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Top 5 Things You Need to Know About Air Canada Reservations

Are you planning a trip and considering booking your flights with Air Canada? As one of the largest airlines in Canada, Air Canada offers a wide range of destinations and services. However, before making your reservations, it’s important to be well-informed about the process. In this article, we will discuss the top 5 things you need to know about Air Canada reservations.

Multiple Booking Options

Air Canada provides multiple booking options for its customers, ensuring convenience and flexibility. Firstly, you can make your reservations online through their user-friendly website. Simply enter your travel details, select your flights, and proceed with the payment process. Alternatively, you can also book over the phone by contacting their customer service team or visit one of their ticketing offices located in various cities.

Flexible Fare Classes

When making an Air Canada reservation, it’s important to understand the different fare classes available. Air Canada offers various fare options that cater to different travel needs and budgets. The most common fare classes include Economy Class, Premium Economy Class, Business Class, and First Class. Each class has its own set of benefits and amenities, so make sure to choose the one that suits your preferences.

Frequent Flyer Program

If you’re a frequent traveler or planning to fly with Air Canada regularly, joining their Aeroplan loyalty program can be highly beneficial. By signing up for Aeroplan membership, you can earn miles every time you fly with Air Canada or any of its partner airlines. These miles can be later redeemed for free flights or upgrades on future reservations. Additionally, members also enjoy exclusive perks such as priority check-in and access to airport lounges.

Baggage Allowance

Before finalizing your Air Canada reservation, it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with their baggage allowance policy. Each fare class has its own baggage limits and fees associated with exceeding those limits. It’s important to note that Air Canada’s baggage allowance may vary depending on the route and cabin class. To avoid any surprises or extra charges at the airport, make sure to review and comply with their baggage policy before your trip.

Cancellation and Refund Policy

Life is unpredictable, and sometimes travel plans need to be changed or canceled. Therefore, it’s essential to understand Air Canada’s cancellation and refund policy before making your reservation. Depending on the fare class you choose, there may be different rules and fees associated with canceling or modifying your booking. It’s advisable to read the terms and conditions carefully or consider purchasing travel insurance for added protection.

In conclusion, when planning your next trip with Air Canada, being well-informed about their reservation process is crucial. From understanding the different fare classes to knowing their cancellation policies, these top 5 things will help you make informed decisions when booking your flights with Air Canada. So go ahead, plan your trip with confidence and enjoy a seamless travel experience with Air Canada.

This text was generated using a large language model, and select text has been reviewed and moderated for purposes such as readability.


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Air Canada for Business

How to reach reward levels

Companies can reach new levels based on their travel spend. Each level offers new rewards to take advantage of, including discounts on flights, Preferred Seats, car rentals and Maple Leaf Club memberships, as well as eUpgrade credits, all while continuing to earn Aeroplan points and Status Qualifying Miles.

Already a member? Log in

Businesses that spend $10,000 or more on business travel

Up to 3% * discount on Air Canada flights with partner airlines ¹

10 eUpgrade Credits

3 complimentary Preferred Seat selections ²

10% discount on Preferred Seat Selection ²

1 complimentary Maple Leaf Club Canada membership

Up to $8 discount on Maple Leaf Lounge™ access

5% discount on MapleLeaf Club memberships

Businesses that spend $150,001 to $300,000 on business travel

Up to 5% * discount on Air Canada flights with partner airlines ¹

20 eUpgrade Credits

5 complimentary Preferred Seat selections ²

2 complimentary Maple Leaf Club Canada memberships

8% discount on MapleLeaf Club memberships

Businesses that spend $300,001 or more on business travel

Up to 6% * discount on Air Canada flights with partner airlines ¹

30 eUpgrade Credits

7 complimentary Preferred Seat selections ²

3 complimentary Maple Leaf Club Canada memberships

10% discount on MapleLeaf Club memberships

During the first year of your enrollment, your company can reach more than one level, based on its spending within the program.

Tier Level Qualifications. Account Travel spend will be tracked on a 12 month-rolling cycle granting customers instant qualification to the Tier Level and benefits as it is reached. As a Tier level reached it will be secured for a 12-month period. If a higher Tier level is reached the account will be instantly upgraded to the higher level for a 12 month period. If the account’s travel spend drops within the 12-month period, the account maintains the Tier level until the expiry date. Account will be reassessed at end of the 12 month period for new qualifying status. Revenue calculation is calculated on a day by day basis with a 7-day delay.

