A touch of class with Air Canada
Barry Stone crosses the Pacific in Air Canada’s Boeing 777, enjoying all the comforts of Signature Class.
Air Canada Boeing 777-200LR Signature Class
Sydney–Vancouver: Flight AC34; Flight time: 14 hours 20 mins
Vancouver–Sydney: Flight AC33; Flight time: 15 hours 25 mins
Air Canada has introduced the Boeing 777-200LR to its long-haul routes between Sydney and Vancouver, providing not only a new level of comfort and service with its new Signature Class business fares, but offering the quieter and infinitely more civilised Vancouver International Airport as a gateway to North America rather than Los Angeles’ chaotic LAX.
Soon after settling into my private, sculpted Executive Pod came the welcoming drinks – either champagne or orange juice or, in my case, both – and the menu, delivered promptly by a crew member who called me by name. It’s the little things, I thought, and so far all the boxes were being ably ticked.
Once in the air, I thought I’d test-drive my flat bed and found to my delight that it was long – 191 centimetres – my toes not even touching the end even when trying, and wide – 53 centimetres – with plenty of width in a pod designed to permit me to sleep on my side facing either towards or away from the aisle with my legs comfortably bent and without fear of being kneecapped by passing traffic. The pillow was a good size too, big enough to ‘pound’ a customised hollow into (courtesy of a slight OCD compulsion on my part), and a mattress topper, which provided a nice buffer between myself and my now fully flat bed.
The seat and how it can be adjusted is, of course, at the core of any long haul Business Class flight experience, and this seat didn’t disappoint. The excellent Rockwell Collins Super Diamond Reverse Herringbone design has a seven-stage “softness” control which takes you on a sleep-inducing journey from soft to firm and back again. It also has a headrest and lumbar control so you can ‘sculpt’ your seat into whatever configuration best makes for a customised good night’s sleep.
The seat configuration in the forward cabin is 1-2-1, with every seat providing direct aisle access. If you love the window seat then seats A or K are what you’re after, while the two inside seats are side by side with a divider which cannot be lowered. I had seat 8G, which put me diagonally opposite the lavatory, a position I’d normally try to avoid, but for whatever reason, its proximity never once bothered me. In fact, for us aisle-dwellers, the lavatories had an additional and quite unexpected incentive: they had their own windows. A nice touch that provided wonderful, though all-too brief, outlooks to the Pacific Ocean below.
A place for everything
The service throughout the flight was attentive without being intrusive, always a fine line to walk but the genuinely polite and helpful Air Canada staff achieved this with aplomb. Every request was attended to with a smile and occasional banter. I never once had to press the call button.
Storage nooks were everywhere, both overt and covert. My Apple MacBook was easily stowed into the slot-like compartment forward of my seat which could have been tailor-made for Apple’s thinnest-ever laptop, but the real treat was the storage bin beneath my side table, deep enough to keep all those little things that slide everywhere such as glasses cases, mobile phones and headphones. It also contained the screen remote control as well as the headphone jack, a USB port and power adaptor, all concealed beneath its fold-down lid with a forward facing gap so cords could emerge from within with the lid still lying flat. Oh, and there’s additional storage space in the adjustable armrest that fronts the aisle, too. Clean, practical solutions to the problem of accumulated long-haul clutter.
A swish-looking amenities kit with a magnetic lock came with toothpaste and toothbrush, eye mask, earplugs, socks, even a chiffon cleaning cloth which became my bespoke cleaning cloth for my spectacles for the entire month I spent wandering throughout Canada’s gorgeous maritime provinces.
The 45-centimetre (18-inch) high-definition display screen is fixed in front of you rather than off to the side, so there’s no need to fiddle with extendable arms to get it “just right” and no continual adjusting of it when food trays come and go. Noise-cancelling headphones are comfy and effective (or use your own by connecting it into the single jack input in the storage unit), and there are plenty of new release movies and television shows to choose from.
Dining on demand with Air Canada
The food, inspired by respected Vancouver chef David Hawksworth, who won Vancouver Magazine’s Chef of the Year Award in 2012 and 2013, included parsley omelettes, pancakes and chicken teriyaki for lunch, and grilled beef tenderloin in a Cabernet peppercorn sauce, chicken ragout with wild rice and sautéed peppers, seared salmon, yellowfin tuna or miso sablefish with ginger fried rice and snap peas for dinner. You also have the option of dining whenever you like, as long as you arrange it with the crew before take-off.
Wines, selected by the internationally renowned sommelier Véronique Rivest, included a lovely Canadian Henry of Pelham Riesling, a Sangiovese/Merlot blend from the Chianti hills in Tuscany, and even Portuguese Dow’s Port. To have a Dow’s port on hand was a real touch of class, I thought. Founded in Portugal’s Upper Douro Valley in 1798, Dow’s remains to this day one of the great port houses of Europe.
Sydney to Vancouver and back again
The departure time in Sydney is late morning, which is perfectly timed to get you to Vancouver in their early morning. Prior to arriving, a breakfast of crepes, omelettes, muesli or pasta was offered. My return journey to Sydney a month later actually began in St John’s, Newfoundland, almost as far as possible geographically removed from Sydney as one can get in the world, and on the opposite side of Canada to Vancouver. It took eight hours and two flights before I even arrived in Vancouver to catch my flight home. Despite that, I arrived in Sydney 15 hours later feeling more well-rested than on any long-haul flight I can remember.
All Signature Class guests in Sydney are given access to the 1,500-square-metre Air New Zealand lounge, with its glorious wall of floor-to-ceiling windows providing panoramic views over the airport and bathing the room in natural light. The seating options vary from conferencing tables to lazy boy-styled armchairs, its cocktail bar and wine wall would be the equal of many a CBD haunt, there’s an in-house barista, and chefs at work preparing meals in the revamped, open ‘Food Theatre’. There’s even an interactive kids’ zone complete with movies, board games and books.
From the first hello to the last goodbye, I consider it to have been one of the most positive flying experiences I’ve had in my 20 years as a travel writer.
Air Canada now operates direct non-stop flights to Vancouver from Sydney (daily using B777), Brisbane (daily using B787 Dreamliner) and Melbourne (three times a week using B787 Dreamliner). All services offer an award-winning three-cabin configuration with one of the best business class cabins in the world (Signature Class), along with Premium Economy and Economy.