This flight was booked as part of a Thomas Cook Tours/Thomas Cook Signature holiday to Western Canada in July 2007. The tour included 3 nights in Banff (at the Fairmont Banff Springs), 2 nights in Jasper (the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge), 2 days onboard the Rocky Mountaineer train in GoldLeaf Service with an overnight stop in Kamloops and then 3 nights in Vancouver (the Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver).
Pre-Airport & Check-In:
We collected our e-tickets from our travel agent around 2 weeks before departure. As part of the tour, a chauffeur door-to-door transfer was included. Our driver, Keith, got us to LHR T3 in plenty of time in an 07-reg Mercedes estate. The service was very relaxed but professional, and we could stop whenever we wanted at service stations etc. We were permitted to stop just outside Terminal 3, but obviously only as a set-down.
Heathrow Terminal 3, as I'm sure many readers will know, is currently in even more of a mess than it normally is, with major renovations being carried out to the concourse and exterior of the terminal (as well as some modifications inside). Our Tour Manager met us just inside one of the main entrances to the check-in hall and we were then left to our own devices as we were travelling in Executive First, and the majority of the group were travelling in Economy.
Air Canada's check-in desks are located mainly in Zone D at Terminal 3. There was just the one Executive First check-in desk open for all flights at that time of the day, but there was no queue at all, and we were promptly checked in and given our boarding passes within 5 minutes with no hassle. A nice touch and a feature at many premium check-in counters, there was a real flower on the top of the desk just to give passengers that little feeling of exclusivity amongst the unbelievable dullness of Terminal 3.
The check-in agent was obviously having a bad day (as many staff at Heathrow seem to have every day of the year) -- she was very disinterested and seemed to take great pleasure in talking in a very quiet voice so we could not hear what she was saying above the din of the rest of the terminal.
After our quick check in, we proceeded up the escalator to the first floor and -- keen to get to the lounge -- went straight to the Fast Track security section. There was only a queue of about 10 or so people -- mainly businessmen and women -- in great contrast to the mile-long queues at the main security check points seen to the left of Fast Track. The normal security processes were carried out without a hitch, and then we joined the end of a general (no Fast Track) queue for the shoe inspection. This took only around 5 minutes, and then we were cleared through to airside.
Not really wanting to spend any time in the depressing surroundings of the main Terminal 3 building, we made our way through the World Duty Free store to the London Lounge, located directly at the gate area entrance. The London Lounge at Heathrow is shared by Air Canada and Scandinavian Airlines -- reserved for premium class passengers and flyers with status - and is decorated in an attractive mix of light and dark wood panelling spread over two floors.
The London Lounge does not offer excellent views over the apron and gate areas, but from the upper floor in particular, you can see a way over to Terminal 4 (mainly British Airways 747s) and in the immediate foreground the Scandinavian Airlines gates. The lounge itself has many useful amenities -- a business centre, cinema room, play area, many different-styled seating areas and of course complimentary cold food and hot and cold beverages including alcohol. The lounge appeared very clean, and I was pleased to see staff clearing rubbish away every few minutes and cleaning the bar areas. We had a quick bite of lunch, but generally found the lounge quite noisy. We therefore decided to move to the Singapore Airlines lounge (a Star Alliance member like Air Canada), just a few minutes' walk along the gate area.
The Singapore Airlines Business Class lounge was a lot quieter, and afforded much better views of some of the gates and one of the runways. Besides ourselves, only one other person entered the lounge in the hour or so we were there. I was expecting the lounge to be a lot plusher than the London Lounge (Singapore Airlines having a considerably better reputation than either Air Canada or Scandinavian Airlines), but in fact it had a very cold, business-like feel, while many of the seats were visibly worn.
The monitors in the Business Class lounge were not working, so the lounge receptionist advised us to check the First Class lounge area monitors. The area was a different colour scheme (brown instead of blue/grey), but all the same did not feel warm and welcoming like the London Lounge. We stocked up on water from the bar in the Business Class lounge for the flight, and then headed to our gate (Gate 26) at around 15:10 for 15:30 boarding.
Gate 26 is a fair distance from both the London Lounge and the Singapore Airlines lounges. Amongst the great unattractiveness of Heathrow Terminal 3, the gate areas must win the prize for the least desirable locations in the terminal. Walking to the gates is a truly dismal experience for the UK's main airport. On the way to the gate, an Iran Air B747-200 and a United Airlines B777 being loaded with food were spotted.
We arrived in plenty of time to find about 15 people already waiting outside the entrance to the gate lounge beside the travelator. The doors were opened within 10 minutes of our arrival, and we joined a short general (no Fast Track) queue for boarding pass inspection.
