Rows of seats with seatback IFE on Air Canada's Boeing 787

Strong IFE and biz meal buy up make Air Canada 787 economy shine

Cartoon of passengers, flight attendant and pilots onboard an aircraftAt roughly five and a half hours, Air Canada’s transcontinental transborder flight from Newark to Vancouver is an interesting route. It’s as long in duration as the hop across the Atlantic Ocean from the Northeast to Ireland, and occasionally sees a Boeing 787 rotated in to replace the typical narrowbody aircraft. This provides an excellent opportunity to get a taste of the airline’s longhaul offering without straying too far from home.

Not only was this my first widebody flight experience with Air Canada, it was also my first time flying out of Newark’s new Terminal A. The new terminal shares a lot in common with LaGuardia’s Terminal B with the wide open pre-security spaces, high ceilings, and ample concession options.

Newark’s new Terminal A with high ceilings and open space.

Everything throughout the terminal airside, however, felt about 20% smaller than it should be. On this Thursday afternoon there were lines for restrooms, gate hold areas overflowed into the corridors, lounges were overcrowded, and it was hot everywhere.

A busy Newark Terminal A

Air Canada is likely the only airline to utilize a widebody aircraft at this terminal, and it uses two gates and jet bridges to board.

Air Canada's Boeing 787 parked at the gate.Despite the ample and fun digital signage and announcements in the gate area, the boarding process was still a bit of a slog but we buttoned up on time.

Newark’s new Terminal A gate area is overcrowded with passengers everywhere.

Economy class seats aboard Air Canada’s 787-9 feature 31 inches of pitch. On the leaner side of the human size spectrum, I personally did not feel cramped in my seat.

Air Canada's Boeing 787 economy class. The seated man has legroom.

After settling in, I jumped straight into the Panasonic eX3 inflight entertainment system, which I found to be bursting with content that I actually wanted to watch! A Wonka movie poster is seen on the IFE as an selection on offer for passengers.

Air Canada’s user interface allows passengers to favorite selections, which is particularly useful when the content catalog is this large. It’s an easy addition, yet many airlines don’t bother.

Air Canada IFE options on the screen including entertainment, food & shopping and Audible-sponsored content. I was also excited to see that the system allows passengers to invite up to three other people to watch along with them. While I’ve seen this option a few times, I’ve never actually been flying with someone else when it was offered. This time, however, I attempted to make use of it only to find that it didn’t actually work.

While I was able to select another passenger’s seat to join, and they received a prompt, the playback wasn’t actually synchronized. Playback started at different times and pausing one screen didn’t pause the other. I’m not sure if this was the intended behavior, but I sure hope not.

The 'watch with friends' screen on Air Canada's IFE

At one point my monitor also completely locked while trying to enter picture-in-picture mode and because it was during the meal service it took the better part of an hour to get a flight attendant to reboot it. I really wish these systems allowed passengers to reboot them on their own.

View of passengers using their own devices and watching the IFE in economy class aboard the Air Canada 787

Air Canada’s widebody fleet is equipped with Intelsat’s 2Ku connectivity platform, and the airline has a strange pricing plan deployed. Free messaging is available for Aeroplan and select Star Alliance program members, on top of a CA$18 “Stream Pass” and a CA$24 “Ultimate Pass.”

Both plans allow streaming video, with the latter offering “higher quality streaming.” No lower priced plan without streaming was available, which strikes me as a bit odd.

A screenshot of Air Canada's wifi offering.

While most North American airlines have severely curbed their buy-on-board meal programs since Covid, Air Canada has not. The airline’s Bistro menu is varied and reasonably priced, with a neat trick that I’m surprised more airlines don’t use.

On the flight to Vancouver we ordered a chicken wrap and cheeseburger sliders. The chicken wrap was decent, but the burgers were inedible.

A wrap and burgers served on Air Canada's flight

The burgers must have been warmed for too long as the cheese melted and fused to the plastic container.

Two cheeseburger sliders in a plastic container. The over-melted cheese is messy.

The saving grace, however, was the option to buy up to a business class meal. I snagged the one remaining barbecue braised beef dish, no doubt a perk of being seated in just the third row of economy and being served early on.

Business class menu on board; economy class passengers can buy up if a meal is available. Priced at just seven Canadian dollars above the Bistro items, I’d take this option every flight if possible. Only the main dish is served, so there’s no appetizer or dessert, but the beef was tasty and a decently sized portion.

Barbecue braised beef dish is large and tasty looking

While I purchased a voucher for Bistro items (which is of dubious value, as some meal items are priced lower than the voucher itself) before the Vancouver-bound flight, cabin crew members never returned to collect payment from passengers on either flight.

I’m not sure if that’s a fluke, but next time I’ll order a drink or two just in case it happens again.

Overall I found the Air Canada transborder experience to be quite positive. Having a full buy-on-board menu and robust entertainment selection helped pass the time, even if the Wi-Fi was a bit too expensive.

Air Canada 787 parked and ready to board at NewarkNote: Positive space tickets were provided by an employee of Air Canada at no cost, though as ever, all thoughts and opinions are solely of the author.

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All images credited to the author, Jason Rabinowitz