An Air Canada 777-300ER being prepared for a transcontinental flight from Vancouver to Toronto
Earlier this summer, we had the opportunity to try out Air Canadaâ€™s new Signature Class cabin and lounge experiences.
Launched in June, the service is aimed squarely at the business/first class traveler, and competes quite readily with existing offerings by its North American mainline-carrier rivals.
Domestic Signature service is offered on flights between Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Vancouver to Toronto; daily flights between Montreal and New York-Newark to Vancouver; between Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto; and between Toronto and Honolulu. Internationally, it’s offered on all Air Canada flights serviced using Boeing 767, 777, and 787, as well as Airbus A330 aircraft.
The routing for my flights were SEA-YVR-YYZ-SEA. The hop from Seattle to Vancouver was in standard coach class on a venerable Bombardier Q400.
The entrance to Air Canada’s Signature Suite – Photo: Air Canada
Air Canada’s Signature Suite, its newest lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), officially opened on December 1. Â The Signature Suite creates an environment that makes it easy to forget you’re in an airport. Those eligible to access the lounge can receive complimentary beer, wine, champagne and signature cocktails. Complimentary food will also be available; passengers will be able to dine a la carte from a menu created by Vancouver-based celebrity chef David Hawksworth.
Prior to its opening, Air Canada spared no expense as it invited select media to preview its newest premium creation. Read more to learn about the experience inside the Signature Suite.
My Ride to Montreal from Toronto – MSN 400, registration C-GHKR – Photo: Peter J.M. Harrington-Cressman
Sometimes, when you are a true aviation enthusiast, you do things that some people would consider weird or unorthodox. Maybe you are wanting to fly just to experience a certain aircraft type. Or maybe itâ€™s a Saturday evening and you want to catch up with a buddy you havenâ€™t seen for a long time. In my case, I had a number of Aeroplan points that were going to expire. So, I decided to use those points and fly one of my closest friends and myself from Toronto to Montreal and back again — in the same evening.
For at least the last 30-40 years, Air Canada has operated almost hourly flights, known as Rapidair, on what is an extremely busy route between two of Canadaâ€™s largest cities; Toronto (YYZ) and Montreal (YUL), which is about an hour and fifteen minute flight. The route has a lot of competition: WestJet, Porter, Air Canada, and even VIA Rail. Of course, most travelers just want the leastÂ expensive flight, with the best frequency.
As I was doing this flight on points, I had basically only Air Canada to choose from. As a general rule, I donâ€™t like WestJet â€“ Iâ€™ve never had a good flight with them and sometimes all the busy business traveler wants is quiet, attentive service without the comedy shtick. But I digress. What makes these Air Canada Rapidair flights interesting is that there is a wide cross-section of equipment types used on these flights â€“ everything from Dash 8s all the way to A330s. The flight that I picked for my buddy Justen and me was Air Canada flight 834 — being operated by an Airbus A330-300.
The REAL Sunwing livery on a Boeing 737-800 in Toronto.
Will the real Sunwing Airlines livery please stand up?
While in Toronto, I quickly caught glimpse of a livery I was not a fan of. I wasn’t able to catch the name, but after a little research I found it to be Sunwing Airlines. It took a bit longer to actually find what their “real” livery was, since there were quite a few hodge-podge mixture of different liveries. Some examples:Â Viking,Â TUIfly,Â Hapag-Lloyd,Â Thompsonfly,Â Boeing Green,Â Euro Atlantic, did I miss any?Â It became obvious that this airline likes to lease planes. Â I actually had to go to their website to make sure what their “real” livery was and it turns out, it is the one I saw in Toronto.
With leasing out so many planes, of course they need to keep their livery simple, but this one just doesn’t work for me. I think what really bothers me is having the words on the fuselage and then on the tail where they are hard to read. I really like their sun logo and think it would have looked nice on the tail. Also, for some reason the engines being blue bothers my eye — they probably would have look better orange. I mean this is by no means a horrible livery, but a few simple changes could really make it shine.
Although fun for airline spotters, it does make it kind of hard for your customers to know your brand when there are so many different looks, but I guess that is the down side to leasing aircraft from airlines.
Sunwing was founded in 2005 and operates a fleet of about 20 aircraft (all Boeing 737-800s). According to their website they are,Â “Canada’s leading high frills, low cost airline.” They call their high frills the Champagne Service, which actually gives a lot of complimentary things not seen on most airlines today (like champagne, food, headsets and more). They operated scheduled and charter service to the US, Mexico, the Caribbean,Â CentralÂ America, South America and of course Canada.
Have any of you flown them and can describe how the Champagne Service was? Seems like if you can get past the mediocre livery, the flight experience is not too shabby and really that is what matters most right?