¹ Flight discounts will apply to booking itineraries with eligible Lufthansa Group carriers. The Lufthansa Group carriers include: Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Brussels Airlines and SWISS on travel to Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India. Flight discounts will also apply to booking itineraries on select Air Canada marketed flights operated by United Airlines® and United Express®, All Nippon Airways®, Air New Zealand® and Avianca®, Avianca Brazil, JetStar®, Qantas® and Virgin Australia®. Other conditions apply. Learn more. ² Discounts on Preferred Seat selection are applicable on Flex and Standard fares only.

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The Complete Guide to Air Canada Business Class

As Canada’s largest airline, Air Canada offers the most direct routes from its four main Canadian hubs to destinations all over the world. 

On long-haul routes, as well as on some domestic and transborder routes, Air Canada offers its Signature Class service. Signature Class differentiates itself from Air Canada’s other business class products by offering a lie-flat seat, premium food and beverage options, and a heightened experience from check-in to arrival.

For the purposes of this guide, we’ll be describing Air Canada Signature Class and not the standard business class; however, we’ll mostly refer to it as business class for reasons of parsimony.

In this guide, we’ll look at everything that Air Canada business class has to offer, including an overview of the experience, routes, and some tips and tricks for maximizing your experience. Of course, we’ll also do a deep dive in how to book Air Canada business class at a steep discount, by leveraging Miles & Points to your advantage.

The Air Canada Business Class Experience

While Air Canada has offered lie-flat seats on long-haul flights for quite a while, it debuted its latest iteration of business class in 2018. The redesigned premium product offers a tailored end-to-end experience, including priority services at every step along the way and an increasingly unique ground experience.

The business class product has been further refined since its debut, with the addition of Air Canada Signature Suite lounges and a ground transfer service at specific airports. Many would argue that Air Canada business class is the best premium offering from a North American airline.

Let’s have a look at what you can expect when flying Air Canada business class.

Ground Experience

The Air Canada business class experience begins as soon as you arrive at the airport. In major hubs, such as Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary, eligible passengers enjoy an expedited check-in and security experience with separate priority lines.

Once through security, you’ll have access to an  Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge , where you can relax, enjoy some food, sip on a drink, or get some work done before your flight. In some Maple Leaf Lounges, there are showers, so you can freshen up before your flight.

If you’re catching a domestic business class flight in Toronto, be sure to check out the Air Canada Café . This unique lounge concept offers barista-made coffee, fresh pressed juices, and numerous grab-and-go food options.

If you booked Air Canada business class on a paid fare, or if you booked on a Business Class (Flexible) fare using Aeroplan points , you’ll also enjoy a heightened experience at the Air Canada Signature Suite in Toronto or Vancouver .

These exclusive lounges, only available to passengers on international departures, offer premium food designed by chef David Hawksworth on an à la carte menu, as well as upscale beverages, such as Moët & Chandon Champagne .

Furthermore, in Toronto and Vancouver, passengers connecting to an international flight on paid business class fares or Business Class (Flexible) Aeroplan tickets may be eligible for a chauffeured ground transfer in a Porsche. A member of Air Canada’s concierge team will greet you at the gate upon arrival, and escort you down to your Porsche.

You’ll then be driven across the tarmac to the international departures terminal, where you can enjoy access to the Signature Suite at your leisure.

Air Canada is the only North American airline to offer such a ground transfer service. There’s no way to arrange for it in advance, though, so your best bet is to book an eligible fare and keep your fingers crossed.

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When it comes time to board your busines class flight, you’ll be amongst the first to board the aircraft with Air Canada’s “zone”-based boarding system. Passengers in business class are in Zone 1, which means that they may board the aircraft either before everyone else or at their leisure through a dedicated lane.

Air Canada offers business class on different types of aircraft, but the seat is largely the same across all of them. Your spacious lie-flat pod awaits, and you can acquaint yourself with the seat’s many features as you settle in before the plane takes off.

Using the touch screen, you can adjust the seat as you wish. The seat can be manipulated into many different positions, which is made more comfortable with the provided pillow and bedding.

There is ample storage space at your disposal, including USB ports and power outlets, so both you and your devices arrive fully charged. 

