The bad news about Air Canada’s new Premium Economy offering


The good news from Air Canada this week is that they are going to be offering a new Premium Economy product in their longhaul fleet. Their 777-300ER will start to see some planes  converted to support the new cabin layout this summer and the specs on the Premium Economy product are pretty solid. They will be 2-4-2 across, with 38" pitch and 20" width. Every seat will have power and also larger screens for the AVOD systems than the regular economy cabin. Premium meals, too, from what the carrier is advertising:

Enjoy a welcome beverage as you settle into your seat, and then make your choice between two delicious hot meals served in a china casserole with glassware and cutlery. Your hot meal is also accompanied by a refreshing salad, warm bread and dessert.

Breakfast offerings in Premium Economy include: fresh coffee, juice, pastries and yoghurt.

That sounds quite a bit like business class service. They even have hot towels on offer. And the seats look pretty nice in the press shots:

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Air Canada is also rebranding the premium cabin on their Rouge flights as Premium Rouge, with basically the same benefits, though they really are just the same seats that are currently installed on those planes.

So that’s the good news. Now for the bad news. All these benefits in Premium Economy come at the expense of the regular economy cabin. Air Canada is shifting from 9-across to 10-across in the back, leaving passengers with just a 17" seat width. And if that wasn’t bad enough they are also cutting the pitch on the seats from 32" inches to 31". The net result is a notably smaller space and a LOT more passengers on board. The new config will be 36/24/398 compared to the current 77W layout of 42/307. That’s more than 100 additional seats on board and, from what I can see on the seat maps, no additional lavatories added.

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About the only good bit here for economy passengers is that Air Canada will not be considering Premium Economy as part of the upgrade path for passengers. That means you can still upgrade from coach into the business class ("Executive First") cabin.

So, yeah, the Premium Economy product is nice. But at what cost? Things are not going to be fun for the other nearly 400 passengers on board. And if this kills the upgrade options, too, that’s even worse.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

15 Comments

  1. Just like with AA’s new 77W. Clearly a lot of the space lost to the new 4 across lie-flat business seats came from them moving Y from 9 across to 10 across.

  2. if you do a sample booking for July YUL-CDG, you’ll see that Y+ (or PE) is almost double the Y (Tango) fares, probably still cheaper than Latitude

  3. That…and it’s Air Canada…. a routing on United may be cheaper with the same surly/indifferent service

  4. I suppose the occasional galley or lav was also nixed, difficult to cram that many coach pax without that :p

  5. They will have to offer MORE to Executive First pax in my opinion because there isn’t that much of a spread other than a better seat and a slightly larger IFE screen.

  6. It’s actually a VERY efficient use of space. CX fits like 26 or so flat bed J seats between doors 1 and 2 on the 77W. AC manages to actually squeeze 36. Granted the bed is shorter, but only super tall people like 6’7″ would start to feel like pinch.

    I’ve tried the LX seat (identical to AC), and I can honestly say it’s just as spacious for me as the CX Cirrus one. The LX one was a little hard surface, but maybe AC is different ?

    1. For the passengers in Executive First the main difference is the bed. And that’s what most people buying business class care about. Lounge access and extra baggage are also benefits, but the extra space is king. I have no doubt that the new layout up front will be just fine. It is down the back where I worry.

  7. I don’t fly AC but, just for some perspective: QF’s slimline, lightweight Recaro seats in Y (on the A380 & reconfigured 744s) show it is possible to squeeze in more seats without sacrificing much passenger space. The introduction of PE on QF has also meant more frequent op ups (from Y to PE) for elite pax. So, while there’s no reason to assume AC will manage its new inventory the exact same way QF has, the existence of a larger number of comfortable seats on QF has been a good thing IMO, even for discount economy pax.

    1. I agree that the slimline seats can help a bit with the comfort as more rows are packed in to the plane, though they don’t help on the width bit. As for the OpUp idea, I’m as optimistic as the next guy but the numbers don’t look good. Qantas has between 9-20% of the number of seats in Premium Economy versus regular Economy in any of those four aircraft configurations (2x 388 and 2x 744). Air Canada will be about 5%. Even if they never sell a Premium Economy seat outright, which is unlikely, odds of getting that OpUp are going to be lower than on Qantas, at least based directly on the number of seats available.

      I get why they’re doing it. I just don’t think it is all good news for passengers. Some good news, but not all good.

  8. Air Canada will be changing upgrade options, so that an upgrade will be from Y to O (Premium Economy) but no more after that. Employees on standby (non-revenue)will go directly from economy to executive first.

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