This is sort of an update of a review I did several years ago on Air Canada’s Jazz CRJ 100/200 from YUL to EWR http://patstravelreviews.com/air-canada-jazz-crj-100200-review-montreal-yul-to-newark-ewr/ However, like with most newer Embraer and Bombardier jets, the experience has improved from the early Regional Jets to the current product. Still, the CRJ 900 is not a mainline jet and my wife and I only took this flight for the convenience. Air Canada Express/Jazz have 21 CRJ 900’s and three flights a day between Vancouver and San Diego. Thus saving time connecting through PHX, LAX, SFO, SLC or SEA. Now, I do not mind stopping as long as it is convenient and weather disruptions are not a factor. But my wife does not share my love of all things aviation. So we compromised and flew on this non-stop (connected on way up) from Vancouver (YVR) to San Diego. My main motivation for choosing the return flight was not only the departure time (early afternoon), but also as Star Alliance Gold members we could use Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounge in Vancouver even as Coach passengers.
Check-in was very easy. In fact, there was no line at all. Like most of the larger Canadian airports, flights to the US have a separate check-in area and after security you clear US Passport and Immigration. YVR has three separate gate areas. One for flights within Canada, another for International flights and then the Transborder/US area. Each set of gates has a Maple Leaf Lounge. The US departure area’s Lounge is near gate 84. I have enjoyed past visits to the Maple Leaf Lounge and this was no exception. I am sure this Lounge is much smaller and with less food choices than the Canada or International Lounges, but still they had a few hot food choices (soup and pizza) and an open bar. There was plenty of room to sit and they had a small business center with a few computers. I believe they also have shower facilities.
We were able to board in zone 2 and boarding was orderly and efficient. Air Canada Express does have 12 Business Class seats on the CRJ 900’s in a 1×2 configuration (4 rows). The seats looked nice with more leg room (37″ according to SeatGuru), space and a larger TV monitor than the Economy seats. Similar to US Airlines First Class on the larger Embraer or CRJ aircraft. While the Bombardier CRJ 900 has more overhead room and ceiling room than the 200, the overheads are not nearly as spacious as the Embraer 170’s and above (had to put standard carry-on in sideways). The windows are not as big or clear as the Embraer’s and are misaligned with the seats. Economy is in a 2×2 configuration with 16 rows (64 seats). We were seated in row 22F&D. Even as a Star Alliance Gold I was unable to select seats in advance unless I wanted to pay $19 CAD. Luckily, we were assigned two aisle seats next to each other (22C&D – select seats 24hr before departure thru on-line check-in) and the gentleman in F was nice enough to switch his seat so we could sit next to each other. This made for a more comfortable flight because the seat width is only 17 inches. The seat pitch is an acceptable 31 inches and if you were willing to pay $43 CAD you could sit in the first three rows of Economy (12-14) or the two exit rows (19 & 20). While the bulkhead does have slightly more leg room, the armrests do not raise, making the seat width a little less than the already cramped space. I could not really tell if rows 13 or 14 actually had more leg room or the charge is just for the convenience of sitting towards the front. The exit rows do have significantly more leg room, however, again the armrest does not raise and in row 19 (and 18) the seats do not recline (what little recline there is). The seats are grey leather that do not have a headrest.
Like US Carriers, Air Canada Express does not provide free meals in Economy on flights to the US. The flight attendant (one in Coach, the other in Business) came by with complimentary tea, coffee, water, juice, or soda, but no free packet of nuts or bag of pretzels (like from previous review). There were some snacks or sandwiches you could purchase from Air Canada’s Bistro menu (see photo), but neither my wife nor I purchased anything so I am not sure how much is available on Express flights vs mainline flights. I know the hot meal choice was not available. It may be because their CRJ 900’s don’t have ovens (Not sure what Business Class was offered), or if that option is only on Air Canada mainline flights, or maybe it was simply due to our flight being 2 hours and 20 minutes (scheduled just under 3 hours). I did see you could purchase a meal voucher at a discount online up to 24 hours before departure. Prices were in Canadian Dollars and seemed fair. The flight attendant (who was very friendly) did come by with a second beverage offering.
The most impressive aspect of this flight was the seatback monitor and Air Canada’s free In-flight Entertainment (IFE) programming enRoute. It was free as long as you had your own earphones, otherwise it is $3.50 to purchase one on-board. The monitor was touch screen (no handset) and there is a USB port near the screen. enRoute contains the typical content, with a nice selection of movies, television shows, music, and a moving map. The monitor was only 8 or 9 inches, but based on the size of the seat is more than big enough. The picture was not the clearest and while the screen was easy to navigate it was not that responsive. However, our plane was 12 years old (explains the scratched windows) and I do not know if the monitors were with the original delivery, but my guess is that on Air Canada Express’ newer CRJ 900’s (2 years old) the screen has a better picture and are more responsive. Wi-Fi was available through Gogo. The cost was $6.95 CAD for 30 minutes or $12.95 CAD for the flight. They also had a day plan for $26.95 CAD. You could access Air Canada’s site for no charge as well as a few of their partners. I accessed aircanada.com for a few minutes and the speed was acceptable, but far from high-speed. I was disappointed that there was no free T-Mobile option like Gogo has with US carriers.
There are two Lavatories. One in the front for Business Class and one in the rear of the aircraft. Pillows nor blankets were available and outside the USB port under the screen there was no power ports at your seats. Announcements were in both English & French
In general, I am not a fan of regional jets on routes longer than 2 hours, especially sitting in regular Economy. Furthermore, I prefer Embraer over Bombardier. The E170, 175, and 190’s are way more comfortable than the CRJ 700 or 900. That said, our flight was on time, the two flight attendants were friendly and helpful, the leg room is better than most mainline non premium seats, having in-seat IFE, and access to the Maple Leaf Lounge made for a pleasant flight and a much better experience than the Air Canada Jazz CRJ 100/200 I reviewed a few years back.