There aren’t many Air Transat Trip Reports in the database, by the looks this is the first with the new cabin. Many people are in debate regarding Air Transat’s decision to put 3-3-3 seating in an aircraft usually fitted with 2-4-2; so can their onboard product and decent prices win me over despite the tighter seating?
Air Transat is a large airline owned by Transat A.T inc and operate to over 25 destinations from hubs in YYZ, YVR and YUL and are this year celebrating their 25th year of service. Their main focus is holidaymaker traffic and they sell seats through various websites including UK tour operator Canadian Affair.
Previously operating aircraft such as the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar and the Boeing 757-200 they now operate an all Airbus widebody fleet, consisting of the A310-300, A330-200 and A330-300.
Each aircraft is fitted with high-density economy seating consisting of 3-3-3 economy on their A310-300 and A330-200 and a more standard 2-4-2 on the A330-300. They also offer a premium class for a reasonable price featuring more space and an enhanced service. Seat pitch varies depending on what website you visit, at 31-32 inches.
Recently, Air Transat announced that as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations they would begin to refurbish all of their fleet fitting in new mood lighting, a better seat pitch, new Italian leather seats and the new Rave IFE system offering all passengers AVOD. Notably, this refurbishment will only be happening to the A330s, with the A310s only receiving a more minor refresh and no AVOD.
This process is set to take 2 years and at some point near the end of April the first aircraft (former Thomas Cook Airlines A330) with the new seating C-GTSI entered service flying on selected flights between YYZ and LGW, FRA, CDG and YUL – CDG. These flights were given no special designation so it was potluck at getting this aircraft.
Having always wanted to see Toronto it seemed that it would make a great destination to visit this year for my holiday. Unfortunately at the time of booking, Air Canada, British Airways, KLM, and other US majors were all charging quite high prices (£600+) so this made booking a flight quite expensive.
However, Air Transat / Canadian Affair came up with a price of just £350 return for 10 nights and whilst I was aware of their 3-3-3 seating a line has to be drawn on price so we booked these flights post haste, paying a small amount to add seat reservation and then adding a hotel (The Westin Harbour Castle) for just £39 each a night, bringing our total bill for flights and hotel to just a little above what Air Canada wanted for flights alone.
At some point in April, I was informed that our flight time had changed. This was quite an annoying change moving our 11.45am flight back almost 5 hours to 16.30pm. This annoyance however was surpassed when I noticed that the seatmap for our flight had changed and now showed less premium and more economy seats. This change in configuration meant that we were now destined to have the new cabin on the outbound flight but not on the return flight, as this had now become the A330-300.
At the Airport
So eventually the 12th June arrived and everything was packed, I met my friends and we headed to Gatwick Airport by train.
The Gatwick Express wanted £12.50 one way for the 30 minute journey which I considered quite steep, particularly when alternative rail operator Southern was offering £2.20 for the same route taking 31 minutes. A saving of over £10 for an extra 1 minute was a good saving in my opinion and the train was comfortable and not too busy getting us to LGW at the reasonable time of 11.45 where we had to fight the crowds off the train and into the terminal which is being made worse by the current building works.
Air Transat’s check in is located at Zone B in the South Terminal, which is hidden away down a corridor and really gives a private feeling. We were the first to arrive however people soon started queuing behind us and they opened check in about 20 minutes early.
(Apologies for the blurred image here but I have heard stories about LGWs security not like photos so did it quite covertly)
Bags checked, boarding cards printed we headed back to the main terminal where we took a small diversion to the North Terminal to have a look at the improvements made there (I haven’t flown from the North Terminal in 7 or so years) and also to get a great view of the Apron from the free transit shuttle between the terminal.
(Plain boarding pass)
(A view of the planes)
The North Terminal was bustling and the changes so far looked great and its quite amazing to see how much Gatwick has improved itself over the past few years.
Back in the South Terminal we had lunch at the Wetherspoons before security, which is called The Beehive and is a throwback to the original Gatwick terminal and filled with historic photos of the airports history. Notably food here seemed to be higher quality than the usual Wetherspoons outlets and reasonably priced at £9 for a Pepsi and a portion of fish and chips.
Having eaten our food it was time to head through Gatwicks new security area. There were plenty of lanes open and the new barcode scanning access gates worked well at enabling a great number of people through fast.
