Having just arrived into YVR off AC103 from Toronto, I quickly made my way towards the International gates at YVR, which are still undergoing seemingly interminable renovations, making them less than attractive.
I settled in to kill time at the International Maple Leaf Lounge, which at YVR is quite small and usually quite packed, particularly in the late morning as many Asian flights leave around the same time. Because of the crowded conditions, I opted not to take photographs in the lounge.
The food spread started out with a disappointing breakfast selection, not quite as varied as the more acceptable but still not overwhelming breakfast options at YYZ, but when lunch came out about 11:00, it had a few nice surprises, including a build-your-own Pho station, and some sushi. I didn’t eat much because I was still full from the flight from Toronto, and because I knew I had a big lunch ahead of me on the flight to Seoul, but I did sample the Pho, and quite enjoyed it.
The MLL in Vancouver is good for international spotting, and I had the chance to see C-GHQQ, my plane from Toronto joined by C-GHPV from Beijing, and C-GHPT from Narita, arriving minutes apart. For a time, three of Air Canada’s eight 787-8s were located at gates in Vancouver, and by its presence on the gate assigned to the flight to Seoul, I knew C-GHPV would be my ride across the Pacific.
Shortly before boarding time, I headed towards the packed gate area, where boarding was called right on time. Heading down to the plane, I got re-acquainted with Seat 1K, this time decked out for an International flight with an Amenity Kit, earbud earphones, and a bottle of water.
Pre-flight beverages – orange juice or sparkling wine – were offered, and menus were passed around.
We pushed back close to on time, going past C-GHPT next to us. C-GHQQ had pushed back just before us, and was directly in front of us on the long taxi out to the active runway.
And so, with my ride from Toronto to Vancouver on its way to Shanghai, we followed right behind her, taking to the air on our way to Korea.
After the seatbelt light was extinguished, hot towels were distributed…
.. and drink orders were taken. I decided to have some champagne with my mix of warmed cashews and almonds. AC doesn’t offer champagne on the ground, opting instead to serve a non-French sparkling wine as the PDB, but once the wheels are up, the good stuff comes out.
I put on a movie, and dinner service started shortly.
This is the first time I’ve seen an appetizer on Air Canada’s international Business Class that does not include seafood, a pleasant surprise and a sign that AC is looking beyond its comfort zone a little bit on the Business Class menu. It was quite a pleasant dish, especially the sun-blushed tomatoes, which brought a sweet complexity to the appetizer. Please not that this might be international Business Class, but it’s still the exact same mixed greens salad with the exact same olive oil and balsamic vinegar that AC offers on every domestic or transborder Business Class flight. The sourdough roll was a pleasant surprise.
A decided on the pork for the main dish, because it was the most different from the “standard” Air Canada domestic Business Class main course. It was a bit of a disappointment. It lacked in flavour and the pork was surprisingly dry for a “braised” dish.
Dinner was followed by cheese and port. This was exactly the same cheese service Air Canada has offered for a long time, and that’s fine, I quite like it. But the presentation was different. Rather than the usual cart with pre-portioned cheese courses, flight attendants came down with the cheeses on the cart, and served each passenger. Presumably, one could opt not to take one type of cheese or another, or could double-up on some cheeses, but I just went with one of each.
Likewise, rather than dessert being presented on a cart, pre-plated, the dessert cart was brought around with a choice of a variety of fruit, or carrot cake. The selection was then plated seat-side. A small touch, but a pleasant addition to AC’s service plans. I accompanied dessert with coffee with a very generous shot of Baileys, which was, as always, a wonderful after-dinner drink.
Service on this flight was fine. As is often the case on longhaul international routes with AC, the flight attendants were primary senior (read: older) crew. That can be a mixed bag, as sometimes you get the “I have seniority so I don’t have to care about you, passenger” attitude from some of them, but that was not the case on this flight. The crew was proactive, friendly, and courteous, and generally did well by their airline. Not the best crew I’ve ever had on AC, but certainly well above average.
With lunch/dinner complete, I put my seat down flat, put on another movie, and just relaxed for a while, drifting in and out of sleep for some time. I offered my thoughts on the seat as a seat in the report on my Toronto-Vancouver flight (see link at top of this report), so I won’t go back over that territory, but I will say that the seat is also a fine bed. I found it quite comfortable, and didn’t think the “foot cubby” well was nearly as restrictive as the one found on AC’s 777-300ER high-density planes. I found I could move around freely – my only problem was that the top of the seat is flush against the back of the seat shell when it’s fully reclined, making it challenging to put an arm up under my head in the way I typically sleep. Despite that, I got a good little bit of sleep in, waking up with about four and a half hours to go to Seoul. One of the attendants patrolling J noticed I was up, and asked if I’d care for a snack. I opted for the noodles, which were nothing special, but once given a good dose of hot sauce, hit the spot.
Some more movie-watching, and about 90 minutes out of Seoul, the pre-flight light meal was offered, starting with hot towel service.
Next came the appetizer. Air Canada seems somewhat confused by what to do with these pre-arrival meals. Despite the entree not being very breakfast-like, the appetizer of sliced fruit did seem to be breakfast-centric, and the drink cart brought around was primarily juice and coffee, also suggesting a breakfast-style service. The fruit were very good, though – fresh and juicy.
The beef main dish was handily the most enjoyable item of good I had on this flight – carrot cake notwithstanding. It was actually quite tasty, with lean beef with a lot of flavour but not overly tough, and a little bit of spice to make the sauce interesting.
After the light meal, we started our descent, the noise-cancelling headphones were collected, and I cleaned up my space to get ready for landing, spending the rest of the brief time remaining on the flight watching the Korean landscape from out my windows.
Before we knew it, we were coming into Seoul Incheon where we landed amongst the colourful tails of Air Canada’s Star Alliance allies at Asiana, who would be my next flight.
In fact, as we taxied to the gate, I got a little preview of my flight to Hong Kong in three days, as a tug moved this big classic to a gate.
We were quickly on the gate at Incheon, and let go. Because we weren’t flying a mainline Korean carrier, we of course arrived at the satellite terminal and had to board the always-packed train to the main terminal. Customs were quick, and since I was traveling with just carry-on, I was quickly landside. I found myself a Korean prepaid SIM card for data service, and headed out to get in line for the Airport Limousine Bus that would take me to my hotel in Myeongdong, where my ambitions gave way to discretion as the better part of valour, and I quickly fell asleep, waking up at about 11:00 pm Seoul time. I hate that about arriving in Asia.
Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge, International
Vancouver - YVR
Seoul - ICN
This is by far the longest I’ve spent with Air Canada’s 787 Business Class product, and my experience on this flight did nothing to diminish my opinion of the hard product. Subtle changes to the service offering show that AC is trying to improve. On FlyerTalk, the AC reps spent much of last year explaining how they benchmark their service against the big Asian carrier (likely largely because they want to follow the kind of CX, OZ, NH and their peers in terms upgrade policies and valuation of their premium cabins, further moving away from the U.S. business class model, where upgrades are much easier to come by, but the value provided in terms of seat and service is lower.) They’ve still got a long way to go to compete with the big boys, but it’s nice to see some sincere efforts at improvement.
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