Review: Air Canada Business Class A330-3, London Heathrow – Vancouver

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Air Canada were among the first to offer a fully flat executive class seat on its wide body aircraft. It’s seats offered direct aisle access and a comfortable way to travel intercontinentally. The product set the standard for business class travel in Canada for a number of years.


This post is one chapter on our trip to South Africa, a Safari in the Maasai Mara in Kenya and Mauritius. This trip was redeemed through Air Canada’s Aeroplan and through Starwood Preferred Guest (Marriott Bonvoy) and Hyatt Gold Passport. 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 A330-3, London Heathrow Terminal 3 – Vancouver International Airport

Originally, we had booked our return flights from Nairobi via London via Calgary and then one last flight to Vancouver as no Star Alliance Reward space was available on the Air Canada non stop London – Vancouver flight. After an airline schedule change violated a minimum connecting time in LHR by 15 minutes, I pro-actively contacted the Aeroplan reservations desk to see if they would open up space on the non stop to Vancouver. They did so and re-issued the ticket after about two weeks of processing time, although we did not get an updated itinerary until about 7 days before initial departure.

At Heathrow, gates aren’t usually announced until about 1 hour before departure. It’s usually a mad scramble to get to the gate if you want to be one of the first ones on. After a brisk walk along several moving travelators, we happened to be one of the first on after the priority boarding announcement at Gate 42 as we arrived with about two minutes to spare. 

London Heathrow Terminal Three – Gate 42
Air Canada
Business Class
LHR-YVR (London Heathrow Terminal Three – Vancouver International Airport)
AC855 – Business Class (I)
2:55 PM – 4:25 PM 
November 26, 2013
Booked: Airbus 330-300
Flown: Airbus 330-300

On Board Air Canada Executive First (Business Class) Long Haul:

Once on board, we settled into the herringbone AC executive First product. Known as the “pods” or the XM “extreme makeover” aircraft, it’s showing a bit of wear now in it’s 4 – 5th year of life but it’s still a pretty comfortable arrangement with elbow room, direct aisle access from every seat, and space to store all your digital accessories. The seating on an Airbus 330 is in a 1-1-1 configuration. Today’s load up front was 24/24.

Air Canada Executive First (Business Class) Project XM Aisle seating
Air Canada Business Class Center and Aisle Seating
An individual Air Canada pod with a lie flat seat
Facing Forward: A view to the front – Air Canada Business Class

Economy Seating on the Air Canada Airbus 330:

Economy seating in the back was a 2-4-2 configuration. While I enjoy a 2 seater configuration on the outsides, I wouldn’t want to be stuck as a passenger in the middle 2 seats.

A Pre-Departure Beverage Service:

A Pre-Departure Beverage of Champagne or Orange Juice served from a tray offered in a larger thimble glass. There was also a selection of Canadian and British Newspapers that were also offered. 

A Pre-Departure Beverage

The Amenity Kits: A Plain Folded Fabric Wrap

An amenity kit was waiting on the seat, along with a bottle of water. I’ve traveled Air Canada long haul business on upgrades, reward tickets, and contingent standby on staff fares for years now and the amenity kit seems to be getting cheaper and cheaper as the years go on. This particular amenity kit was so frail that it is really a single use container, with a tooth brush, socks and eye shades. The lip balm was conspicuously absent. It was by far the worst amenity kit out of the business class travels we had on this particular trip. Either Air Canada is far ahead of the curve and has figured out that business travelers don’t care, or they are so far behind and are hoping people don’t notice. 

A Very Plain Air Canada Amenity Kit
With some Pretty Meagre Contents…

The menus were presented while on the ground at Heathrow. I was really happy to see something other than beef tenderloin with green beans, which has marked the menu for years.

Air Canada Executive First (Business Class) Menu
Dinner Menu
Wine and Champagne List

The menu orders were taken on the ground by François, today’s Service Director before we got underway.

We taxied off and departed Heathrow without any delays. We had some great views of a grand Qatar jet next to us on the taxi way.

