The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Benjamin Smith, president, Passenger Airlines division

Benjamin Smith, president, Passenger Airlines division

With more than 50 years of experience flying to Japan, combined with an ongoing overhaul of its fleet and facilities, Air Canada is confident it has earned the title of leading North American airline.

And a traveler doesn’t have to take the company’s word for it; Air Canada is the only North American international carrier with a four-star ranking from Skytrax, the industry’s most-recognized rating agency.

“We do strive to position ourselves as the preeminent carrier in North America from the service perspective—including both technology and onboard products—and that has served us very well in having a leading position,” says Benjamin Smith, president of the Passenger Airlines division of Air Canada.

As a founding partner of the Star Alliance, Air Canada has two powerful partners with bases in Japan: All Nippon Airways and United Airlines. As a result, the carrier is well positioned to link Japan with the Americas through Canada, with service to and from Narita International Airport, Tokyo International Airport (Haneda), and Kansai International Airport.

To strengthen this position, the airline recently initiated a major investment in its premium products, centered on the addition of 37 state-of-the-art Boeing 787 aircraft—around a third of which have already been delivered. In addition, the company’s existing aircraft—including the large fleet of 777s—are undergoing dramatic upgrades.

The new aircraft offer an entirely new suite of products from nose to tail. “The 787 is an amazing airplane, from a number of perspectives,” says Smith. “And we believe we now have the best, or one of the best, interior layouts in the industry. In the business cabin we have direct aisle-access from every single seat, we have the latest technology in terms of ovens, espresso machines, and in-flight entertainment.”

With more than 50 years of experience flying to Japan, Air Canada is confident it has earned the title of leading North American airline.

Improvements to seats are being matched by upgrades to the onboard menu. Celebrated Vancouver Chef David Hawksworth, renowned for his compelling contemporary Canadian cuisine, has been given carte blanche to revise the entire premium cabin’s culinary offering.

New attention is also being given to other details of comfort, right down to the materials used in the pillows and blankets, to ensure that the business traveler arrives at his or her destination ready for the workday.

These luxuries need not be seen as purely for the business traveler. “The profile of customers who choose to fly in Air Canada’s business class is quite extensive,” says Smith.

“We have customers who are traveling purely for business, and they value the rest and the comfort that we can provide,” he explains. “[But] while that is the number one segment of our business traffic, the market is evolving and the population bases in both Japan and Canada are changing; so we are seeing greater demand for higher-end leisure travel,” he adds. “These are people who are going on vacation, value the business-class experience, and are willing to pay for it. We did not see that type of demand years ago, but that seems to be building across the Pacific and in many other regions where we operate,” he offers.

Another advantage of the 787 is that it makes new routes more viable, enabling greater capacity. In Japan, that means the maple leaf logo is once again being seen on the tails of planes in Osaka.

“Our resumption of service to Osaka has come about in a way similar to many other routes we withdrew from in the previous decade,” Smith says. “As we have gone through this process of repositioning our airline, we have updated our fleet and changed our configurations.”

The result has been an impressive double-digit growth in passenger numbers in both directions across the Pacific Ocean.

The airline’s reputation and consistently high levels of service mean that business is sky high. And although Smith is not at liberty to reveal all of the company’s plans for the future, he hints that the famous red-and-white livery is likely to be landing at a number of new destinations in the Asia–Pacific region in the not-too-distant future.


The new aircraft offer an entirely new suite of products from nose to tail.