Review: Air Canada Business Class B777-3, Vancouver – Sydney
Our travel to Sydney, Australia tonight had us departing exceptionally late in the evening with a departure time of 11:40 PM. There is a certain gap in time when such a flight doesn’t qualify as an evening flight or an over night flight. With this gap, there isn’t much you can do to fill the time other than spend time in a lounge. We aimed to visit the Plaza Premium Lounge which had just been completed (at the time) at the Vancouver International Departure D Concourse.
This post is one chapter in our trip to Australia on Air Canada & Qantas Business Class and United Airlines. This trip was booked using British Airways Executive Club Avios and Starwood Preferred Guest (Marriott Bonvoy) points. 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.
Read more from this trip:
- Trip Introduction: Hitching a Ride to Australia via Air Canada & Qantas Business Class and United Airlines,
- Plaza Premium Lounge International – Vancouver International Airport
- Air Canada Business Class: Vancouver – Sydney
- Four Points by Sheraton Sydney Darling Harbour, Australia
- The Historic Landmarks of Sydney, Australia
- A Harbour Front Walk Past the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House
- A Day at Shelley Beach, Sydney, Australia
- Bondi Beach and the Bondi to Bronte Coastal Walk, Sydney, Australia
- A Day at Camp’s Bay by Watson Cove, Sydney, Australia
- Calling on the Koala Bears at Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia
- Qantas Business Lounge, Sydney Kingsford Smith Domestic, Australia
- Qantas Business Class: Sydney – Adelaide
- Sipping the Wines of McLaren Vale Region, Adelaide, Australia
- Restaurant Review: The Star of Greece, Port Willunga, Australia
- Exploring the Wines of The Adelaide Hills, Adelaide, Australia
- Tasting an Australian Icon “Penfolds Grange” Wine
- Qantas Club Adelaide, Australia
- Qantas Business Class: Adelaide – Sydney
- Trying to Fly Standby out of Australia’s Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport
- United Airlines: Sydney – San Francisco
- American Express Centurion Lounge: San Francisco International Airport
- Air Canada Rouge: San Francisco – Vancouver
Review: Air Canada Executive Business Class B777-3, Vancouver International Airport – Sydney Kingford Smith, Sydney, Australia.
About Air Canada Flight AC 33 / 34:
The Air Canada Vancouver – Sydney route was the premier Air Canada route on the West Coast for a number of years. Departing from Vancouver, it beats out all the Asian Pacific Rim destination flights in terms of duration and length. At the time of writing, the flight was listed as the 28th longest non-stop flight in the world. With a flight time of fourteen and a half hours, it’s fair to say that it’s a long haul flight.
The Air Canada Vancouver – Sydney route is normally assigned a Boeing 777-200ER. On today’s flight, Air Canada decided that they were going to schedule maintenance for their 6 Boeing 777-200 aircraft, and had substituted their Boeing 777-300’s to serve the route instead. Aviation geeks will note that the AC Boeing 777-200ER is configured to hold 42 in business class and 228 in economy class, with a range of 17,446 km / 10,840 miles, whereas the regular AC Boeing 777-300 is configured to hold 42 in business class and 307 in high density economy with a shorter range of 14,958 km / 9068 miles (a shorter range of 1,780 miles). This meant that the aircraft, despite having an additional 80 seats, was “load restricted” with a specific weight limit required for the shorter range of the Being 777-300 to make it all the way to Sydney. In practical terms, this meant that the weight of the aircraft was being scrutinized closer than ever before. Even with a wide open seat map, while flying standby, there were no guarantees we would get on.
Boarding Air Canada:
We headed over to the gate area from the Plaza Premium Lounge Vancouver International at about 10:45 PM, or about T-60. I had our first night’s hotel in Australia already booked and the 24 hour cancellation policy was to pass in 15 minutes time at 11 PM Pacific Standard time (which was 6 PM Sydney Australian Time). I was hoping to get a secret handshake from the gate agent: a wink, a smile or a nod indicating that it would be okay and that we were likely to get on, so that I wouldn’t be out any unnecessary hotel costs by canceling after the 6 PM cancellation deadline.
I was called up to complete a last minute document check at the podium but I didn’t leave any the wiser, with the gate agent mentioning that the entire cargo of the plane had to be weighed to determine the amount of passengers they could let on. Amongst our group, we ended up having a quick discussion amongst our traveling group and risk managed it out- if I didn’t get on, my sister and wife would travel ahead and I would travel a day later and play catch up.
Our flight tonight Air Canada Flight AC 33 originated in Toronto with a stop in Vancouver. It’s typically sold and marketed as Toronto – Vancouver – Sydney. On arrival, the transit passengers from AC 33 Toronto – Vancouver portion were in the departure holding lounge. Tonight’s flight was served by gate D50, a swing gate at YVR that can serve both as international and as a domestic gate.
