The squeeze of Air Canada’s 787s

Air Canada has joined the ever growing global family of 787-9 operators and, while I generally love the Dreamliner as a passenger, I’m a little bit scared of the Air Canada layout, especially in the back of the aircraft.

Assuming your dream includes a tight squeeze for ~250 of the passengers on board, of course.

The carrier has 298 seats on board across three cabins, one of the highest seat counts on the type. Up front are 30 business class seats in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone/pod layout. Just behind the second doors sits the three rows of premium economy with a 2-3-2 layout and 38 inches of pitch. Those two sections look reasonably nice.

air-canada-787-seatmapAnd then comes the economy class cabin. All 29 rows of it. By comparison United has only 24 rows of coach (including 10 of Economy Plus), but also more business class and no premium economy. Air Canada has an extra row in the last section of the aircraft compared to United, and that part on United is all regular economy already. The Air Canada layout looks much more like LCC Scoot or the ANA domestic configuration than that of a customer-focused, long haul carrier.

Read More: In flight: Across the pond in coach that doesn’t suck

Maybe that’s just the way things are now. Air Canada is not alone in offering 30-31″ pitch and 9-abreast on the 787. Etihad, Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic all have similar layouts. And clearly the trend in the industry is to cram more passengers into the planes; that’s happening nearly everywhere. The 9-abreast 787 layouts are narrower than prior generation aircraft configs and that’s not much fun. Doing it without any additional legroom makes for a much less pleasant flight. And considering that the primary alternative on Air Canada is the 10-abreast 77W, also with tight pitch, it is hard to be too excited about flying with them these days, a far cry from just a few years ago when I was happy to be flying on an Air Canada 767 across the Atlantic.

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

I suppose it could be worse, though. At least the regular Air Canada planes have AVOD at each seat to distract from the squeeze; the Rouge planes don’t even have that.

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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.


  1. There you go again Seth. Don’t you know that no one on BoardingArea flies economy? Only plebes do that.

    In all seriousness, thank you for covering this. I’m an AvGeek at heart but have almost no interest in boarding a 787 because of how awful the configs sound. Air Canada is just making it even worse.

  2. I’ve flown economy in Norwegian’s 9-across 787 from OAK to OSL a couple times, and it really isn’t that bad (and I’m 5’11” and 240lbs, so not a small guy by any measure). I guess being on the west coast, I’m used to flying 6 hours in whatever domestic economy seat is cheapest that day, so an extra few hours isn’t the end of the world.

  3. I always felt that the folks who love the 787s the most are the airlines bean counters. They just love the CASM it delivers (along with the range) – it’s their wettest dream come true. For the passengers, its turning out to be quite a missed opportunity, given that most airlines are now 9 across in Y. While some may offer a somewhat better pitch – that does little when you have barely any room to move your hands.

    Unfortunately, my best interests may lie in booking away from this remarkable feat of engineering because of what the airlines have done with it.

  4. @AnonCHI: Friends don’t let friends fly cattle car! 😉

    @Seth: Just noticed the “Where I’ve Been!” section on the right side (yes, my powers of non-observation are legendary). Why no love for Central America? We have World Heritage sites! And it’s cheap (kinda)! And close to el norte!

    Panama, btw, while considered Central America, is actually either Bogota Norte or Caracas West, depending on to whom you are asking… No credit given.

  5. Man, it is called ECONOMY for a reason! I love to fly as cheap as I can. I can stand the situation for a few hours for the miracle of going over 500 MPH to get to somewhere I want to be, and likely cannot drive to.

  6. Our family of 4 flew the AC 787 over the holidays. I will say I was reasonably excited, but it was one of my worst TATL crossings in recent memory. Room was tight and the seats weren’t the most comfortable. I still prefer the AC 767 and UA 767 in Y for overnight flights as the seats are the most comfortable for me.

  7. I was just looking at seat guru and Air NZ still have a seat pitch of 32″ on the 787s which to me is pretty good for economy much better than 30″ I had to endure on a Qantas 737-800 from SYD to WLG . I think the airlines need to stop treating there passengers like sardines. I would rather not have a meal and have a decent seat pitch which seems to be way Qantas are going. They say it is a full service flight but don’t do mention the awful seat pitch

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