Airline Review: Air Canada

By Nomadic Matt | Published May 4th, 2008

Air Canada LogoDuring my recent experience flying the friendly skies, I was “lucky” enough to be on Air Canada. If you haven’t ever flown Air Canada, you aren’t really missing much. Prior to this experience, I’d flown Air Canada once to Vancouver, but that was some years ago before the advent of personal video screens and deluxe economy.

Since Air Canada was the cheapest way to get to London, I decided it was time to try the airline again. I can’t say they’re the worst airline I’ve ever flown, but they’re certainly not the best.

My trip didn’t get off to a good start—we got stuck on the runway for an extra hour in Boston. Connecting via Montreal, I encountered some pretty rude Quebec officials at the airport. None of these things are really the fault of Air Canada, but they set the tone for the whole journey.

When I boarded the plane, I asked a flight attendant what the meal was. She screamed that she didn’t know and she was busy, so she’d have to tell me later. Whoa! I figured it would be something she’d know off the top of her head. Guess not. Later in the flight, she walked past and gave me a scowl, but still didn’t know the dinner meal.

Then I was struck with the most absolute horror one can experience on a long-haul flight: no personal video monitor. That’s right! Air Canada is operating planes that don’t have personal video monitors and only play movies on a big screen that’s too far away for you to see. Luckily, it was a night flight, so I was going to sleep. But it still annoyed me.

And as for that dinner—it was some chicken dish that didn’t really taste like chicken. I never expect airline food to be good, but this was like a bad microwaveable meal.

The flight home wasn’t any better. The airplane again had no personal video monitors, they only played two movies on an eight-hour flight (and they cut the last one 30 minutes short!), and the mystery chicken was back, except this time with mystery rice pilaf. The stewardesses, though, were slightly friendlier than on the previous flight.

To me though, the deal breaker is the lack of video monitors. If I can’t choose between movies and TV on my flight, I’d rather not fly, especially on those long-haul flights, and especially if the movies they do play are cut short.

It’s now expected that long-haul overseas flights will have personal video monitors. The lack of them is the big reason I wouldn’t fly Air Canada again. A stewardess did say they were upgrading a lot of their planes and by midsummer, most airplanes would have the personal monitors.

It makes me wonder, though, about the rationale of the Air Canada execs. I don’t totally dislike Air Canada, but I won’t consider them when flying overseas. There are too many other, better options out there.

Next time, I’ll probably fly Virgin. I’ve heard good things about them.

comments 18 Comments

James Grey

That’s why I won’t fly any North American or European based airlines – rude stewardess, lousy ground customer service, poor in-flight service, lousy food and more or less bottom barrel everything

I only fly with Middle Eastern and Asian based Airlines

Quickroute

Asian Airlines tend to have much better service – Sinagapore , Thai etc! – American airlines in general suck! – Europe not much better!

Nick

I got one of the new planes when I flew Air Canada back from Calgary last year and I have to say the personal entertainment seemed state of the art – high quality screen, choice of news, films, music etc. The service and the vegetarian food were good and there were no flight delays. The flight out on one of the old planes was fine too except for the old-style ents. Perhaps I was lucky!

I’m from Montreal and we are usually pretty nice ;) But I must say that the the customs people (airport or road boarder crossing) can be somewhat rude in this province. Must be the language thing. If you speak French to them, they should be nicer :P

I have always flown with Air Canada, I don’t like the hassle of transiting in the US.

Last September, I flew from Montreal to Tokyo (transit via Toronto) and back. The 4 planes we took all had the new personal state of the art entertainment system. The Toronto-Tokyo plane was a Boeing 777. One of those new ones with the pod like seats in first class. (http://www.aircanada.com/shared/en/common/fleet/pop_fleet77W.html). When you book your tickets online, you always get the plane configuration and info, it will tell you if you have personal screen are not.

For Europe, Air Transat is usually a bit cheaper than Air Canada if you depart from Montreal.

