Air Canada is changing its Executive First business class to a staggered layout, installing premium economy seats and squeezing an extra economy class passenger into every row on its newest jets.
Business class passengers on board the airline's factory-fresh Boeing 777-300ER aircraft will see more compact seats in a staggered layout, rather than the current herringbone style as seen on AC's Sydney-Vancouver route.
Refresh yourself on the differences between staggered and herringbone layouts with AusBT's guide to business class seats and configurations
Air Canada's newest jets will be found on Asian and European flights, with Australian flights remaining on the longer range Boeing 777-200LR.
A mixed bag for business class
The new seats mean Air Canada can fit 36 Executive First seats into the space where it used to have 24 seats in the older herringbone layout.
Frequent internatinal business travellers will be familiar with the seats, used on numerous airlines including Swiss, Finnair (on the Airbus A330) Austrian and Brussels Airlines.
The fully flat bed is a plus, but the staggered layout is a relative minus because it doesn't offer direct aisle access for all.
Unfortunately for passengers, the new staggered layout means a return to the "midnight clamber" problem, where people in a window seat have to climb over the person next to them in the aisle to get out when the seats are reclined into beds.
On the plus side, if you're a traveller who dislikes sitting at the slight angle of a herringbone layout, you may prefer the new seats.
The fully flat beds vary in width from 20.6 to 22.5 inches (52.3 to 57 cm) and in bed length from 75 to 78 inches (190.5 to 198 cm).
Taller passengers should note that solo seats in this seating layout tend to have less space in the footwell when in bed mode.
Solid new premium economy cabin
Good news for business travellers whose budgets don't stretch to Executive First: Air Canada will offer three rows of premium economy seats on its new planes.
Despite the CGI-only imagery, the seats look to be towards the higher end of premium economy offerings compared with other airlines.
Seats are 20 inches wide, with a pitch of 38 inches (that's 50.8 cm wide and 96.5 cm in terms of pitch), and laid out in a 2-4-2 configuration — standard for a Boeing 777.
Ultra-narrow economy seats
But regular economy is a disaster for travellers down the back. Air Canada is squashing a tenth passenger into every row on its 777 and cutting seat width by a full inch and a half.
That's a real problem: elbow room can actually be more important than leg room in economy
The new seats are just 17 inches (43.2 cm) wide — that's one of the narrowest in the sky — with correspondingly narrower aisles.
Seat pitch, too, is poor: just 31 inches (78.7 cm).
Taken together, the new economy layout means that Air Canada on these plane will move into the "avoid" category for many savvy flyers.
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