After my first experience of flying Business last November, I had got the taste for this whole Premium Cabin thing.
Strangely enough it was a chance comment from a friend that was the opening to the rabbit hole. He mentioned about how he was taking his dad from London to LAX in BA First using Avios.
Now honestly I'd never really had a clue about miles, points etc and how the whole thing worked. Boy did I ever waste a lot of years! I'd always wondered how so many people could afford to pay the insane prices airlines charged for F and J. Little did I realise that many of those people were there for pennies on the dollar.
After diving into the whole scene full blooded I'd unlocked the key to do this on a big scale. So less than a year after starting I was able to put together a trip around Asia all in Business.
The YYZ-ICN-BKK flights cost 75,000 Aeroplan miles. The TPE-YYZ flight also cost 75,000 Aeroplan miles and for reasons I'm not entirely sure I understand I wasn't able to make my multi-city itinerary accept my return flight KUL-TPE-YYZ so I had to book KUL-TPE as a separate leg. This was highly annoying however the blow was softened by a 30% transfer bonus on my SPG points, so that effectively made the flight free in the end.
I used 15,000 BA Avios for the BKK-SIN leg on Cathay which is a crazy good value.
However my terrible luck bit me again on this flight which frankly I booked because it was on the A350-900 and I was yet to fly on one and with the rave reviews it was getting was to be a highlight of the trip for me.
Of course about 2 months before we left ExpertFlyer delivered the brutal news that there had been an aircraft change to an A330-300.
I was gutted especially when I checked EF and found that of the 30 days in September the A330 was operating on only 2 of them. The day after I travelled it was an A350-1000 which would have been even better. I thought long and hard about changing plans to fly a day later but it was just too much hassle. While my wife is nice and understanding even she has limits on how much she will accommodate my avgeekness!
The rest of the flights were cash bookings.
The most expensive flights was the SIN-KUL return on SQ. I originally booked in Y as the cost difference between Y and J was too much. However not flying in J was eating away at me and I started to wonder about how often I would get the chance to fly SQ J again and I buckled and upgraded the flights. It was crazy for a 50 minute flight, but our travel decisions are not always made with the head are they?
It ended up about $775 return.
KLM was about $390 for SIN-DPS, Garuda was about $260, Malaysian CGK-KUL-BKI was $330 and BKI-KUL was $190
*All prices per person in CAD
We spent the previous night at what is now my favourite hotel at YYZ, the Doubletree. The top floor room we had came with fantastic views over the airport and afforded me the chance to get some photos in.
Our flight was scheduled for a 1345 departure and as usual we planned to get to the airport 3 hours before.
We had a really nice breakfast at the Doubletree and spent a leisurely morning before taking the airport shuttle around 1020.
We went to the Air Canada Business check in, which is photographed in my previous trip report and again had no wait before an agent called us up to take our bags.
The staff here were incredibly helpful. My elderly mother was travelling back to the UK later that day with an 1830 departure, so the plan was to guest her into the lounge. The only problem was the AC usually won't check bags before 3 hours prior.
We kindly asked the agent if my mum could check in and she was incredibly helpful. After radioing down to the baggage room they took my mum's bag and checked her in. Five Star service from AC, we were so relieved and we headed off for the fast track security.
With no wait at all we were through and off to the AC Maple Leaf Lounge, this time the International one.
Unfortunately as I was tending to my mum and spending our last few hours with her before we went our separate ways I forgot to take any pictures in the lounge. Which is a shame because it was a nice lounge and had a nice lunch spread. I shall give myself 50 lashes for my negligence!
I enquired about a shower and after about a 20 minute wait I exchanged my boarding pass for a shower key.
The shower room was quite spacious and kept immaculately clean. I had a wonderful and refreshing shower and yes once again I neglected to take any photos of the shower room. I shall add another 25 lashes!
Once the bar opened I helped myself to a beer or two (although the beer taps were awful - For the life of me I could not get anything like a decent pour, it was nothing but froth and foam and I found the whole system to be deeply irritating). After getting fed up with battling the beer tap I had a glass of wine and took in some lunch.
The lunch spread was surprisingly good, blowing away my very low expectations.
After a satisfying few hours in the lounge my wife and I headed off to our gate and bid farewell to my mum for another year.
Our flight today was due to be operated by C-FRTW which had arrived earlier in the day from Madrid. AC61 had consistently been operated by the Madrid aircraft for the last week, and sure enough FR24 showed FRTW on our flight all morning.
When we got to the gate however it was to be C-FGFZ waiting for us, a slightly older airframe but otherwise of course identical (save for the older AC livery!)
As a rookie flight reporter, I've yet to master the art of taking enough cabin shots. I'll give myself another 50 lashes for that and promise to do better. When I board I tend to get so concentrated on getting all my stuff in place and getting my bag away that I forget to take shots and then the cabin fills up and I feel a bit self conscious taking photos with random strangers in them. I've got a plan for the future though although most of the reports in this series will be very light on cabin shots, so if you like them feel free to curse at me for my foolishness :)
Airline: Air Canada
Flight Number: AC61
Departure: Toronto YYZ
Departure Time: 1357
Arrival: Seoul Incheon ICN
Arrival Time: 1634
Flight Time: 13:34
Travel Date: Thursday 6 September 2018 / Arrived Friday 7th
Class: Signature Business International
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat 3A and my monitor confirms that I'm on the right airplane!
