Review: Air Canada Business Class CRJ-900, Winnipeg – Vancouver “Pandemic Edition”

After arriving to the James Richardson Winnipeg Airport, it was time for the second pandemic flying experience within Canada. This was almost like a first world survival scenario, since many of the usual amenities were closed or shuttered which vacuumed away most of the enjoyment out of air travel.

This post is one chapter on our trip to Killarney Manitoba, Canada. For more information on how this trip was booked, please see our trip introduction here. For other parts of the trip, please see this index.

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Review: Air Canada Business Class, CRJ-900, Winnipeg – Vancouver “Pandemic Edition”

“Flying during a pandemic continues to be unpredictable. Aircraft substitutions, a lack of open restaurants and changes in the service can make for a different and fluid flying experience”

My flight was home was pretty entertaining. In many ways, much of the fun of business class was vaccumed away for my travels for this particular segment. 

I had a little extra time to kill, having gotten to the airport about three hours before my flight home. As I was returning the rental car, I happened to notice an Antonov A-124 heavy lift plane parked on the apron. Unlike my drive up from Killarney, which had intermittent rain, it happened to be a dry spell so I wandered over to the fence and stuck my SLR camera through the chain link fence in order to take some photographs.

Antonov AN 124
Cargo Operations at YWG

I ran the registration through Flight Aware and learned that the plane had flown in from Trieste – Reyjavik – Winnpeg to drop off or pick up some obsure item. The only time I’d ever happened to see an Antonov cargo plane was when I was passing through Beijing Capital Airport. After plane spotting, I burned up some time seated outside the departures drop off area since the inside of the terminal had turned into a mandatory mask zone after we had arrived on Monday per the provincial health authorities. 

Deserted Departures Drop off at Winnipeg International Airport

The Winnipeg James Richardson Airport is a bright new terminal. It was named after James Richardson. As a pioneer in Canadian Northern Aviation, he founded Canadian Airlines and was initially one of the largest airlines in the British Commonwealth.  There is a large statute of him in a coat at the east end of the terminal.

James Richardson Winnipeg Airport Departures Hall
James Richardson Statue

It was pretty dead in the terminal thanks to very few flights departing on pandemic Wednesday. 

Departures Hall – Winnipeg Airport
You know it’s Canada when a Polar Bear is used as a Measure Reference for Social Distancing

Heading through security, CATSA did a temperature check on the forehead. They had an expensive tripod sensor set up but like many government procurement projects it didn’t work as advertised. As a result, I was wanded with a hand held thermometer variety on the forehead. 

It was a security screening field day with only 2 in line at the screeners. They quickly got overwhelmed while I was standing there thanks to only one lane open and some over zealous screeners. I had both laptops swabbed in secondary, and a “random” examination of my belt and hands with the explosives tester. 

Empty Departure Concourse at Winnipeg

I went off to explore the lounge situation. The airport was sewn up pretty tight. 

The Plaza Premium Lounge, which is part of the American Express Lounge collection and a member of Priority Pass was situated closest to security. Unfortunately, it was completely closed up.

Plaza Premium Lounge Winnipeg
Out of Luck with not enough travellers to make back the expenses of being open

I headed down the concourse to the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge and they hadn’t bothered to open up by this time either. So much for those ideas.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Winnipeg
Closed “while we adopt to this dynamic situation”

The departure concourse was pretty much shut down, despite being a weekday.

Restaurant Zone at Winnipeg

With that, I found a nice corner of the airport and hung out for a while and entertained myself with the free wifi. Aside from one lounge, the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and a newspaper stand, there wasn’t anything open at all.

Air Canada  
AC 299 – Business Class (P) – “Pandemic Edition”
YWG – YVR (Winnipeg James Richardson International Airport – Vancouver International Airport) 
Sept 30, 2020
Scheduled: 5:20 PM – 6:19 PM
Airbus 320
Flown: Canadair Regional Jet – 900
(downgauged to AC Express)

While waiting for boarding, a friendly gate dragon happened to announce that there would be no in flight catering at all; with only soft drinks available for purchase. He specifically happened to mention that this included the business class cabin. He encouraged us to visit a store for grab and go and “Thanks for your patience during these uncertain times”. Yeah right – I’m sure Air Canada could have let us know in advance that there was going to be no catering on board (laughing). I guess if you happen to be losing $20 million a day (CAD) as a business, you have to cut corners somewhere. 

Air Canada Express Canada Air Regional Jet 900 for today’s flight
Gate 9 at Winnipeg James Richardson Winnipeg

On Board Air Canada Business Class:

I eventually boarded with Boarding Group 1. Getting on board the CRJ-900, I found myself in one of the refreshed cabins. Business Class is set up in a 1-2 configuration with bin space that fits rollies only on the right hand side of the aircraft. Today’s load was 8 out of 12 in business including a dead heading first officer in uniform who slept the whole way. 

Air Canada Business Class CRJ-900 Cabin
Seat 2A
Air Canada CRJ-900 Business Class Cabin
Air Canada Business Class CRJ-900 Configuration

My joy was pretty minimal as I sank into the seat as I recognized that these jets lost their seatback television screens so I was going to be entertainmentless for the ride home. My day was getting better and better (laughing); first the downgrade from Air Canada mainline to Air Canada Express (Jazz), then no food, then no screen. The horrors! Ha ha. I tried to download some Netflix to my iPhone but since I was without wifi – I got shut out by the network carrier.

