Air Transat is a Canadian carrier based in Montreal, Quebec. It serves 60 destinations in 25 countries, including flights from London Gatwick to Calgary, Montreal, Quebec City, Toronto and Vancouver.
Air Transat does not see itself as a low-cost carrier, given that it provides full service on routes to Europe including onboard meals and inflight entertainment, but its fares are marketed as lower than competitors on such routes.
This is a review of its London Gatwick-Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International route, which is operated by its new A321neo LR, a single-aisle aircraft configured with 199 seats across two classes: Club Class (premium economy) and economy.
The route was suspended during the pandemic and restarted in early May 2022. In the same month the airline launched its first nonstop route from Gatwick to Quebec City.
Air Transat received its first A321neo LR in May 2019 and now has 10 in its fleet, with seven more to be added by 2023.
Air Transat operates from Gatwick’s North Terminal, so those travelling to the airport by train will need to get the shuttle from the South Terminal which only takes a few minutes.
My trip fell during the week of the rail strike in late June, but luckily was in between strike days. Still, tubes only began operating at 0800 and services were affected from the previous day, so I left plenty of time and arrived at the airport at 0900 for the 1135 departure.
Check-in takes place at Zone E. There are several desks for economy class, some self-service machines and a separate desk for Club Class. There were no queues and a staff member checked my documents ahead of going to the desk. To travel to Canada fully vaccinated customers must have an eTA (electronic travel authorisation) and have filled in the ArriveCAN form within 72 hours of travel.
Once at the desk, my passport was checked and cabin baggage labels were affixed to my luggage. I was also informed that the flight was delayed by an hour, and staff checked if I had a mask for the flight as this is still required for flights to Canada.
Note that Air Transat has quite strict hand luggage restrictions. You are allowed a bag measuring 23 x 40 x 51 cm and a laptop bag or briefcase. Club passengers can check in two bags at no extra charge.
Guests in Club Class can use the Premium security lane, which was very speedy. I was airside by 0932, which was a nice surprise considering I had prepared myself for long queues given the recent disruption at airports across the UK.
While I was thankful for the hassle-free start to my journey, my early arrival and the delay meant that I now had three hours to fill. Luckily the airport was fairly quiet at this time and I managed to get some breakfast at Pure (located upstairs), which has plenty of seating with plug points, allowing me to get on with some work before my flight.
The downside is that Air Transat does not have an agreement with any of the lounges, which isn’t ideal for a business traveller. I noticed that the airport was very busy by 1030 and I would have struggled to find an adequate seat had I arrived any later.
The gate was called at 1130 and it stated that it was boarding. I made my way to gate 49, located a ten-minute walk from the main concourse, but boarding had not begun when I arrived. Boarding commenced at 1215, with Club Class called first. Once on the plane, we sat for a while as some passengers were late to board – I could spot them running down the corridor from one of my two windows in seat 1A.
Club Class is fitted with 12 seats in a 2-2 configuration, with attractive deep blue leather upholstery compared to the lighter blue in economy.
I didn’t have far to go when I boarded as I was at the front of the aircraft. There is an amenity kit, slippers and a sleep kit at the seat, all of which you are encouraged to keep for your next travels. The former includes a toothbrush and toothpaste, ear plugs, an eye mask, L’Occitane cream and lip balm. The sleep kit contains a soft blanket, another eye mask and a blow-up travel pillow.
The seat is well-designed, with a small table that can fit a drink and snacks at the end of the armrest, meaning you don’t have to have your tray table out all the time.
The tray table is neatly hidden within the armrest, which you lift up and pull out to position in front of you. This also slides back and forth so you can recline your chair and still work comfortably on your laptop.
The machinery is nice and simple, with two buttons on the right for the footrest and recline options – the seat does not go fully flat due to the configuration of the aircraft.
Beside the buttons is a headphone jack and handheld remote for the IFE monitor, which is located straight ahead (or back of the seat in front if you are not in row 1). The IFE monitor has a USB socket and headphone jack, but there’s also USB and plug sockets in front of the armrest.
However, storage is limited with just the pocket in front to hold personal items.
There is one washroom at the front of the plane, beside the cockpit, for Club passengers. There is a curtain to separate the galley and economy class.
Seats in the front row are recommended as you have a generous amount of legroom and won’t be disturbed by passengers reclining their chair. Other benefits include being served first, not having to get up to check if the toilet is free, and exiting the aircraft first.