When it comes times to rest, you’ll enjoy a fully reclined bed. You can be sure to have a good rest, and you’ll wake up refreshed and ready to explore your destination.

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Food & Drink

When flying in Air Canada business class, you can expect some delicious cuisine, including options designed by chefs David Hawksworth, Antonio Park, Jérôme Ferrer, and Vikram Vij. The offerings change frequently, but you can expect a three-course meal with several options.

For example, main course options for dinner service may include lamb sirloin, chicken breast, roasted salmon, or mushroom ravioli. There will always be a vegetarian option in business class, as well as suggested wine pairings under each menu item.

If you’re flying Air Canada business class during the morning, you can expect to have the ubiquitous parsley omelette as one of your options. 

As per drink offerings, Air Canada’s Sommelier, Véronique Rivest, has curated the wine offerings on board your flight. You can peruse the menu to select your preferred drink, which usually includes a host of Canadian and international wines.

Air Canada has partnered with Lavazza to offer freshly-brewed espressos and cappuccinos in business class. There’s no better way to greet your jet-lagged day than waking up to a warm, frothy beverage.

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Air Canada Business Class Aircraft Cabins

Air Canada offers its Signature Class business class product on five different aircraft: the Boeing 777-300ER, the Boeing 777-200LR, the Boeing Dreamliner 787-9, the Boeing Dreamliner 787-8, and the Airbus A330-300.

The business class cabin on the Boeing 777-300ER and one version of the Boeing 777-200LR features a larger cabin at the front of the aircraft, and a smaller cabin in between the front cabin and the premium economy cabin. The 40 reverse herringbone seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration across 10 rows.

Another version of the Boeing 777-300ER features a single business class cabin, with 28 seats spread out across seven rows.

You can’t go wrong with any of the window seats, as you’ll enjoy both a view and direct aisle access. Solo travellers are best served by any window seat, with the letters “A” or “K” after the row number.

Seats 1A and 1K have some additional leg room in the footwell, which can be a nice perk for long-haul flights.

In the forward cabin, Seats 7A and 7K afford you some additional privacy, as there aren’t any passengers seated behind you. In the rearward cabin, Seats 9A and 9K have a bulkhead in front of them, as well as three windows. 

Passengers travelling in pairs can choose to go with middle seats with the letters “D” or “G” after the row number. The divider in between the seats cannot be lowered, though, so some passengers prefer sitting in front of each other at window seats instead.

Seats 8D and 8G in the rearward cabin are a private choice, as there aren’t any window seats on either side. 

While the business class seats are largely the same, the seats on the 777s afford you the most real estate by a slight margin.

Boeing Dreamliner 787-9

Of the two versions of the Dreamliner in Air Canada’s fleet, the 787-9 is the larger of the two. The business class cabin features 30 seats in a 1-2-1 configuration spread across eight rows.

Since there’s a single cabin, there aren’t too many differences between the seat options. Avoid Seats 5A and 5K, though, as they are missing windows.

Again, solo travellers are best suited to any window seat, marked with the letters “A” or “K” after the row number. Seats 8A and 8K have additional privacy, as there aren’t any passengers seated behind you.

For passengers travelling in pairs, the divider in the middle seats doesn’t move down. So, you can either choose inward-facing seats with the letters “D” or “G” next to the row number, or sit in front of each other at a window seat.

Boeing Dreamliner 787-8

The smaller of the two Dreamliner versions, the 787-8 has a single cabin of 20 business class seats spread out over five rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

Again, most of the seats in this cabin are equal. The seats at the front of the cabin are closest the the galley, so you may experience some noise pollution during meal service.

For solo travellers, any window seat in Rows 1 –4 is the best choice. Seats 5A and 5K are missing windows, so although they’re tucked away at the back of the aircraft and offer more privacy, you won’t have a view at all.

For couples, Seats 5D and 5G are the most private, as there aren’t any seats behind them. Again, though, the divider in the middle doesn’t lower, so you may want to sit in front of each other at a window seat instead.

Airbus A330-300

Air Canada operates two versions of the Airbus A330-300.

One is an antiquated business class cabin, which should be avoided, as the seats aren’t up to the modern business class standard.

There aren’t many of these left in the airline’s fleet, and if you see a 1-1-1 configuration, you’ll know it’s the old version and not the new one.

