Air Canada and Westjet: What is the pandemic travel of Canada's largest airline from Toronto to Vancouver (updated)-AU review

2021-12-15 00:41:05 By : Ms. Lily Zhao

In Toronto, after experiencing the longest COVID-19 lockdown in the world-nearly 400 days accumulated by the end of indoor dining restrictions earlier this month-we have finally stepped out of the darkest pandemic we hoped for day. The vaccination rate is close to 80%-making us one of the most vaccinated places on the planet-and the slow but continuous reopening strategy is ensuring that life begins to return to some kind of normalcy.

For those of us who are fully vaccinated, this also allows for the relaxation of broader pandemic restrictions (self-imposed or otherwise), and for you, it does mean boarding again a few weeks ago, which is For the first time in 16 months, I traveled to West Vancouver, British Columbia. I must admit-I am not sure what I will get from this experience.

The services of Canada’s two major airlines, Air Canada and WestJet, and their airports have been evolving throughout the pandemic in response to changing government and aviation guidelines to provide the safest among the real and perceived threats of air travel Flying brings us the risk of contracting the virus, which has blocked most parts of the world for more than 16 months.

So what is the experience they currently provide? Is there food? Are there any alcoholic beverages? What disinfection products do they distribute? This article will outline the economic experience of the two airlines-Air Canada flew me from Toronto to Vancouver, and WestJet brought me back.

This article was originally published in July and has now been updated with the November 2021 update. These additions are clearly marked-all other information is from July 2021, but unless otherwise stated, it is still accurate.

I received incredible offers on Air Canada flights, and in a short window, the price of the flight was only a small part of their usual price. Sadly, with the recovery of demand, most flights are now back to normal, but the strange big deal still exists. They also make all flights refundable-at least as flight credits-so you can now sit back and relax when booking with Air Canada. Hope this is something that continues to exist (although we all know it will not!).

After booking, the airline will provide some new pre-travel emails. First, after 48 hours, they asked me to confirm that I was still flying and reminded me that if I needed to make changes, they were free and easy to make changes. About 24 hours later, I received another email, just before the online check-in process started, they told me that this was a very full flight, and if I wanted to change the flight, they would be very easy. It also includes reminders about Covid-19 rules and restrictions. I said I hope this kind of thing can last for a long time?

At the time of check-in, even though I purchased the cheapest economy class fare, I can still choose any available seat on the flight for free. I was able to find an aisle seat in the middle (my first choice)-the last available (a busy flight indeed).

The Westjet experience is completely different. To be honest, they have been lagging behind Air Canada in customer service throughout the pandemic—at least in my experience. I was promised a cash refund (twice!) and then refused a cash refund (also twice!), and Air Canada initially refused to refund—only flight points were offered as an option—but later due to government support Change their attitude and offer a cash refund later in the day.

This trend seems to continue in my first trip in 16 months, because WestJet cancelled and rebooked my flight a few days after I got my ticket—more than a month before the flight . It only leaves after an hour, so it's no big deal-fortunately this is the only change that needs to be made. Although my deal with Westjet is not as good as my deal with Air Canada, it is still a big deal.

Westjet sent out their service reminder about 48 hours before the flight took off-although they did not provide any indication of how busy it was like Air Canada. Maybe it's because there are some empty seats on the plane? Like Air Canada, check in 24 hours before the flight, although they do not allow you to change seats for free despite the standard economy class fare. So you have to accept whatever you get-thank goodness, I have an aisle.

Overall, there is no doubt that Air Canada occupies the supreme position in the pre-flight experience.

Toronto Airport (YYZ)-Air Canada

If you plan to take the UP Express to the airport-Toronto's first-class train service-the first thing to note is that it now runs every 30-60 minutes, depending on the time of day. So please plan your trip accordingly!

To be safe, I arrived at the airport two hours before the flight, which was more than enough time. Although the safety line did not enforce social distancing, which was frustrating, it was very fast and organized. I passed the temperature check (handheld machine on the forehead) and the usual safety X-rays in about 15 minutes. Because I only fly domestically, there is no identity check on the flight before the boarding gate-although they will scan your ticket when you pass the security check.

After the security check, if you wish to use the Air Canada lounge, then you are in luck-YYZ (Pearson) is not yet open. However, there is an AMEX Plaza Premium Lounge open after the security check, which costs US$20 per hour (unless you have a membership).

Update November 2021: The Air Canada Lounge is now open. 

Just like the airline itself, the airport is in a state of constant change in responding to provincial and federal guidelines, so I am pleased to see that there are also many food options in the terminal-from Mill St Brewery to many Starbucks, A&W, Thai Express and more bars and a variety of take-out meal options available on the plane (we were initially told that there will be no meals unless you make a reservation, but this is not the case in the end). The newer "Kensington Market" stalls are not open, but most of them are open (although many only operate at partial capacity).

There is no obvious change in the boarding procedure-you only need to take off the mask for a short time during the identity check at the boarding gate.

At the same time, for the return trip, I took their very regular train service to the airport for $4.25. You can swipe your credit card, buy a one-time ticket from the machine or use your "compass" card-Vancouver's travel card system.

Just like in Toronto, even though I like to conduct random security checks, the security checks are fast-although here they use cameras to check your temperature and require you to keep a certain distance.

Update November 2021: The temperature check does not seem to be in place anymore. They are obviously checking the vaccine passport because it is now a necessary condition for domestic travel, but I was told that it was done randomly-because no one checked me. 

After the security check, everything in the "AB" domestic terminal is open-although there are far fewer options compared to Air Canada Terminal C. But everything is open. There are Starbucks, Carl's jr, Mung Bean Cafe, Wine and Pizza Bar, Stanley Park Brewery. Even with random security checks, it took 5 minutes to pass customs. You can also spend $20 for an hour in the Plaza Lounge, which includes 20 minutes of showers, food and drinks.

