Air Canada Business Class Via Vancouver to London (A Cranky Travelogue)

Air Canada, Trip Reports

Once I had finished with planning my Islay pilgrimage, I barely had enough time to get excited for the trip before it began. Air Canada would kick this trip off in style. It had been years since I last flew the airline, and I had never flown it in business class. I was hoping this would be quite the treat. Spoiler: it was.

There was no reason to drive my wife and kids up to LAX for their 11:40am flight to the Midwest and then come home, so I just dropped them off around 10:30am, parked the car at Quikpark, and then made my way back to Terminal 6 for the long wait before my flight.

I went to check in at the ticket counter since it was empty, and the agent handed me a boarding pass for the first flight. I asked if she could give me one for my connection, and she said it wasn’t working for some reason. She tried again and it eventually worked.

Since this was technically a business class ticket, I hoped I could go to the Maple Leaf Lounge to wait for my flight, but she quickly said that wasn’t allowed. Since I had a coach seat to Vancouver, that was all that mattered. Regardless of whether that’s real policy or not, it didn’t sound fair to me, so when I came through security, I went up there anyway. That agent couldn’t have been nicer, scanned my boarding passes, pushed a couple buttons, and invited me in.

The Maple Leaf Lounge in Terminal 6 is very small. There’s a sitting area with a couple couches on one side and then a kitchen area on the other side. Food options were sparse with some cold salads and soups. Then they brought out some flat breads, and the woman working there went around asking how everyone liked it, saying it was something new they were trying out. It wasn’t a bad light lunch.

I took a seat in the mostly uncrowded lounge, plugged in, and started working. The goal was to clear enough out that I could hop on the plane and shut off.

Just as people were getting ready to go downstairs for the flight, the agent in the lounge told us that nobody should go yet. The airplane was half an hour late, so there wasn’t a hurry. This made me a little nervous since I didn’t have a ton of time on the connection, but I just sat and waited it out.

The agent still hadn’t called for boarding, but I decided to go downstairs anyway. It was a madhouse with multiple flights boarding in the same area. A family was busy trying to calm their toddler in the middle of an epic tantrum which just made for an even more crazed atmosphere. (That poor father….)

Even though I was in coach on this flight, I was still in zone 1 so when they called boarding, I got right on. But before I boarded I had to stop and take this photo.

I love the raccoon eyes.

April 19, 2019
Air Canada 555 Lv Los Angeles 230p Arr Vancouver 519p
Los Angeles (LAX): Gate 69B, Runway 24L, Depart 26m Late
Vancouver (YVR): Gate E83, Runway 26R, Arrive 20m Late
C-FGKN, Airbus A321-211, Raccoon Eyes colors, ~99% Full
Seat 14A, Coach
Flight Time 2h18m

I don’t know if all of Air Canada’s A321s are this way, but this had an old school interior. The seats actually had padding. There were screens in the back of each seat, but apparently a lot of them didn’t work. The flight attendants made an announcement telling everyone that they were sorry, but because of the MAX grounding, they’ve had to push into service aircraft that don’t meet their normal standards. (I trusted they meant service standards and not safety.)

The woman in front of me was particularly concerned about this and kept asking if her screen was going to work. Apparently it was really important, because during the flight, she was watching something so funny that she kept laughing out loud.

My screen worked… sort of. There was a little cursor on the screen that was nowhere near where I tapped. I had to tap and drag until the cursor was over the button I wanted to click. Then I’d let go. It was clunky, and I just said forget it. I got the map going and then took a deep breath and relaxed. This was the beginning of an exciting trip, and I just wanted to be in the moment.

Boarding took a long time, and so we didn’t get out until almost half an hour late. I started to get even more concerned about my connection, but there was nothing I could do.

We took off into the marine layer and soon found ourselves above it. We made a beeline for Monterey and then turned north to go straight to Vancouver.

The flight attendants were quite friendly and they came through with snacks for purchase followed by drinks. Unlike US carriers, Air Canada doesn’t seem to offer any free snacks. I just had some water and literally stared out the window for two hours.

There were strategically-placed clouds most of the way to prevent any good sightseeing. For example, though we passed high clouds right before San Francisco, they parted just in time for us to see… low clouds hovering over the city.

It was a smooth day to fly, and once we got toward Oregon, we were sitting up on top of the rain. Near Seattle, we started to descend into the muck. But a few minutes later, we poked out into clear blue skies. The rain had left Vancouver to make for a very welcoming late-afternoon scene.