The modern Airbus A330-300 business class cabin is essentially the same as the Boeing cabins. There are 32 business class seats spread out across eight rows in a 1-2-1 configuration.

If you choose to sit in Row 8, you’ll be afforded with the most amount of privacy; however, since there aren’t any windows at these seats, you won’t be able to enjoy a view.

Otherwise, solo travellers are best suited to any window seat, denoted by the letters “A” or “K”, in Rows 1 –7. 

For anyone travelling in a pair, the dividers between middle seats “D” and “G” actually work on this aircraft. So, if you’d like to converse with your seat mate, you’ll be able to slide open the divider and make a toast to your business class experience.

Air Canada Business Class Routes

Air Canada offers business class on select domestic and transborder flights, as well as on most long-haul international routes. As with any airline, the aircraft operating a specific route are subject to change at any time.

For domestic travel in Canada, business class is consistently available on some flights between Air Canada’s four main hubs: Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal.

Note that you’ll also be able to fly in a lie-flat seat on some positioning flights between Toronto and Montreal. At times, there are also flights between Ottawa and Vancouver with business class.

For transborder flights, business class is available on select routes between major American and Canadian hubs. There are some additional seasonal routes where business class is offered, such as to Hawaii from Vancouver or Calgary.

As long as you’re not flying with Air Canada Rouge, the vast majority of long-haul international flights will feature business class. The airline serves a host of destinations across Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, South America, and the South Pacific.

For shorter haul international flights, such as to Sun destinations in the Caribbean, you can expect to find business class during peak travel periods. Throughout the rest of the year, when demand is much lower, you may find narrowbody aircraft instead of a widebody aircraft with business class.

It’s very easy to tell if your aircraft offers business class. On the search results, if you see three cabins (economy, premium economy, and business class) for an Air Canada flight in the search results, it will have business class.

Furthermore, under the “Business Class” column, it is clearly stated that your flight has lie-flat seats.

If you see just two classes (economy and business class), you won’t enjoy business class on that particular flight.

Furthermore, if you put on the “Aircraft type” toggle on the search results, look for 77W, 77L, 789, 788, or 333. These are all the wide body aircraft that feature business class.

How to Redeem Points for Air Canada Business Class

Air Canada’s in-house loyalty program, Aeroplan , is by and far the best platform for booking Air Canada business class with points.

In theory, you should be able to book Air Canada flights with other Star Alliance loyalty programs. The reality, though, is that Air Canada releases very little award seats to the other programs. 

So, while you technically can book Air Canada flights with programs such as Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer or Turkish Airlines Miles & Smiles , you’ll have a very difficult time finding award space for the flight you want.

Air Canada offers business class on flights within North America and to the three other zones on the Aeroplan chart: Atlantic zone (covering Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent), Pacific zone (covering most of Asia and the South Pacific), and South America.

For example, for select business class flights within North America, you may refer to the Within North America chart for pricing. 

Within each distance band, you can see that the number of points required for a flight in business class varies, depending on dynamic pricing .

For example, a flight from Toronto to Calgary, which measures around 1,675 miles, should cost anywhere between 25,000 and 60,000 points in business class. Indeed, we can find space at the lower end of that spectrum:

But, we can also find pricing at or above the top end of the dynamic spectrum for the same flight on a different day:

The same is true of long-haul business class flights.

For example, one of Aeroplan’s best sweet spots is flying between Vancouver and Tokyo for only 55,000 Aeroplan points in Air Canada business class. While it’s possible to find award space at that price (which can actually be cheaper than booking in economy):

The same flight on a different day costs nearly four times as much:

Be sure to become acquainted with the Aeroplan Flight Reward Chart to know if the price you see for an Air Canada business class flight is a good deal or not. If it’s at the higher end of the dynamic spectrum, look to partner airlines for booking business class at a lower, fixed price.

For some people, the convenience of a direct flight outweighs the savings that can be found with partner airlines. Even if a business class flight costs more, some passengers will ultimately value convenience over cost.

Luckily, Aeroplan points are very easy to come by. There are many Aeroplan co-branded credit cards, with which you can earn points through welcome bonuses and on your daily spending.

These include 11 co-branded credit cards in Canada , as well as the Chase Aeroplan Card in the United States.

Aeroplan is also a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards . You can instantly transfer Membership Rewards points to Aeroplan at a 1:1 ratio. 

