Air Canada Airbus A320 at the gate toronto pearson

When you have room to breathe on an Air Canada A320, but not the 787


Nose to tail logo with cartoon people in different classes on an aircraftOn a recent trip to Montreal to attend Air Canada’s annual Young Women in Aviation event, I was booked on what the carrier calls a Rapidair flight. These are hourly flights between Toronto and Montreal or Ottawa.

On the 9am outbound flight from Toronto Pearson International Airport to Montréal-Trudeau International Airport, Air Canada had scheduled an Airbus A320 narrowbody, while a Boeing 787-9 widebody would ply the 4pm return that day.

I left my house early to beat a potential snow storm and rush hour traffic. But both the weather and traffic gods smiled upon me, and when I arrived at Terminal 1, I had a lot more time before my flight than expected. So, I took the opportunity to go Christmas shopping at the airport, venturing to The Body Shop, Chanel, Mac and even The Source (forever known to me as Radio Shack).

dylan's candy bar and the sourse in the airportTerminal 1 is impressive, with a far more diverse selection of concessions than found in Terminal 3, though I continue to face difficulty in sourcing a full breakfast at either terminal due to dietary restrictions.

As a parent, I am impressed that Terminal 1 is home to Dylan’s Candy Bar, a Mamava Pod for nursing mothers and a small play yard. These are all things that would make early arrival to the airport with a child much more bearable.

mamava nursing mothers podI am always looking for power for my devices, but the departures area of Terminal 1 is lacking (whereas the arrivals area has multiple charging stations). Luckily, the in-seat power worked on board the aircraft.

We boarded the A320 and I made my way back to seat 24D, an aisle seat with roughly 18 inches of width. De-icing commenced, so I took the time to explore the Thales seatback inflight entertainment system. The text on the screen was pixelated but there was more than enough content to choose from once the pages loaded after a lag.

seat back ife showing moving selectionAir Canada offers Gogo inflight Internet (an air-to-ground service on narrowbodies), and once we passed 10,000ft, I acquired a 30-minute pass for just under CAD$7, which enabled me to get some work done and engage in a bit of messaging.

I’m glad I didn’t opt for the full-flight pass, though, as I barely used my half-hour allotment prior to the start of descent into Montreal.

screenshot of ife tier pricingFor the return flight on the Boeing 787-9, I was seated in an exit row seat, 31C. I confess I didn’t anticipate not having under-seat storage for my purse (I should have checked the seat map). And given that the IFE system is tucked into the armrest for takeoff and landing, I did not have IFE to occupy my idle time on the ground, whilst those in regular economy seats enjoyed the seatback experience.

exit door area and lavatory on the Boeing 787-9Because the armrests on exit row seats are fixed, rather than moveable, I did not have any wiggle room in this seat, which SeatGuru lists as being 17.3” wide.

I suppose I am what some might call a ‘passenger of size’ or a ‘curvy woman’.

Suffice it to say, it was a tight squeeze in the seat, and I felt a little like a sleeping bag that had been squashed into a container, praying it would fit and the lid wouldn’t pop off.

The legroom was wonderful, however, and I wasn’t at all bothered by my seat’s close proximity to the lavatory.

person sitting the seat just showing lower halfI’m told that passengers with reduced mobility (PRMs) can use the bathroom, as the center wall between the two lavs opens up to make for a larger space. I would like to see this executed to really gauge if it is a viable solution, though.

The IFE on the 787 was a little hard for me to figure out but the cabin crew came to my rescue. Air Canada has loaded some truly great content on its new Panasonic Avionics systems, including some puzzle games, and this engaged me for the duration of the flight.

Sadly while my neighbor was able to charge his device via the USB port in the IFE system, my power port seemed to be out of order. Luckily, Montreal International had offered plenty of places to charge prior to boarding, both the plug-in and wireless Qi variety, so I arrived on board fully juiced.

Gogo WiFi (this time, its 2Ku satellite connectivity) was also available, offered in two tiers – browsing and streaming. Knowing I wouldn’t be streaming much in 30 minutes, I opted for browsing.

