Air Canada, you too can be a great way to fly

Singapore Girl, you’re a great way to fly. That’s the famed Singapore Airlines (SIA) tagline. This flag carrier of a tiny Southeast Asian nation has lived up to its word, being one of the world’s best airlines.

SIA is especially renown for its premium class service, from cabin comfort to the way the in-flight crew pamper the passengers. It may be stating the obvious, but generally as a rule, no traveler would have cause to complain about the better service in the front cabin. In the good days up until the economic crisis depletes the premium load, the airlines knew where they should place their energy.

I will always remember flying first class with a colleague – a good number of years ago – on Air Canada from London Heathrow to Montreal. Before touchdown, the flight attendant came round to take the last order for drinks. My colleague asked for champagne – not his first – and the attendant, arms akimbo, said: “Young man, I don’t think you should be drinking that much.” My colleague felt awkward, and I said: “Look it this way, she cares enough.”

But it is really the economy class service that differentiates the airlines, especially when the economic crisis has leveled the playing field, where the majority of travelers begin to feel the power of choice. It used to be the case of every airline offering almost an identical product in the rear of the aircraft, so what difference would it make which airline you flew? Besides, limited by options, it was “take it” rather than “leave it.”

I exercised my right of choice recently when I picked to fly Air Canada – economy class – between Vancouver and Tokyo, Japan and again later between Toronto and Sao Paulo, Brazil (I had not flown Air Canada long haul since that first-class flight across the Atlantic). My experiences on flights within North America were not particularly exciting – you don’t get served a meal even if it is a five-hour flight and you have to pay for your headset. But then that has become the standard for almost every airline, Canadian or American, in that part of the world. Besides, most Canadians that I spoke to somehow did not have a good word for their national flag carrier. Mind you, Canadians are known for their modesty and honesty, so which is or isn’t?

It could be because I wasn’t expecting much that I became all the more impressed by my experiences. Both Air Canada flights were comfortable and the service good. You do not get more than two attendants per cabin, unlike maybe four on SIA and Cathay Pacific Airways. You get a choice of hot meal (same as most other airlines)  – and the food is good. In between meals, the attendant comes down the aisle with water at regular intervals – frequent enough that you will not need to press the bell for a sip. There is no fuss with the handling – you sort of help yourself off the attendant’s hand. You pay for alcohol but since I don’t drink, it matters not in the least.

What I like best is the touch screen monitor for in-flight entertainment. Not as wide a selection of movies as offered by SIA but good enough, and definitely more English content and international fare than that offered by Japan Airlines. And yes, you get a complimentary headset (which you get to keep). 

One service aspect that Air Canada (and some other North American carriers like WestJet and Alaska Airlines) beat the best Asian airlines hands down is the preflight and telephone service. You get to select your seats as soon as you book on a flight. SIA will not assign you seats until you check-in, unless you fly premium class. (Hey, hey, will this change?) You get an email reminding you of your impending flight nearer the date of departure.

Telephone assistance provided by Asian airlines reputed for their in-flight services have never been good – something which they continue to pay the least attention to. But speak with an Air Canada telephone customer service representative, and you will feel comforted that help is on the way. The staff are generally friendly, knowledgeable and patient. The hard part is getting through the line, but so too it is with most other airlines.

So, Air Canada, you too can be a great way to fly. I hope I will not be discouraged when I next choose to fly with you.

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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