After a brief stay in Vancouver, I headed cross-continent for the second time in as many days. This time, I headed to Toronto to sample Air Canada B787-9 Premium Economy. I’ve long planned more PE reviews, and Air Canada offered a “real” product on this transcon. So, I decided to transfer some old Diners Club points to Aeroplan to give it a try. Under the old Aeroplan award chart, I used 20,000 points to book this flight.
Before reading further, bear in mind this flight occurred in October, 2019. It does not reflect current service levels on board. However, I do think it provides an interesting snapshot on the “original” product, and what it may return to in the future. I will note service changes where I can throughout the report.
This post is part of my trip report series about my weekend trip to Canada in October, 2019. Click here for the trip report introduction and post index.
Air Canada (AC) Flight 116
- Saturday, October 19, 2019
- Depart: Vancouver International Airport (YVR), Domestic Terminal, Gate C49, 13:13, 2m early
- Arrive: Toronto – Lester B. Pearson International Airport (YYZ), Terminal 1, 20:38, 4m early
- Duration: 4 hours 21 minutes
- Seat: 13A
- Equipment: Boeing 787-9
Check-In and Boarding
Boarding for this flight began on-time, approximately 45 minutes prior to boarding. I showed up a little early to try and get photos of our bird, though. The window setup at Vancouver isn’t really favorable for photos, but I managed one OK shot of the beautiful Dreamliner.
Air Canada maintains separate lines for each boarding group. Premium Economy boards in Zone 2, after Business Class and with Star Alliance Gold members. Similar to United’s partitioned boarding lines, I see mixed results with these. Sometimes they help; other times, you end up with a scrum thanks to insufficient space in the gate area. At Vancouver, they seemed to work satisfactorily.
After a short wait, I was welcomed onboard and headed right to my seat in the Premium Economy cabin.
Air Canada B787-9 Premium Economy – Seating and Interior
The Air Canada B787-9 Premium Economy cabin features 7 rows in a 2-3-2 configuration. While pitch checks in at 38″, seat width measures 19″. That roughly approximates a domestic First seat, though slightly narrower.
Besides a small pillow, the only other amenity offered is bottled water.
Legroom felt quite generous, at least with the footrest stowed.
As for the footrest itself, though, I’m yet to find one that really works. While less awkward than the “bicycle pedal” footrests on American’s Premium Economy, I still don’t think it would be terribly comfortable while sleeping.
I didn’t sleep on this mid-afternoon flight, but the seat felt reasonably comfortable in both upright and relaxed mode. Cushioning felt good for a newer seat design; both back and thigh support, meanwhile, seemed adequate. I didn’t get the dreaded saddle sore even after 4 1/2+ hours in the seat.
The one thing I’m not a huge fan of, though, is the color scheme. The charcoal grey motif just seems very – dark. If they’d go a little heavier on the red accents, I think you’d get a more successful look.
Air Canada B787-9 Premium Economy – In-Flight Entertainment
Air Canada offers a nice, large in-seat screen with excellent resolution on the B787-9 in Premium Economy. Upon boarding, each screen helpfully displays the seat number, avoiding confusion for passengers. Or more accurately, giving would-be seat thieves no excuse for their “mistake” when caught.
As you can see in the above photo, each seat comes with a 110V outlet at floor level. In addition, each seatback comes with a USB port.
Shortly after boarding, the FAs also handed out cheap earbuds.
Air Canada offers a pretty solid selection of movies, shows, and games, for both grown-ups and kids. Below is a sampling of the options available during my flight.
I settled in to watch “Goalie”, a rather dark biography of former NHL star goalie Terry Sawchuk. It’s unnecessarily dark at times, in fact, and I found the plot line disjointed at times.
Food, Beverage, and Service
Air Canada provides menus to Premium Economy passengers upon boarding. The menu consists of a fixed appetizer and dessert, but a choice of two entrees.
Air Canada also provides a selection of wine, beer, basic liquors, and soft drinks.
No pre-departure beverages were offered, aside from the bottled water waiting at the seat.
Flight attendants came through the cabin prior to departure to take main course orders. I seem to constantly get burned by terrible butter chicken in the air, so I selected the manicotti. Regardless of main course, lunch came served with a mesclun salad, bread, and cheesecake. It appears I forgot to take a photo, but I asked for white wine with the meal.
This was a nice, tasty lunch. Although Premium Economy meals come out on a single tray, the real dishes and glassware make for a nice presentation. I found the salad fresh, the pasta properly cooked, and the bread surprisingly good. I expected a packaged roll, but it actually tasted like decent bread. As an added bonus, it wasn’t too heavy, either. Meal service was efficient, served about an hour after departure and done within 30 minutes.
About an hour before arrival, the flight attendants handed out a bar of Lindt chocolate.
Note that currently, North American Premium Economy routes longer than 2 hours receive only a cold meal box. As for beverage service, Air Canada currently restricts it to water, coffee, tea, Coke, Diet Coke, Ginger Ale, and individual bottles of wine. For flights less than 2 hours, passengers receive only a bottle of water.
As for service…well, I didn’t get much pre-pandemic, so don’t expect much now, either. While I found the FAs nice enough, they basically disappeared after meal service. I saw nothing of them until they handed out the chocolate bars.
We departed on a rainy afternoon in Vancouver, and hit darkness the last 90 minutes. But I still did manage a little bit of sightseeing. While taxiing out in Vancouver, we passed a Triple Seven in the newer livery at a neighboring gate.
Later, I saw a Dreamliner in perhaps my favorite AC livery, the “ice blue” one with the plain red leaf on the tail.
As we headed to the runway, I saw perhaps the most interesting plane of the day, an Icelandair 757.
Skies finally cleared over Montana, providing a glimpse of a snow-capped hill at the edge of the Rockies. As an aside, I always love the illusion of the plane engine swallowing up landmarks down below.
As the afternoon progressed, we made our way over the vast prairies of North Dakota.
Now as we sped into the evening, we passed by a handful of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.
Finally, we enjoyed sunset over a building cloud bank over Wisconsin.
We arrived on-time in Toronto on a pleasantly cool evening. I was on my way to downtown Toronto via the train in no time at all.
Final Thoughts – Air Canada B789 Premium Economy
Under “normal” service standards, Air Canada’s B789 Premium Economy delivered a solid hard product in some respects. Seating and meal service both are a significant step above standard coach. On the other hand, Air Canada offers little else to distinguish Premium Economy – no pillow and blanket, no amenity kit, cheap headphones, etc. And in-flight service on this trip left much to be desired. Overall, whereas Cathay Pacific and Air New Zealand offered more of a “Business Lite” product, Air Canada’s falls on the “Economy Plus” side of the spectrum. At the time, cash fares typically ran $400-600 (USD) each way – too much of a premium over coach, in my opinion.
Of course, the problem with Premium Economy today is that due to cutbacks, you really receive nothing except the seat. There’s really zero point of paying much of a premium given the current offerings.