Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Signature Class (Vancouver-New York/Newark)

Review: Air Canada Boeing 787-9 Signature Class (Vancouver-New York/Newark)

Airline:
AC (Air Canada)
Cabin Class:
Business
Aircraft Type:
Boeing 787-9
Flight:
AC548
Seat:
6A (window)

service:

meals:

seating:

overall:

What's Hot

  • International-grade business class on a transcontinental flight
  • Easy connections from Australia
  • Dine on demand (but there's only breakfast)

What's Not

  • Meal service needs more finesse, better timing

X-Factor

  • Clear US passport control in Canada and arrive as a domestic passenger

Introduction

Air Canada may not be the first airline you think of when planning a trip to the United States, but with flights to Vancouver from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and well-timed onward connections to places like New York City, it's an airline you should certainly consider on your next business trip.

That's particularly true for residents of Melbourne and Brisbane, for which Air Canada provides the fastest journey to New York of any airline at 21hrs 5mins from Victoria and 20hrs 5mins from Queensland, which is speedier than flying through LAX and without the hassle of collecting and re-checking your suitcase in between.

Here's what the second leg of that journey entails, from Vancouver to the New York Area's Newark Airport.

Check-in

  • Frequent flyer program: Aeroplan, although passengers can opt for any Star Alliance scheme to earn miles on eligible fares, including Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, United MileagePlus and more.
  • Carry-on baggage allowance: 1x118cm "standard" bag or item, plus 1x92cm "personal article".
  • Checked baggage allowance: 2x32kg, or 3x32kg for Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers.
  • Priority airport services: Being a connecting flight following an arrival in Vancouver from Brisbane, I followed the signs towards "US flights" and cleared United States passport control on the ground in Canada at Vancouver Airport's US Preclearance facility, which meant arriving in the United States as a domestic passenger, with no need to collect and re-check my suitcase in Vancouver as would have otherwise been the case if transiting via LAX.

    Priority boarding worked a treat and priority-tagged bags were delivered first in Newark, albeit on a crowded belt shared by several arriving flights due to a lack of space in the terminal.

Lounge

Whether using Vancouver as a transit point from another international flight (such as from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane) or beginning your journey in Canada, you'll have access to Air Canada's Transborder Maple Leaf Lounge at Vancouver Airport prior to this US-bound flight.

Located after security screening and US passport control, it's a relatively basic space, but one with good views of the airport with ample natural light flowing in.

As this Vancouver-Newark service is timed to provide fast connections from Australia to New York over Vancouver, you won't have much time here to use the shower facilities – in fact, I didn't even have time to finish my coffee before heading to the gate – but realistically, this lounge isn't one I'd arrive early to visit, so the amount of time spent here was adequate for the quick email and phone call I needed to slot in during my transit time.

Flight

Air Canada's Vancouver-Newark service runs daily, departing at 8:45am to reach The Big Apple at the precise 4:47pm: Newark being one of three main New York Area airports, and despite its physical location over in New Jersey, New York City is easily reached by taxi, the NJ Transit train or Amtrak, which takes about 30 minutes.

This flight is timed to provide an onward connection for passengers jetting from Australia, with Sydney-Vancouver flights touching down at 7:30am, Melbourne-Vancouver at 7:35am and Brisbane-Vancouver a little earlier at 7:10am, but of course, this sector can also be booked on its own.

The biggest advantage of choosing Vancouver over places like Los Angeles as your transit point is that you can still clear US passport control and Customs before the onward flight, but in doing so, you don't need to collect your baggage, wander through Customs and drop it back off: you simply confirm from a photograph that a bag is yours, and if the passport officer is satisfied, welcome to the United States (in Canada).

Speaking as somebody with a US visa who can't use the USA's automated passport kiosks on work trips, I found the manual passport check in Vancouver quite swift, with a dedicated lane for passengers in international transit and only four people in front of me, whereas at LAX, I've become accustomed to waits of one hour or more every time.

Seat

On board Air Canada's Boeing 787-9 jets, you'll find fully-flat beds in a 1-2-1 layout – essentially the same seats as on the airline's Boeing 787-8 flights, just with more of them, being a larger aircraft:

AusBT review: Air Canada Boeing 787-8 business class, Brisbane-Vancouver

To recap, this provides each passenger with direct and uninterrupted aisle access...