Qatar Boeing 777 on Taxi Way at London Heathrow

Once we were airborne, a pre-supper beverage service was offered. Warmed nuts and cocktail G+T offered served from the tray. A drink and nut re-fill was also offered.

Pre Supper Drink Cocktail Service

The Meal Service: A three course dinner

The meal service for today’s flight came relatively quickly. The salad and first course was delivered all at once with the main course delivered using metal tongs fresh from the “ovens”. 

Today’s plating was mixed greens with sun dried tomatoes and shaved parmesan served with the “never off the menu balsamic vinaigrette” and as an appetizer salmon gravlax with celeriac and herbed mustard remoulade. 

Mixed greens with sun dried tomatoes and shaved parmesan & salmon gravlax with celeriac with herbed mustard remoulade. 
Salmon Gravlax with Celeriac with Herbed Mustard Remoulade

The main course was the herb crusted roast rump of lamb in rosemary jus, accompanied with roasted peppers, potatoes and broccoli. It was refreshing change from the usual beef option. 

Herb crusted roast rump of lamb in rosemary jus, accompanied with roasted peppers, potatoes and broccoli

I passed on the cheese plate today and opted for a coffee cake and port for dessert. 

Coffee Cake and Port for Dessert

The meal service was efficient & polite but mostly forgettable. 

The In Flight Entertainment:

The in flight entertainment (IFE) functional but really behind the times these days compared to the other carriers. It’s no longer the best or average in class for Advanced Video on Demand systems and the wait times for processing selections is well slower than any other carrier. The content is also limited, with only 5-6 blockbuster movies and the rest the less popular ones. I ended up passing the time watching the ever so realistic White House Down.

In Flight Movie Entertainment with a Pop Out Screen
The Screen Must be Stowed for Take Off and Landing
Today’s Flight Path over Greenland

After the movie, I crashed out for most of the flight. There is no sleep set provided for the Air Canada pods, other than the usual blanket and a pillow. The seats are still really comfortable seats, with the right amount of support and shoulder space for a tall 185 cm (6ft 2 inches) man like me. I like that they can be individually adjusted 6 ways. They are among the best in my opinion and the direct aisle access for all seats is a bonus. The seat power at my seat was broken or inoperative today.

However, there is a major flaw in that the seat controls shine brightly at you throughout the whole night and are almost at eye level when reclined. I had to cover the area balancing my laptop and newspapers against the partition wall so that it was dark. Another example of great strategy idea, but execution is terrible. You can imagine staring at blue lights for 6-7 hours.

Bright Bluey Lights Staring at you all Night

The Second Service: A Light Snack

After waking up, I took a walk around back. The load was only about 65% full in economy. Many people had full rows to themselves.

A “pre-arrival light meal” consisting of a very British Sandwich selection of cucumber with cream cheese, barbequed chicken with roasted pepper, and egg salad wit spinach. They all tasted mostly the same. 

A British Sandwich Selection

We had some pleasant views as we came home over the Canadian Rockies, which were snow covered even in the early winter months of November.

Canadian Rocky Mountains at Dusk

Arriving to Vancouver International Airport:

We touched down at Vancouver International Airport and arrived in to the lovely immigration and customs arrivals’ hall. I’m a bit biased with this being my home airport but there is nothing like arriving to the sound of a great waterfall and the welcoming totem poles. 

Pacific First Nations Moon
Vancouver International Airport Arrivals Hall

On arrival, we were over to Nexus and we were out on the street quite shortly with the Aerocar car service home. 

The Bottom Line on Air Canada Business Class Long Haul:

The Air Canada Long Haul product is still pretty good. We had a decent, but not memorable meal, which was punctuated by refills on the drinks and some so so wines. The only real critique about the flight itself is how cheap the amenity kit was and how the in flight entertainment is falling a bit behind the times. The other bad part about the flight is how outrageously expensive the tickets are, both paid and reward when the fuel surcharges are added. Add to this that Air Canada only seems to release a limited amount of reward seats per flight (once they’re gone, they’re gone) and you don’t necessarily have your first choice when it comes to air travel.


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