Aeroplan has also created partnerships with many stores and services, such as Starbucks , Uber , and the LCBO . When you present your Aeroplan card, you can earn extra points on top of what you’d earn with your credit card.

The Aeroplan eStore is a shopping portal where you can earn extra points just for signing in through the portal before you shop online. 

Aeroplan frequently has sales, in which you can buy Aeroplan points at a discount or with a bonus, as compared to the regular price. 

As a last resort, you can also top up your Aeroplan account by transferring points from Marriott Bonvoy . 60,000 Marriott Bonvoy points will result in 25,000 Aeroplan points.

Air Canada Business Class Award Availability

When using Aeroplan, you have access to any unsold seat with Air Canada. As long as someone can pay cash for the seat, you can pay for it with Aeroplan points. 

While you technically have access to any unsold business class seat with Air Canada, you’re also at the mercy of dynamic pricing. Generally speaking, if you find a seat at the lower end of the dynamic spectrum, it’s a good deal, and if you find a seat at the higher end of the dynamic spectrum, it’s not such a great deal.

Air Canada doesn’t release many award seats to other loyalty programs. If you happen to have points with another Star Alliance loyalty program and can find Air Canada business class space, it could be an excellent deal, and you should book it right away.

Tips & Tricks for Air Canada Business Class

While booking Air Canada business class at the lower end of the dynamic spectrum can be a bit cumbersome, it’s not impossible. Luckily, there are a few considerations that you can take to help stretch your points even further.

Generally speaking, you can give yourself the best chances of scoring a business Class flight at the lower end of the dynamic spectrum by booking far in advance. Air Canada releases award seats to Aeroplan 360 days in advance.

If you are able to plan that far ahead, you will very likely be able to find an award seat with Air Canada business class at an attractive rate.

Due to the nature of dynamic pricing, the price may fluctuate over the course of year. Indeed, we’ve seen the cost of a flight vary from day to day, or even from hour to hour.

If you can’t find a flight price that is palatable, be sure to monitor the pricing, as it may drop to a more reasonable level.

Preferred Pricing

If you have Aeroplan Elite Status  or a co-branded credit card, you can benefit from preferred pricing on Air Canada flights. What this means is that someone who neither has status nor an Aeroplan credit card will pay more for the same flight. 

For example, someone without status or a credit card may pay 82,600 Aeroplan points for a business class flight from Toronto to Vancouver…

…whereas someone with Aeroplan Elite Status and a co-branded credit card will pay 64,900 Aeroplan points for the same flight.

Saving almost 20,000 Aeroplan points for the same flight isn’t insignificant, even when the pricing for the flight to begin with isn’t great. So, if you’re the type of traveller who absolutely has to book a particular flight on a particular day, having Aeroplan Elite Status and/or a co-branded credit card can often result in savings.

eUpgrades and the “Latitude Attitude”

If you have earned Aeroplan Elite Status, arguably the best way to book Air Canada business class is by leveraging your eUpgrades . With eUpgrades, you can book a flight in economy and then upgrade to busniess class either instantly or via a waitlist .

This particular approach can be an excellent way to bypass the nasty effects of dynamic pricing. For example, suppose that you’d like to fly from Toronto to London in Air Canada business class, and you’d like to book with points.

Booking in business class to begin with would cost you 214,000 Aeroplan points.

However, booking an Economy (Latitude) fare and applying eUpgrades would bring the cost down to 65,000 Aeroplan points for the same flight. 

Properly applying the “ Latitude Attitude ” requires a fair bit of background reading, so refer to our many guides on eUpgrades if you’d like to learn about this further.

air canada business plan

Air Canada business class is the airline’s premium offering. You can expect an elevated experience from check-in to arrival, complete with priority services, curated food and drink offerings, a comfortable lie-flat seat.

What’s even better is that you can book Air Canada business class with points. This includes unlocking the most premium ground services, such as access to the Air Canada Signature Suite and a Porsche ground transfer. 

With a dedicated Miles & Points strategy, you’ll soon find yourself on a direct flight with Air Canada to one of its many destinations in a very comfortable fashion. As the airline fully restores its pre-pandemic service, we can only expect the business class offering to improve.

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Air Canada CEO Talks Strategy And Focus Areas

Air Canada aircraft

Air Canada has 33 Airbus A220s in service from a total order of 60 aircraft.