... and if you're travelling with a colleague, friend or partner, the seats in the centre of the cabin allow you to chat during the flight when upright, while still having some privacy between you when sleeping:

Your seat is controlled and customised via a touchscreen panel to your side – with a couple of backup seating presets beside as a just-in-case...

... and if you pop open the panel above it, you'll find some storage space along with a remote control for the inflight entertainment, your headphone connector, an AC power outlet and a separate USB slot, allowing you to use and recharge two devices at the same time:

There's also an adjustable reading light towards the top of the seat shell...

... with a little extra storage space below the adjustable arm rest – but as it's open and exposed to the aisle, this is best-suited to things like amenity kits rather than valuables:

There's a tiny bit more storage down near your legs in the literature pocket (where you'll also find the safety card), and for your shoes directly in front of you...

... while the tray table remains visible throughout the flight, mounted directly underneath the TV for take-off and landing – where it's a handy shelf for your pre-departure drink – and sliding towards you to become more useful during the flight, folding open to provide more space:

Being a daytime flight from Vancouver to New York/Newark, I didn't need to sleep or put the seat in bed mode, but here's what the 80-inch/203cm bed looked like on my Brisbane-Vancouver leg in the same seat:

Meal

As you'd expect, a selection of drinks are offered before take-off: I went with a traditional orange juice...

... followed by a latte in the air...

... before breakfast was served, beginning with a seasonal fruit entrée, yoghurt and bread...

... continuing with one of the following choices:

  • Parsley omelette, chicken sausage, roasted red skin potatoes, red pepper relish and cottage cheese
  • Pancakes with maple butter, chicken sausage and cran-apple compote
  • Oatmeal and cheese

As omelettes served in the air are generally pretty 'standard' and I didn't much feel like oatmeal and cheese, the local option with maple butter seemed like the best choice, and while it was tasty, it clearly wasn't plated on the aircraft, which made the butter and compote look pretty messy on the plate:

Overall, I didn't go hungry, but a lunch service would have been much more appropriate on this flight – or, at least the option of a more 'lunchy' main – particularly for passengers connecting from Australia, which this flight is timed to integrate with.

That's because Australian travellers connecting over Vancouver would have already eaten breakfast hours earlier on their flight from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, and would be ready for the next meal as opposed to a repeat.

Even for locals, the departure time from Vancouver (8:45am) is also 11:45am in New York, so by the time you're airborne and eating, it's lunchtime at the destination, not brekky – and to try and tackle jet lag, one of the things I do when travelling is to set my watch to the destination time zone before departure and enjoy the flight accordingly: but that's pretty hard to do when only breakfast is available.

This made the wine list largely redundant as I was still in 'breakfast mode' for much of the flight: not the optimal time to try a Canadian Riesling, although could have mixed the Prosecco (Bottega Millesimato Brut 2016) with orange juice to create a Mimosa, as Champagne is not served on this route.

Entertainment & Service

You can enjoy a range of content via the 18-inch touchscreen in front of you, along with the provided noise-cancelling headphones...

... although if you have a window seat, do keep your eyes open during take-off from Vancouver for some terrific views (below) – ditto when landing at Newark where Manhattan is in good view too.

Service on today's flight was friendly and attentive, without being overly so – just as I'd observed on my journey from Brisbane, with cabin announcements made in both English and French.

Overall, with an international-grade business class seat on this cross-continent flight, there's a lot to like, with ample space to work and relax, and if you ask the crew before departure (so that they don't begin to heat it), they can also hold your meal until later in the flight when you're ready to dine: a nice idea, but one that'd be much more practical with some lunch choices on the menu instead of only breakfast.

Notably absent was inflight Internet access, which is otherwise abundant in North America, although download speeds of 7Mbps and uploads of 21Mbps in Air Canada's Vancouver Airport lounge at least allowed me to sync my email inbox in between flights and tackle some new messages on the flight ahead, sent out after reaching my New York hotel.

But, at 20hrs 5mins from initial take-off to eventual touchdown in New York, transiting via Vancouver remains the fastest way to reach the US east coast from Brisbane – ironically, even speedier than transiting through the USA – and with a consistent business class seat on the entire journey, travellers who value their time will be able to sleep when it suits their schedule, with bedding available on all legs.

Chris Chamberlin travelled to New York as a guest of Star Alliance and Air Canada.