After landing, the airport divides you into four groups. An agent was trying to pull people connecting to domestic Canada flights aside. Everyone else kept walking for some time before going one way to Vancouver arrivals, another way to US connections (which obviously wouldn’t happen from our flight), and the third to international connections.

I followed the last one, and it was empty. I had to scan my passport and punch a few things into a kiosk before it spit out a paper I was supposed to keep saying I was a transit passenger. Then I made the long walk to gate D52 which is a gate that can flex between international and domestic, so it’s not with the rest of the international gates.

By the time I arrived, business class has already boarded, so I didn’t have a chance to see a lounge. I just went up to the Zone 1 line which was empty and got right onboard.

April 19, 2019
Air Canada 854 Lv Vancouver 635p Arr London/Heathrow 1150a (on April 20)
Vancouver (YVR): Gate D52, Runway 26L, Depart 1m Early
London/Heathrow (LHR): Gate 242, Runway 9L, Arrive 2m Early
C-FNNQ, Boeing 777-333ER, Raccoon Eyes colors, ~90% Full
Seat 5A, Business
Flight Time 8h25m

I was greeted warmly as I got onboard and I headed back to my row.

It’s probably an understatement to say that I really enjoyed the seat. It’s a reverse herringbone design with some thoughtful touches. My favorite feature was this little compartment on the side that holds the remote control and power outlets. The remote is giant and has a screen of its own, so you can easily watch a movie and then also glance at the map on the remote. But having it in that compartment meant the second screen wasn’t distracting. Also being able to plug my phone in securely in that compartment was ideal.

The main screen is huge. At some point, I even wanted it to be smaller, but it’s hard to complain about that. Content was good as well, except for the skimpy music selection.

At my seat, there was a pillow, a blanket, a mattress pad, an amenity kit, and noise-canceling headphones waiting for me. Yeah, it was a lot. The flight attendants came through with pre-departure beverages and handed out menus.

There was also a breakfast card where you could check off exactly what you wanted to eat (choose as many as you want) and whether you wanted to be awakened if you were asleep or not. I really hate having a big meal right on takeoff since that’s the middle of the night in Europe. I wanted to try to sleep and then have a big breakfast, so I passed on dinner and set up my breakfast request.

Kyle and Stephanie were the two most frequent flight attendants attending to my side of the cabin. Both were excellent at their jobs as frankly were all the others I encountered.

Kyle came by and I asked him if he knew how the ride was going to be. He said there would be some bumps climbing out and then again there might be something over Greenland, but otherwise it should be smooth. Our northerly route kept us far from the storms raging over the northeastern US that day.

Takeoff over the water was absolutely stunning in the late afternoon sunlight. The seatbelt sign went off quickly, but we circled around and crossed the mountains, and that’s when the bumps began. The seatbelt sign went on, but throughout the flight it was well-managed. It came on when bumps started and promptly went off.

Once we reached cruising altitude, the ride had already smoothed out, and they came through with drinks. I just wanted to watch something mind-numbing so I flipped on Tosh.0 and cranked through several episodes. It was just what the doctor ordered.

I slowly but surely kept reclining the seat closer and closer to a bed, and I really wanted to sleep. After exhausting all the Tosh.0 episodes, I switched to what I knew would be a bad movie that would hopefully knock me out, Night School. I pulled out the eyemask and just tried to use the movie as background noise while I slept. It didn’t work. As usual, I couldn’t sleep at all.

After that movie was over, I gave up and sat up. Kyle came through with a tray of drinks for anyone who might want them. (They were doing this constantly, but in a good way, not in an overwhelming way.) Kyle seemed very concerned that I hadn’t eaten, and he asked if, now that I appeared to be awake, I’d like anything. He offered to put together a cheese plate, and that actually did sound good. So I took him up on it.

He came back apologizing profusely saying he thought he had cheese but he didn’t. Instead, he brought the scallop appetizer (above), a bag of chips, and some almonds. (There was also a ramekin of nuts from earlier.) It was very nice of him to put forth such an effort.

I don’t believe the sky ever went fully dark on the entire flight. It was mostly dark at one point, but you could still see a sliver of light on the horizon. Then it started getting lighter, but because we were so far north, it was a slow dawn and I was thoroughly enjoying it.