Despite the crowds staff were very friendly to everyone and I was through security in about 10 minutes entering the giant shopping mall of the departure lounge.
Sadly, Gatwick Airport has joined the thought train of “no one wants to see outside at Airports” and thus spotting planes was impossible. The shops didn’t interest me that much and after a small amount of time laughing at some of the ludicrously high prices on sweets in the Duty Free shop and a few free alcohol samples our gate was announced and we headed to the gate area.
I believe our gate was number 23, which is pretty much a long windowless tunnel featuring a few flights at the time, mainly EasyJet and Ryanair ones. Annoyingly on the gates that were empty, what windows their were had been covered by thick black blinds so you couldn’t see out at all. This was not very pleasant and does make you wonder why they would want to make travelling through and airport such an in the dark experience.
What is funny however are the small references to the old owner of the airport BAA which still lurk around: in the photo below you can see where the BAA logo has been covered over and the old BAA colours, fonts and signage are visible:
(Old BAA remains)
On arriving at our gate our tickets were quickly taken and for the first time since before security I was able to look out a window.
Besides our plane, I also saw an Air Italy 737-800, a Monarch flight and a plain white mystery A330 parked in the distance.
(Our plane C-GTSI)
Boarding began shortly after we arrived with announcements telling us that the aircraft was the first with the new cabin and that they hoped we enjoyed the improvements.
dep 16:30 / 16:41
arr 19:30 / 19:01
Photo © Avcam Photo
Immediately on boarding the first thing you noticed was the cabin lights, which were currently set to a bright blue. This was pleasing on the eye and despite the 3-3-3 seating it was very open and spacious looking, with tropical style patterns printed on walls, there was however a lack of central toilets towards the front and back – so if you fly Air Transat void row 8 and 9 in the middle as the aisle seats are pretty much inside the toilets.
(Cabin with funky mood lighting)
(A little cramped in the middle)
On sitting down, the legroom was very good and my legs did not feel cramped – however the reduced seat width was noticeable with the arm rests being a little closer than preferred (this was however avoided as we put both central arm rests up during the flights so the 3 of us had more of a sofa like aircraft seat).
The Rave IFE screen was a good size and running a standard welcome aboard video and also provided a USB port for charging your portable gadgets should you need to during the flight.
Doors closed almost dead on 16.30 and the safety video commenced. This was possibly one of the most boring videos I have sat through and it felt like it went on forever. This finished and it was announced that the flight would be a shorter than usual 7.30 hours and us being 2nd in the line for takeoff.
Soon we accelerated into the sky and we started to turn and head out west over Ireland.
(View from the window)
The full IFE started soon after and I was able to have a play around with this. The crew then offered comfort kits, landing cards, headphones and drinks. The crew were very efficient and friendly, even making a few jokes with myself and other passengers. Notably drinks were poured from a can; however you could request the full can. Alongside drinks, the crew also offered out wet towels to freshen us up which was a nice gesture.
(Drinks and refreshing towels)
I decided to have a look at the IFE after this, which offered about 15 films (a mix of moderately recent ones and some classics), a reasonable selection of TV programs and fairly small jukebox library and also most importantly it offered a moving map view.
(Some TV choices and a nice easy to use touchscreen system)
(iPod charging available, even if it does look a bit silly)
I started by watching and Episode of The Simpsons (a good classic episode) and then followed with the movie Goon.
About halfway into my film meal service started and being near the front a full meal choice was offered. The choices were between Beef carbonara, Sweet Chilli Chicken and something Vegetarian.
I chose the Sweet Chilli chicken and it consisted of a nice but spicy sauce, some chicken, rice and some vegetables. Portion size was good, not fantastic and it was enjoyable – served along with a roll and a chocolate marble cake as well as a free glass of red or white wine also being offered. The meal was good, nothing amazing but appreciable and better than I have experienced on other airlines. The meal service was where I noticed the space issue caused by 3-3-3 seats the most, it was quite hard to eat with tables this narrow.
(Dinner – mood lighting does make taking photos of food akward)
(What a great view to eat dinner alongside)
This was then followed by a tea and coffee run, I had a cup of coffee to perk me up a bit and then sat back to watch the rest of my film. The mood lighting seemed to be changing more erratically with a new colour combination appearing every ten minutes or so and despite being neon pink and green at one point it still felt very relaxing on the eyes.
