It had been a couple of months since my 11-day trip around the world and I was starting to get the itch for a weekend trip. I was browsing Aeroplan one morning when I stumbled across a direct flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver on Air Canada in business class. While I’ve reviewed some of the best international business class products, such as my Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong to New Delhi and my Japan Airlines flight from New Delhi to Tokyo, I was more than excited to experience my country’s flagship international product.
Normally Aeroplan imposes high fuel surcharges on Air Canada operated flights, with international legs having hundreds of dollars in taxes and fees. However, Hong Kong is a unique destination that has very little taxes due to local laws, so I jumped on the opportunity to try the product with only $55CAD in taxes!
I booked this return flight without even checking inbound availability, but thankfully had no trouble getting a seat on Cathay Pacific in business class on their new route out of Vancouver, operated by the Airbus A350! While I was initially really excited for this flight, the quality of the aircraft ended up disappointing me, though the service and wifi more than made up for the cheap finishes on the seat. I was surprised to get seat 1A despite the late booking, which had overhwlemingly positive reviews by most frequent flyers.
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I arrived at the airport well ahead of schedule after a 1pm checkout from the Marriott Hotel Nanshan in Shenzhen, China. The ferry ride to the airport was faster than expected, and delivered me right to the airport. After getting my boarding pass and making a short trip through transit security, I was at the train to the main departures area.
Since I was flying on Air Canada in business class, I had access to any of the Star Alliance business class lounges. I initially checked out the Thai Royal Orchid Lounge near gate 40 (beside the United lounge) but couldn’t get comfortable in the space. The entire lounge is open concept to the main terminal, which made for a very loud environment. Furthermore, the lounge was packed, and seating felt much like a food court (not in a good way). For a full review, check out this post by James Dozer.
I decided to bypass the United lounge completely, and instead decided to make the long walk to the Singapore Airlines SilverKris lounge near gate 15, about a 15 minute walk away. While the lounge had better food and seating, it felt a bit like a cave, and I ended up just plugging in and watching a movie to pass the time. Check out this other post by James for a full review of the space. At about 6pm I decided to head to my gate to grab a picture of the Boeing 777 that would take me home to Vancouver!
Air Canada 8
Hong Kong (HKG) – Vancouver (YVR)
Sunday, April 16, 2017
Arrive: 4:41pm (same day)
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Seat: 1A (Business Class)
Boarding began right on time at 6:50, starting with families with young children, followed by business class passengers. I was greeted at the door and directed to my seat by one of the friendly cabin crew. Sometimes you can just tell when the crew are going to be great, and I had a feeling this would be one of those flights! I was offered a pre-departure beverage and asked if I had any questions about the seat.
This is a fairly new business class product for Air Canada, and I love it! The cabin is arranged in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration, similar to the seat featured on Cathay Pacific’s new Airbus A350, and offers a lot of privacy compared to forward facing seats. The colours are very neutral (as opposed to the 90’s blue in their older cabins) with a little pop of red from the Air Canada maple leaf.
The reverse herringbone seats face towards the window, with middle seats slightly angled inwards. This provides a fair amount of privacy, which was appreciated on this full flight.
Legroom is generous, with a decent size ottoman and room for bag storage. The foot space seemed larger than some other airlines when the seat was turned into bed mode.
Storage at the seat was good, with a large cubby for personal belongings, and a smaller one near the armrest facing the aisle. There was also some storage for literature and the flight information cards. Inside the large storage compartment were the noise cancelling headphones for the in-flight entertainment. While decent enough, I opted to use my own Bose headphones for most of the flight.
The pod features all of the standard amenities you expect in business class, including a power source, USB plug, reading light, and air vents!!! It’s so nice to have personal air vents on long overnight flights.
There was a pillow and blanket waiting at my seat at boarding, and while comfortable, felt a little bit lacking compared to what United is offering in their new Polaris class!
Also at the seat were some slippers and a small amenity kit with fairly basic contents, including socks, eyeshade, lip balm, lotion, and earplugs.
Pushback was right on time, despite the flight being completely full, with a short taxi to our runway. I didn’t get many pictures of our departure since it was dark and views were limited.
