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Air Canada: New Planes, New Seats, New Rules, and More

77W Delivery

Sparkling-new Air Canada 777-300ER C-FIVX at the Boeing Delivery Center, Paine Field, Everett WA. Photo: Bernie Leighton

It’s looking pretty busy at Air Canada (AC) and not just because they’ve launched their new “leisure airline,” rouge.

This summer, AC took delivery of the first two 777-300ERs from their latest five-plane order. When this order is completed, AC will have 17 -300ERs and 6 -200LRs in their international fleet. While AC’s new 777s look standard on the outside, they are very different inside.

Their newest 777s are configured in a new, three-class cabin, seating 458. That’s a huge 30% capacity increase from AC’s older 777-300ERs, which have 349 seats in a two-class arrangement. What all has changed? Obviously we had to take a closer look.

New config "Executive First" in Air Canada's new 777-300ERs Photo: Air Canada

New “Executive First” in Air Canada’s new 777-300ERs. Photo: Air Canada

Starting at the front of the plane, “Executive First” has changed from a configuration of 42 “suite” herringbone seats to 36 seats, staggered in a 2-2-2, 1-2-1 set up. The seats are still fully lie-flat, but are now parallel to the aisles.

New "Premium Economy" class in Air Canada's new 777-300ER Photo: Air Canada

New “Premium Economy” class in Air Canada’s new 777-300ER. Photo: Air Canada

Next, Air Canada has added a new, 24-seat “Premium Economy” section. It’s in a 2-4-2 configuration, with a 38″ pitch similar to AC’s “Executive Class” seats on their A320 fleet, but with a slightly narrower seat.

Economy Class in Air Canada's new 777-300ER. Photo: Air Canada

Economy Class on Air Canada’s new 777-300ER. Photo: Air Canada

The biggest changes are in economy.  Seating capacity has jumped from 307 in AC’s existing -300ERs to 398 in the new planes. The configuration has gone from 3-3-3 to 3-4-3 in almost every row – 10 across! The seat width is down from 18.5″ to 17″, and the pitch has dropped by an inch to 31″. AC is using new “slimline” leather seats with a slightly increased seat recline of six inches.

BONUS: Air Canada’s seating plans for the two versions of their 777-300ERs 

The new 777 was introduced on AC’s Montreal (YUL) to Paris (CDG) flights. In a recent earnings call, Air Canada CEO Calin Rovinescu was pretty happy about the new planes. “The other day, we operated to Paris on 100-per-cent load,” Mr. Rovinescu said. “So passengers seem to like the product.”  It’s great for AC that they filled the plane, but I think the full load was more likely due to their competitive fare structure and summer demand, versus fliers seeking that exact configuration.

Also to be noticed; the colour scheme is completely different from AC’s existing interiors, which are based on a blue palette. Is this AC’s new “look”?  Well, here’s a description from Air Canada’s press release announcing the new planes: “Air Canada’s five new Boeing 777-300ER aircraft will provide customers with a refreshed interior colour palette in modern, neutral tones unique to these aircraft pending the official launch of Air Canada’s future in-flight product and cabin design that will be made in conjunction with the introduction of Boeing 787 aircraft into its fleet.”

Artist's rendering of a Boeing 787-8 in Air Canada's colours. Photo: Air Canada

Artist’s rendering of a Boeing 787-8 in Air Canada’s colors. Photo: Air Canada

Air Canada has 37 Dreamliners on order, with 15 787-8s and 22 787-9s coming into the fleet. The same press release might give another clue. The 787s “will feature a brand new, enhanced version of Air Canada’s award-winning Executive First lie-flat beds and product that has yet to be announced, in addition to Premium Economy and Economy options.”

So it looks like Air Canada’s future international fleet of 777s and 787s will have a similar configuration. Many of Air Canada’s 767s will be transferred to rouge as the 787s come into the fleet starting early in 2014.

I also expect that AC’s eight A330-300s will be gone pretty quickly, too. Air Canada’s fleet upgrade is integral to their strategy, as described by Mr. Rovinescu, of  “focusing significantly on international expansion.”

Air Canada A320-211 C-FLSU on short final for Runway 26R @ YVR. Photo: Howard Slutsken

While Air Canada looks to expand its network, last week the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruled that the airline must revise its compensation to passengers who have been denied boarding due to overbooking.  The CTA notes that overbooking is commonplace among airlines, and believes “the practice serves the interests of both the carriers and the traveling public because carriers are able to operate at maximum capacity, which should result in reduced fares.” Right.