Bear in mind that the IFE monitor is a little far from the seat, though this didn’t bother me as it’s large at 13.3 inches.
A screen with the Air Transat logo separates you from the cabin crew, giving them some privacy. I did not find the galley to be noisy during the journey.
Once all passengers had boarded, the cabin attendants made announcements in both French and English, apologising for the delay and explaining that it was due to a late arrival of the previous flight.
The flight was not full, with around 100 seats free – including the seat next to me, giving me plenty of privacy and space. Friendly cabin attendants offered Club customers a bottle of water along with a glass of sparkling wine or a mimosa. The aircraft began taxiing at 1250 and, following a safety video, took off at 1307.
In terms of entertainment, the IFE content isn’t as good as other carriers. It had a total of 44 films and 149 TV shows, none of which are that exciting (although I did enjoy King Richard).
While the IFE seems high-tech at first glance, it was very temperamental. The remote on the lower right-hand side has a touchpad that doesn’t always agree with the monitor – it froze a lot and there are no regular buttons if the touchpad fails. Similarly, the touchscreen didn’t always respond to my fingers.
Unfortunately, the sound from the earphones was also muffled, and so I had to put subtitles on, which often didn’t keep up with the footage. To top it all off, there were several instances when the film I was watching stopped, with a message appearing to say it wasn’t available.
The A321 neo generates 50 per cent less noise in the cabin than previous generation Airbus aircraft and this was noticeable, with little noise during the journey.
Food and drink
Club Class passengers get a choice between three hot main meals during transatlantic flights from Europe.
My meal order was taken at 1319 by the friendly Stéphanie. Shortly after this passengers received a drink of their choice (wine, beer, juice or soft drinks) and some cheese twists, which fit on the small table beside me.
There were two white wines and one red wine on offer:
- Mala Peira Verdejo 2021
- Bottega Chardonnay Trevenezie
- Château Artos Lacas Corbières 2o2o
The lunch service followed at 1400. The options were aubergine caprese, osso bucco or Tuscan chicken. I opted for the vegetarian dish, which was served with a side salad (and a pot of olive oil), fluffy focaccia and a generous cheesecake-style pudding with a chocolate base.
From where I was sitting I got a glimpse of the cabin crew preparing the food, which arrived beautifully plated. Everything was delicious, and my sweet tooth was particularly impressed with the dessert.
Tea and coffee were served at 1428, along with a warm towel to refresh your hands.
Customers don’t go hungry or thirsty in Club Class, with treats offered throughout the journey. These included coffees with Whisky or Baileys, drinks top-ups, and a basket of Kit-Kats, popcorn, sweets and Pringles.
Afternoon tea is served an hour and 45 minutes before landing and consists of three finger sandwiches – cucumber and cheese, cheese and pickle, and some kind of meat version.
What was confusing was that the sandwiches were presented with clotted cream and jam but no scone. Instead, bread rolls were offered, which was an odd accompaniment. Our tables were cleared and then ten minutes later, the scones arrived sans toppings. Let’s just say it was clear we were in Canada by this point.
There were windy conditions, which you could feel as we came into land, but we arrived safe and sound at 1517 local time. Disembarking was done quickly from the front at 1527, meaning that I was first off the aircraft and onto immigration.
Before arriving at immigration, passengers were asked to show their ArriveCAN receipt. We then proceeded downstairs to a room filled with machines, somewhat resembling supermarket check-out counters. I had to scan my passport and then answer several questions about my trip – its purpose, my length of stay, customs and Covid-19 queries. The machine then took a photo of my face and I received a receipt.
Passengers then proceed to a physical checkpoint where guards look at your passport, ask you some more of the same questions and then mark your receipt if you’re good to go.
This takes you to the baggage claim area, but as I had cabin luggage I went straight to the exit where you have to return your declaration receipt. It was well-organised and I made it out by 1544.
I was also pleasantly surprised how easy it was to get into the city centre from the airport. You can buy tickets from a machine for the 747 shuttle bus, and friendly staff are great at advising on routes.
I really enjoyed this flight thanks to great service throughout, with Club passengers very well looked after. Seats are comfortable and spacious, and the food was excellent.
The IFE, however, needs improving and passengers travelling for business would benefit from airport lounge access – particularly if there are delays.
The return flight, which departs Montreal at 2205 and lands in Gatwick at 0950, was a far less positive experience due to delays and disorganisation at the Canadian airport.
Internet rates in October for a one-way A321 neo Club Class London-Montreal flight start at £666