The climb out of Hong Kong was smooth and the captain had the seatbelt sign off within 15 minutes or so. The crew was quick to start meal service, which is always appreciated on later flights when most people are expected to sleep. This is in contrast to my redeye on Japan Airlines in business class when the meal service was drawn out for almost half the flight. The menu was simple enough but offered a good variety of food, in my opinion.
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The cabin crew had come around for orders prior to departure and I had selected the halibut. I find fish is usually a safe bet on airplanes, compared to beef which often comes out overcooked. I like that Air Canada offers a dine-on-demand option, though most people seemed to have diner service shortly after takeoff.
The meal started with prawn, scallop, and smoked salmon appetizer with mango salsa and lemon mayo. It was delicious and fresh, and easily one of the best airline dishes I’ve ever had.
The appetizer was served with a small green salad and a selection of warm bread.
My main course followed, consisting of pan-fried halibut with quinoa and asparagus. Like the seafood appetizer, this was one of the better dishes I’ve had in business class, though maybe the presentation could have been better.
The meal service ended with a small fruit plate.
After dinner I decided to check-out the lavatory. While nicely finished, it was nothing special, and fairly cramped. There were some basic amenities by Escents, and the space was kept very clean for the entire flight!
Seat controls in the new executive pod are controlled by a small touchscreen panel next to the seat. I found the controls simple and easy to use, and had no problem finding a comfortable position. In addition to standard recline and bed mode, I was also able to adjust lumbar, use a massage function, and adjust the ambient lighting around the seat and in the footwell. Nice Touch!
The seat did convert into a fully-flat bed with the push of a button. The flat bed has a length of 6 feet 7 inches, so most people will be able to find a comfortable position. One small annoyance was that the tray table stowed in an awkward location below the in-flight entertainment screen with some of it exposed. This limited my ability to shift around in the bed, and would certainly be bothersome for someone with a larger frame. Unfortunately the cabin was too dark to get a picture of the bed made-up, but I can confirm it was extremely comfortable, and very similar to most other reverse herringbone configurations.
A few hours into the flight and I was ready to explore the in-flight entertainment selection. I found the content good, with a lot of new Hollywood films available. There was also a good selection of television shows, music, interactive games, and a moving map. All of this could be controlled through the touchscreen remote located in the large storage compartment next to the seat. One small complaint is the lack of WiFi on long-haul Air Canada flights, which is becoming the norm on most airlines and something many business travellers rely on to stay connected.
After a solid 6 hours of sleep I woke up to a very bright cabin. I decided to open my shades and get adjusted before breakfast service started.
Breakfast service started a couple of hours prior to our arrival in Vancouver. I opted for the western option, which consisted of fresh bread and yogurt followed by the classic Air Canada omelette with sausage and potatoes. While it certainly doesn’t look appetizing, it actually tasted good.
We started our descent into Vancouver just after 4pm and were greeted to some nice views over the mountains and the Fraser Valley. I’m always in awe by the Pacific Northwest after being in Asia. It really is the most beautiful place in the world!
We touched down basically right on time at Vancouver International Airport and after a short drive to the gate, I was home!
I loved this flight! Admittedly, my expectations were set a bit lower than normal, given North American carriers generally fail to compete with other world airlines. However, nothing major about this flight disappointed:
- The cabin crew was fantastic, from start to finish, always greeting me by name and anticipating my needs throughout the flight
- The new executive pod was everything one would need in an international business class seat, with plenty of storage, a comfortable seat and bed, with small touches such as ambient lighting and lumbar support
- The catering was good, with a dine-on-demand option and express dining available
Using Aeroplan miles for this flight was good value at 75,000 miles, one-way, with minimal taxes and fees since this flight originated in Hong Kong (~$50). This is a really attainable flight for many Canadians since American Express Membership Rewards transfer to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio, with Amex currently offering a 50,000 welcome bonus on their American Express Platinum Card!
Would I choose Air Canada over another carrier on a route to Europe with hundreds of dollars of carrier surcharges? Probably not. But for a flight across the pacific, this new executive pod business class product is as good (if not better) as some of the best rated airlines in the world.