With Air Canada offering more daily flights to the country from the UK than any other airline, and Quebec’s business credentials in rude health, Director hopped aboard an economy flight to Montreal
The name ‘Quebec’ is a Gallicised version of a native American word meaning ‘where the river narrows’. But, when it comes to business opportunities, it seems there’s an ever-widening torrent running through Canada’s largest province.
Its CAD$358bn (£200bn) GDP means that, were it a country, its economy would be ranked 36th in the world – similar in size to Thailand. Even more enticingly, the UK is Quebec’s primary European economic partner, with annual trade of CAD$6bn. Britain is also among the largest foreign investors there, with 128 Quebec-based offshoots including outposts of Rolls-Royce and GlaxoSmithKline.
The province weathered the financial downturn well, and the unemployment rate remained at 7.8 per cent throughout last year while its per-capita GDP climbed to CAD$44,386.
All of which might explain why Air Canada now has a variety of non-stop flights from the UK to major Canadian cities. From Heathrow, the airline operates one service per day to and from Montreal, and also flies directly to Halifax, Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver and St John’s.
But how does the airline’s economy class trans-Atlantic experience compare to similar long-haul flights with the world’s other major carriers? Director packed a bag for the seven-hour journey to find out…
Air Canada: check-in
Having already checked in via the airline’s efficient online service, we headed for the Air Canada bag drop located at Zone A of the cavernous new Heathrow Terminal 2. One minute to print luggage tags at the self-service machine and two minutes in a bag drop queue shared with Air China and we were on our way to departures.
Luggage allowance is a decent 23kg for checked bag, plus two pieces of carry on – one hand luggage, plus one personal item. For the outward trip we used Terminal 2’s new Plaza Premium Lounge [not operated by Air Canada and therefore not factored into the score here]. It’s a smart, calming space with good food and facilities and costs £38 per person for two hours.
On the return flight from Montreal we used Air Canada’s excellent, spacious Maple Leaf Lounge – available to economy passengers with prices starting at CAD$25, depending on the fare bracket of your ticket. 10/10
Despite this being a full flight, the cabin crew managed to get everyone in their seats and find a home for all the hand luggage, just in time for the scheduled departure. However, it was another 35 minutes before we pushed away from the gate – the pilot having cited a ‘technical issue’ with the aircraft and an additional baggage documentation check. This further delay in waiting for a new take-off slot meant that we were finally in the air approximately 45 minutes after the advertised departure time. 7/10
Our seat was 55D, an aisle berth in the centre row of the three-four-three seating configuration. The comfortable black PVC cushioned seats appeared brand new and very neat and tidy. Legroom was decent, even for this six foot-plus traveller (though when the passenger in front opted to recline their seat while the plane was still ascending, unnoticed by the crew, the space was considerably reduced).
Meanwhile, the location of the remote control for entertainment, lighting and cabin crew assistance call buttons – on the top of the armrests rather than in the side or under the TV screen – seemed to swiftly generate a cacophony of call alarm pinging as fellow passengers inadvertently leaned on them while getting settled. 8/10
The cabin crew – in their business-like navy suits with red ties for the men and red neckerchiefs for the women – handled the flight brilliantly, mobilising their trademark Canadian sense of humour to cope with a full complement of demanding passengers. The complimentary dinner service (we selected chicken in bell pepper sauce with mash and broccoli) was good and came with the option of beer, wine or soft drink to accompany and, later, teas and coffees.
The entertainment system featured a big, bright touchscreen and a fair selection of recent movie releases, classics and TV shows. Air Canada’s dual-language enRoute in-flight magazine contained a wide variety of interesting articles on everything from surfing to Chilean winemaking and also contained handy diagrams of terminals at all the main Canadian airports. 9/10
Many passengers aboard had connecting flights, so there was a palpable sense of relief when the captain revealed that the time lost back at Heathrow had been made up en route and that ground arrangements had been made to get us swiftly to the gate after landing. This promise was duly delivered upon, and flight AC865 arrived right on time.
The cabin crew, meanwhile, busied themselves passing on gate information to those cutting their connections fine and all were gleefully off the plane within minutes of reaching the gate. Baggage arrived swiftly and we were soon heading for the delights of downtown Montreal. 10/10
Excellent onboard service and good communication with a full complement of passengers turned a potentially stressful journey into one that remained comfortable and went to plan for all. 44/50
Flight AC865 Heathrow Terminal 2 to Montreal Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport, economy class.
Air Canada flies daily from Heathrow to Montreal, departing at 1pm and arriving 3.25pm. Return economy flights start from £629 including taxes – for travel between 20 October and 12 December 2014.