The gate was pretty busy. The construction underway surrounding the gate made the matters a little more cramped than usual. There was also a full double flight crew, with two first officers and two captains waiting in the holding area for the aircraft to be turned over to them.
As with many direct flights, the flight posted a minor flight delay. As we waited, we again re-assessed our travel plans. We decided as a traveling group flying on standby, that I would stay behind if there were not enough seats for all of us as the time for canceling our hotel without penalty had now passed.
While we were waiting, at T-20, the concierge proceeded to hand out seat assignments for the contingent travelers. My name was called, and I was fortunate to be assigned 57A (a window!). I was super stoked about this simple achievement. Hey- it’s better than one of the 63 rows of middles. It’s an example of how down to the wire standby travel is for those that work in the aviation industry. You really don’t know if you’re leaving at times until the very last minute- in this case a mere 20 minutes before the scheduled departure. I received a ML5 / C5 comments on the boarding pass, reflecting the lowest standby priority level.
My sister and Mrs WT73 were lucky enough to be assigned executive class seats thanks to exercising annual options per benefits, after all upgrades and paid upgrades are completed. There are finite limits to this and unfortunately, the privilege did not extend to me. I ended up taking one for the team and riding solo in the back while they rode up front.
Executive Business / Economy Class
YVR-SYD (Vancouver International Airport – Sydney Kingford Smith International)
AC 33 – Executive / Economy Class (standby)
11:40 PM – 10:10 AM + 2
Scheduled: Boeing 777-200
Flown: Boeing 777-300
On Board Air Canada’s Executive Class:
Air Canada Executive Business Class is configured in a 1-2-1 configuration on the Boeing 777-200/300. The load upfront on this flight was 42 out of 42. Given the night time departure with a dark cabin, I have some recycled photos from a previous flight of the Boeing 767 & Airbus 330 configuration which is 1-1-1. The seat set up and style was identical, featuring a full flat angled seat with direct aisle access at every seat.
A pre-departure beverage was offered. Mrs WT73 went for the champagne / sparkling. This was followed by the usual warmed nuts, which is accompanied with a cocktail beverage. Some photos from her portable camera. . .
The menus were passed out with dinner orders were taken on the ground in Vancouver. The menu has been dressed up a bit lately, having had the same format for the last 5+ years. Despite the newer design, the menu items are similar to as in past. This means that the beef tenderloin favourite remains a fixture on “le menu”.
This was followed by the usual eclectic Air Canada Wine List from all over the world (and in no particular order). MrsWT73 enjoyed the New Zealand Matua Sauvignon Blanc, which isn’t all that expensive at home at $22 CAD ($17 USD) a bottle.
The flight got underway with a night time departure over Vancouver, Canada. The flight was underway and no waits on the outbound.
Meal Service: A Late Full Dinner:
Thanks to a near midnight departure, the dinner service started almost immediately. Out of four entrée items, by the time the last of the orders came around, MrsWT73 was left with either the Risotto or the Beef. It’s worth also noting that her order was intentionally taken last behind all of the other status and paid passengers. If you are on a fully paid fare, you’re likely to have greater selection.
MrsWT73 didn’t have rave reviews about the catering; calling it the usual Air Canada fare. Based on prior experience, the catering is typically predictable. I would describe it as “traditional”, with an attempt at being contemporary.
MrsWT73 skipped dessert and went with some port to finish off the meal.
Unbranded Amenity Kits:
Air Canada has upgraded the amenity kit compared to the last flight that we took with them. This one was branded in the new colors of the Air Canada Boeing 787 aircraft with striking red and grey cloth. It also had a magnetic clasp that closed the kit, containing the usual amenities. It was definitely better than past Air Canada kits, and made for a handy souvenir.
MrsWT73 skipped the usual mid flight snack, opting for 9 hours of comfortable, horizontal full flat sleeping. She commented that the sleeping blanket felt like it had been upgraded to a thicker, more comfortable variety. Despite that, she finds the pods a little firm for her liking, being a side sleeper. She also alleged that she returned to visit me in economy on several occasions, but I only saw her the once about 45 minutes before landing.
Prior to landing, a breakfast service was provided. MrsWT73 went with Greco yoghurt and fruit. She passed on the main.
Overall, MrsWT73 enjoyed the crew on this particular flight, noting their personable service. She reported sleeping for most of the flight, which is probably a good sign. Amid all the AC long haul flights over the years, there was nothing that stood out about this particular one, other than it’s longer than usual length.
