Air Canada Premium Economy Review – Seoul to Vancouver to Calgary
After our great stopover in Seoul, it was time for the next leg of our journey. We departed our AirBnB and headed to the Airport Bus #6011 at Anguk station, only a minute’s walk away. The bus fare was 10,000 won per person and had nearly door to door convenience.
We arrived at the airport, practically at the row we needed for check-in, with plenty of time to spare. It was too early to check-in, so we headed upstairs for lunch. There are many junk food type places to eat, but we found a place offering salad, followed by donuts for dessert.
There’s something really nice about seeing the queue for Economy class wind back and forth, back and forth, out past the velvet ropes, around the corner and down the concourse, and then heading for the Premium Economy check-in with absolutely no one waiting. Needless to say, our check-in was painless. After checking in, we were asked to wait around for 5 minutes at the end of the row to make sure our checked bag screening was fine (if it wasn’t, the matter could be settled straight away).
Before going through security, we located a convenience store (on the arrivals level) where we could cash out the remaining funds on our T-money cards (minus a 500 won service charge).
The security screening was fairly standard, although my baggie of liquids didn’t have to be screened separately from my carry-on bag. I was selected for the random chemical screening test. Upon analysis, the red alarm went off. The staffer re-ran the test, using a different machine, and I was given the all clear.
Immigration was quick and painless. There was no queue at all, no departure forms, and no communication with the immigration officer required. Just a stamp out and we were done.
Our flight was departing from the satellite terminal, which required a travelator, a train, a few escalators and more travelators to get there. There are duty-free shops in the satellite terminal, but if you want a variety of shops, complete your shopping in the main terminal before taking the train.
There was plenty of seating at our gate. As usual, there were plenty of queuers before boarding commenced. The Air Canada staff were quite good at redirecting the Economy class passengers who were blindly queuing in the Premium line. Air Canada boarded the aircraft by zones; Zone 1 (business class) boarded first, followed by Zone 2 (premium economy), and then, I assume, everyone else.
The premium economy section on this Dreamliner 787 consisted of 3 rows in a 2 x 3 x 2 configuration. The seats were quite confortable with lots of legroom. The footrest was drop-down bar-style. The IFE (inflight entertainment) screen was a good size, but there didn’t seem to be many blockbusters or new releases on offer. At least the quantity of movies available was adequate. The IFE was available for viewing immediately upon boarding until landing. Only non-noise cancelling earphones were provided.
Each seat had a power point and USB plug-in.
There was a small goodie bag provided, which contained socks, eyemask, earplugs and toothbrush/toothpaste.
The food on offer was generally good, but portions were at best snack-size. The gluten-free dinner was a mixed seafood with potatoes and vegetables, a plain green salad (no dressing), a mystery unsweetened glutinous rice square covered in tasteless soggy nuts, and a bit of fruit . The main course and the fruit were very tasty, but could have been improved with more volume. The regular meals on offer were bulgogi beef or Moroccan chicken.
I usually don’t have any trouble getting some sleep on flights, but I had difficulty on this flight for some reason, and didn’t get more than an hour or two of sleep.
Another snack was served at the halfway mark. The gluten-free offering was a salad (with dressing this time) and a chunk of pineapple. Regular patrons received a sandwich and cookie.
I was politely told off by one of the flight attendants for undimming my window shading. Apparently it was disturbing the sleep of other people. I was slightly annoyed by being singled out since half of the window-bound travellers had also undimmed their windows, it was only 20 minutes before the house lights came on and everyone had been provided sleeping masks.
The breakfast snack was served 2 hours before arriving in Vancouver. The gluten-free meal comprised scrambled eggs with vegetables, another mystery unsweetened glutinous rice square with soggy nuts, a chunk of watermelon and a small carton of milk(?). You can’t tell from the photo, but the serving tray was approx. half the size of the tray table.
Disembarkation was fairly quick. Zone 1 was first off the plane followed by Zone 2 and then everyone else.
Things I didn’t like about this flight: there was no curtain between premium economy and economy. Not meaning to sound elitist or anything, but since premium economy does cost a substantial premium above regular economy, some division between the classes would’ve been nice. A curtain may have also deterred the economy class from using the premium economy bathroom; as it was there was a long queue at peak times and the bathroom was very putrid by the end of the flight, with an overflowing waste bin. The curtain would not have helped the position of the bassinet row immediately behind the premium economy section though; fortunately, the babies weren’t crying for the entire flight. The food quantity needs improvement; 3 snacks on a 10 hour flight isn’t enough. Other airlines provide self-serve or service on demand interim snacks in this travel class for people who are still peckish between meals.
Immigration and customs were fairly straight forward. They have mostly automated the system now. There are a large cluster of computer stations set up where your passport is scanned, your photo is taken, and you answer a series of standard entry-type questions. You are then given a print-out which you show an immigration officer before entering the baggage area.
Our bags were tagged as priority, so we didn’t have to wait long at all to get them. People with connecting domestic flights go through a different exit than the people entering Vancouver. At our exit, we handed our immigration print-outs to the customs officer and showed him our boarding passes for the next flight. After depositing our checked bags onto the conveyor belt, we took the elevator up and walked the hallway to the domestic-side of the airport. One more security screening, and then to locate the gate for our connecting flight.
The transit time was tight. Although 90 minutes was an allowed connection time, perhaps 120 minutes would’ve been less stressful; it would’ve also given us time to have a snack.
The Vancouver to Calgary flight boarded with the same protocol with Zone 1 business class going first, followed by Zone 2 preferred seating. There’s no Premium Economy class on the flight per se, but as we were travelling on a premium ticket, we were given 3 seats in the preferred seating section.
The IFE on this flight had much smaller screens, but the same offerings as the international flight. However, earphones were an extra cost (3.50 CAD) and they only allowed airline earphones. Had we known this, we would’ve pinched the earphones from the previous flight. It didn’t really matter though since the flight was only slightly over an hour. A quick round of refreshments were served (non-alcoholic drink and cookie — no gluten-free option).
Our plane parked at the gate closest to the baggage terminal. Our bags didn’t take too long to come out and priority bags were first.
As we were meeting family, we were being picked up. The Calgary airport has a convenient, free cell phone parking area. Your ride can wait for free until you call them.
Final verdict: Air Canada is not a 5-star airline, but better than a budget airline. Although their premium economy product wasn’t perfect, it was still better than flying economy.