However, the CTA ordered Air Canada to revise its payments to bumped passengers. Previously, AC only had to pay either $100 cash or a $200 travel voucher if you were bumped from a North American flight. Under the new rules, AC must compensate passengers based on the delay incurred in getting them to their destination: $200 for up to a 2 hour delay, $400 for 2 to 6 hours, and $800 if the delay is 6 hours or more.

This new rule doesn’t apply if the passenger takes a voluntary bump and accepts whatever deal AC offers. The rule also acknowledges that Air Canada has the right to substitute a smaller aircraft for “for operational and safety reasons.”  If the substitution is required due to events “beyond its control,” then AC is relieved of having to pay compensation.

Air Canada's new global Operations Centre in Brampton, Ontario

Air Canada’s new Global Operations Centre in Brampton, Ontario. Photo: Air Canada

Maybe this will help Air Canada ensure they have the right plane in the right place at the right time. In late-August, AC announced the opening of their new Global Operations Centre. This 75,000 square foot facility is just northwest of Toronto-Pearson International Airport (YYZ) in Brampton, Ontario.

The new state-of-the-art control center will be fully operational in early 2014, after testing, training, and transition is complete.  400 employees will work in the Operations Centre around-the-clock, handling over 600 Air Canada flights each day and almost 35 million passengers a year.

What do you think about Air Canada’s new 777 configuration? Have you flown on one of the new planes? How about “10-across” seating in a 777? Is it time for Air Canada to change their exterior colors, too? Lots of questions! Leave a comment and tell us what you think.

Howard Slutsken – Senior Correspondent

Howard has been an AvGeek since he was a kid, watching TCA Super Connies, Viscounts and early jets at Montreal’s Dorval Airport. He’s a pilot who loves to fly gliders and pretty well anything else with wings. Howard is based in Vancouver, BC.

@HowardSlutsken

34 comments to Air Canada: New Planes, New Seats, New Rules, and More

  • James Burke

    I am on a new one Friday night – I can’t say I am looking forward to the seat width, or leather seats (I prefer cloth…especially on long flights). It looks good, and I love new planes, but I wish the flight wasn’t switched from the A330 that I had booked… Executive looks good – I just don’t have the $$$ for it!

  • petten

    On an A330, it’s already uncomfortable 2-4-2 in economy, particularly when in a middle seat.

  • SimonB

    Not looking forward to this AT ALL. Mr. Rovinescu said “So passengers seem to like the product.” Yes, everyone likes less space. However, the stock is going up nicely…

  • Peter

    As for service, they didn’t mention that all international flights less than 11 hours will operate with one less flight attendant or that the new 777’s have one less galley to make room for the extra seats. Hope passengers aren’t hungry when they board!!!

  • MartinA

    Flown this economy configuration of Air France, truely slum class. Econ was mainly labourers traveling on cheap tickets bought by the boss, a few pax had booked through QANTAS and swore they would never book QANTAS again. I wonder haw many toilets thay have, on the AF flight pax beside me had to go the whole 12 hours without going.

  • Norm

    Was on AC’s older 777 to Hong Kong and back and was pleasantly surprised that it was fairly comfortable. Now with the newer planes with 10 seats abreast and less pitch may have me reconsider flying them on long haul. Bad enough with the old capacity and long bathrrom lineups…i suppose we’ll all need to wear adult diapers on long flights! As to ACs CEO stating that passengers liked the new plane were probably all sitting in executive first and not those in steerage! Like really..are we to believe him?

  • Bobby

    I’ll avoid flying these new 777!!! Either a different aircraft or different airlines. Hopefully the 787 is a little better. I fly AC a lot; well over 100K a year! I can’t imagine doing a long haul flight with that width in economy. I won’t risk the potential for an upgrade. Your lose Air Canada if your loyal customers go elsewhere.

  • Corey

    Howard, great article. Do you have a way to privately contact you? I have a couple of questions that you might be able to answer regarding Bombardier. Thanks!

  • Luke

    NO THANKS! 31 inch pitch and less eat pitch and width, is NOT improving, I would look at other options though I really do like Air Canada, sad state they have now put flights toronto/montreal to vegas as ROGUE with 30 inch seat ptich, NO THANKS AGAIN! If Air Canada chooses 2 by 4 by 2 config for 787 like ANA, which I doubt, i would try it other,wise 9 seats across on a SMALL plane = omg “nightmareliner”.

    I miss the old days, even on Air Canada airbus a340-300 took to Japan no in seat entertainment btu had 33 inch seat pitch and was best flight of my life, free ice cream in economy,….those days are long gone.