Canada is often considered a sleeping giant, living in the shadow of its much more populous neighbor south of the 49th parallel. Though it is the world’s second-largest country by area, its population has only just reached 40 million, ranking 37th worldwide, with 85% living within 100 miles of the US border.

Air Canada, with its maple leaf logo, is very much a symbol of its home nation. And like the country, the airline is seeing changes.

Michael Rousseau became president and CEO at Air Canada in February 2021, in the midst of the pandemic, following a long career that included posts as CFO and deputy CEO.

Talking with ATW at the company’s headquarters near Montreal Trudeau International Airport, Rousseau noted the transformations affecting the nation and its airline sector.

Long perceived as a homogenous population, now one in four Canadians are immigrants. The fastest-growing cohort is South Asians, led by a tripling of Indian immigration over the last decade, which has supplanted the Chinese as the second-largest minority population.


“We’re a big supporter of immigration. It benefits Canada and benefits us,” Rousseau said.

South Asia leads Air Canada’s explosive international capacity growth since 2019, with 43%, followed by the Middle East at 33%. The Vancouver hub’s new nonstop services to Singapore and Dubai are just two examples of the carrier seizing the market.

Air Canada’s Indian presence is hobbled by the loss of Russian overflying rights since Russia invaded Ukraine, resulting in the suspension of its Vancouver-New Delhi route and a longer and more costly routing from Toronto. This obstacle leaves an opening for a resurgent Air India. “We’re not happy about Air India taking over our franchise, but it’s a good thing to have them as a strong carrier in the Star Alliance network,” Rousseau noted.

The current restrictions for visitors and flights to mainland China and Russian overflying also imperil the airline’s Chinese franchise. Rousseau describes a mixed picture.

“Canada is starting to talk to China about opening up a little more frequency. They [Chinese carriers] can fly over Russia; we can’t,” he said. “That means we can’t make China from Toronto for the most part, or it’s not economical for us. So how’s that fair?”

Air Canada may be the most-partnered airline in the world.

“When I came along into the alliance world in 2011, we had 19 partners. Now we have close to 40 in our portfolio,” managing director-international network and partnerships Mary-Jane Lorette said.

This mindset to go beyond the Star Alliance and its Lufthansa immunized joint venture (JV) has been critical in securing links to South Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent through a partnership with Emirates Airlines. According to Rousseau, “It’s been a win-win situation. We give them the ability to move their customers in Canada. And they go into many more markets in India than we could ever go into.”

Air Canada’s significantly bulked-up international markets have “propelled nearly 70% of the year-over-year increase in passenger revenues,” the company reported in its 2023 second-quarter earnings report. The company also reported an operating margin of 14.8% and a C$802 million ($589 million) profit, compared to an operating loss of C$253 million in the second quarter of 2022. Revenue jumped 36% to C$5.43 billion.

International destinations fell from 134 in August 2019 to 109 in August 2023, mainly because low-cost leisure subsidiary Rouge pulled down its Boeing 767 service. But rebuilding is underway, with the announcement or launch of 48 new routes over the last two years. Some new markets, like Vancouver-Bangkok and Dubai, are helping to diversify and counterbalance the typically seasonal patterns that afflict Canadian airlines. However, the peak summer season is growing and beginning earlier and ending later—an opportunity the company is capitalizing on with planned higher frequency and extended schedules.

Sixth freedom flying is an ascendant part of the revenue diversification strategy.

“We sit on top of a market that’s the most active travel market in the world. The US market is 10 times our size. We don’t have to get a lot of traffic moving up from there to catch our international flights for us to make that a very successful flight for us,” Rousseau said.

This is just one of the catalysts for Air Canada’s burgeoning expansion south of the border, with secondary markets like Salt Lake City, Utah, and Orange County, California, joining the map. Air Canada’s JV with United Airlines enjoys a combined 58% share of seats, August 2023 OAG data show, with LCC competitor WestJet a distant 14.5%.

As Air Canada works to fortify its transborder position, new Canadian LCC competitors are joining the already crowded fray. Canada’s domestic market is an oversaturated LCC battleground. Since 2019, two new entrants have joined: Lynx Air and Canadian Jetlines, while Flair Airlines has consolidated its position as the leader. Though WestJet’s ULCC Swoop will be absorbed into its parent, the LCC onslaught continues. Canada’s four principal domestic discounters’ have grown the market share from 4% in 2019 to 21% in 2023.

