Flight Review: Air Canada 787-9 Business Class Vancouver to Melbourne

This is a review of my roundtrip flight experience between Vancouver, BC and Melbourne, Australia. We flew the same aircraft and cabin in both directions, so I thought it would be most beneficial to give my thoughts on both experiences in one, thorough report.

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AC 37 & AC 38

Vancouver (YVR) - Melbourne (MEL) roundtrip

Friday, December 15th & December 24th

Depart 10:45pm (outbound) & 11:40am (return)

Arrive 9:45am (+2 days outbound) & 7:30am (return same day)

Duration 15hr 25min & 13hr 15min and 8191 miles each way

Aircraft: Boeing 787-9

Business Class Seat 1C and 4K

Points redeemed for this trip (North America to Australia): 160,000 Aeroplan miles roundtrip, transferred from American Express Membership Rewards.

Points accrued primarily from spending and signup bonuses on the following credit cards:

This was the start of a special trip as I would be proposing to my then girlfriend, Jessie once we arrived in Melbourne. I had done a lot of planning to ensure the flights went smoothly and got things started on the right foot.

This was my first time flying Air Canada, my first time flying the Dreamliner, and my first time in the B/E Aerospace Super Diamond business class seats (also operated by American Airlines and a few other airlines globally). More on that in a minute. Our trip had started in Seattle and we took a Q400 prop plane up to YVR where we had a layover before our long flight to Australia. Kevin O'Leary was on our flight from SEA-YVR and was actually sitting in the economy row behind us, which obviously made me feel like somebody I'm not.

I don't think the kid next to him had any idea who he was.

After arriving in YVR, we made our way to the lounge to pass the next few hours before our flight. Air Canada recently remodeled their flagship lounge at YVR and I have to say it was gorgeous.

While the food selection was only mediocre, it served it's purpose as a lounge very nicely. There were lots of great places to rest and look out at the tarmac, it was softly lit, quiet, and had nice bathrooms with showers. On our way home, we used the Air New Zealand lounge at MEL, which was also very new and bright, but it is on the ground level of the airport so there is a slight sense that you are underground. With that being said, I think we both enjoyed our small breakfast. The best party trick in this lounge was an iPad which you could order coffee drinks through. The system then prompted a barista to prepare your drink and announce your name when ready. 

Back in Vancouver at our gate, we found the standard document check. I was informed that there were two Australian ETA's attached to my passport (digitally), one of them had an incorrect birthday. The agent said it was not a problem and called the office responsible for handling these changes to ask them to cancel the duplicate. Of course they cancelled the correct one (F%#@), which created a bit of a scare, but it was resolved in about 20 minutes, well after boarding had begun. Passport control at MEL on our return was uneventful.

On board, we took our seats (and were some of the last to board) and stored our belongings in the plentiful storage compartments in the seat. We were offered pre-departure beverage choices of water, OJ, cranberry juice, or champagne. Once agin I chose champagne to celebrate being alive and also so that I could get a clip of myself "cheers-ing" with Jessie for the proposal video I needed to finish on this flight. The same selection of drinks was offered on our return flight, however our return flight was only about 1/3 full in business class, compared to our outbound flight which was completely full.

Seat: From a design perspective, the cabin and seats are beautiful. The color scheme is inviting and the materials don't have a cheap feel like seats of the last business class design generation. The seat itself has an air pocket and the firmness and location of firmness is controlled with a built-in touch screen next to your seat. You can control the lumbar support, neck support, and general firmness. The seat is covered in a flannel like material that was soft and comfortable for the 15hr flight. One thing that initially bothered me was that the seat technically doesn't go to a flat 180. I was informed by a friend (@notmylastname) that the reason for this is due to the slight nose up attitude of the aircraft in flight. Therefore, if the seat was completely flat and the nose of the plane is tilted up ever so slightly, you would actually feel like you were tilted backwards while trying to sleep. I slept well so it must be true!

Storage: This element always makes or breaks a business class experience for me, but thankfully, this seat delivers the space. In addition to overhead bins, there is a lot of space at the seat. Below the foot rest, there is enough space to store a backpack. At window seats, there is a book/magazine/menu compartment on the window side of the seat, the same compartment is along the center of the cabin for seats away from the window. My favorite element of this seat's storage configuration is the bin built into the desk surface. Inside you will find the entertainment controls, power outlets, and headphone jack, but it is large enough for anything you may need within reaching distance in flight (passport, chargers, phone, wallet, GoPro, spare batteries, etc.). I am a big fan of the B/E Super Diamond storage capacity.