On taking a trip to the back I got a feel for how narrow the aisle felt in the middle however there was more space in the back seats where the plane narrows to 2-3-2. From my observations a lot of passengers seemed to be using the IFE and weirdly in seats where there were no seats behind dummy screens were still fitted which seemed like an odd thing to do.
Notably the galley at the back had been modernised with a nice faux wood style floor as well as the toilets which I must comment stayed clean throughout the flight, despite there being only 4 toilets for the 300+ economy passengers. I then returned to my seat, watched a few episodes of the Big Bang Theory, a program on a photographer taking photos underneath Paris, an episode of NHL 24/7 and the National Lampoons Family Vacation (was a tough call between this and the original Italian Job).
(Almost over Canada)
(Still weird to think of how many flights used to stop in Gander)
Nearer the final couple of hours the second meal service was distributed. This consisted of a pizza that whilst not looking anything special in presentation certainly tasted good and was very enjoyable, additionally to this another drinks service was offered and I also requested a bar of Caramilk chocolate ($2) which the crew got quickly for me and I was told someone would be with me soon to sort payment, however no one came to my seat so they pretty much forgot to charge me for it.
(yay, free chocolate)
Soon enough we began to begin our descent and Toronto’s iconic skyline was visible along with lake Ontario and thankfully being summer; it was still daylight despite being 19.00 local.
(First glimpses of Ontario)
A smooth landing was performed despite somewhat windy conditions at the airport and we taxied past a collection of planes (that I presume are being readied for delivery) from airlines such as SpiceJet and also unexpectedly a lot of Air Canada planes as well as a flight from KLM and British Airways.
(Parked next to another Air Transat aircraft)
The crew made the welcome to Toronto, hoped that we had enjoyed the new cabin with its “funky lighting” and this then followed with an announcement that this was the first flight for 2 members of the crew on board, followed by a well deserved round of applause from everyone on the aircraft. Customs and Immigration were pretty speedy at processing us all however the wait for our baggage was a long one, but that is the price to pay I guess for checking in first. The arranged pick up was waiting for us as we left the airport and we were quickly in the city and checked in to our hotel well before 9pm.
I wont bore you with too much detail, but Toronto really is a great city with a load of attractions to see and do along with some of the friendliest people that I have met.
Our hotel room had a fantastic view of the lake and of the CN tower, which was spectacular when lit up at night and a view of the runway at YTZ – I could even sit in the swimming pool of the hotel and watch planes land!)
One of the first stops was the Hockey Hall of Fame, something that (being a huge Hockey fan myself is a don’t miss); however other attractions such as the Distillery District, Chinatown, various museums and a Tour of the Air Canada Centre were great attractions. For three of the days we rented a car (which got upgraded and was huge) to enable us to drive down to Niagara Falls that was an amazing site though the surrounding city did feel a bit tacky with a lot of tourist traps however the hilly nature of the city did make for some great photos. I was impressed overall with the Ontario region we saw for its green nature, its openness and how many wineries there are on the QEW road towards Niagara.
(View from our hotel room)
(Myself, attempting to play goalie at the HHOF)
(The lift at the CN tower has a glass floor...)
(The city from the top of the CN tower)
(The Distillery District)
(Its all going on at Yonge-Dundas Square)
(So much hockey history here. Now a supermarket…)
(A very empty Air Canada Centre)
(CN Tower at night)
(City at night)
(This car was way to big for the 3 of us…)
(One way to cool down when its hot)
(Journey into the mist)
Sadly our 10 days went much too fast and it soon came time to leave. Air Transat offer online check in if you are flying out of any Canadian city so I was able to check in and confirm seats at the hotel. A car was arranged to pick us up at 17.30 for the 21:30 flight and we reached the airport at just after 18:15 where I noticed long Air Transat check in queues, however we got to skip these as I had checked in online.
The airport was quite busy with a mix of passengers heading on flights to Europe and off to the Caribbean however security took around 20 minutes to clear and was no hassle to deal with.