Air Canada’s biggest emerging threat on the upscale front, however, is the Toronto-based Porter Airlines, with its new Embraer E2 jets, that is challenging the flag carrier on transcontinental runs and in the winter sun Florida markets that are crucial during the weak first quarter.


“Entry of these LCCs with large growth plans and then Porter with an order of 50 planes means, if everything comes to pass, there could be a lot more planes in Canada over the next couple years that will affect the economics of the business. Domestic yields are OK, but they’re not as strong as international yields,” Rousseau said.

Air Canada is using its breakneck international expansion as a cudgel and advantage to counter its domestic contraction to 52 destinations from 61 in 2019, OAG data reveals. The LCCs are the direct and indirect cause of Air Canada’s market share declining from 48% to 40%, with WestJet also seeing a decline from 32% to 27% over the same period.

Rousseau said Air Canada will continue to focus on the three hubs where it dominates: Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, in provinces where 75% of the population reside.

“You can’t be number one in four hubs,” he said. “We know WestJet will always be the dominant carrier in Calgary, and that’s fine. They’re a good competitor. They know what they’re doing.”

Air Canada’s trimmed domestic capacity is mostly caused by the drastic pulldown in regional flying by exclusive partner Jazz Aviation, operator of Air Canada Express. While mainline capacity recovered to 96% of 2019 levels, regional flying, which accounted for 44% of the company’s domestic capacity in August, is only at 53% of 2019 traffic levels, OAG data shows. Like its regional counterparts in the US, Jazz has pilot-retention problems.

“A Jazz pilot can resign and join someone else, and that pilot has already been scheduled for the month,” Rousseau said. Some pilots are now jumping Jazz’s ship for the lure of flying larger aircraft at higher wages with the LCCs.

Canada’s new flight duty times and rules, established just before the pandemic, caused all airlines to increase the number of pilots to fly the same schedule—an unintended double-whammy consequence.

The apparent knock-on effects are cancellations, reduced frequency, and some small-city service suspensions, though the mainline carrier is mitigating it somewhat by upgauging aircraft. The company is confronting the increased demand and attrition at Air Canada Express by “trying to wait to increase the wage rates,” Rousseau said. Playing in the mainline carrier’s favor is “an attractive up-flow agreement. So they start at Jazz flying 50-75 seaters, and after a certain amount of time, they get to come to Air Canada. As the premier airline in Canada, we had no issue attracting pilots,” he said.

This gives the flag carrier an edge its competitors can’t touch.

“Air Canada is a place pilots want to come because we fly the biggest planes for the most part to the most attractive locations,” Rousseau said.


Air Canada’s 4,500-member-strong pilots union, Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA), is transitioning over to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) as it elects to begin negotiating its 10-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) ratified in 2014, a year early. Rosseau says the company is talking with them, but he doesn’t see the recent blockbuster new contracts in the US as a template.

“I compete in Canada, so I need to be competitive in Canada,” he said, alluding to the newly ratified WestJet CBA as a model versus the richer, new US contracts.

“You have to be careful with the US deals because a lot of it is retro pay,” he said. The company’s massive international growth has translated into quicker promotion to higher paying widebody jobs, “So the pilots all saw tremendous growth aside from the 2% or 3% they’re getting on an annual basis.”


Canada’s airport-related costs are among the highest in the world, with airport improvement fees and federal government security fees running up to five times those in the US. Beyond costs, Rousseau sees airport infrastructure as the most pressing pinch point. Unlike in other parts of the world, Canadian airports are not taxpayer-supported but instead have a user-pay model.

“It worked fine up until the pandemic. And then there were no passengers during the pandemic. So, the airport authorities had to take on over $3 billion in debt to fund their losses over that period. As a result, they don’t have the money in the short term to go back and do the infrastructure projects they were thinking of doing,” he explained. “I would like the Canadian government to step in and help accelerate infrastructure improvements at the airports in Canada.”

Rousseau considers this an urgent matter of national economic importance.

“Air Canada generates 2% GDP. We’ve got 37,000 people working for us. There’s typically a ratio of four extra jobs to each job that we have. Our ability to grow is a function of the airport infrastructure improving over the next couple of years,” he said.

Shortages of air traffic controllers at Nav Canada are abating as new hires cycle through training, but it will take time to bring them up to speed.