While this may not be a popular opinion, I was more comfortable and more satisfied in a regular economy class seat in the back of the proverbial bus on Air Canada’s A320 narrowbody versus the exit row on the 787 widebody.

Both aircraft featured impressive IFE. But that extra inch of seat width on the A320 gave me room to breath. Coupled with working in-seat power and under-seat storage, I was a happy camper.

Disclosure: Air Canada provided the flights for this trip to attend its Young Women in Aviation event in Montreal.

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  1. Allan Jude

    With regular seats (excluding bulk head and emergency rows) the seat width is better.

    Definately check when selecting your seat

  2. Howard Miller

    Agree 100%. The 18” wide seat on the Airbus A320 is much more comfortable than 17.2” – 17.3” wide seats aboard 9-abreast, “densified” Boeing 787s and 10-abreast 777s – or narrower seats some airlines use for their mainline aircraft, and Bombardier’s CRJ series of regional jets where the seats typically are 17” wide.

    Fortunately, the author’s 787 flight was a short-hop from Montreal to Toronto, so her exceptionally narrow seat and the cramped condition was relatively brief when compared to the 5-15 (or more) hours that the vast majority of flights 787s are used for.

    Fact is, and as I was reminded yet again just a month ago when I was stuck aboard a narrow-body 757 for about 6 hours after including time on the ground before departure, and about an hour of circling due to bad weather (rain & high winds) in a 17.2” wide seat, seats this narrow are TOO NARROW for most adults, especially when considering that the width between my decidedly average height (and weight) body’s shoulders is 18”, and even with a slightly smaller female passenger in the middle seat beside me, when I did not lean away from her up against the sidewall of the aircraft to allow for space between us, our shoulders were in contact with each other’s.

    In this day and age, at best this is far from desirable. And that’s being charitable.

    Some might argue that this continued insistence on preposterously narrow seats aboard passenger aircraft is a subtle form of sexism, and is another example of the disproportionately male composition of high level decision-makers in the airline and aerospace industries as it’s hard to imagine most women find it desirable to be rubbing shoulders against total strangers when they fly for any length of time, let alone flights of 5, 6, 7 or more hours.

    Except in niche markets where the average height and weight lend itself to seats narrower than 18” and row pitches less than 32”-33”, it’s time for our aircraft cabins to be configured for adults, instead of for 5th graders.

    I mean, seriously, if our employers installed desks and chairs sized for 5th graders in the workplace, we’d demand they be replaced with appropriately sized furniture, or we’d either consider other legal remedies to get desks and chairs that we can fit into and work at provided.

    This ridiculous notion that adults should just take what they’re given by (selfish, inconsiderate, greedy, hypocritical) jerks that practically NEVER sit in the too small and too narrow seats packed into “no legroom” rows they profit from needs to stop ASAP!

  3. Robert

    As a Canadian, and (somewhat) regular user of The People’s Airline (Air Canuck) I have learned that the famously desired “bulkhead” seats in Steerage, and Premium Eco are not the best for comfort. ESPECIALLY for Very Long Haul.
    We did YYZ to Shanghai in Premium Economy bulkhead seats. Without the no-doubt extra-cost option of leg rests, no matter how tightly I did my seat belt, when reclined and semi-asleep, I would slide under the belt. Having learned from that “venture”, when travelling ACA, regardless of airframe, we never intentionally book bulkheads…

  4. Artamo

    We have to get used to this. Try flying the 787-9 in economy to Munich, its tight! Have you flown in the AC 777 with 3-4-3 configuration? We are all chasing cheaper flights while airlines improve revenues and this is the consequence

  5. Flying economy – or coach – class is typically easiest on the pocketbook, but it’s not usually ideal when you want a comfortable airline seat. The coach section of an airline cabin is known for being the part of the plane that crams passengers together, so finding an air carrier that offers economy travelers a bit of breathing room is – well – a breath of fresh air.