Image: Reinhard Zinabold
Virgin America Airbus A320 on the Tarmac in Toronto (N631VA)
Normally airlines do something special when they open up a new route. Maybe a few balloons, some cake and a get together. Well, Sir Richard Branson pulled out all the stops to celebrate Virgin America’s new route from San Fransisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Toronto (YYZ) and I was lucky enough to go along for the ride. So what is it like to party like a billionaire? I didn’t know, but I sure as heck wanted to find out.
The whole event started for me at SFO,Â however, Virgin America (I am going to go with VA for short) started the flight at LAX and stopped in SFO to pick us up. TheÂ gate area had a party atmosphere to it.Â There were fancy cupcakes, champagne and nice decorations, and everyone there was waiting for the flight to come in from LAX with Sir Richard Branson, CEO David Cush and Govenator Schwarzenegger on-board.
Party time! People up in the aisle during the flight! I love the VA lighting.
Branson might be the world’s most famous entrepreneur(or at the very least, heâ€™s the most famous in the airline industry), and Schwarzenegger is easily one of Americaâ€™s most notable politicians.Â Seeing them exit the plane together was pretty exciting. I didn’t realize the govenator was going to be there, but I was clued in when I started asking questions about the obvious police and body guard presence. Yes, he does look bad-ass in person and I wouldn’t want to pick a fight with him.
There have been very few flights in my life where I get to know the people around me; this flight was one of them, which seemed like we were all friends going to a celebration together.Â Because of the comradery, it took quite a long time to get the near-full flight boarded and seated.
City of Toronto from the rooftop!
During the whole five hour flight (except takeoff/landing), the aisles were filled with people. There were a few camera crews on-board trying to do interviews, which is difficult to do in an Airbus A320. There were a lot of people to walk around and talk to. I think I was in my seat for a whole 30 minutes of the flight, which you normally don’t do on a regular flight.Â The flight attendants did an amazing job. Not only did they have to deal with everyone in the aisles, they were constantly working and all their bosses (and boss’ bosses) were on the plane.
There were more than VA employees, guests, press and the five actual (and shocked) customers on board; a few famous people were on the plane as well. Unfortunately I am not really into the whole celebrity thing, so I didn’t find out who was there. I knew Drake (musician) was on-board since there was a photo of him on the side of the plane, which was also renamed,Â “Air Drake.” I talked with Eric Roberts for a bit, before realizing who he was (if you care to know the whole guest list, Jaunted seems to have it). I did get a little star-struck and made sure I got a photo of Â Sir Richard BransonÂ and me, which I am very excited about.
Bunch of people having a good time on the roof of the Thompson Toronto Hotel
The five hour flight went extremely quickly and the head honchos were put to work. VA CEO David Cush was handing out customs forms (yes remember, Canada is another country) to people on the flight and Sir Branson was making announcements. When we landed I was sorry that the flight was over, but the real fun was just about to begin.
At Toronto we were greeted by a very friendly flag waving welcome party and a couple of mounties.Â I had to wave and pretend I was someone they would care about. We were bussed over to customs before getting on a shuttle to the hotel, Thompson Toronto. The hotel was brand new, very nice and very trendy. We had 45 minutes to get freshened up and head to the roof pool deck for a pre-party.
Almost everything VA does has a sexual innuendo. This sign was in the elevator at the hotel
I have never been to Toronto before and being on top of a 16 story hotel right in downtown was pretty amazing. Add to it great food, nice drinks, sunny weather and in the company ofÂ some pretty awesome people…I felt like I was somebody.
Once it started to get cold, the party moved downstairs in the hotel where music was playing. There was a VIP section where the famous people were, but again I didn’t know who they were (more came from around Toronto I guess).Â I was more interested in talking to the pilot who landed our plane and Christian who is in charge of the Toronto base. To me (the airline nerd) they are the real celebrities.
The shuttle to go back to the airport was leaving at 5:00am, meaning I had to get up at 4:00am. With lack of sleep on the trip already, I was only able to make it until midnight before getting my precious four hours of sleep before that annoying alarm went off. I didn’t hear any amazing stories of things that happened after I left, so I am going to assume I didn’t miss anything.
Even though the party was amazing, we did hit a little snag trying to fly out of Toronto. When an airline starts at a new city and new country, it is common for things to go wrong.Â A few things happened at about the same time that caused a lot of stress for the VA staff working in Toronto. The self check-in podiums weren’t working (people were trying to fix them) and VA’s computer system kept going out. This meant it took a long time to get everyone checked in and actually caused the flight to be delayed. However, passengers were constantly informed of what was going on and there really wasn’t anything anyone could do, but wait.
The flight from YYZ to SFO was very short, because I slept. There were a lot of VA employees on that flight, but no one up in the aisles, no more celebration and a lot of sleeping. It was a lot of travel for only 15 hours in Toronto, but totally worth it. It was fun to step in the world of a Billionaire and see how they party. Although, inviting some friends over to my house for some beers is pretty cool too.
* Over 165 pictures from the whole travel process & party
* Photos from CNET (I am in 3 of them…can you find me?)
* Nice story from Hotel Chatter about Virgin Hotels