The gate areas were very busy due to their being a combination of a flight to Lisbon with SATA, a British Airways flight to London and an earlier Gatwick Air Transat flight all departing a short time within each other. Notably different from these however was the Condor flight, which was having a small party in the gate area to celebrate the inaugural Toronto flight. Despite not being on Condor, I was offered a piece of cake by the staff there along with a free drink and told to help myself to a plate of the hot items on offer; which certainly enhanced my experience there. YYZ also offers a some great-unhindered views outside which allowed me to take some pictures of the aircraft around the airport and they also offer free wifi and charging in case you need a last minute internet fix. The airports simple layout and amenities make YYZ (terminal 3) one of the best international airports I have flown from as far as comfort is concerned.
(Anyone got some info on this mystery plane?)
(BA to LHR)
dep 21:30 / 22:00
arr 09:35 / 09:47
Photo © Nino Buda
Boarding began later than expected and the gate staff made several announcements for the people queuing to sit down and wait, as it would make their job easier.
Today’s aircraft was the much older C-GTSO, a former Dragonair and Cathay Pacific plane and was configured with the more conventional 2-4-2 seating. Notably this cabin looked a lot shabbier, featuring flip down LCD screens every few rows, no individual air vents and tired looking cloth seats.
We sat at the back of this plane to allow for us to sit in the 3 central seats and to avoid having someone else sit with us and legroom here felt as good as the outbound however the much wider seat was noticeable and enjoyable.
Crew seemed a little brasher on this flight, however a few members were really friendly to talk to and one described the new cabin as the “phantom cabin” mainly due to the fact that most the crew were yet to see it.
(Less exciting IFE)
(The way back home)
The flight time was announced to be just 6 hours and 30 minutes and despite taking of from Toronto at 10pm we were still set to land at 9.45am in Gatwick. The flight was full and soon after take off a movie was started and refreshing towels were distributed. None of the films played interested me and two of the films were pretty old – Gulliver’s Travels and Mamma Mia however the in-between movie quiz was mildly entertaining and they did screen the moving map also.
The problem of sitting at the back however came with the meal service. This was a combined drinks and meal service so it took a long time to reach us, almost 2hrs 30. By this stage we were all hungry, thirsty and tired. Meal options were either Beef bourguignon or some vegetarian pasta dish – I chose the former that tasted good however severely lacked any meat. The cake and roll were virtually the same as the way out, not a bad thing and the crew were quite quick at removing the trays and dimming the lights so that passengers could sleep. The cabin was unfortunately quite hot, however I did manage to sleep for 3 or so hours and was woken up by the sunlight coming in from peoples windows ( no announcements made regarding windows on either flights, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing) and the announcement that we were just over an hour away from landing and that a continental breakfast would soon be served.
(Dinner was a so-so experience)
The breakfast consisted of a cinnamon bun, a yogurt (either strawberry or peach) and a cup of juice. I avoided the juice as it has a habit of making me feel ill on flights however the yogurt was enjoyable and the bun was ok if not a little dry.
Following this a final water run was made and then it was announced that we would be landing soon and the bar would now be closed. The pilot then announced to us that the weather in the UK was “average” with cloud and some rain expected and that we were pretty much set to fly straight in with no holding.
(The box of mystery?)
We landed around 9.45am and the crew wished those on holiday a pleasant one, thanked those who were travelling home and the person in row 47 a happy birthday to which half the aircraft applauded.
Immigration was surprisingly fast (no queue at all for residents / EU), however once again baggage reclaim took a long time. We then jumped onto the train and headed home tired, but fulfilled and missing the friendliness of Toronto.
(Our plane after its journey through the night)
In conclusion this was a trip of firsts and I will admit I had my doubts about flying Air Transat.
However, the crew I experienced on the outbound were fantastic, both professional, friendly and they complimented the new cabin which was comfortable, pleasant and worked well with the new Rave IFE system which was not only reliable but a joy to use (if not in need of a little more content) and I really liked the new lighting.
The return product however was a little more “bog standard”. The flight was fine, the crew were ok and the seats were nothing to write home about. The food left something to be desired and the service could have been a little fast but overall it wasn’t a bad experience.
So, would I fly Air Transat again?
I think I would. The prices are generally reasonable to all their destinations and the new cabins (once on all planes) are an absolute treat. Air Transat make Canada much more affordable than some of the other airlines charge and whilst the seats are tighter, seat pitch remains good and the service onboard ticks all the boxes perhaps with the only real negatives here being the charge for pillows and blankets.
For all of you that have made it through my report this far, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read my report and I would love to hear your opinions, comments or questions about my trip.