Air Canada redefines luxury and comfort in business travel with the unveiling of its Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet this year. The move is highly anticipated, as it marks the airline's next great leap.
Its Dreamliner service to Asia will be launched through the inaugural Toronto-to-Tokyo-Haneda flight on July 1.
The new route will be available daily - the only nonstop flight between Canada and Tokyo-Haneda, and the first daytime flight to Tokyo-Haneda from North America.
As Asia-Pacific has been the fastest-growing market segment in the airline's business since 2012, it will be the major destination of Air Canada's Dreamliners. This will help establish Toronto as a preferred North American gateway, given synergies with major hubs in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal that serve a rich base of Canadian travellers and increasing connecting traffic from the United States. The full potential is to lock in business travel between Asia-Pacific and the United States, two of the largest travel markets in the world.
"To the extent that we are indeed entering the Pacific century, and we at Air Canada believe we are, you can be assured that there will be significant traffic growth over the Pacific," Calin Rovinescu, president and CEO of Air Canada, said in a speech before the Vancouver Board of Trade.
Taking sustainability to greater heights, Air Canada is replacing its fleet of 767s on long-haul flights with the more fuel-efficient Dreamliners. Touted as aviation's green machine, the 787 is largely made of composite material. This lightweight structure allows for more enhancements in the aircraft. Features such as large overhead bins, a vaulted ceiling for more headroom, electronic window dimming and climate-controlled cabins serve to enrich the passenger experience.
The 787 is revolutionary for keeping cabin altitude at 1,828 metres even as the aircraft cruises at 13,106m. It is also equipped with technology that automatically adjusts the aircraft's wing flaps to ensure a smooth ride.
"We have 37 of these new-generation aircraft on firm order that should revolutionise the customer experience in terms of comfort," Rovinescu said in his speech. "Further, their game-changing operating efficiencies - they will be 29 per cent more efficient than the 767s they replace - will open new markets around the world [that] we cannot serve profitably at present."
Air Canada is the only Canadian carrier with an upcoming new-generation aircraft and is Boeing's largest customer for the Dreamliner in North America. This is warranted by its leading status on all fronts of Canadian civil aviation - a 55 per cent share in the domestic passenger market, 35 per cent of transborder traffic and a 37 per cent market share in the international passenger segment.
Pioneer in Canadian aviation
Ringing in what many consider the future of flight is nothing new to Air Canada. It has a long, profound history as Canada's flagship carrier. Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), Air Canada's predecessor, was the first to cross the country in 1939 - a flight from Montreal to Vancouver that took more than 16 hours with six stopovers.
Crossing the Atlantic was hazardous during the second world war, but it set the stage for transatlantic passenger services. TCA logged its thousandth Atlantic crossing by December 1946 with daily transatlantic flights since its wartime crossing. Deep roots in Asia-Pacific became part of Air Canada's rich legacy following its merger with Canadian Airlines International, which began flying to Japan and Hong Kong in the 1940s.
The "black box", a multichannel flight recorder that TCA helped develop and was introduced in its DC-8 and Vanguard aircraft in 1958, has become crucial in every crash investigation. Air Canada's impactful trailblazing is further evidenced by the industry-wide ban on smoking while in flight and the success of co-operative ventures such as Star Alliance, of which the airline is a founding member. Travelling to multiple points around the world is more convenient with Star Alliance's network fielding more than 21,900 daily flights to 1,328 airports in 195 countries.
Business travel as many have come to know it has largely been shaped by the airline's innovative approach - from ushering in the jet age in the 1960s and the introduction of in-flight entertainment in the 1970s, to institutionalising loyalty rewards and driving customer satisfaction with cutting-edge technology.
"We believe Air Canada is the best in North America in terms of service and product delivery," says Benjamin Smith, Air Canada's executive vice-president and chief commercial officer. "We put a lot of effort in the design of our products. Everything that we provide to our customers reflects what they need."
This has translated to numerous awards, significantly the Best Airline in North America in the 2013 Skytrax World Airline Awards - considered the most prestigious in the industry. Air Canada has won this award four years in a row and has been ranked as a four-star airline by Skytrax. It is the only international airline in North America with this rating.