  • Luke

    p.s. I also prefer cloth seating and not dreary black seats, I quite enjoyed Air Canada’s seats, sigh* tried telling this to AC and they don’t care or get that customers VOTE WITH THEIR DOLLAR. They have made os many changes like now toronto to vegas you get liek 600 aeroplan miles (return) which = $12.00!!! I might as well not go and just buy the miles when i need it. :(

  • anurag

    Flew in a 77-300(D, I think!) on AF from HOU to CDG last week – very similar 3-4-3 compartment in Economy. Horrible – first time ever that my knees were hitting the back of the seat more than 50% of the time. Not pleasant at all on a 8 hr plus flight. Will seek to avoid this airline/plane – wish sites like Kayak and other travel planners can provide this level of comparison when showing fares

  • Harry

    Love to see an article on the new Brampton operations centre. Nice article.

  • Arcanum

    I heard a rumour that these planes were originally supposed to go to Virgin (not sure which one) and the layout was to their specifications. Somehow it fell through and Boeing gave these to AC at a massive discount to compensate for 787 delays.

    If that’s true, it means these seats may not reflect the new product being introduced with the 787. Unfortunately, if this high-density layout sells well enough in Economy, it may encourage AC to put it on other planes.

    On the bright side, customers out of YVR have other options like Cathay or JAL, and those in eastern Canada can book on a joint-venture partner like Swiss or Austrian instead.

  • James Mungall

    I just left a message with Air Canada on their site telling them the following:
    Subject: Boeing 777-300ER
    Message: I flew back from Munich to Toronto on your new 777-300ER. As we boarded the crew were announcing to us proudly that it was a new “high density” aircraft and my heart sank.
    It was without question the most uncomfortable flight I have ever taken overseas. That includes flights like JFK-Joburg or LA-Sydney. There is simply not enough space for a full grown man. I am slim (6’2″, 175 pounds), so the problem in my case is not obesity. I was sitting next to my wife, who kindly allowed me to lift the armrest and expand into her space. Before we did that could not find any place for my elbows. If I placed them on the armrests then I activated all the buttons on the media system and also the alarm. When I commented on this to the most senior flight attendant he laughed and told me it is also a significant safety issue because as soon as the airplane takes off and continuously after that during the flight he gets a continuous stream of alarms from passengers leaning on the buttons.
    Your effort to save money on long haul economy class has definitely cost you a long term customer. If I can’t be completely sure of not being put in a 777-300ER again then I will just not fly Air Canada overseas any more.
    Best regards
    James Mungall

    • Luke

      Good for you James, I never received a response from Air Canada with a similar email, your email was respectful and business appropriate.
      I like Air Canada but if only this config and 787 nightmareliner with 9 seats across with similar seating as you mentioned, would try BA on their 777 (not their 787 which is now flying out of Toronto).

      I don’t know how to communicate this to Air Caanda, not to mention the bathroom issues of 6 bathrooms for 398 economy passengers, meaning 1 bathroom for every 66 customers, that is as bad or worse than Air Transat (charter airline in Canada).

    • Peter

      Im with you James , I will find an alternative to AC, I will not fly with any less comfort that is already there, they must have looked a Air China for an example, Maybe that is why they to charge for overhead, those are the next seats :))

  • hans

    I think the dark leather is a good idea for when passengers must defecate in the seat because of a lack of adequate lavatory facilities in coach. Much easier to wipe up.

  • Gordon Bowker

    This Air Canada post of September 10th has been showing up on your website since that date. What’s happening?

  • James

    Just flew the new 777 in Business YVR to YYZ. Wanted to catch some zzz so I stretch the seat to become lie flat. Well tghe seat is perfectly horizonatl except…..there’s no room for a guy like me (5’10 180lbs) to actually fit!!!!! So it’s either seat up with me in it or seat down with me sitting elsewhere. Will never fly thoes on long haul. Never!!!

  • AZERI-KENAN

    super boeing I love you boeing 747 I am pilot…. AZAL airlines

  • J T

    Just sat in economy for YVR-YYZ redeye. What an awful experience. I will go out of my way to avoid these aircraft, and most likely Air Canada altogether!

  • Albert Eringfeld

    Just flew business last Thursday Hong Kong – Vancouver on new configures 777-300 with Air Canada. Believe it or not Air Canada has made a business class seat uncomfortable. Will avoid completely in future and if that is the configuration available on the day I want I will choose a different airline. Have been flying long time with AC and at their highest customer level but SO turned off by this experience in the revamped business class that I will take my business elsewhere if this is the new norm. Instead of going forward you have made a major step backward. Not sure why AC had to change from the pods. ?????? They truly were a comfortable and dignified flying experience.

