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Puttin' on the Ritz With Air Canada

Bob Fisher examines changes in Air Canada's upper class offerings.

February 11, 2004 -- Belying the worn-out caricature of Canada held by some Americans of a staid, underplayed nation of mild-mannered people is the buzzing new image of Air Canada, winner both of last year's Best Frequent Flyer Program (Aeroplan) and the world's Best Airline Web Site. The awards were made by the Official Airline Guide (OAG), which had in 2002 selected Air Canada as "Best Airline in North America." With seven nominations in 2003, it was among the top four airlines in the world. As the world's 11th largest commercial airline (with more than 30 million customers a year), Air Canada has been ranked as the world's safest airline, as well. It isn't letting pride go to its head, however, coming up with new programs for travelers all the time, including those involving business-class travel. There are occasions when we all want to give ourselves a treat and move up to more comfortable seats, so maybe now is the time to look them over.

But first, late news: Starting on January 26, 2004, Air Canada expanded its new simplified fare structure, featuring low web-exclusive one-way "Tango" fares, to include travel to and from the USA, as well as across Canada. They are available for travel to and from ten US cities immediately -- Newark, New Orleans, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, West Palm Beach and Fort Myers. By Spring 2004, all 80 cities in the US served by Air Canada and its Star Alliance partner, United Airlines, will have these lowest published fares apply.

The Tango fare, exclusively available on-line, is their best bargain one-way fare, they say, requiring no minimum stay, and you can make unlimited changes on eligible routes for only $20 plus any fare difference. They are, however, nonrefundable, and you get only 50% non-status Aeroplan (frequent flyer) miles.


Premium Class Thinking

A popular special offer, also exclusively online, is for Executive Class travel within Canada. This provides for 30% to 50% discounts on their premium class seats every day, and the fares are fully flexible and fully refundable, with unlimited changes available at no cost. You enjoy priority check-in, priority boarding and baggage handling, and full access to the Maple Leaf Lounges, as well as getting 125% to 150% boost on your frequent flier miles.

The proudest achievement of Air Canada recently is their Executive First service to Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. Most important is the increased legroom offering a 60-inch pitch (compared to most airlines' coach class of 32 inches), and a deeper seat recline to a full 151 degrees from 135 degrees (dead flat would be 180 degrees). This is their redesigned international business class, flights beginning just over a year ago.


In addition to new menus and cocktails made with Iceberg vodka, the airline's concierges went through a prep school to make them more efficient and hospitable. In my limited but extremely pleasant experience with them, I came to believe they are the best airline staff I can remember meeting, with just the right level of service and friendliness. A lot of money went into fixing up the airline lounges, too, as I could see looking over the brilliantly-lit and starkly minimalist example at London's Heathrow Airport last summer.

Remembering us common folk, too, Air Canada has its weekly websaver e-mail deals, which are last-minute travel bargains and special online fares. At time of writing, that included weekend roundtrip travel (if you booked the previous Friday) from New York to Toronto for $159; Washington to Toronto $152; Chicago to Montreal $238; Seattle to Vancouver $141; and San Francisco or Los Angeles to Montreal $344, plus many more bargains.

Note: all prices herein are US dollars.


For all information on Air Canada, contact them at or phone 888/247-2262.

Have you flown on Air Canada's First or Business Class fares. Was it worth the extra cost? Give us your opinion on our Air Travel Message Boards.