Once it got significantly lighter, Stephanie came through and asked if I would mind closing the shades so that others wouldn’t be bothered. I normally don’t like that, but she was nice about it and there wasn’t much to see at that point. I made up a feeble excuse that I was hoping to get a good view of Greenland, but she had a good response. We were supposed to get bumps over Greenland, so when it started shaking, I should open the window. (She said it with a smile, but I appreciated it.) Fortunately, I listened to her. It got bumpy, I opened the window, and it was an impressive view.

I watched more movies and TV shows and then decided to take a walk. We had nice warm mood-lighting and all the windows were closed in business, but in the back it was like a bomb went off. There was trash all over the floor, and people were slumping into the aisle asleep. Windows were open and it was a harsh light. I felt even more appreciative of where I was sitting than before when I returned to my seat.

Right at 75 minutes before arrival, as promised, they started turning the mood-lighting on and bringing around breakfast. First I had my fruit, yogurt, and tea.

Then they brought the omelet. It was fine but nothing special by any means.

The bumps picked up again off the coast of Ireland, but they subsided in time for me to head into the lav and freshen up with the amenity kit, brush my teeth, etc.

We descended into London on a hazy yet sunny day and didn’t even have to circle. We unfortunately landed from the west, so there were no great views of London to be had. Once we landed, our gate wasn’t ready, so we had to sit for about 20 minutes. When we docked, I got up and realized just how tired I was. I still hadn’t slept a wink, and there was a lot more day to come.

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15 comments on “Air Canada Business Class Via Vancouver to London (A Cranky Travelogue)

  1. I am very intrigued by “Forbidden Black Rice” not sure I could pass up something with that name!

  2. Very nice report Cranky. I flew AC’s 77W a few years ago when they had the Thompson Vantage seats in business class and that seat was very disappointing. So I’m glad to see they’ve put reverse herringbone on those ships and from the photos that it looks pretty good.

    Putting my pedant hat on for a second (for others who may be reading this) –

    “We descended into London on a hazy yet sunny day and didn’t even have to circle. We unfortunately landed from the west, so there were no great views of London to be had.”

    Sitting on the port side (5A) wouldn’t have helped with a great view of London even if you did approach from the east. All you’d have seen would have been the sprawl of south London, Battersea Power station (being demolished) and the Twickenham rugby stadium. The great views of all the landmarks are to be had from the starboard side. So you didn’t actually miss out on much.

    Looking forward to the remaining chapters.

    1. Absolutely agree about the views of London and being on the starboard side when approaching LHR (assuming the wind is coming from the west !). Have lost count of the times I’ve deliberately chosen seat F or seat K right at the back of the plane, just to ensure I got an unobstructed view (no I can’t afford the seats in front of the wing in business class)

  3. Sad you couldn’t get any sleep on that flight even with a lie flat seat. The couple of times I’ve had lie flats on long haul red eyes I got in at least a couple hours here and there. The only time I couldn’t was when I got upgraded to EVA’s Royal Laurel Class flying TPE-MNL in the mid-morning after red eyeing it from SFO. Flight was just too short.

    That Air Canada seat is great. I had the same one on my 787. I like that the screen is a touchscreen…then I don’t need to mess with the remote. My experience mirrored yours…FA’s coming by to see if I wanted to have this or that. I was kind of bummed because I wasn’t expecting the upgrade I got so I ate at the Maple Leaf lounge in YUL and then at the Maple Leaf Lounge at YYZ so eating on that plane was kind of going through the motions.

  4. I’ve been fortunately to fly to Europe (mostly from the east coast of the US) in business or first class and I rarely get much sleep. Maybe an hour or so at most. I refuse to take medication or do much drinking of alcohol. I do enjoy the better service and personal space.

    Just something about having a tough time relaxing on a plane with a bunch of people around me, I guess.

  5. Wow, a seasoned traveller as yourself not being able to sleep! Now you know how I feel on every transatlantic flight. I tried drinking, not drinking, taking meds to no avail. Finally when I bought a new portable/battery operated CPAP that would do the trick. Nope.
    So, I now end up flying into my destination a day early so I can just walk around and then stay up as late as possible at my accommodations so that I can wake up refreshed and ready to go. I’ve practically slept through 1st day itineraries too many times.

    1. Not being able to sleep in a lie flat happens to all of us. It does take planning. My plan is to stay up all night the night before (get very sleep deprived) and then crash on the plane, usually not in full lie flat. But then I don’t have a wife and kids to worry about before heading to the airport.