    • Howard Slutsken

      Thanks for the comment, Albert. I’m not sure how many 777-300s that AC will ultimately have with this Business Class config, but they’ve announced that the new 787s will have pods, in a reverse herringbone that face the window, or each other in the middle. But from other comments, it seems that AC may be losing other long-term customers, too.

  • Gerald Pilger

    Flew AC economy in fully booked 349 seat 777-300ER from Vancouver to Hong Kong in Dec and found the 14 hour flight acceptable. Can not say that for the return trip in AC economy in their “new” 458 seat “high density” 777-300ER. Worst long haul flight I have ever endured. We were confined, and I truly mean confined into such narrow, packed seats you simply cannot move without disturbing the persons on each side, in front and in back. An inch and a half narrower seats, one degree less seat pitch, and I am not sure of seat spacing but believe me the hard, hot, leather seats were definitely tighter spaced fore to aft. I have never been as uncomfortable on a flight or experienced jet lag as bad as that after enduring a long haul in such packed quarters.

    Interestingly, I did a quick calculation and have discovered there is less square footage per passenger on the AC high density 777-300ERs than is recommended for keeping pigs in confinement livestock barns in Canada. Farmers give their pigs more room in the confinement barns which many people despise than what AC offers its paying passengers on long haul flights! I guess that tells us what AC thinks of passengers and their comfort.

    I highly suggest if flying AC long haul you check if it is high density seating and if it is for your health and sanity you look at alternative dates or airlines.

    • Howard Slutsken

      Gerald, thanks for taking the time to give us your review of your flight. I’ve noticed that AC is referring to these “high capacity” 777s as “77H” in the fleet listing in their full timetable, but they aren’t showing it on flight listings, either online on in the timetable. There is a reference to the routes that the plane might be flying, though. The regular 777-300ERs are “77W”, and the 777-200LRs are “77L”. It still seems confusing for travellers who want to avoid the 77H.

  • Rob

    I am so glad I came across this page before booking with AC from YUL to LHR next month. Although I haven’t tried the three-class 77W yet, I will go out of my way to avoid them after reading these replies. I am almost got ‘sucked in’ by the nice looking leather seats…
    This just proves to me that airlines don’t give a (insert a word of your own choosing here) about customers anymore. Also makes me ticked off I am so bound to Aeroplan.
    Seats are already so tight, it just floors me that airlines are always finding a way to cram more in. How about some passenger rights — I am looking at you government — so that we have a bit more space than pigs (thanks, Gerald). I really hope comments like these get back to AC.
    At this point with AC, I am going out of my way to find a trusty, comfy ol’ 763!

    • Howard Slutsken

      Hi Rob, thanks for your note.
      I just checked AC’s website, and it looks like they’ve stopped identifying the high-density 777s as ’77H’. All flights with the -300s are showing up as ’77W’. Five of the 16 or 17 77Ws in AC’s fleet are the 458 seat versions, and the note on their fleet page says that they’re only flying from YUL-CDG, YVR-YYZ, and YVR-HKG, so you’d probably be safe on the YUL to LHR run. And AC’s 777-200LRs ’77L’ are all still 9-across.

      • Rob

        Hi Howard,
        Thanks for the reply. I am a bit suspicious because the flight class selections offer premium Y on both legs of YUL to LHR on the AC website for the dates I am going, so my deduction is that these are the 77H. I don’t think the older 77W at 9 across had premium Y, although I am just guessing, I could be wrong.
        Either way, I still won’t chance it – gonna do a YYZ detour and visit a few friends in TO while I am at it.
        Happy flying!

  • Ben

    I have just flown business class in the “high density” 777 from YVR to HKG. I am not a big person (165lb). I found the space in the business class very small. When I lay down flat, there was no room to move my feet. It was hard to turn while I was sleeping. For me, the value of the business class on any long-haul flight is the ability to catch some sleep and so I can arrive in better shape at my destination. The new business class seats fail to provide this value for me. There were comments that these seats are similar to those in Austrian Airlines. I have flown business class in Austrian Airlines as well as AC and the business class seats are definitely not the same between the two airlines. AC has MUCH tighter seating. Will I ever fly AC executive in these seats? Probably not. The only time I will make an exception will be when there is a very deep discount – less than 50% of that of the other airlines. I usually like to fly direct but I would rather connect in some city to avoid flying with AC. Fortunately, there are a lot of choices now when flying out of Toronto and Vancouver nowadays.
    As for the economy class, my advice is that if you have claustrophobia, you may want to take some drugs to relieve the anxiety. It is extremely packed in the economy cabin and having a panic attack at 35,000 feet is not going to be fun.