Once inside the gate lounge, a 20 minute wait ensued until boarding was announced. There was a good view of our aircraft from through the windows, but I didn't manage to get any pictures unfortunately, as the lounge became very quickly packed, and I feel uncomfortable talking pictures at Heathrow due to security restrictions, especially in the current climate. Boarding was first announced for travellers with children and those that needed assistance, followed by passengers travelling in Executive First, Air Canada Elite and Air Canada Super Elite members.
As usual, a scrum commenced, but we had managed to get seats in the lounge very near the entrance to the airbridge, so were amongst the first to make the walk along the jetway.
Aircraft Boarding, Pushback, Taxi & Takeoff:
All passengers boarded through door 1L. Our aircraft today, C-GHPH is one of only 4 Air Canada B763-Y0ERs, and so featured 4 exit doors per side of the aircraft. The aircraft was fitted with 25 Executive First lie-flat seats (in a 1 cabin, 2-2-1 configuration) and 188 Economy seats (in a 2 cabin, 2-3-2 configuration).
A member of the cabin crew was available at the door to direct us to our seats. However, we were not personally greeted by name or shown to our seats. I also didn't notice anyone offering to take passengers' coats, although some passengers asked and this was carried out without a fuss.
The two Executive First stewardesses came round offering the 24 passengers (seat 5K was a pilot rest) champagne or orange juice and a choice of newspapers. Menus were handed out shortly afterwards (the menu and wine list is just in the form of a single card booklet) and our choices taken shortly after takeoff. Each seatback pocket contained an amenity kit, the safety card, Air Canada's enRoute magazine, a bottle of Dasani water (yes, that infamous stuff), noise-reduction headphones for the IFE and other bits and bobs I've forgotten about. On the seats were a wrapped blanket and a cushion.
Prior to pushback, the Air Canada safety video was carried out using the main screens at the front of the cabin. The two members of cabin crew stood at the front of the cabin and just watched us watching the video! We pushed back from the gate only a few minutes late. We had a long taxi past many of the varied international aircraft at the central three terminals (although dominated by Virgin Atlantic A340s at T3), and were in a queue of aircraft including a British Airways B777 and some smaller Iberia aircraft. The takeoff was relatively quick.
As soon as we came out of the steep climb, the cabin crew served a warm ramekin of nuts together with our choice of beverage. IFE is very limited on most of Air Canada's 767s, and until all of their aircraft are refitted with the new 'Project XM' interiors, it will stay that way. In Economy, only main screen entertainment is present, with 12 channels of audio. Unbelievably, the same is true for Executive First. Just one projection screen at the front of the cabin and two smaller monitors on the left and right bulkheads. The news was first presented, followed by a few TV clips and then two movies (can't remember the titles, as I didn't watch any of the main screen entertainment).
Personal DVD players were distributed after the main meal service with a choice of 30 or so DVDs -- but obviously no new cinema releases. I chose 'Meet the Fockers'. Noise reduction headphones (NOT noise cancelling, I'm sorry to say) are provided for use with both IFE systems. I had trouble with my DVD players' sound, and when I called a male member of the cabin crew over, he told me very abruptly that I had the headphones in the wrong slots.
It appeared many passengers were just as ignorant as me -- the steward was so quick at pointing out my mistake that he knocked my glass of ice cold water -- sitting on the armrest cup holder -- all over himself. Luckily the contents didn't land on the DVD player. Perhaps if Air Canada didn't have such an ageing entertainment system, or if instructions were provided for the IFE, he would have fewer calls to attend to and would therefore be less clumsy.
Unfortunately, I didn't manage to get the menu on this flight, but for dinner -- which was served around 1.5 hours into the 8 hour flight -- I had an appetizer of chicken and noodles (not very tasty, and slightly greasy), followed by an entrée of roast beef (too thick -- should have been sliced) and then a dessert of triple mousses (adequate -- the chocolate one was the best!). A cheese platter and coffee was also offered, but I declined. Later on in the flight, a cookie (delicious) and ice cream (bland) was served. Prior to landing, a warm scone and preserves was served -- a welcome treat. Beverages (including a fairly limited choice of alcohol) were offered throughout the flight.
Now a word about the lie-flat (note NOT flat bed) seats on the 763 in Executive First. This aircraft being an ex-Nigerian Airways plane and only introduced to Air Canada within the last 10 years, these seats are fairly modern. They are attractive to look at, finished in an appealing blue colour scheme and very, very comfortable to sit in and relax. The advertised seat pitch is 60", and this is ample for most people. There are, however, few storage spaces besides the seat pockets or under the seat in front of you.
Hence, I found myself cramming the leg room with all my personal belongings or having to get up every half an hour and open the overhead lockers. The seats were electronically operated, with a leg-rest (including a manual footrest), recline (151 degrees) and lumbar support. These features all allow for excellent relaxing, but are impossible to sleep with. Maybe it's just me, but I find I can't sleep without a flat bed. Unlike other reports I've read, I didn't find myself slipping down at all but the seats were just unsuitable for sleeping in. On this 763, power points were available at each Executive First seat (I'm not sure whether this was just for the DVD players though). Individual reading lights were virtually non-existent, with just an old fashioned light set into the panel above.