On Board Air Canada’s Economy Class:
Meanwhile, while MrsWT73 was enjoying luxury travel in Air Canada Executive Business Class, I had settled into life in economy class. Starting with boarding the aircraft, my experience went as follows.
The configuration in Air Canada economy class is the 3-3-3. Each seat features Advanced Video on Demand (AVOD) and 2 out of 3 seats feature EmPower in seat power and 3 out of 3 seats feature USB charging. In our bank, only 1 – 2 Empower outlets were working and 2 out of 3 USB chargers. Some had appeared to have collapsed due to regular wear and tear.
The AVOD system isn’t really anything to write home about and isn’t anywhere near some of the other larger players like Etihad or Cathay Pacific that feature a massive library as part of the experience. I found it a bit lacking, with not enough content on it to truly compete with some of the better world class carriers out there. It contained enough movies to watch on the way down, but I think it would come up short on the way back.
The Economy Meal: A Late Supper
As in business class, the dinner service in economy class was served promptly after take off. Tonight’s economy choices were chicken with potatoes or beef stroganoff. There were no printed menus here tonight like many Asian carriers in economy class. The meals were also pretty tiny. It had been a while since I had done an international long haul in economy and had forgotten how small the servings were in the back.
The cabin light were turned down in economy class with purple mood lighting for the ceiling.
I settled into the movie Lost in Translation for a bit. My sister was kind and brought me a Conde Nast Traveller magazine from the front, to help pass the time.
I crashed out at around 3 AM Pacific Standard Time and slept for about 5 hours. I woke up as the plane was crossing the intersection of both the international date line and the equator as the sun rose for another day. While I was sleeping, there was a small cello wrapped chicken salad sandwich service along with Peak Freans bran crackers that had been dropped off on the seat next to me as a mid flight snack. I always find great sunrise views for the middle of nowhere.
I ended staying up awake for the rest of the flight. I had a group of 4 kids behind me spread across two rows with only one parent amongst them – a bit of long trek for them. She did her best to keep them settled.
The Second Economy Service: Breakfast
In economy class, breakfast was served about 90 minutes prior to landing. Again, the portion sizes in economy class have shrunk compared to 20 years ago when I was flying around with my parents. It was a small egg dish with potatoes for breakfast.
Landing at Sydney Kingford Smith:
Finally, after fourteen hours, we were on the approach for landing in Sydney. We had some beautiful coastline on the way in, along with sunny skies.
There were some nice large wide body aircraft on the ground in Sydney Kingford Smith International Airport as we taxied to the gate. We don’t often get to see these carriers in North America so it’s especially cool when you get to see these airframes around the Pacific Rim.
Usually, I’m one of the first off the plane to get ahead of everybody at immigration to avoid the lines. This time, being in Seat 57A, there was no chance for that. I ended up being toward the last getting off the aircraft.
A quick visit to the flight deck:
After everyone had long gotten off the plane on the ground at SYD, we managed to get a quick, supervised visit to the flight deck. We had a nice chat with one of the pilots’ who was clearly proud to be flying for Air Canada.
It was my first time in the flight deck of a Boeing 777-3 and I was surprised at how roomy it actually was. Seating was of course in two rows of 2, with two seats immediately behind the Captain and first officer chairs for pilots not flying. I googled “Boeing 777 cockpit” photographs and came up with 2 million photograph hits so I figure there are no security concerns about posting these cool snapshots.
Clearing Immigration into Australia:
One major advantage to flying business class are the fast track cards that are made available to business class passengers. These cards were distributed, branded with the Air Canada logo (all carriers use the same styled card, branded with their logo). They were of tremendous use as they applied for both the immigration line and the customs / quarantine line which were both really long. I waited around while the women were kind enough to stock up on duty free on arrival before we hit the immigration checkpoint.
My thoughts Air Canada Long Haul Vancouver – Sydney:
There is nothing like non stop convenience to get from one destination to the other. With Air Canada’s service to Australia, they offer Canadian’s and North American’s a very convenient way to get from the West Coast of North America to the continent of Australia. The service on Air Canada is always friendly, if not a little forgettable, and you’ll get to your destination reliably and comfortably. The seats in business class are comfortable, reliable and offer direct aisle access. If you can find Aeroplan reward space, this is a great way to get from North American to Australia.
It’s worth noting that Air Canada offers the only non stop direct aisle business class in Star Alliance to Australia. Air New Zealand offers similar pods, however their Australia service involves a stop in Auckland. The United Business Class pods operate in a 2-4-2 configuration (Boeing 777 ex Sydney) or a 2-2-2 configuration (Boeing 787 ex Melbourne), meaning that single travellers will have to step over someone if they want the window seats. Unwittingly, Air Canada appears to have a strong competitive advantage for single travellers if aisle access is a priority for you.