We boarded via door L2 at Gate E78 at YYZ's Terminal 1. The priority boarding was well enforced not only with clearly marked lanes but verbal announcements. That didn't stop a lady who was in Group 5 (Seriously!) from joining the line behind us and trying to get on with group 1. The walk of shame must have been a painful one for her as by this time the Group 5 line was huge!
This was to be my first flight in International Business and my excitement level was high. At almost 14 hours this wouldn't quite be the longest flight of my life (KUL-LHR in a MAS 744 - in Y) but it would certainly be my most comfortable!
The reverse-herringbone seats are well known and loved and with good reason. I love the layout of the Air Canada seats. The large monitor sits in front of you meaning its available gate to gate and never has to be stowed. The large table slides out from under the monitor and is handily adjustable and sturdy.
There is plenty of seat storage, with a covered cubby that contains USB and power ports and the jack to connect the headphones.
There was a reading light to the upper left of my seat and below it was a cubby under the footstool where I could keep my shoes and on the side a literature pocket containing the usual safety card, sick bag, in flight magazine and duty free shopping catalogue.
Waiting for me at my seat was some fabulous bedding, some comfy slippers and a sharp looking amenity kit.
The crew soon came around headed by a lovely purser whose name sadly I can't remember but she was just lovely and provided impeccable service for the whole flight. I was given a menu and welcomed on board by name. I was asked if I would like a drink and moments later a rather lovely glass of Laurent Perrier was delivered to me.
I was beginning to feel that I could quite easily grow accustomed to this!
The menu read as follows:
PS: Sorry for the rookie mistake again, taking the shots in portrait mode rather than landscape. I'll have to add them individually rather than as a gallery otherwise lots of the info will be lost. I'll get the hang of this eventually!
We pushed back from E78 a little over 10 mins late and what is close to the longest taxi possible at YYZ all the way up to Runway 05.
Our aircraft was heavy and would require the longest runway.
We had a short wait for a landing Westjet 737 and then it was a rolling take off, using a good chunk of runway before finally getting airborne just at the intersection with 15L/33R
We had a slow climb up to the North East as we headed for Hudson Bay, Baffin Island and then North up through Baffin Bay with our filed route taking us all the way up to 87 degrees North, close to the Magnetic Pole. We would clip the Western edge of Greenland before crossing the Arctic Sea and making landfall again over Siberia before heading South to the North Eastern corner of China.
Now I frequently read that Air Canada has some really miserable crew comparable to the worst of the big US3.
I know that my sample size is minuscule (as in 2 flights) but the crew on both my AC Business flights have been absolutely superb.
I mentioned that the purser (is it purser at AC or CSM or some other fancy title?) was incredible. We were happy to be on her side of the aisle because she did everything you could possibly want from a crew member. Easy, gentle conversation, proactive refills on emptying glasses, constantly checking that all was well or if anything was needed. She was just a gem and her whole crew reflected the same impeccable service level. Quite honestly the service on board was flawless, I could not have been more impressed and if this is the effort AC can put forward consistently then the US3 don't have a chance.
Thank you to the crew on AC61 on 06 Sept 2018, you were first class in every way.
Air Canada during the latter stages of 2018 upgraded its Business Class service to what it titled Signature Service with a few new features especially if you are on a paid J ticket. The highlight of which is probably the Signature Suite, a new a la carte restaurant lounge. Sadly on an Aeroplan redemption I was not able to go in. They did however upgrade some other concepts, like new drinks, food items, bedding and amenity kits on board.
Air Canada also offers dine on demand should you wish to eat at a different time to the scheduled meal service.
After takeoff a ramekin of warm nuts was served and my glass of LP was topped up. Fortunately the lovely purser had noticed that the LP was being consumed quite easily by my good self and ensured that my glass was in no danger of running dry!
Shortly after the dinner service started and I was presented with the smoked duck starter. Having never had smoked duck before I wasn't sure what to expect but it was delicious and I made short work of it, accompanied by my old friend LP and a glass of the very nice French Chardonnay.
I seem to be the only person in the flight reviewing World that likes airplane steak/beef, probably because I like my steak well done anyway (gasp!). So the AAA Grilled Beef Tenderloin was an easy choice for me, and it was again a superb dish. The meat was perfect and the asparagus and mashed potatoes complimented it perfectly. Again the rebel in me stuck with the white wine with the beef. I can almost hear the tutting from here! (I'm not a big fan of red wine!)
The dessert I chose was the Lemon Cheescake and due to getting caught up in this whole other World of flying in style I of course forgot to snap a photo of it. Either that or the LP/Chardonnay combo was taking its toll :)
Sadly AC doesn't do pyjamas in Business, which is too bad because that is yet another way they could completely differentiate from the rest of the Trans-Atlantic J market and also blow the US3 out of sight.
