BACKGROUND The airline launched its B787-8 Dreamliner on the Toronto-London route in 2014, for the winter season, rostering it again this year on October 25, 2015, until April 30, 2016. (The route is also served by A330-300, B777-300ER and B767-300ER aircraft.) Dreamliner flight AC849 departs London at 1500 and lands in Toronto at 1800 (it’s an eight-hour journey). Return flight AC858 departs Toronto at 2355 and lands at 1150 the following day (journey time is six hours 55 minutes). The larger capacity B787-9 will ply a second service (AC869) from London to Toronto between 24 March to 30 April 2015. CHECK-IN I arrived at Toronto Pearson International airport at 2145 with just over two hours until the departure of my flight (AC858) at 2355. I headed straight to check in Zone 5, which was very quiet. I had checked in online already, and had my boarding pass sent to my phone, but still needed to have my luggage processed. I went to one of the self-service kiosks to print a luggage tag and then to one of the staffed desks to check in my case (there were no queues). A short distance away, security was very quick, with laptops and liquids out. Once airside, I walked five minutes, following the signs to “E gates”, where there was a slick departures concourse with shops, various cafes and communal tables fitted with iPads loaded with free entertainment (you don’t even have to buy anything to use them). I thought this was a great feature. BOARDING Boarding from Gate E73 started at 2315, with passengers called according to zone (the front of economy was Zone 5 and called last). Business and premium economy passengers were given priority, along with people with children. The plane was full in all cabin classes. I made my way to my seat (19K) by the window at 2340, and placed my bag in the overhead locker. A man on the other side of the plane was ranting about not being given an extra-legroom seat (rows 18 and 37) as he'd expected and a member of crew was threatening to have him offloaded. He only calmed down when another passenger offered to swap seats with him. THE SEAT Economy on the B787-8 is configured with 231 stylish slim-line seats arranged 3-3-3 across two cabins (rows 18-30 and 31-42). Seats have 31 inches of legroom and 17.3 inches of width between the armrests. On the A330-300, B777-300ER and B767-300ER that also serve this route, seats offer 32 inches of legroom and 18 to 18.5 inches of width, so the Dreamliner feels quite cramped in comparison. Recline was five inches. Each B787-8 seat is upholstered in smart grey fabric with pale grey backs. There are individual touchscreen IFE monitors (nine inches) with a very good choice of movies and TV shows, as well as USB ports, universal power sockets, fold-down tray tables and seat-back pockets for magazines. Small pillows and grey blankets were provided but no amenity kits or footrests, unlike in premium economy. The Dreamliner doesn’t yet have wifi onboard. On this night flight, I found the electro-chromatic windows let in too much sun towards the morning when still trying to sleep, as the tinted glass automatically become lighter, which was a disturbance. (The Dreamliner isn’t fitted with window blinds.) To counter this, I kept having to press the button to make the glass darker. WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Avoid middle seats B, E and J. Bulkhead seats in rows 18 and 31 offer more legroom but you have to pay extra for these. Go for aisle seats C, D, G and H so you can get up easily to stretch you legs, although avoid the ones in row 29, 30, 41 and 42 as people may be queuing for the washrooms next to you. Rows 18-29 are over the wings. Window seats like mine feel a bit a bit claustrophobic, although on a night flight they might be a good option if you don't want to be disturbed. It’s a pain if you are the one that needs to get up, though, as it’s a tight squeeze to get in and out. Sit nearer the front to disembark quicker and receive food and drink first, although remember you will be last to board. THE FLIGHT Despite two days of thick fog in London leading to numerous cancellations, my flight was taking off as scheduled. We pushed back at midnight, taxiing for a few minutes while a safety video played before take-off. The journey was expected to be six-hours and 50 minutes. I was exhausted so immediately tried to sleep, forgoing the light meal service and drinks. I reclined the seat as far as it would go, and got a bit of rest but felt pretty uncomfortable sitting up. The movable headrests helped a little though. I was also quite cold despite a scarf, sweater and the blanket. An old woman next to me leaned on my shoulder for most of the flight and two people behind me talked for several hours. Had this been a day flight where I was watching films (there was a good selection) and sampling the food, it would have been more enjoyable. The cabin on this new B787-8 certainly looked smart, and the Dreamliner was relatively quiet and smooth to fly on. Meals of some kind were offered at about 0100, and also for breakfast at about 0500, but I don't think many people were eating and I didn’t want to wake up. I'd brought a bottle of water with me so I could stay hydrated but wasn’t disturbed for drinks at any point. ARRIVAL Once flying over the UK, the cabin was prepared for landing, with seats placed in the upright position, blankets put to one side and any final meal trays and cups collected. It was still pretty foggy on descending into London Heathrow but it didn’t pose a hazard to landing, apparently. We touched down on schedule, just before midday local time. After taxiing for about ten minutes to the stand, there was a short delay until passengers could get off the plane via an airbridge leading into Terminal 2. It was then quite a long walk to immigration (about 15 or 20 minutes), where I was able to nip through the e-gates quicker than queuing at the staff desks. It took a further ten minutes for my case to appear in reclaim. VERDICT The service was punctual and I was impressed by the departures lounge at Toronto Pearson International airport. It’s never fun doing a night flight in economy but Air Canada’s Dreamliner does, at least, mean you are flying on a brand-new aircraft with contemporary seating. The interiors look business-like and fresh. The downside is, the seating is quite cramped. I couldn’t comment on the food or service as was trying to sleep, but from my experience of the outbound flight in premium economy, I can vouch for the fact that the IFE system offers a good selection of movies for anyone who can’t drift off. FACT FILE:
- SEAT CONFIGURATION 3-3-3 (A-B-C, D-E-G, H-J-K)
- SEAT RECLINE 5in/12.7cm
- SEAT WIDTH 17.3in/43.9cm
- SEAT PITCH 31in/78.7cm
- PRICE Internet rates for a return economy flight from London to Toronto in December started from £428.
- CONTACT aircanada.com