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

9 comments

  • John Harley

    jch

    18 Oct, 2018 07:41 am

    I flew Air Canada through Vancouver to SFO a few years back. Apparently you are considerer to enter the country even if you stay within the transit terminal. This seemed to be more of an issue on the way home where transiting passengers where required to complete declaration cards and I was told off for not having done an an electronic visa waiver to enter Canada. Not such an issue for Australian citizens but countries without landing visa privledges who do not have a visa will be refused check-in in the US.
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  • traveller99

    traveller99

    18 Oct, 2018 08:22 am

    Not related to Air Canada, but on the point of clearing immigration: the last time I entered Canada was via the USA (on a flight from New York to Toronto). Bad idea. That somehow flagged me for immigration review by the immigration officer. I had to go wait in a big common room for two hours until my number came up, then went over, the woman asked why I was coming to Canada (for a short holiday I said) and that was it and she let me go. I asked why did the guy outside make me come in here and she said she didn't know but maybe it was because I was an Australian entering Canada from New York.
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    JJJJJJJ

  • aggie57

    aggie57

    18 Oct, 2018 01:43 pm

    I can’t imagine that’s the reason. I’m in and out of Canada from the US frequently on my Australian passport. CBSA can be a little direct on entry but I’ve never been asked to do any sort of immigration review.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    18 Oct, 2018 02:13 pm

    I've flown into Canada a few times directly from the USA on an Australian passport (including New York to Quebec City, San Francisco to Vancouver, and I believe Chicago to Montreal), and while I've found Canada tends to ask a fair few more questions than other countries (I'd say more so than the US, based on my own travels), the questions are usually reasonable and if they're satisfied with your answers, you're on your way.

    Also worth pointing out that when flying Australia-Vancouver-USA as on the journey reviewed here, you don't clear Canadian border control on arrival in Vancouver. When you get off the flight from Australia, you follow the signs to "US flights", go straight through security and US passport control, and to your gate, technically with no Canadian border crossing, although you do still need a Canadian ETA, the equivalent of a USA ESTA, to be able to board a flight to or from Canada.

    Different when flying USA-Vancouver-Australia as there's a Canadian border check between arriving on the USA flight and departing for Australia.
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  • Joe

    Joe

    19 Oct, 2018 12:25 am

    Flew Air Canada on a 767 recently in J. Barely a notch or two above any US carrier. Boring, plain and sterile. Cabins are akin to a doctors surgery cold and nil atmosphere. I'll never know why Nth American carriers pride themselves on the miserable airlines representing them. I can see why the Arab carriers laugh at them.
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  • Herman  G

    mancho90

    19 Oct, 2018 03:48 am

    CX to JFK is way much better...AC quality is not great... They need refinement on food, liquors and wines... It reminds me the low cost carrier business class... They charge the same price of much higher players in this category...
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  • anthony watts

    anthony watts

    19 Oct, 2018 09:01 am

    A.C. J seats and planes have usually been good. But service (ground and in the air) has always been lacking, so the comments on food don't surprise me. A.C. is not my preferred airline, tho in North America the choices really are only bad or worse.
    Before I got my NEXUS card I too used to have issues with US customs moving from Canada to US. US customs officials seem to have problems with people who travel a lot....
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  • Tom Kramer

    @7e7

    19 Oct, 2018 10:37 am

    I took the exact same flight a year ago...although on a 787-8 at the time. Can't remember the food being too bad nor whether it was brekky.

    The lounge at YVR was at least on par with the average international lounge around the world but with the bonus of a tarmac view. Why is it that many lounges now don't have a view? I was recently in the CDG Star Alliance lounge which could have tarmac views IF they'd put some windows into a solid wall. Is it a security thing???

    My experience with service levels on AC was extremely good. Taxiing out from SYD, my phone slipped out of my pocket and into the crevice between the seats. I fiddled, I faddled. Apparently not the thing to do since the phone might get jammed and the battery could get crushed and catch on fire! After takeoff, the FAs were gentle with me. They used salad servers and all sorts of appliances trying to extract the phone to no avail. All the while they were very polite and empathetic. T In the end, I had to swap seats because reclining the original might have meant crushing the phone. At YVR a mechanic came onto the plane very promptly, literally dismantled the seat, and voila. The FAs struck me as being very Aussie (QF, VA) like...friendly, understanding and informal.

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  • Robert Belbin

    belbinr

    26 Oct, 2018 11:16 am

    just don't forget the Canadian ETA even though you are just transiting (technically not entering Canada) they still want both ETA/ETSA. Got caught our on a Cathay via HKG/YVF/JFK
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20 Jul, 2019 07:19 am

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