Air Canada often gets bad publicity in Canada and many Canadians seem to prefer WestJet for holiday travel. My experience as a business and international traveler with Air Canada has generally been great and I would recommend Air Canada compared to other North American airline operators. I would probably choose eastern Airlines like Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Thai, Singapore, Malaysian, etc. over Air Canada, but compared to North American airlines like Delta, United, and Continental, I choose Air Canada over them every time I can.
After nearly 100 flights with Air Canada, I have only had a few late arrivals and zero flight cancellations despite Canada’s horrible winter weather conditions. I am definitely a fan of Air Canada’s executive first (business class) service . The pod layout in their cabins are one of the better business layouts I have experienced for solo or business travel as you are offered a lot of personal space compared with competitor’s cabins who often still have side-by-side row seating, which can mean having to wake someone up (or being woken up) when the window seats needs to access the aisle.
The food and beverage menu selection tends to be very good and I have always found the food to be excellent. The seating pods are well-appointed with 12” video screens, lie flat chairs, USB plug-ins, and power adaptors. The movie selection is not as extensive as other airlines but I have always been able to find something to watch, even if it is just a repeat of a good movie I have seen before. The video screens work well, but their fold out nature is a bit of a hassle in that they need to be folded away for take off and landing. The Sennheiser “Noiseguard” headphones fail at guarding from any noise whatsoever but offer okay sound quality even if I do need to pump up the volume to hear movies. Thankfully, there is a single headphone plug available for those who choose to plug-in their own noise cancelling headphones. My biggest complaint about their in-flight entertainment (IFE) system is that it constantly fails. On numerous flights I’ve been on, the crew has had to reboot my IFE system or the IFE system of the entire flight due to problems. I understand that Air Canada has fixed a lot of the problems with the IFE over the last couple of years but it is definitely the most ‘buggy’ IFE system of any airline I have flown.
The other downside of Air Canada is that of all the airlines I have flown with, Air Canada must have the largest percentage of overweight cabin crew just putting in years until retirement. Air Canada has the unfortunate history of formerly being a government owned corporation, which means the unions have had a heavy influence on Air Canada’s operations – many of the cabin crew should have moved on years ago. This is not to say that good service is not available, as many of the cabin crew members are fantastic, but I must say that service is unpredictable at best and I have met more than a few crew who I felt like I was inconveniencing by simply asking for a blanket, pillow, or glass water. It often seems like once the regularly scheduled service is over many of Air Canada’s crew believe they are on a paid break and that customer service is no longer required. I am not a demanding passenger by any extent so it is really unfortunate that even I have had so many problems with service. Sadly, this is a common problem for many North American airlines, but compared to airlines based in Europe, the Middle East, or Asia, Air Canada’s service often leaves much to be desired.
The above paragraph may come across as overly negative of Air Canada so I want to re-state that generally I find Air Canada to be a top quality service provider. When the crew is on its game and the IFE is working, Air Canada’s Executive First service is among the best I have experienced. Air Canada provides a great selection of beverages, including wonderful wines, and follows meals with a delicious sampling of cheese, crackers, and port, as well as a variety of dessert options (on long-haul flights). The cheese and port are one of my favourite aspects of flying Air Canada’s executive first and one reason I choose to fly Air Canada over its North American counterparts.
Air Canada’s in-air magazine, called En Route, is generally filled with excellent articles which provide great reading for take-off and landing. Furthermore, quality deals are to be had in the Duty Free magazine including 750ml bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue Label for CDN $200 and 1 liter of Crown Royal for CDN $25 – around half of what it would cost within Canada.
Overall, I enjoy Air Canada’s service and will choose it over other North American options whenever given the chance. That said, there is room for improvement and if Air Canada could fix its buggy IFE system and replace the grouchy unionized crew with younger and more service oriented staff, I would certainly consider Air Canada to be one of the better business class experiences out there, especially when compared with its North American peers.
Thanks for the review, very informative and I nodded my head on the comparison of North American airlines compared to East/Far East. I like your categorization as sometimes your only option is to fly with the North American airlines and it’s good to have a comparison. Have you considered putting up a ranking for those of us that tend to only know the airlines we stick with?
Expert traveler question- any luck/tricks with getting non-partner airlines to recognize and match your status if you can meet a certain threshold for the year? They do a good job of being sticky- but some of us move a lot.
Keep up the good work BaldPacker! Using your site for our S Pacific traveling, tips appreciated.
HK –> NZ –> New Caledonia –> Vanuatu –> Samoa/American Samoa –> Rarotonga/Cook Islands –> Tahiti –> ‘murica
Thanks for the comments Matt. I do want to post more Airline reviews over time. It can be difficult to rank airlines based on a single experience since so much depends on the flight itinerary (services are different depending on routes and timing) and the configuration of the plane (which can vary based on the plane model, age, and whether the interior has been updated or not) but I definitely do have some preferred carriers where I have flown with them enough to be confident in rating and commenting on their service.
With respect to Frequent Flyer programs and status matching, it is another confusing and convoluted topic that I hope to post more about in the future. The program you choose to follow really depends on how much you fly, who you tend to fly with, and what benefits you hope to achieve. Air Canada has introduced a new requirement where 50% of its qualification points need to come from AC flights which means I am looking for a new program for 2016 myself. Some programs are more likely to status match than others (Turkish is supposedly very good for this) but it often comes down to what you need status for and whether that program makes sense for you. In many cases, you are able to use your status benefits from one program while awarding points to another, which means you don’t need a status match at all. This can be a real hassle though as many agents do not know how to do this and some carriers’ systems make it difficult to enter multiple FF programs.
Unfortunately, Frequent Flyer programs seem to get devalued and diluted more and more each year and it is difficult to find a program that is not overly complicated and will not surprise you with sudden devaluations. Given the constant change, my only answer is to do a load of research (flyertalk.com is an excellent resource) and hope that after you sign up they won’t make too many negative changes.
As far as your South Pacific travels go, I hope to hear from YOU about those destinations! I have lots of information about New Zealand up on the blog but your other destinations are still on my “to see” list for now…