Missing In Seat Back Video Monitors

The seats had in seat power which was convenient to reach being situated in the arm rest. The seats also had individual air nozzles above the seat, something that’ I typically welcome.

Empower – In Seat Power

Air Canada’s Clean Care + Amenity Kit:

Instead of the usual pre-departure beverage of juice or water, we were offered the now common Air Canada Clean Care + plastic bag. The bag contained was Air Canada marketed as necessities for the flight. These included a sterile glove, some sani wipes, a fresh mask and a few other oddities like a free Covid-19 test on arrival from an international destination at Toronto Pearson International Airport.  These were passed out and made available to all customers, regardless of cabin class.

Air Canada Clean Care Amenity Kits
Everything Needed to Clean a Seat… and some Pretzels

The captain announced our flight time of two hours and thirty five minutes at a planned cruise altitude of 39,000 feet. 

As we got underway, there were no remaining aircraft at the Winnipeg Airport. We taxied by the Antonov who happened to be undergoing a load with two cranes.

Airside Views: Loading up an Antonov
A two crane job

We had a pass out on runway 31C with a gradual climb up to altitude. 

On Climb to Altitude Departing flat Winnipeg

As we climbed to altitude, the cabin attendant who bore a striking resemblance to Gordon Ramsey in age and seniority came around to offer dinner. I was a bit surprised given the ground announcement at the gate that the flight was not going to be catered so I jumped on the offer.

Meal Service: A Cold Dinner

Dinner was a one choice affair of mixed greens, with olive oil and balsamic dressing and a chicken wrap with cheese and lettuce. This was paired with the usual single serve bottle of Ferrandiere Grenache Noir Syrah, Marselan Vin de France.

A Cold Dinner
Individually Wrapped Dinner Items

The presentation not too bad but I suppose it could be worse. The taste was much like the out bound flight; a reasonable food offering that took us through the dinner period.

With no entertainment, I worked on the trip report. We had a small water service towards the end of the flight, in addition to offers of an additional round of beverages.

Water Service

Arriving to Vancouver:

We had an approach on Runway 31 R into Vancouver, which takes us in over the city of Richmond. It was nice to be back in the air and finding yourself returning home to your home airport.

The Side View on Final Approach to YVR

It was completely surreal to see how empty the Vancouver International Airport long term parking lots were. There were less than 10 cars parked in a lot that was designed for thousands.

Vancouver Airport Long Term Parking Lot and the Skytrain Light Rail Station
Westjet Aircraft Parked in Storage Around the YVR Apron
Air Canada Boeing 787 Taxiing on the Apron at YVR

After spending ten minutes in any Canadian airport, it becomes very apparent that the airline industry is going through some exceptionally tough times. The demand is obviously completely gone along with all the things that you hated about travelling; the crowded terminals, the lines at security and the rushes for your gate. The concourses are deserted, along with many of the stores and traffic along with it.

In Vancouver’s situation, this is usually the period when many Canadian domestic flights are connecting to the International Air Canada Departures to Sydney and Brisbane. Today, those flights are gone along with all their connecting passengers.

An Empty Vancouver C Gates Concourse on a Weekday Afternoon
Vancouver C Concourse by the Maple Leaf Lounge
Vancouver C Gates Concourse

For interest’s sake, I walked to the car through the Vancouver International Airport “International Departures” and USA Transborder Departure Zones. It’s literally mind boggling on how deserted this space was.

Completely Empty International Terminals at YVR
The Jade Statue with no one Around – YVR International

The USA Transborder area was equally as empty. At the time of this report, Canadian Travellers had to under go a 14 day quarantine on return to the United States or any international location. This took the motivation out of a lot of discretionary trips. The USA departures flight board was without a single scheduled departure in the next 24 hours.

USA Transborder Area
USA Flight Board without a Single Departing Flight on it for the next 24 hours

My Thoughts on Pandemic Flying with Air Canada Business Class:

Flying at the moment is a personal decision. I didn’t have any concerns with it and would easily hop on another flight tomorrow. The aircrafts were as clean as they could be and the current major inconvenience is wearing a mask for the duration of your time from airport to airport. 

The main risk is travelling some where and being diagnosed as having to self quarantine for fourteen days and getting stuck at your destination.The aircraft check in screens caution every traveler that you may be denied boarding if you have been ordered quarantined by any health authority. Arguably, this is the biggest risk with travelling since you can’t completely be certain that a cloth mask will cover you. Assuming you are okay with covering the cost of this at a hotel, or perhaps staying with family, then arguably it’s safe to cautiously proceed on those trips to visit loved ones. 

Air Canada’s has done a reasonable job at adapting to the realities of the global pandemic. The planes are clean, the food is sealed and arguably has improved in quality and taste. The Clean Care + Amenity Kit is a neat, but likely “expensive to the airline” concept. The Air Canada Airbus 320 service is a comfortable way to get to any mid haul destination. Although its more comfortable to enjoy their pods on the longer haul flights that are more than four hours in length.

Overall, I felt safe flying during the pandemic. I wore a mask the entire time as mandated by the airline and by Transport Canada. Despite being a traveler that enjoys the breeze of air from air nozzles while I was flying, I actively switched these off during our travel. I wouldn’t hesitate to fly again. I actually found the lack of crowds on the plane and around the airports to be quite enjoyable.

Thanks for following along on another great trip.

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