Like Air Canada, the boarding procedures have not changed significantly.

Air Canada – Boeing 787-9 – AC119 4 hours and 15 minutes flight time – Toronto to Vancouver

Flying domestically on long-haul jets such as the 787 is usually a pleasure. This trip is no exception. The seat is very comfortable, although it is a full flight, but being able to sit in the aisle, in the middle of the 3-3-3 layout, seems to always make people feel less cramped.

Of course, there are so many people in close contact (this is the first time in 16 months) because the staff has done a good job of ensuring that everyone wears a mask, thus alleviating any anxiety about the experience. They have repeatedly announced that they are required to wear masks throughout the process, and they can only be taken off when eating or drinking. They also tell you that if you dispose of a dirty mask, please use an airsick bag.

As a new part of the flight experience, the crew provided each passenger with a 240-ml water bottle and a “cleaning care package” that contained a 20-ml small container of disinfectant, two wet wipes and An additional disposable mask.

Update November 2021: The packaging has been updated to include a 2 x 2mL sterile gel pack instead of a sterile liquid bottle. The types of masks used are slightly different, but are more or less the same packaging. 

Before takeoff, and even after boarding, I received a lot of mixed information about on-board dining options. When you look at the flight menu online, it indicates that there is food, but the notice elsewhere says otherwise-basically, if you don’t order a meal, you won’t get it, even though they provide water, juice, coffee , Tea and choice of soft drinks. But the menu on board proved to be accurate-and the choices of hot and cold food available for purchase are indeed limited-although there is no alcohol service, at least in economy class. They provide one main service shortly after takeoff and another beverage service one hour before landing.

Update November 2021: Alcohol can now be sold on board. 

Since we arrived 15 minutes earlier, the flight time was hardly shortened by four hours. In-flight entertainment is provided behind each seat, allowing these times to pass by in a flash. Just like the additional instructions, there is now a "skip ad" button before watching a movie or TV show! This seems to be a new feature. You can also use the USB plug to charge your phone during transportation.

Westjet – 737-800 – WS714 flight time 4 hours 5 minutes, Vancouver to Toronto. 

After boarding the plane, the crew issued an announcement about masks-the same rules as Air Canada. Likewise, they did a good job of ensuring that everyone wears a mask during the flight. I appreciate this, because the 3-3 layout makes everything feel more cramped-this is something we are no longer used to!

They don't provide cleaning care kits like AC-instead, they will distribute wipes when you board the plane so you can wipe your seat and area. People would think of this as a supplement to their own cleaning procedures.

You have an AC and USB plug in your seat, but no entertainment (you need their app, which is great). It was a busy flight, but there were a lot of empty seats, especially in the first half of the plane (unfortunately there is no one next to me).

They offer far fewer options than their competitors, but I think they always have. Nonetheless, the available paid options are still limited, with free soft drinks, juices, coffee or tea with pretzels shortly after take-off and one hour before landing. It is also worth mentioning that the partnership with Mcafee is still going on.

Update November 2021: The airline's products are still very limited-only Pringles, hummus and KitKat chocolate bars are available. However, like Air Canada, they are now selling alcohol again. I did ask the flight attendants and they confirmed that they expect to have more food choices soon. 

Although Air Canada’s COVID-19 packaging and updated pre-flight ceremony provided excellent Covid-19 products, in the end both airlines felt relatively unchanged in the face of the new rules. As before the pandemic, Air Canada’s in-flight entertainment and wider food choices still make them a better choice for the two airlines. A simpler flight and seat change system is a bonus.

Both airlines are good at ensuring that people wear masks — ultimately the main way to prevent transmission and the most important way to ensure the safety of all of us. There are bonuses? At a quieter airport (currently), the taxi time on both ends of your flight is usually less-so the overall two-way flight time is reduced to four hours, which is a good time saver from past experience.

All in all, this is a good time to fly-when you stay near other people for such a long period of time there is of course an increased risk, but if you are fully vaccinated and are happy to wear a mask during the flight, the risk is limited. In the end, it will not feel completely different from your past travels. Hope that the mask regulations will last for a while, but no matter how much disinfectant and HEPA filter you use, nothing can protect you better than this. But when we can all enjoy alcohol in the lounge or on the flight again, that's great. Baby steps! And I’m pretty sure that even if I flew a few weeks ago, these products have changed.

Update November 2021: After taking the same flight last week, I can report that most of the above has remained unchanged since the federal domestic travel vaccination regulations came into effect. Due to the general increase in air travel, the flight time is slightly longer, but only about 10 minutes.

Interestingly, despite the Covid-19 vaccine regulations, no one checks my vaccine passport on any route; obviously, this can only be done by random selection at the moment. However, the airline does check a box when you check in online to confirm that you have been vaccinated.

COVID-19 Notice: This article was written as a recommendation for domestic travelers in Canada-at the time of printing, Australian travelers cannot currently leave the country for non-essential purposes-Canada also does not welcome non-essential travelers from Australia (Although this is expected to change in September). As you look ahead to travel, please refer to local and international COVID-19 rules and restrictions.

Header photo: Air Canada's 787 Dreamliner docked at Vancouver's VYR International Airport. The photo was taken by Larry Heath.

The author flew from Canada on two airlines at his own expense.

Take the Air Canada flight to Vancouver on July 10, 2021, and the Westjet flight back to Toronto on July 19, 2021. Take the same flight again on October 30th and November 9th for the November article update. Both airlines are regularly changing their services to comply with COVID-19 restrictions, and you should visit each airline's website for the latest information when traveling. 

Founding editor and publisher of AU reviews. Currently living in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or Instagram @larryheath.