Ok, I have to come to Air Canada’s defense. Since we moved to California more than 10 years ago I’ve gone back and forth countless times. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve taken off or landed in the middle of a major storm but despite the snow the flight’s been on time and I’ve never felt nervous. You obviously had the misfortune to run into a flight attendant who was having a bad day. However I have been treated with respect and well-cared for on countless flights. To me, the comfort of knowing how competent Air Canada pilots are when dealing with Canada’s weather more than compensates for any failings of the entertainment system.

We have flown Virgin on other routes, by the way. The bar area was way cool – for the 2 seconds we got to see it as we walked by on our way to “cattle class”. Otherwise, my back-of-the seat monitor was broken and Ian’s wouldn’t play any games… Hopefully you’ll have better luck!

I had a similar experience in flying on United from Vancouver to Singapore recently, via LA and Tokyo. Same kinds of things… cold reception from the flight attendants even with polite inquiries, no personal TV, poor food… Having flown on Air Canada lots of times, and more recently on United (and ANA) lots of times, I think you kind of have to expect a less-than-spectacular flying experience every so often, one of those “keeping the world in balance” kinds of things. Too bad, but you can’t win ‘em all, right?

That being said, Air Canada has been notorious for poor service, overbookings, poor communication during delays (ie. 8 hour waits, no water/bathroom breaks/etc. on a runway, with no explanation to passengers) in recent years and especially around the holiday times. WestJet, however, has for the most part received stellar reports in terms of customer satisfaction in that same time; when they did screw up, or there were uncontrollable delays, they were sure to communicate what exactly was going on to the travelers affected.

Oh no ! I just booked a flight with Air Canada to NYC, changing in Toronto ! Never flown with them before, but the price was just too good to pass up. Luckily it’s only the outbound flight (return is with Continental), should it be as unpleasant as you say. Fingers are crossed ! But my airline of choice is always SWISS – superior for sure, and I don’t say that only because they serve Mövenpick ice cream and Toblerone bars ! :)

Amer

ohh wow..I know this is weird..but flying with Asian and Middle Eastern carriers all the time made me think maybe I should try and fly an American carrier to understand what everyone is talking about..hahah..anyway that is just me..Nice article though!

NomadicMatt

Why go from good to bad? Stick with the good stuff!

Daniel

Ok as a french canadian, AIR CANADA FLIGHT ATTENDANT, i do feel the obligation to answer to this airline review lol. How can “Getting stuck in a runway and meeting rude Quebec officials” be part of this airline review? As a flight attendant, i have to go through customs numerous times every week, and even a few times during a single day. custom officials are not trained on costumer service, thats just not their job. in fact, they get trained to look and act “unfriendly” beleive it or not (that explains the lack of smiles and the pissed off look).

Now lets get to the actual flight. One thing people have to understand is that each single flight attendant on a flight has a task (or tasks) to perform. Some flight attendant are responsbale for boarding, some are responsable for announcements, others for preparing the galleys and the trolleys on the ground for the inflight service. Basically, the flight attendant in charge of the boarding wouldnt know what the meal choice is. To answer your question about the meal choice, she would have to complete her duty and tasks first (which would be to secure the cabin for in on-time departure), remember your seat, go to the back and ask to the flight attendant in charge of the galley (if time permits, which usually dont).

As for the entertainment individual screens, i am happy to inform you that the entire Air Canada fleet is equipped with INDIVIDUAL screens now a days. Except for 3 aircrafts! Air Canada ordered new Boeings 787 that were supposed to be delivered about 4 years ago. The aircrafts that are not equiped with the new entertainment screens are the aircrafts that were supposed to be replaced when Air Canada purchased those 787.

One other thing that deserves to be said, in my opinion, is safety on board. Air Canada, is by far one of the safest and even perhaps the safest airline out there. Some airlines really have a poor safety record, lets just point out Air France who lost 3 wide-body aircrafts in the last 11 years (flight 4590, 358 and 447). Having a tasteful meal is not really going to help you while you drop 35 000 ft to your death. You can always have a delicious meal once you get SAFELY to your destination!

I found your blog randomly while surfing on the net. I think its a great one. Its nice to see people actually enjoying their life and doing what they feel makes them happy. Wish you the best for your future travel plans wherever they may take you.

