Air Canada hopes its restarted Auckland-Vancouver service becomes a first choice for Kiwis

Air Canada has relaunched its Auckland-Vancouver direct service with a plan to become New Zealand's favourite way to fly to North America, via Vancouver International Airport (YVR).
Photo credit: Air Canada / Getty Images

Air Canada has recently resumed its direct service between Auckland and Vancouver after halting it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It's one of several major international routes being restarted as 2022 draws to a close, kicking off a few weeks before Emirates relaunches its daily Auckland-Dubai service on the mighty A380.

But not many airlines would have ambitions for this part of the world as big as those of Air Canada. The country's flag carrier is hoping to move being a lesser-known airline in Aotearoa to instead being one of the most popular options for Kiwis travelling to North America.

The strategy is to provide a great, award-winning in-flight service with conveniences not offered by other airlines, and in particular using Vancouver International Airport (YVR). 

"Having Vancouver Airport as our hub really sets us apart because it makes it that much easier flying into North America," Vic Naughton, Air Canada's general manager Australia and New Zealand, told Newshub.

"If you have to stop somewhere on the way to your final destination in North America, going through Vancouver Airport is the only way to do it and not have to collect your baggage as you transit."

As well as having their luggage checked through, Kiwis stopping in Vancouver on the way to the US can pre-clear US customs and immigration formalities in Canada before boarding their connecting flight.

"It's just a lot more efficient and seamless. That's what we offer that no one else does," said Naughton.

If travelling to Europe, it's easy to catch a connecting flight to London, Paris or Frankfurt from Vancouver.

For many Kiwis flying long-haul, multi-stop journeys, it's been common to stop over in Los Angeles or San Francisco, Asia or the Middle East with airlines like Air New Zealand, Qatar Airways and Emirates.

Air NZ also flies Auckland-Vancouver direct, but Air Canada hopes to attract New Zealanders to transit through Vancouver not only because of the airport experience, but also with its in-flight service.

The airline is the only international network carrier in North America to receive a four-star ranking from Skytrax, which in 2021 also named Air Canada as having the best Airline staff in North America and the best business class lounge in North America.

Air Canada was named Global Traveler's Best Airline in North America for the third straight year in 2021.

"We have been consistently rated the best airline in North America. Compared to the likes of United, American and Delta, our service is superior," Kiyo Weiss, the airline's director of sales for Asia Pacific, told Newshub.

"Wherever you go in North America, Air Canada is the airline to use."

Air Canada's Vic Naughton (General Manager ANZ), Kiyo Weiss (Director of Sales Asia Pacific) and Rick Pomery (Sales Manager – Leisure, ANZ).
Air Canada's Vic Naughton (General Manager ANZ), Kiyo Weiss (Director of Sales Asia Pacific) and Rick Pomery (Sales Manager – Leisure, ANZ). Photo credit: supplied

Comparing Air Canada's service to Air NZ's, Weiss said they were comparable as premium airlines, but she believes the Canadian company has some advantages. 

"I have flown both in  Air NZ's business and economy cabins and of course I'm a little bit prejudiced, but the entertainment system has a much better presentation on Air Canada," said Weiss.

"Our entertainment system is very classy. It's really nice, we spent a lot of money on it and it's consistent across business, premium economy and economy.

"As for the business class cabins, those are very different - ours is much better. We have less seats in the same space as Air NZ, so it's less cluttered with more space."

Air Canada's Auckland-Vancouver service is now flying four times per week after restarting on November 12.

It's operated on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner with 30 Signature Class suites, 21 premium economy seats and 247 economy class seats.

The flights are scheduled to depart Auckland at 2pm every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, arriving at YVR a little over 13 hours later at 6:15am local time.

In addition to Kiwis using YVR to transit further afield or to quickly access British Columbia's famed ski fields, many New Zealanders will be excited about the flights coming back the other way.

"Canadians have been a growing market for inbound travel, with the four years leading up to the pandemic seeing a nearly 40 percent increase in arrivals," said Auckland Airport's general manager customer and aeronautical commercial, Scott Tasker.

"For three quarters of them it's their first trip to New Zealand and we know they make the most of it, staying considerably longer than the average overseas visitor. So don't be surprised to see Canadians out exploring all corners of New Zealand this summer."

Of course, to win the sort of business it wants from the New Zealand market, Air Canada has to also compete on price.

But the airline is hopeful the Vancouver International Airport experience is so good, once a Kiwi traveller has tried it and avoided the notoriously long queues in an alternative like LAX, they will definitely want to do it again.

Vancouver International Airport.
Vancouver International Airport. Photo credit: supplied

"I feel like I work for Vancouver Airport, I joke that they should be employing me as sometimes I talk about them more than Air Canada, but it is our big point of difference and it's just so good," said Naughton.

"It's a smaller airport - it's just one terminal with everything under one roof so you don't have to go outside and walk 5km to catch another flight. It's well designed to speed things up and innovative, for example it was the first airport in the world to have self-processing arrival kiosks.

"It's also like a museum to British Columbia, which is great if you're interested in art and culture. There is amazing, massive indigenous artwork up in the terminals, as well as waterfalls, and an aquarium."

Weiss added that it's free to take the YVR Airport Skytrain to the next stop for travellers if they want to explore beyond the airport on a longer layover.

"Transit is very quick, but if you have five or six hours to kill, the next stop has some very nice premium outlets to shop at," she said.

Currently, Air Canada's Auckland-Vancouver service is only seasonal. But after the pandemic made the route's original launch a bit of a false start, the airline is hoping its popularity grows quickly to evolve it into a year-round service that is front-of-mind for Kiwis travelling to North America.