The small amenity kit (in a plastic wallet) included ear plugs, eye mask, toothbrush, toothpaste and a flannel. The two main Executive First female stewardesses were in their mid to late 30s and both pleasant at the beginning of the flight. One of the cabin crew's attentiveness then seemed do vanish and her pleasant manner slowly deteriorated -- presumably as she became more tired. The other stewardess remained pleasant and helpful throughout the flight. Another male flight attendant (not the obnoxious one who spilled my water all over his trousers earlier in the flight) also appeared before landing - he was most professional and pleasant. All members of the crew ensured that they kept their voices down in the galley areas, and curtains were always pulled with due care so as to keep disturbance minimal.
After the final meal service of scones, Canadian customs landing cards were issued and duly filled out.
Landing, Gate Taxi & Deplaning:
We braked rather sharply on touchdown and reverse thrust was applied almost immediately. Our taxi to the gate (no idea which number) saw us passing mostly Air Canada jets, before we pulled alongside an Air Canada A330-300 which had presumably flown the earlier service into Calgary from Heathrow.
Deplaning was through door 1L, and so Executive First passengers were the first off the plane. There was no Fast Track customs, although our priority luggage tags did seem to work as our two bags were amongst the first off.
Very quick formalities at Heathrow, a comfortable seat and generally pleasant cabin crew made for an enjoyable flight. Inadequate business class food and IFE however, along with a lack of a flat bed seat leave me wondering whether Air Canada is currently worth the money.
CayMan From Canada, joined Aug 2003, 905 posts, RR: 9 Reply 1, posted (5 years 9 months 3 weeks 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Great TR, lots of detail, and thank you for your obvious impartilaity and objective reporting.
I think that you make excellent points re the IFE and seats. I guess we can only say that AC clearly recognizes the need to improve this, as the 763 fleet is being re-fitted with the Project XM interiors. It would be interesting to hear your comparison if you (are lucky) and maybe get an XM 763 on your YVR LHR return leg.
As far as I know the 77W or 77L are not being operated on YVR LHR yet, because that would be a really telling comparison. safe travels!
Genius12 From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2007, 188 posts, RR: 2 Reply 2, posted (5 years 9 months 3 weeks 1 day 4 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting CayMan (Reply 1): It would be interesting to hear your comparison if you (are lucky) and maybe get an XM 763 on your YVR LHR return leg.
Thanks for your comments. My return trip took place on the 28th/29th July (overnight flight) - I'm still writing the trip report. Unfortunatley the aircraft was an A330-300, so no Project XM for me this time!
Genius12 From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2007, 188 posts, RR: 2 Reply 3, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 5 days ago) and read 32767 times:
Here are the images to accompany the above trip report: (note that all comments refer to picture ABOVE the comment)
Singapore Airlines Business Class lounge at LHR T3
Singapore Airlines Business Class lounge at LHR T3
LHR T3 airbridge connected to AC B763ER as seen from seat 3A
Ample 60" legroom in J
General J cabin view
General J cabin view
General J cabin view
Outdated business class IFE!
Cookie and ice cream snack - most welcome!
Termed by AC as 'brunch'
General J cabin view
151 degree recline in Executive First
Seat fabric on AC B763ER
Filling in landing cards in J Class
General J cabin view
Osprey88 From United States of America, joined Jul 2007, 330 posts, RR: 1 Reply 4, posted (5 years 9 months 2 weeks 4 days 23 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Nice trip report, I'm looking forward to reading about your return trip!
Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter): IFE is very limited on most of Air Canada's 767s, and until all of their aircraft are refitted with the new 'Project XM' interiors, it will stay that way. In Economy, only main screen entertainment is present, with 12 channels of audio. Unbelievably, the same is true for Executive First. Just one projection screen at the front of the cabin and two smaller monitors on the left and right bulkheads.
One main screen in the front of the Y cabin and the audio faded in and out the entire time until about 3 hours from FRA it failed completely. Those old 763s and 762s desperately need better entertainment options which are coming along nicely thanks to the XM project.
Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter): The return leg (YVR-LHR, Air Canada A333) will follow as a separate trip report.
I'll bet you'll have a much better experience on their A333.