Comfort: On the way to Melbourne, I was a bit nervous and also busy putting the finishing touches on my video for Jessie, so I didn't sleep a whole lot, but slept like a rock on the flight home. AC provides nice blankets and great pillows which are really nice when it comes time to sleep. I also activated the massage function which inflates and deflates the air cushion in specific areas to produce a gentle kneading sensation. It won't leave you canceling on your masseuse, but it's a nice touch.

The foot cubby was a bit tight by the time the seat was fully reclined, but I've experienced worse. Finally, and most importantly, there were personal air vents. I can't overstate how important these are as an element of comfort. Cabin temperatures always seem to run on the warm side and if you can't cool yourself off, you can't sleep, and if you can't sleep, there's no reason to be flying business class. I love having my own vent in business class and I think each seat may have even had two. Great job Boeing/AC.

The bed in the sleeping position

Amenities: The amenity kit provided in AC business class is made from a material closely resembling the seat, which I thought was a funny touch (though maybe not entirely intentional). Inside were the standard toothbrush, toothpaste, lip balm, hand cream and finally, slippers. Man, I love when an airline gives you slippers. Such a nice touch.

Service and Meals: Due to our late departure time out of Vancouver, we were served the "Late Evening Express Supper." I had the Sablefish, a chef's special, and I enjoyed it. The meal started with a small salad and assorted cheese plate. I enjoyed the cheese plate a lot, the salad was very mediocre. I don't think the greens were ripe, if that's possible. The dark chocolate fondant ended the meal on a high note, it was very tasty and the fruit was actually quite good. The meal service was true to the "express" title and finished within two hours of departure. Service was attentive, but not overly warm—more matter of fact, if you will. The kind of behavior you'd expect to find in Germany, but I digress. I don't think my wine ever ran dry, which is one of my favorite parts of the premium cabin experience.  

After I finished the meal and slept, I woke just before breakfast was being served, but noticed that there was a snack tray consisting of chips, candies, and some assorted fruits sitting at the front of the business class cabin. The main reason I noticed this was that the young girl sitting behind me (4 or 5 years old) kept walking up and climbing up onto, what was effectively, my entertainment screen to grab the basket. She snagged a healthy stash of candy while mom slept, smart kid. Breakfast was served with even more efficiency (read: haste) and I ordered the pancakes thinking that Canadian maple syrup would be a surefire bet. Wrong. The pancakes tasted like they had been sitting in the warmer for too long with parts completely dried out and other areas soggy. Whoops. 

On our return trip, dinner was served after take-off with an ahi tartare to start. I ordered the fish option again as I had enjoyed the meal on our way to Melbourne and this was also a good choice. It was actually quite flavorful, not overcooked, and well plated. The accompaniments weren't that good, but as far as typical airplane meals go, they were fine. I give the crew a break, we were flying in on Christmas Eve. I noted that I wanted to be woken for breakfast, but I was woken for the chaos that is cabin landing prep and missed breakfast altogether. I despise when this happens because I typically plan on breakfast saving me from having to stop in the terminal enroute to a connection and I also enjoy not being rushed to mental coherence and to tidying up my seat area before landing. Furthermore, since this was an international flight, we would have to spend a lot of time in customs, baggage claim, and transit where food options are not ever-present and I was starving.

As a final note on food, when I review meals on these trip reports, I compare the quality to what you'd typically expect in a restaurant since this is what many airlines do with their own premium cabin food. Because quality and presentation vary so much between airlines, the term "airplane food" can mean a lot of different things depending on the airline. United Airlines vs. Turkish Airlines is like comparing a burger joint to a steakhouse. 

Final Thoughts: Air Canada created a beautiful and sleek new cabin in their 787s and it is a very nice space to spend the extended hours of a long-haul flight. The seat itself is very comfortable, the cabin finishes are high in quality and the ground experience at Vancouver was great, in fact the YVR lounge is definitely in my top 5 lounges globally. The service and food weren't anything to write home about and the entertainment selection was a little sparse, but the screen is large. Compared to United's Dreamliner which flies to Australia from LAX and SFO, Air Canada is a clear winner if the choice is yours to make.

Finally, it was quite the coincidence to run into some of my good friends on this flight, I had no idea that they'd all be taking this flight, but it was great to catch up with them.