  • Joan R

    I flew from Vancouver to Heathrow in late April in one of the newly configured planes. I am five foot tall, 100 lbs. I was lucky enough to have a centre block aisle seat (22G) with no-one seated next to me. That said it was the worst flight from a comfort perspective for many many years due to the tightness of the overall seat space. I can usually grab sleep anywhere and find a comfortable position. Not on this flight. I was in pain the whole time. In addition, for the two inside centre passengers there is no space width-wise for their feet, so if there had been someone next to me, I would not have been able to place my feet directly in front of me, as they would have needed to use part of “my” foot-space. It also meant they would not have sufficient room for their under-seat baggage, but with overhead cabin space reduced there is insufficient availability for this hand luggage to be placed there. I dread my upcoming flight in August, which will be full to capacity. I cant imagine how the average-sized person will be able to cope for ten hours. I have been examining my loyalty to Air Canada of late, seeing as their privilege package for frequent flyers has been eroded to be of almost no benefit, and this latest move to cram planes without regard to minimum passenger comfort is probably the final nail in the coffin of my Air Canada relationship. If I am going to be crammed in I might as well fly Air Transat and at least pocket the cash saving. Thanks for letting me vent.

    • Juge

      Very good point re switching to Air Transat. If the comfort, or lack of comfort is the same on Air Canada, why pay more? Why pay Air Canada?

  • Juge

    I have long been an ardent fan of Air Canada having flown with them to about a dozen cities in Europe, 6 in Asia, and countless cities in North America. I have never been disappointed nor ever experienced firsthand, what people have complained about AC through decades and God knows how many hundreds of hours on various AC flights. That is, until now. Even a close friend of mine – who happens to be a flight attendant with AC for well over 20+ years – told me they hate the “high density” flights because it makes their workload that much more stressful. Having to work and serve more people in an even more cramped space than before, raised the temper of more passengers who are irritated and agitated after sitting in an uncomfortable seat for so many hours.
    One thing I always liked about AC over Westjet was the fact they had cloth seats. I avoid WJ for exactly that reason.
    It’s amazing how an airline can think up ways to make their customers dislike them.

  • R Tilling

    Boeing 777-300 Vancouver-London Heathrow 2 Sep 2014

    The new business class studio pod is TERRIBLE – narrow, short and ridiculously sized and shaped. It’s okay as a seat, but I paid for a good night’s sleep. Forget it! I’m 6ft 4 and when the seat turns into a bed, it slides the lower half of your body into a tiny plastic coffin-like box (in the area under the armrests of the two passengers in front) with no room to move your legs at all, and it wasn’t long enough for me – so it wasn’t humanly possible to lie down!! Hell on earth. As a result, I arrived at LHR tired and irritable, lacking the sleep I had needed and deliberately paid for. The cabin crew was brilliant, but they told me that a lot of other business class passengers had complained about this new seat. It’s also difficult to get the seat back up again from a supposed “bed”. My seat 2A on C-FIVO was also missing a seat-based flexible reading light. It is a reasonably new aircraft so why on earth was that missing?

    Basically, Air Canada has decided to shove more seats in every class onto this aircraft at the expense of comfort and space, and every passenger is short-changed as a result. The 777-300ER that normally takes 359 passengers is being converted to 458 passengers – mine was one of them. The passenger loses. I have read that it is a plan to reduce cost per seat by 15%. It is a total disgrace – avoid this aircraft at all costs. Air Canada used to be a great airline but it is heading downhill. I have sent two emails, two letters to the LHR office and two letters to Calin Rovinescu: the CEO of Air Canada. No reply of any kind has been received to date. Air Canada really doesn’t care anymore. If this is the way Air Canada is going, then it’s time to change airlines folks.

  • Steven

    So glad I live in Ottawa which gets these updated flights later. I’m going through LHR this Christmas on Air Canada (the only long haul Air Canada in my itinerary – been using combinations of LH, KLM and BA after having gone through nightmares on numerous occasions with Air Canada. But I was always glad that when I got on a tired old 763 that I could trust the seats were decent. Now I am definitely going to work hard to either be off the 787 or the 777 unless I’m in Premium Economy – for which there’s the obvious payment for the upgrade – Jeez.

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