Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Air Canada Business Class - Tel-Aviv-Toronto

Flying a great deal between Tel-Aviv and Toronto, I have been writing some blogs assessing the various flight options – and comparing the services. After doing this for more than a year and a half – I am hard pressed to conclude that anyone can compete with Air Canada on this route.

Air Canada offers regular service between Toronto and Tel-Aviv and competes in that regard only with El Al, Israel’s national airline. Otherwise, you have to change planes in the U.S. or somewhere in Europe.

Starting with economy class, Air Canada comes out quite ahead. Each seat includes a personal screen, an electrical outlet and a USB connection. Although Air Canada does not currently offer internet service on its transatlantic flights (like Lufthansa) – the range of music, video and TV programming is extensive. Although I enjoy the Israeli music on El Al – the sound quality is horrible – and the selection is limited.

The main advantage of flying Air Canada is the Aeroplan program. For a flight between Toronto and Tel-Aviv – you earn approximately 11,500 Aeroplan points. For 15,000 points, you can get a ticket between Toronto and other “short-haul” destinations – such as New York, Chicago, St. Louis (the boundary). For 25,000 points – you can get a ticket from Toronto to anywhere in North America (with payment of a range of ever increasing “fuel surcharges” and taxes).

But more significantly – for 35,000 points – just over 3 flights a year between Israel and Toronto – you can get “Elite” status – which entitles you to free upgrades to first class – subject to availability.

I have been upgraded on a number of occasions over the past year and a half or so – and I have to say – I have never been on better flights.

The seats fold down into completely horizontal beds. They have a mini-barrier – that is almost like a wall for privacy. You have an electrical outlet, a USB Port and your own personal movie and music entertainment system. Unlike Austrian Air – you do not have computer games (chess, space invaders etc.,) but I’ll take the trade-off.

The staff members are exceptional.

Though I ordered a kosher meal, I was prepared to enjoy the special business class dish of pacific salmon with wild rice and grilled zucchini and asparagus. It was preceded by a traditional salad. For dessert – I was given a choice of chocolate molten lava cake or mixed fruit (or both). I was also offered cognac – and a special California Cabernet Sauvignon – which I quite enjoyed.

The main flight attendant assisting me on my most recent flight – was quite friendly. He told me he was proficient in Hebrew, English, French, Spanish, German and Italian – and was now learning Arabic. He could also serve passengers in Yiddish. He was quite polite and readily available – generally a pleasure to have such a competent steward.

The only drawback to Air Canada flights – and it is significant – is that the flights are scheduled as daytime flights from Israel to Toronto. It is a 12 ½ hour flight – leaving Israel at 12:30 p.m. and arriving in Toronto at 5:30 p.m. Toronto time. This kind of flight can really ruin your schedule.

I much prefer the El Al flight times – leaving at about 1 a.m. on Saturday night – and arriving in Toronto at about 6 a.m. El Al’s security is also formidable – as is the patriotic lure of supporting the Jewish State’s national airline. However – the “Matmid” – loyalty program – is terrible compared to Air Canada – and the airplane amenities are sorely lacking. On the positive note – you can sometimes get an El Al ticket for hundreds of dollars cheaper than Air Canada – so these are all considerations that have to be weighed). As mentioned above, I also enjoy the music selection on El Al and the general feeling of being “at home.”

However, for now – I need about 50,000 more points to achieve Air Canada’s “Super Elite” status – and it seems to be a worthy goal – even if I get there by flying cheaper partner airlines like Lufthansa, Austrian Air, US Air (via Philadelphia) or Continental (Via New Jersey). Using the Air Canada entertainment system, I listened to Rush’s Moving Pictures (what a great album! I probably hadn’t listened to it cover to cover in more than 20 years), Eric Clapton – Unplugged, Elton John Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Neil Young’s Greatest Hits. Together with some cognac – and extremely helpful staff – it is hard to imagine a better way to travel the 12 ½ hours back to Canada from Israel.

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