John in Montreal

Sorry to hear that your experience was sub-par. The post from Daniel however outlines the main cause of your problem – the three 767s that have not been upgraded to the new cabin interior. These older planes generally fly cheaper “tourist-oriented” routes and should be avoided if you want personal TV, better seating, etc. When you book on AC.com you will see whether or not a given flight is on a plane using the old cabin and try to avoid it at all costs. Of course most US carriers don’t have seatback IFE in all aircraft either (I’m looking at you United).

While AC is a long way from Singapore or Ethiad its still head and shoulders above anything else in North America in terms of service, schedule and aircraft.

Jeff M

Yea I’m Canadian and do whatever I can to not fly with Air Canada. The only times I’ve had a pleasant flight with AC is when I’m in my army uniform. Who’d have guessed.

Mike

Air Canada has their own set of rules when it comes to service. Most Airlines have a cut off of 30 minutes from departure. Air Canada has a 60 minute cut off that is NOT disclosed on their online ticket purchase documentation. My wife had terminal cancer and we arrived 50 minutes prior to departure. We were rudely told that we had missed our flight and were told that our money would NOT be refunded. We talked to two different reservations personnel in Montreal who were apathetic and the male even hung up on me. Their solution was to to charge an additional $700 to put us on the next flight after we had already paid in FULL. My wife was not feeling well, was on chemo and terminally ill they took none of these facts into consideration. These guys are jerks, do not have to compete or be good to their customers because they are owned by the Canadian Government. I will never fly or recommend Air Canada to anyone ever again.

Ian

Just to clarify things and correct a misunderstanding held by a lot of people: Air Canada is NOT owned by the Canadian (federal) or any other government. Air Canada is a public company whose shares are traded on public receives and it no subsidies whatsoever. Air Canada was originally founded by the Canadian National Railway and as such was a Crown Corporation, but that status ended DECADES ago. Air Canada was privatised by the federal government starting in 1988, and was entirely, 100% privatised with no shares held by the Canadian government.

Joe

I just found this page, and thought I would mention a few things.

1. Air Canada, now anyways, has by far the best touch screen personal entertainment with at least 20 moves to choose from and then documentries and tv shows and pretty much enless GOOD stuff.

2. The planes are maintained very well.

3. It is only $50 to change you return date

4. They might not be so friendly but they are pros paid a good wage taht have done their jobs for years rather than newbies with a smile

5. I have missed my connections because i was eating a burger and they got me on the next flight for free, no questions.

There isn’t alot of bull in the fine print on the fares like others. Their food insn’t the best but their seats are big, they are pretty reasonable like when i was going to thailand and the big yellow shirt airport seige thing was going on they didn’t mess me around like my friends did on another airline.

NomadicMatt

Yes, this article is now out of date.

aleta

I will never fly Air Canada again. I have pictures of them taking off our luggage before we left the ground. I asked the flight attendant why they were taking our luggage off the plane and she replied they are just checking some baggage and she assured me we would not leave without the luggage. But as you can guess the plane took off and I could still see our luggage on the runway. I was furious but she informed the plane was over loaded and it was either people of luggage. I asked her what happened to Customer Service why not get a bigger plane that could accommodate both. She replied not her call. I waited for an announcement that they left the luggage but they didn’t inform the passengers. As I was leaving the plane I asked the Pilot and he informed me that wasn’t his job description. When I arrived in Atlanta I showed the pictures to all the people on the flight and they were furious. Another thing when we tried to discuss this when we landed they don’t have anyone at Customer Service when they have flights taking off. My concern now is flying on an overloaded plane. I sent a text to my family to let them know were overloaded in case there was a problem. In my opinion not only does their customer service stink and I am concerned about the safety of Air Canada.

Dan

Air Canada’s got my vote for the worst food. Not only is it tasteless, stale, and overcooked, it seems like the portions are getting smaller and smaller. it’s the only airline I’ve flown on where the passengers have to bring snacks to fill them up. It’s embarassing that they’re Canada’s flag ship carrier.