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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.