Anyway I brought my beloved comfy pants and T-shirt out of my carryon and went to get changed in the spacious lav.
No pics as a) I forgot again and b) Most of my effort was spent ensuring I didn't fall while changing
I returned to my seat, fortunately still in one piece and put the matress pad onto my now inviting looking seat/bed. AC has some really great bedding I feel. The quilt was big, puffy and ridiculously comfy.
I spent some time watching Deadpool 2 again, even though I'd already seen it and couldn't help but wonder as I sat there at the marvel of this whole thing. I was flying over the Arctic sipping champagne after downing a lovely steak dinner, watching an awesome movie while reclined in a half seat half bed all wrapped up in a cocoon of delightful bedding. I almost had to pinch myself to make sure this wasn't a dream. How the hell does someone as average as me end up living like this? The wonder of what miles and points can bring.
After a bit I tried to get some sleep. Being a mid-afternoon departure this would not be easy as it was now only around 4 hours in and my body was telling me it was only 6pm. I wanted to get some rest because we had a 4 hour layover in Seoul before our flight to Bangkok which was due to arrive around 1am local time. With almost 24 hours of travel I knew we would be absolutely exhausted.
Once I'd reclined flat I popped the eye mask on and in the calm, dark cabin I managed to sleep fairly well for almost 6 hours. Far more than I was expecting, although I did wake a couple of times and have to change position but overall I was delighted at how much rest I had got.
I was one who couldn't sleep on airplanes while in Economy, I just can't sleep upright as I am a front sleeper normally. To say that I'd had my eyes opened to one of the biggest advantages of Business Class would be an understatement. I would never have got so much sleep in Y, more than likely would have got nothing at all, so this really sealed the deal that any long haul flights in future were going to have to be at least in J with a flat bed.
To my eternal shame I forgot to take any pictures at all of the second meal service. Unforgivable I know and I'm not exactly sure how I managed to forget.
I had the Ginger Lime Chicken and I do remember it being a bit meh. It wasn't terrible but when it said comes with grains on the menu I didn't expect it to be mostly grains with some bits of chicken. It was OK but nothing I would be eager to have again.
I had a couple of cups of tea and soon after we would be starting our descent into ICN.
I remember commenting to my wife after we landed that I'd never known 14 hours to go by so quickly.
It really was a very enjoyable flight with memorable service. Quality catering and some very nice drinks together with a tremendous seat and bedding made for a great experience. As someone who had always been skeptical of Air Canada I have to say all my preconceptions have been blown out of the water with my experience of flying them Domestic and International in Business. Not only would I not actively avoid AC I might actually seek them out because they do a lot of things very well indeed and if you have a great crew its the icing on a rather marvellous cake.
Our arrival into ICN took us down the Eastern side of China over Harbin and towards the Yellow Sea and away from North Korean airspace. Seemed like a wise move :)
We landed on Runway 34 at ICN with a beautifully smooth touchdown, before exiting the runway and making our way past the new Terminal 2 at ICN which was clearly the kingdom of Korean Air
We passed an AirAsia X A330 and I cursed at only having my phone for a camera and not my Canon and 100-400 lens which were in my carryon above my head as this would have made for a decent shot
We finally reached our stand after a lengthy taxi and pulled up next to an Air China 737-800
We exited from Door L1 which gave us a chance to make a good head start on the journey to the transfer area.
I was hugely disappointed in ICN airport overall. It wasn't difficult to get around although everything seemed to be a long walk, the transfer area security was ridiculously pedantic (I had to take a used tissue out of my pants pocket and have it x-rayed for Gods sake!) and every single person ended up having to either take something out of a pocket or their bag to be x-rayed. Needless to say it was painfully slow and frankly a bit ridiculous.
Once we were through that, we made our way to the Asiana transfer desk to get our gate information and lounge invites, we were also issued new Asiana boarding passes much to my delight.
I'm not really sure what it is we saw on our way up to the desk other than huge amounts of people and massive bags of things, much of which looked like garbage strewn all over the place. You had to weave your way through the mess and it just made the place look like a massive dump.
All in all ICN was a letdown but the rest of it was most definitely not. Great job once again by Air Canada, their Signature Class is something they should rightfully be proud of.
Air Canada has a very competitive Business Class product that features outstanding seats (not the 767 or A330 currently - although the A330s will be getting the 777/787 seats in a refit in the next year or so), excellent food and drink, quality entertainment and some bedding that is so comfy I would happily use it at home.
A great crew really made this flight special. It went by in what seemed like half the time and Air Canada would be very high on my list of choices for anywhere I was looking to go on their route network.
It's hard to believe this is the same airline of 10 or so years ago. I've been converted into a big Air Canada fan recently and its good to see at least one North American airline making an effort to stand out and provide a high quality customer experience.
If you've never thought about Air Canada before I'd certainly recommend giving them a try.