So last week I flew Westjet east to Ottawa and returned west on Air Canada. That sounds like it’s backwards, but hey, it’s the way it worked out. The situation being such that Westjet didn’t have a flight at a time I wanted, it’s been a while since I’ve flown with the airline. I hadn’t seen the leather seats and in-seat-back screens they have been harping about, but I had an experience with an early version of Air Canada’s screens – which favorably impressed me.
Let’s start with Air Canada:
Big screen – fills a fair bit of the back chair, I’d say about 10″ and in wide screen format. High resolution (pix/cm) – I’d say at least 400 lines v. total and nice contrast – tilt angle almost not needed as it’s visible at a fairly wide angle. They offer you free headphones that you can keep (cheap, but hey – it’s free) and everything on the menu is free. You get a decent selection of movies – stuff in the range of soon to be on DVD to old classic flicks. Lots of “TV” to pick from – but it’s not TV, it’s on demand programming arranged in channels with numbers – they try to categorize, then stick a number on it so you still have to browse through everything. Pretty impressed with what was there once you do take the time to browse – I even managed to find British programing such as “Top Gear” and “The IT Crowd” which I’m currently trying to find more of as it has some promise.
They still have some bugs to work out and features to implement. The map is just a map – it doesn’t show you where you are or give you any other details of your flight. I’m still seeing unavailable programming – such as a current news update, but they have filled in a lot of holes since I last got to play with one of these 1/2 a year ago. There are intermittent problems with the on board network – sometimes it’s great, sometimes it’s like watching a really crappy feed over the internet, out of sync and with blocky data loss. A reboot seemed to help in my case – makes me wonder if it’s windoze based.
Is this really a perk that AC is giving you? Not really. You sit through 2-3 minutes of commercials before you get to watch your program – sometimes the same commercial in both English and French. Yay. I will give them a thumbs up for at least not interspersing the shows with commercials – once you get past the initial barrage, you watch uninterrupted.
Westjet – the hazards of being an early adopter:
I was expecting good things from Westjet’s screens and was disappointed. You can see right away that Westjet was earlier out of the gate – by the much smaller and lower resolution (pix/cm) screen, in 4:3 format. This is going to kill them in the long run. My impression didn’t improve much on turning on the screen. It’s got a limited vertical view angle, and the tilt is not enough to compensate for dickheads who insist of playing “chair goes recline, chair goes up” all through the flight. You also have to pay for a headset ($3) of which I did not partake, as you also have to pay for movies (around $5 if I recall correctly).
Westjet does offer you true TV though, so you can catch the news, watch a hockey game, etc – anything that Bell happens to have on during your flight. Why only “basic” cable is beyond me. One thing I didn’t mention compared to AC is the touch screens – AC has them and uses them to good effect (but needs some improvement) – WJ gives you up and down buttons on your arm rest for volume and channel. WJ does have one other benefit in that they have a pretty cool map showing you where you are in your flight. This is great if you like to look out the window and figure out what is below you – the map is just good enough to help you figure out at least the big stuff – and it’s just overall good in getting a sense of how far along you are.
Screen smackdown verdict:
Air Canada, by a landslide. I can live with the commercials, but I ain’t going to pay bucks for a few movies I’m only luke warm on anyways. I’d rather read then. Westjet should just give up on charging for their stuff – they are behind, and falling further behind as AC gets more of it’s planes outfitted with these new screens. AC has room for growth with things such as “games” which I’m not sure what that’s going to be, but I’m interested to see what they come up with. All Westjet can really do is add more channels and stop charging for stuff.
All the other stuff to compare
I had hoped the leather seats of Westjet would be more comfortable. I’ll give them a 4/10 vs 3/10 for a standard seat. Oh well.
It’s kind of spooky, but as I am writing this, I just got an email from Westjet informing me that they are giving me a credit for my whole flight with them – as they had to cancel the flight I was on and put me on a much later flight. Why you might ask? Well, that was the same plane that skidded off the runway in Ottawa the previous evening to my flight, so no surprise that I’m informed that the flight has been canceled due to “emergency mechanical maintenance” I can only hope that is the closest I ever get to being in an airline accident. At least Westjet phoned me in the morning to tell me of this, and booked a later flight in the day for me, so I could just sit at home for a while longer instead of at the airport. Contrast this to my fubar’d Air Canada flight to Toronto last year, where I waited on standby in the airport all day, having not made my flight *despite* the flight not being canceled or delayed (the plane sent was smaller than expected) to only get a voucher for 1/2 my flight cost, after standing in line for an hour to find out what the hell was going on.
Oh and nothing has changed lately either in Air Canada service. My AC flight to Calgary was delayed for 1/2 hour (they lied – there was no way it was going to be less that 45 minutes as they needed to wait for a Westjet plane to clear the gate 1st, then unload their plane, then load our luggage, etc.) Staff are not friendly – at best polite, but hardly make you feel like they are happy to see you. They didn’t explain the meal voucher I pre-bought properly to me – I had to prod the stewardess to get my pre-paid meal. (which was surprisingly good – Quiznos roast beef) Westjet offers the same pay as you go meals now – which I did not know, but I’ll try at some point when I’m flying the dinner hour. Air Canada still has work to do in the staff attitude and service reliably department. I mentioned this to workmates today and was immediately regaled with two tails of why they would never fly Air Canada again – these are not minor errors – but major screw ups that should at least result in full refund of fair paid.
Do the kick-ass TV screens on Air Canada flights make me want to fly with them more? Yes. Is it going to change my choice? Hmmm. This is a bit tougher. For short haul, no – the time on plane isn’t enough and I’m much more worried about being on time when I’m trying to pull a day trip, rather than a day’s travel on a longer haul. On a longer haul, okay, I am a little more likely to give AC a chance here, but still, being on-time and on-luggage matter way more, with friendlier service helping as well, all points still against AC to date.