It also won the Best Flight Experience to Canada award in the 2013 Leading Edge Awards of Executive Travel magazine for the sixth consecutive year, and the Best North American Airline award in the TTG Asia Travel Awards 2013. In the 2013 Ipsos Reid Business Traveller Survey, it emerged as Canada's favourite airline for business travel and in the 2013 Baxter Travel Media's 2013 Agent's Choice Awards as the favourite scheduled airline for the fourth consecutive year.
The airline has also earned multiple recognitions from trade publications Global Traveler, Business Traveler Magazine and Premier Traveler.
Tailored for premium travel
As a Star Alliance founding member, Air Canada has one of the most extensive partnerships with Asian carriers. This makes it more attractive for loyal customers of All Nippon Airways, Air China, Asiana Airlines, Singapore Airlines and EVA Air to book their flights with Air Canada rather than with an independent carrier.
Altitude, Air Canada's own loyalty programme, provides worldwide Star Alliance recognition on top of travel privileges such as complimentary upgrades, free baggage allowance, concierge service, access to the Maple Leaf Lounge and other exclusive partner offers. Mileage earned through Air Canada is recognised by Aeroplan, a coalition loyalty programme in Canada that was begun by the airline. This also gives Altitude members access to Aeroplan's more than 150 financial, retail and travel partners.
"When people think about Air Canada, they know they can get anywhere they want in North America on a consistent product," Smith says. "Everything comes together seamlessly for every kind of traveller, and more advantageously for the business traveller."
Catering to the high expectations of its clientele, Air Canada was the first North American carrier to offer lie-flat beds in its executive class cabin in 2006. Its fleet of Boeing 777s, Boeing 767s and Airbus A330s are all fitted with lie-flat beds.
The in-flight experience is customisable in executive class. There is no fixed meal time, and food choices are not confined to what's on the menu. The entertainment system provides an impressive range of choices - from movies, TV series and music albums to audio books, podcasts and interactive games.
With its Boeing 777s coming into service last year, Air Canada introduced a premium economy class on select routes. Tailored to the higher-end segment of this market, this fare class offers wider seats with more legroom. Premium economy passengers also enjoy priority check-in, baggage delivery at the airport, premium meals and complimentary bar service.
Dreamliner service will revolutionise what many consider a superior experience.
Executive pods can be lowered by 180 degrees to become two-metre, fully lie-flat beds. The international business class cabin is fitted with no more than 20 pods to guarantee direct aisle access and window views for each passenger. Each pod has a 45cm entertainment screen - the largest available in business class on any North American carrier. The next-generation entertainment system allows intuitive touchscreen navigation and seat-to-seat chat, even for the visually impaired. It has an interactive map with city guides and more than 600 hours of viewing choices.
Each seat is equipped with a touch handset, a universal power port, a USB outlet and a large retractable tray table. The headrest has an adjustable pneumatic cushion with massage functions - a distinctive offering in business class. A 100 per cent cotton duvet and noise-cancelling headphones ensure relaxing sleep for passengers on long-haul flights. Freshly-brewed Lavazza espressos and cappuccinos, along with Canadian-made aromatherapy products, complete the luxurious in-flight experience.
The Dreamliner's premium economy cabin is more spacious than the Boeing 777s. It has 21 seats that are 49.5cm wide, providing 96.5cm of legroom and a generous 17.8cm recline. Personal space is likewise optimised in the economy cabin, which has 210 slimline articulated seats in a "3-3-3" configuration.
All seats are equipped with the enhanced definition seatback touchscreens - 27.9cm in premium economy and 22.8cm in economy.
A universal power port and a USB outlet are also within arm's reach.
The 787 aircraft is climate-controlled. It filters the air inside the cabins and pulls in fresh air from the outside. A sophisticated yet homey ambience is set off by warm natural textures, fabrics and colours - slate grey with hints of Canadian red and celeste blue - throughout the aircraft.
"Our offering is what the marketplace demands right now and will continue to demand in the years to come," Smith says.