared to take great pride in their work, and achieved that fine balance of being professional but affable, courteous but also happy to have a laugh.