November 25, 2023
My wife and I recently traveled from Lisbon, Portugal to Montreal on board an Air Canada’s Premium Economy flight on an Airbus A330-300 aircraft. I was really looking forward to this journey as I had deliberately planned my return trip home to go through Montreal just so that I could experience this product operated by another North American airline. I am happy to document our entire journey and share our experience and feedback with you on this comprehensive review.
While Air Canada also offers a similar class of service on its North American routes, the international Premium Economy product across the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans offers an elevated level of service that matches or even sometimes surpasses its domestic first-class cabins. Enhanced amenities include a spacious seat well-designed for a longer journey, an enhanced dining experience featuring fine international cuisines, complimentary alcoholic beverages which include better quality wines, priority airport services, among several other perks which I will discuss below.
Table of Contents
- The Seat
- Beverage Service
- Dinner Service
- In-Flight Entertainment
- Pre-Arrival Meal
If you don’t have elite status with Air Canada or its Star Alliance partners, one of the greatest perks that Premium Economy passengers really appreciate is the priority services at the airport. You will bypass the long economy line and breeze through the check-in process at dedicated counters. You are entitled to two free checked bags and expedited luggage handling. Your bags will be identified by a special tag and will be among the first to appear on the carousel at your destination’s baggage claim area.
However, you will not have access to priority security lines, a perk reserved for business class customers and the airline’s elite frequent flyers. Since my wife and I both had Star Alliance Gold status through United, we were able to take advantage of the Gold Track security lane. As in most airports in Europe, admission to the Gold Track is automated so we just had to scan our boarding passes to enter the special lane.
But PE passengers do have access to priority boarding so you can get on board early, grab that precious overhead luggage space, and sit back and relax. You will board in zone two, immediately after Business Class passengers and Super Elite members.
When we boarded the plane, bottles of water were already waiting for us at our seats. I really appreciated this thoughtful gesture and convenience.
The next thing that I noticed; I was impressed that Air Canada assigns a flight attendant dedicated to the Premium Economy cabin. Shortly after boarding, she passed out menus and mentioned that she will be returning to take our orders soon. Call me old-fashioned, I still enjoy holding a paper menu in my hand and this airline is among only a few that still have them outside of Business Class.
After the FA took our meal order, she circulated the cabin with a tray of sparkling water and orange juice. I was completely surprised by the pre-departure beverage service which was absent even in my many domestic first-class experiences. I had a feeling that this was going to be a great flight – we haven’t even pushed back yet, and I was already thoroughly impressed!
Air Canada does a good job in presenting their Premium Economy as an enhanced class of service and separates it from the main economy cabin with partitions. Although pictures in the airline’s website show curtains closing the partitions, I did not see them on my flight.
The trip from Lisbon to Montreal was operated on an Airbus A330-300 aircraft in a 2-3-2 configuration, which actually had the narrowest PE seats. But they were still much better than those in the back of the plane. The width is 18” and almost 2 full inches less than similar products on Boeing’s 777 and 787 series. However, there is plenty of legroom and with a pitch of 38”, it is comparable to the vast majority of other players in the PE market.
With 7” of recline, you can rest comfortably on your journey. Although the recline is rather steep, there was enough pitch so that when the person in front of me reclined their seat, I still had plenty of space in front of me and did not feel crammed.
Another component that makes a long-haul journey more pleasant is the footrest. When not in use, it can be pushed all the way up so that it does not block access to the space under the seat in front of you. When in use, it can be pulled down and is also adjustable. With my seat at maximum recline and the footrest in a comfortable position, I managed to nap quite restfully for a few hours.
Last but not the least, you have access to both an AC socket and a USB port for charging. The adjustable headrest is yet another much welcomed feature.
A comfortable pillow, a banket, and an amenity kit were already placed on my seat before boarding. At first glance, the way the kit was packaged looked peculiar, but I soon realized that it was because it opened up into a reusable shopping bag that looked like a tote bag.
Inside the bag were earplugs, eyeshades, a dental kit, and a pair of socks. Nothing fancy, but probably adequate for a flight that spent less than 8 hours in the air.
Once we’ve reached the appropriate altitude, beverages were preceded by a hot towel service which I really appreciated. I can see that Air Canada really puts a lot of thoughts in designing their Premium Economy product.
A wide selection of soft drinks, beers, wines, and cocktails were available and were complimentary. For beers, they almost always serve Canada’s iconic Molson (which I am glad that they do) and an American brew, usually Coors light or something similar. Blue Moon and selected IPAs are also offered. Liquors include the usual staples like vodka, gin, rum, and whisky which are served with mixers.
We inquired about the wine and was told that they had only one selection of white wine that day and it was from Chile. Red wines were available from either Spain or Canada. I opted for a glass of white wine and my wife had a glass of Spanish red. They were served with a packet of pretzels.
Overall, my wife and I were both very happy with Air Canada’s Premium Economy meal service. I ordered the chicken which came with sliced breast meat drenched in an orange sauce that was fruity, a little sweet, and slightly tangy. It was delicious and I liked it. The layered potato cake was really sliced potatoes served in a creamy and slightly cheesy sauce, somewhat like potato au gratin.
The green salad was topped with fresh parmesan cheese and accompanied by a mini bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette.
Since we were departing Lisbon, dessert was appropriately the city’s iconic pastel de nata. The creamy custard egg tart came with a shell that was crispy and flaky, just the way it should be. While it was not as good as the ones that we tasted in some of Lisbon’s most famous bakeries, the pastel de nata was a delicious and pleasant surprise.
My wife ordered the ravioli which were stuffed with cheeses and topped with a rich mushroom sauce. The texture of the pasta was good, and my wife liked it. The sauce was rather thick and flavorful – almost like a puree – but it was delicious so no complaints there. She let me grab a raviolo from her plate to check it out and I had to agree that it was tasty.
Not only does the A330-300 have a narrower Premium Economy seat than its competition, but the entertainment screen was also smaller as well. The monitor measured 8.9” compared to the 10.5” or 11” in the Boeing 777 and 787 families. Nevertheless, it was still far better than the 6” monitors in the back of the plane.
There were plenty of movies and TV shows available and I counted hundreds of them. I also liked the unique and creative ways that they were categorized – like films for foodies. James Bond fans will be delighted to find an entire collection of 007 movies from the days of Sean Connery all the way to some of the recent ones by Daniel Craig.
One disappointment though, was that we were given the usual low-quality earbuds rather than the premium quality headphones which some other airlines provide in this class of service on long haul international flights.
The light meal described in the menu was a hot pastry that came straight from the oven. The choices were chicken and vegetarian. My wife and I both opted for the chicken. The pastry was savory, seasoned with Latin fajita flavor, and slightly spicy. It was delicious and we enjoyed it. The snack was accompanied by a beverage cart service, and we were about an hour away from touchdown.
While this was my first Premium Economy flight with Air Canada, it will certainly not be my last. It was a very pleasant experience from boarding all the way through arrival. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the PE cabin had one dedicated flight attendant assigned to it and she was always visible and available when needed. A paper menu and order taking prior to departure was classy and gave the passenger a touch of premium cabin expectation. The quality of the food was good, and I particularly liked the local and regional component of the meal, such as the pastel de nata on this particular flight.