"Reading departure signs in some big airports reminds me of the places I've been"
AY104 From Canada, joined Nov 2005, 503 posts, RR: 7 Reply 7, posted (5 years 9 months 1 week 6 days 16 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Thanks for the interesting reading. Unfortunately, Air Canada seems to be carrying over the same attitudes in Executive on North Atlantic routes, as in Economy. My last flights over the Atlantic were pretty mediocre. The food items in your photos look very subpar compared to what I see other airlines serving on longhaul flights. The odd thing is, that I recently flew YVR-YUL-YVR on AC, and I thought that the domestic service was excellent. Their BOB has really improved, and the service the crews gave was nonstop, super friendly, attentive and they appeared very enthusiastic. It is quite unusual these days to take note of a carrier that is lacking in International service and excelling in domestic. At least these are my thoughts after travelling AC the past few years. I would not hesitate to use them domestically, but would rather choose another carrier for international. I read a recent posting about someone who had been pleasantly surprised, and indeed impressed, by NW Pacific International service, and yet apparenty their domestic service stinks. Just some general observations, although I have not travelled AC in Executive on International or Domestic for some years.
The only thing a customer should expect for his/her loyalty is good service
Sebring From Canada, joined Jul 2004, 1658 posts, RR: 15 Reply 8, posted (5 years 9 months 1 week 6 days 3 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Just one point: Air Canada would not describe the Executive Class seats on this aircraft as lie-flat. There is nothing flat about them even in full recline. The only lie-flat seats in the fleet are on the two A345s which are about to leave the fleet. The 777s and XM 767s have flat beds in business class and touch screen AVOD at every seat in both classes. As of today, there are seven 777s in the fleet and seven XM 767s. An eighth 777 is due in the fall, and all 767-300s are now due to refurbishing by the second quarter of next year. All A340s will be retired by then. The A330s will be refurbished after the summer peak.
(By next March, all Airbus narrowbodies will have been given their XM. Currently, 41 have been done.)
Starting with the winter schedule, the 777s and XM 767s will be dedicated to specific routes. They will be allocated to all LHR routes, so that eventually they will be on YYC-LHR, YUL-LHR, YOW-LHR, etc, as well as all FRA flights. All Toronto-Asia flights will be 777s by next spring, and by next summer all transpac flights will be either 777s or in a few cases (KIX, for example), an XM 763. As has been posted elsewhere, YYZ-HKG is now an all-777 route, and YYZ-YVR-SYD will be an all-777 service when it launches in December.
Also, as of the winter schedule, there will be new timetable designations for XM 763s and eventually, XM 333s, so the customer will know what he is getting.
As for food, I'd say that AC is aware of the issue, but at present, cannot price its Executive First product as highly as those Business Class products of other airlines. Most people flying in Executive First are doing so as upgraded frequent flyers or as C-Class (discounted Executive First with restrictions). When routes become dedicated to the 777 or lie-flat, the pricing structure will increase, and when there are enough routes to warrant an upgrade in on-board food and amenities, that will happen. But right now, upgrading the food or amenty kits or presentation would not generate more full fare sales.
Quoting AY104 (Reply 7): Unfortunately, Air Canada seems to be carrying over the same attitudes in Executive on North Atlantic routes, as in Economy. My last flights over the Atlantic were pretty mediocre. The food items in your photos look very subpar compared to what I see other airlines serving on longhaul flights.
Generally speaking, based on a range of comments I have seen, if you fly on a 777 or an XM 767, the crews are better, probably because having to deal with older equipment is no fun and hardly inspiring. Conversely, when people stumble on the new Executive First product, or fly domestically on an XM Airbus narrowbody, there hear lots of kudos, especially for AVOD at every seat which no legacy carrier offers on domestic narrowbodies. Just as lots of complaints fuel bad attitudes, lots of kudos make employees proud.
Caspritz78 From Germany, joined Aug 2007, 518 posts, RR: 0 Reply 9, posted (5 years 9 months 1 day 22 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Really very detailed report. Very informative. Very nice to read.
Quoting Genius12 (Thread starter): Hence, I found myself cramming the leg room with all my personal belongings or having to get up every half an hour and open the overhead lockers. The seats were electronically operated, with a leg-rest (including a manual footrest), recline (151 degrees) and lumbar support. These features all allow for excellent relaxing, but are impossible to sleep with. Maybe it's just me, but I find I can't sleep without a flat bed.
I think it is really a personal thing. For example I can even sleep in economy class without a problem. Remember my flight with Sun Country from MSP to SFO. Still wonder how I managed to sleep in that tiny space. The only thing that woke me up was a stinky grilled cheese sandwich my girlfriend took. It smelled like something died.
Genius12 From United Kingdom, joined Aug 2007, 188 posts, RR: 2 Reply 12, posted (5 years 8 months 3 weeks 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 32767 times:
Quoting BA319-131 (Reply 11): The SQ lounge looks pretty poor, had expected more from them.
Yes, we moved from the AC/SAS lounge to the SQ lounge because I thought exactly the same thing. I'd never used the SQ lounge before, and was quite disappointed.
The only pleasing difference between the two lounges is that the SQ Business Class lounge is much quieter at that time of day, since there are no SQ flights. Having said that, the SQ First Class lounge did seem to be busier.