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Airline review: Air Canada's executive class service
Executive class means more than just comfy seats and real crockery.
By Natalie Bahadur
I'm not normally a business or first class kind of girl. Sure, I've got champagne tastes but the truth is, I've got more of a beer budget. And when I step on a plane to go somewhere, I'm usually so excited about the destination I'd be willing to travel with the cargo, just to get there. So, I fly economy and think nothing of it, despite cramped seats and having to negotiate my side of the armrest before things come to fisticuffs; despite the long lines to use the bathroom and the outrageously overpriced buy-on-board fare that many airlines are favoring these days. I'm rather used to flying economy, usually sitting beside that guy ... you know the one ... avoiding eye contact, burying myself in my book or Sudoku puzzles or trashy celeb magazines (my secret or not-so-secret now that I've told you, in-flight indulgence). I simply pull out my travel journal, put on my iPod and hunker down with an assortment of snacks purchased in advance of the flight.
But on a recent flight from Los Angeles to Toronto, I was treated to Air Canada's Executive Class service. I soon realized that Executive Class meant more than just large comfy seats, real crockery and a perfectly acceptable amount of personal space. The experience started from the moment I arrived at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). I felt a bit like a rock star -- minus the ego, the entourage and the drug problem, of course.
EXECUTIVE CLASS SERVICE
As a member of Air Canada's Aeroplan Super Elite and Executive First programs, passengers are guided through the travel process by the airline's concierges, in most cases avoiding all the hassles that can typically make travel a nightmare. Air Canada has over 140 specially selected and trained concierge agents in 21 airports around the world and their job is to make your travel experience as stress-free as possible. And after my experience flying from Los Angeles to Toronto, I have to commend them on their efforts.
GOOD TO KNOW: Air Canada's concierge service is available in the following airports around the world: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Halifax, New York (La Guardia), Chicago, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Sydney, Beijing, Tokyo-Narita, Osaka, Hong Kong, Sao Paulo and Santiago.
I checked in at the Air Canada counter at LAX and within moments was introduced to the concierge who would escort me through the security process and to the lounge. He was a kindly gentleman, extremely polite and gracious and he insisted on taking my bags for me. I followed him down the hall and around the corner, where an impossibly long lineup for security had formed. Not realizing yet the extent of the service that traveling Executive Class with Air Canada afforded, I assumed we'd be joining the line where I'd be forced to make small talk about long lines and security wait times. Instead, we passed the line completely. Up at the front, I showed my boarding card and passport to the agent and was whisked straight through to security. Sweet!
Executive Class or not, security (of course) remains the same for all passengers. I took out my laptop, took off my shoes, the usual ... and was swiftly on my way. Had I known it all would have been so quick, I'm not sure I would have shown up at the airport two hours in advance of my departure. A good 20 minutes would have done the trick, though of course, I'm not recommending this!
AIR CANADA'S MAPLE LEAF LOUNGE
A short jaunt through Terminal 2 and we arrived at Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge. The lounge is open daily from 5:30am until 11pm and is open to all passengers holding an Executive First or Executive Class ticket. The lounge itself is nothing to get too excited about. The room is a bit drab and in need of a renovation to modernize it, though the entertainment centre is certainly state-of-the-art and the large windows do afford great views of the planes.
So this is where I wait until it's time to leave. The concierge leaves me here and I'm free to relax and turn on my laptop one last time before departure, using the high speed Internet access. Around me, there are large screen Sony HD televisions and HP computer workstations so there's plenty to keep you occupied if you've not brought your own diversions along. Free newspapers and magazines are available to passengers and I was delighted to see familiar Canadian titles like Chatelaine and Profit on offer.
Complimentary drinks and snacks are available inside the lounge. Snack-sized Milano cookies (my second favorite thing to come out of Norwalk, CT), assorted cheeses and crackers along with a wide assortment of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages (including local beer on tap, espresso and cappuccino) are all available for passengers to enjoy while waiting. I poured myself a cup of tea, cracked into a package of Milanos, checked my email briefly, then sat back and took in the view of the airplanes.
TIME TO BOARD
When it was time to board, a different concierge arrived at the lounge to escort me to my gate. I was one of the first to board and settle into my seat. Our plane was an A320-200 with 20 seats in Executive Class, in a two-by-two configuration meaning passengers are guaranteed either a window or an aisle seat. FYI: The seat pitch is 37-38", seat width is 21" and seats recline 124 degrees.
The flight attendants were lovely and attentive. Drinks and snacks were offered almost immediately (I had a Diet Coke and roasted almonds) and it wasn't long before I was able to check out some of the amenities in Executive Class. What's all the fuss about? Well, each seat has a tray large enough to serve as a workstation and a personal reading light; the headrests and footrests are adjustable (nice!) and the headphones are free up here! You might think I'm crazy but perhaps my favorite thing was the fact that there were dedicated washrooms meaning far less traffic going through them. I have a major distaste (read: disgust) for airplane bathrooms but up at the front of the plane, so few people use them that they're really not that bad. And, they've got Fruits & Passion Globe Spa amenities, which smell awesome. I even went in just to wash my hands ... twice.
Shortly after takeoff it was dinnertime. The menus change bi-monthly and on this trip the appetizer was roasted eggplant with brie, asparagus and tomatoes. For my main course, I opted for the chicken on a bed of rice with steamed carrots and beans. Other menus include: Southwest chicken bowl with black bean cilantro sauce, grilled red and green peppers, corn bread rice pilaf; Thai style shrimp with stir-fried baby corn, snowpeas, shiitake mushrooms and bok choy on Shanghai noodles; and roasted vegetable stuffed agnelotti with marinara sauce and pesto, grilled portobello mushroom and grilled zucchini.
Flight time was about fours and 40 minutes. After the dinner service was over, there was just enough time to fit in a movie. Each seat has its own personal 8.9-inch touch screen TV, which offers hundreds of hours of entertainment -- lots of news and television programs, movies, music and games. I watched P.S. I Love You and cried the rest of the way home. What? Have you seen the movie?!
ON THE GROUND
When we finally landed in Toronto, I made my way to the baggage carousel, assuming that the special treatment I'd received in Los Angeles was long over. Standing at the carousel, I started to grow impatient as 20 minutes passed and there was no sign of any luggage. Passengers began grumbling; it was almost midnight and the natives were getting restless. Then suddenly, I heard my name being called over the PA system. I was being paged and asked to go to Air Canada's guest services counter. Somewhat bewildered, I made my way over and was greeted by an Air Canada representative who was notifying Executive Class passengers that the baggage would be along shortly and apologizing for the inconvenience. It didn't speed up the arrival of our bags but it was a nice touch of reassurance that the luggage had indeed made the transcontinental flight.
All in all, the experience was both pleasant and personalized. Air Canada's Executive Class service is attentive and helps passengers sidestep many of the hassles of air travel. Membership certainly does have its advantages.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Natalie Bahadur is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She’s a graduate of Ryerson University’s journalism program. She is an avid traveler who loves the thrill of visiting new places and daydreams about where she’ll end up next.
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Note: This flight was sponsored by Air Canada.
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