      Cranky’s idea of skipping dinner was a reasonable choice, though maybe the food in the Maple Leaf Lounge at LAX was a little too early. I’d have gone for the just appetizer or even the cheese plate and then gone to sleep. And breakfast could be had in the LHR arrivals lounge at T2 (lounge available for all J pax arriving on UA, AC and SA) if Cranky had enough time. We’ll find that out in the next episode. That on board breakfast did look good though.

  6. I too have been unable to sleep in an Air Canada lie flat bed, even after being sleep deprived. I was flying from Winnipeg (YWG) through Toronto (YYZ) with an overnight stay, and then on to Heathrow (LHR), when our flight from YWG to YYZ was delayed 6 hours due to heavy snow in YYZ. After spending 6 hours in the YWG lounge (I was 35K status at the time) with my family avoiding some of the other guests who were drinking heavily from the self-service bar, I was very pleasantly surprised when were upgraded to business class for the flight to Toronto. We were less happy when the seriously drunk guest from the lounge was also seated in business class. I was waiting for the flight attendant to come back to me in the last business class row so I could tell her of the other passenger’s recent history when she disappeared. Then 2 police officers arrived to ask the drunk guest to leave. After a small amount of mild verbal resistance he left the plane without much of a scene. The flight attendant returned, and I asked her about the incident. She said she would complain about the gate agent, who shouldn’t have let the passenger on the plane. The rest of the flight proceeded smoothly, and we landed in YYZ around 4 am. I may have caught a small amount of sleep in these domestic business class seats.

    We had booked a hotel room for the night, but arriving at the hotel at 5 am seems counterproductive. We were booked on one of the 3 overnight flights from YYZ to LHR, but I remembered there was also a daytime flight. I discussed the situation with the family, and we all agreed that we should try to catch the earlier flight, rather than spend 16 sleepy hours struggling to keep awake.

    We went to the Air Canada priority check in desks, and I explained the situation and my request. I got a positive response, and so we started checking in. It wasn’t until well into the process that I realized we were only being booked in as stand by. So we wouldn’t know until the plane left around 8 am if we would be on the flight. If not, we would need to find a comfortable place to curl up for 12 hours – not a pleasant thought (35K gives you access to domestic lounges, not international lounges). We waited patiently while the flight boarded, and the other stand by passengers were called. I asked twice if my family would get on the flight, and I was asked to wait patiently, Finally our names were called. I glanced briefly at the boarding passes to make sure there were at least 2 seats together so that I could sit with my 5 year old. The other family members were OK sitting on their own. 2 seats together, but rows 81 & 82 seems awfully high for a 787. Arrive at the door of the aircraft, checked the passes again and realized that 81 & 82 were actually 01 & 02 – we scored business class upgrades again.

    The rest of the family slept for much of the flight, but tried and failed to sleep in my lie flat bed.

    On a solo trip years earlier, I had also been upgraded on an AC YYZ-CDG flight, and did have over 5 hours of good sleep on the lie flat bed, so I have mixed experience.

  7. Air Canada is my home carrier, and I am a biased fan but that omelette breakfast you have photoed right there is pure heaven. The creamy stuff goes well with the potatoes and the red pepper sauce is delightful with the eggs.

  8. Great report! Love the raccoon eye livery detail. Were you hoping to sleep hence did not partake in dinner? Food, in my opinion, is a key part of the business class experience.

    I have only flown Air Canada on transborder and domestic flights, so a few points to compare:

    In coach, you should have received at least a packet of pretzels. The buttered pretzel was something I looked forward to when flying AC, but they downgraded the pretzels to just basic pretzels.

    The breakfast omelette looks like the same omelette they served in business class from LGA-YUL. The white puff of cream/cheese was delicious.

  9. I recently flew in business on Air Canada, from Boston to Toronto to Shanghai. It was a real splurge but I enjoyed every minute. Even the flight to Toronto was business, so they served me breakfast on the 8:30 a.m. flight. I was able to enjoy the Signature Lounge, far fancier than the Maple Leaf Lounge, in Toronto but only had a coffee. The flight to Shanghai was very nice, long!, amenities the same as you had. The crew was very nice. The trip back, from Hong Kong, was great too. My flight to Amsterdam later this week is, unfortunately, back to coach.

  10. I regularly take early morning flights from LHR to YYZ and then 2 more flights to my hometown (COD) over 2 flights on UA including a direct to DEN because the seats are so much better (no Polaris on TA) and because I like breakfast over a very early lunch, which is what UA does (service is good and about the same).

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