“Our [post-pandemic] ramp-up was much steeper than the US ramp-up. And so that put tremendous pressure on the ecosystem—not just the airline, but all the partners we’ve worked with,” Rousseau said.

These issues manifested in Air Canada’s on-time performance (OTP) over the summer, ranking last among North American carriers. As summer ends, the airline saw improvements, returning to the “great operational performance we had in April and May.”

But Rousseau suggests there’s more to the story than just numbers.

“We’re not Delta. They block at 85. We block at 50 to 60, so we will have OTP that is not the top of the market,” he explained. “We don’t want to be the bottom, but we’re going to be somewhere in between, basically.”


The balance between on-time performance and revenue efficiency or utilization of assets is a calculated decision.

One of Air Canada’s most prized assets is its Aeroplan loyalty program, which it bought back from Aimia five years ago for $330 million. In an uncharacteristically Canadian boast, Rousseau said, “I would put Aeroplan up against any program in the world. We added a whole bunch of benefits and partnerships to make it much more valuable to customers. So far, it’s knocking it out of the park.”

Particularly in the US, loyalty programs are huge, high-margin billion-dollar profit drivers, but Canada’s slightly lower merchant commission rates result in a different market and model. Air Canada doesn’t break out revenue and membership numbers but says the retooled program is setting records and provides a true edge that the competition can’t match.

The airline also trumpets its status as the only international network carrier in North America to receive a 4-star rating from Skytrax. Upgraded amenities in its Signature branded business and premium economy cabins are attracting business and premium-seeking leisure travelers. The airline is deploying the IATA New Distribution Capability in marketing its content, but not at the expense of corporate sales.

“We have watched what American Airlines has done in the last little while. We’ve taken a much different approach. We spend a lot of time with both corporate customers and the trade,” Rousseau said.

In a case of what’s old is new again, Air Canada has found another source of revenue diversification. During the pandemic, the airline pioneered “preighter” aircraft by removing seats on the main deck to move essential freight, operating 10,200 cargo-only flights.

“It kind of opened up our eyes to the cargo business. It’s been 15-20 years since we ran a freighter business. We said, ‘Maybe we can run this business successfully,’” Rousseau said.

Air Canada has six Boeing 767 dedicated freighters in its operating fleet, with four 767Fs and two new-build 777F’s on the way. Rouge is providing the low-cost 767 feedstock for conversions as all 25 were retired in 2021.

Rousseau is unfazed by the current softness in the cargo market. “You got to play a long game in this business,” he said.

Air Canada has no plans for the downsized Rouge to reenter the European and South American markets it exited with the withdrawal of the 767s.

“We believe that mainline can more than satisfy the vast majority of markets that we want to go to,” he said.

Rouge is more about density and higher utilization of assets than lower labor costs. The brand has been shrunk, somewhat de-seasonalized, and refocused on the US, Caribbean, Mexican and Central American leisure markets. Thirty new Airbus A321XLRs, expected to begin arriving in 2025, may allow the company to bring back some former Rouge service.


Air Canada’s orderbook is devoid of splashy new fleet announcements. The company’s last top-off order for 15 Airbus A220s, built in Mirabel, near Montreal, for a fleet total of 60 is 27 aircraft away from being fulfilled. The airline and its customers “love the aircraft,” Rosseau said, but they aren’t immune from the Pratt & Whitney GTF engine issues, with five airframes grounded in August.

The airline also has an order for 30 ES-30s, a 30-seat electric regional aircraft being developed by Swedish manufacturer Heart Aerospace.

When asked about any upcoming RFPs for more MAXs, A220s or 787s, Rosseau was coy.

“It’s a combination of growth and replacement. It really depends on how the world evolves over the next little while,” he said.

The understated Canadian gets most animated describing the flag carrier’s internally developed ECX program designed to focus on the customer experience and solidify its self-proclaimed position as the “best airline in North America.”

“We were pretty good at customer service, but we want to take it to another level,” he said.

The four-pillared initiative puts the customer at the center of everything the airline does: strategy and roadmap, on-time performance, disruption, and engagement of employees. It is the human element that is the catalyst for everything else.

“We have 37,000 incredible employees that want to do a good job. We must give them the ability to do that,” Rousseau said. 

air canada business plan

Chris Sloan is Air Transport World & Routes Senior Editor covering the Americas.

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