Air Canada 787-9 Business Class Toronto to Munich Review
- Sleek and competitive hard product
- Efficient service
- Mediocre ground experience
- Limited a la carte menu
- No Wi-Fi
A superior hard product and pleasant transatlantic flight experience with room for improvement
With a few dozen 787 Dreamliners in its fleet, Air Canada has these next-generation aircraft as the backbone of its long haul operations, servicing destinations such as Brisbane and Melbourne. Recently, I had the pleasure of putting this product to the test during a leisure trip between the east coast of Canada and Europe, more specifically from Toronto to Munich. This service is just shy of eight hours in duration, but I figured it's a reasonable gauge of what the Canadian flag carrier has to offer, both in terms of the ground experience and the service onboard.
Table of contents
Flight number: AC 846
Aircraft Type: 787-9
Route: Toronto to Munich
Class: Signature Business Class
This ticket was redeemed through LifeMiles, the official loyalty program for Colombian airline Avianca, which is a Star Alliance carrier. As such I could redeem flights operated by other Star Alliance members such as Air Canada and Lufthansa. I redeemed this Air Canada flight to Munich, plus an onward connection to Helsinki flying Lufthansa within the same itinerary. All in all, I paid 58,200 miles and US$131 in taxes for this trip, which would have otherwise cost me more than AUD$3,000 out of pocket.
Visiting Finland on this trip was a bit of an afterthought. As I was pricing my redemption online, I chanced upon a neat little trick. A redemption ticket between Toronto and Munich in business class normally costs 63,000 miles. However, by tagging on an extra intra-Europe flight to Helsinki (in economy class) I received a 4,800 miles discount. This is due to the fact it became a "mixed-cabin" redemption. In other words, l had the opportunity to visit Finland while getting rewarded with a miles discount for the trip. Of course it would be unwise to jump on to this if the cabins were to be reversed, i.e. economy for the long transatlantic flight and business class for the short flight within Europe. Fortunately, the longer flight in this scenario was at the pointy end of the aircraft.
One may wonder why I chose Avianca Lifemiles, a relatively obscure frequent flyer program for Australia-based travellers. Avianca Lifemiles has a pretty decent redemption value for flights between certain regions and it does not pass on any fuel surcharge to its travellers. An easy way to accrue Lifemiles is to purchase them through its website, but I recommend doing so only when it runs its bonus sales. It typically runs sales several times a year, selling miles at less than US$15 per 1,000 miles.
The check-in was not as seamless as I imagined at the hub airport. There was an entire row of counters dedicated to serve priority guests, but there was only one staff member. As there were 8 passengers ahead of us in the queue, it took more than 20 minutes to get our bags checked through.
On the bright side, we were delighted to find out that our service was on time, given there were significant flight disruptions in Toronto due to a looming thunderstorm. Additionally, check-in staff directed us to visit the Signature Suite Lounge located past security.
Lounge access: Maple Leaf Lounge, Toronto
We soon found out that we were given the false hope of accessing the much coveted Signature Suite Lounge. Our entry to the lounge was denied based on the fare class, i.e. the fact that it was a redeemed ticket rather than a ticket paid for using cash. This lounge is out of bounds to business class passengers travelling on redeemed or upgraded tickets. How disappointing!
In my opinion, all Signature class passengers should be treated as equals, considering those who have redeemed their ticket have forked out extra points for the premium product. I totally understand differentiating business class passengers from economy passengers with priority status, like Singapore Airlines (Silverkris vs Krisflyer gold lounge in Singapore). But in this case, I think it is a bit petty of Air Canada to take such a measure to marginalise points users.
As a consolation we visited the Maple Leaf Lounge instead. In fairness the Maple Leaf Lounge was okay, though not outstanding. The lounge was spacious and not too crowded during our visit.
On offer at the buffet food station was a decent food selection, especially during dinner time. We saw the hot food being transitioned from nachos served in the afternoon to grilled fish and vegetables for dinner. Salads and fresh fruit were available on the side. The beverage selection was pretty average, with a few juices, Guinness beer and Lavazza espresso available from self-serve machines.
What appeared odd to me was the tiny dining tables with lamp poles running through them – not very practical in my opinion. There were plenty of empty seats in the lounge during my visit, but only about one third of the seats were equipped with power sockets; it so happened that all of those seats with power supply were occupied. Thankfully, as I was checking out the business centre, I found touchscreen-operated secured charging stations which I used for my devices. Lastly, there are only two shower rooms in the lounge, which meant you would be in for a long wait or possibly miss out during busier lounge times.
Due to the multiple delayed flights out of Toronto, the entire gate lounge was packed. The gate lounge was not spacious to begin with, so you can imagine having several plane loads of passengers in the same space. When the priority boarding call was made, it was a real struggle just to make our way to the boarding gate. However, once we got through the boarding formalities we proceeded to enter the aircraft from the middle door, warmly welcomed by the crew onboard and directed left towards the front end of the aircraft.
Business class cabin
Our aircraft was a one-year-old Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The cabin interior was immaculate, sleek, classy and equipped with large windows – impressive indeed! The cabin featured a total of 32 business seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, providing aisle access for all. As usual I selected myself and my wife a window seat – 6A/7A respectively, which turned out to be a smart move given the seat in front (5A) had a missing window. To note, two thirds of the seats were unoccupied on this flight.
The cabin reminded me of the reverse herringbone seats on Qatar Airways or Japan Airlines. In fact it is comparable to Virgin Australia's B/E Aerospace Super Diamonds seats, with a few modifications, most notably the lack of magazine holder on the side.
Interestingly, there were some issues causing standard cabin functions to be disabled while on the ground. Crew were unable to prepare hot towels and the toilet blower was inoperable. We were given cold towels instead and no one was allowed to use the lavatory until we reached an altitude of more than 16,000 feet.
The bedside seat controls come in the form of an interactive screen that adjusts not only the seat/bed positioning, but also the intensity of the reading light. Furthermore, natural light through the windows can also be adjusted electronically thanks to the digital tinting technology (i.e. you can darken the window at the touch of a button). Although this is an ingenious invention, some travellers dislike the fact it does not completely block out light like a conventional window screen would. What I found most surprising was that Wi-Fi connection has not been built into this relatively new aircraft.
The 18-inch TV screen produces beautiful high definition images with reasonable response to touch. Alternatively, a handheld touchscreen console is also available for use. It is found within a multi-purpose compartment adjacent to the arm rest. Within this space you can also find the USB and audio port and a universal power outlet. With a lid to conceal the space, it is perfect for the storage of your personal items and devices (while simultaneously charging them). Larger items that do not fit in this compartment can be stowed underneath the footrest.
The seats are convertible to a 180-degree lie flat bed. Crew assisted with the setting up of the bed using mattress pads and duvets for added comfort. It was a cosy bed but I had one complaint: as the footrest compartment narrows as it extends beyond the TV screen, there were several instances where I knocked my knees against the roof of the footrest – quite frustrating while trying to catch precious shut-eye. I cannot recall having this problem with any other airline in the past.
The complimentary amenities on this flight were a black Want Les Essentials bag with white Vitruvi branded facial products. The combination worked well together as an elegant kit and momento for Signature class guests. Within this kit there are standard amenities, e.g. socks and eyeshades, and also a unique Air Canada themed microfiber glasses cloth, a very useful accessory to have yet I seem to overlook when travelling. Disappointingly, pyjamas were not provided on this red-eye service.
Dinner service began shortly after the seatbelt sign was turned off, beginning with drinks and warmed nuts. There were four options for the main course; however, the appetiser was standard for all – smoked duck and edamame salad. The presentation of the starter dish was great and so was the flavour.
I was a little apprehensive ordering steak as the main dish due to my previous bad experience with overcooked beef on another airline. Thankfully the grilled beef tenderloin was done just right. The steak was served together with grilled asparagus and mashed potatoes drizzled with a cabernet peppercorn sauce, a hearty meal overall.
Last but not least, I ate a delicious slice of lemon cheesecake with raspberry compote to conclude dinner. Again, for the dessert there was only one standard option; it was nevertheless satisfying. Just in case we got peckish mid-flight, a self-service snack bar beside the galley provided goodies such as muesli bars, chocolate and potato chips.
Before heading to bed, the cabin crew made sure I filled out a breakfast request form, giving them permission to wake me up about 90 minutes prior to landing. There was a list of continental breakfast items (e.g. bread and cereal) plus a hot food option (omelette and sausages). I considered skipping this meal for a longer rest, but I was aware that due to a short connection time in Munich I wouldn't have time to access the lounge for breakfast.
What I found impressive was that the cabin manager was proficient in French, German and English, making all onboard announcements in three languages. The rest of the crew seemed generally friendly and helpful. Services were delivered in a timely manner, which was expected given there were only about 10 business passengers on this flight.
We landed in Munich the following day at 7.40am, slightly ahead of the scheduled arrival. It was my first time flying into Munich; it is definitely a more spacious and appealing airport terminal than Toronto. We quickly explored the terminal before clearing through customs to enter a separate part of the terminal designated for Schengen flights.
The Points Finder Flight Rating: 4.5 / 6 stars (★★★★☆☆)
To sum up my first international flight experience with Air Canada, it is definitely one of the better North American airlines out there. In many ways Air Canada, especially its competitive hard product and customer service, would also give Australian carriers a good run for their money. However, there is room for improvement in terms of their ground experience and I hope to see the elimination of differential lounge access for Signature class passengers who utilise points. Wi-Fi is perhaps not vital for a red-eye flight, but it would be inconvenient for business travellers during the day. With all things being considered, I rate this flight 4.5 out of 6 stars.
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