What it’s like to be a passenger on Bombardier’s CSeries jet

Bombardier has marked a milestone in its CSeries program by handing over the first model of its new jet to Swiss International Air Lines this week.

As part of the ceremony at Montreal’s Mirabel airport, media, suppliers, politicians and Bombardier employees were taken up for a quick spin over the Laurentian Mountains for the CS100’s first North American flight. 

Air travel has become less comfortable for a lot of people, so the nice thing about designing a plane like this from scratch, Bombardier says, is that you can customize it to have both the needs a modern passenger and modern airline in mind. 

So after more than eight years and numerous delays, what is it like for a passenger flying on what the company calls “the most advanced single-aisle passenger jet in the world”?

This particular aircraft was a test model — not the one being delivered to Swiss — but the company says the ones going into action will offer a similar experience.

Damon Van der Linde

Damon Van der Linde

The cabin

The CS100 isn’t a huge plane, it’s a regional jet intended to carry 108 to 160 passengers on flights of a few hours. Still, it’s surprisingly roomy inside. The aisle is said to be the largest in its class and it gets lots of natural light with windows 50 per cent larger than its closest competitors.

Rob Dewar, vice-president of Bombardier’s CSeries aircraft program, says that because, on average, people around the world are bigger than they used to be, this plane was designed with larger frames in mind. Dewar says this is easy, being over six feet tall himself.

“As I was responsible for the development, I made sure I fit everywhere,” he said.

Allen McInnis / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Allen McInnis / MONTREAL GAZETTE A reporter takes pictures during a flight in the first CS 100 to be delivered by Bombardier in Montreal

The seats

The CSeries being delivered to Swiss International is laid out with two seats on one side of the aisle and three on the other. While getting stuck between two strangers may seem like drawing the short straw on most flights, the CS100 offers a consolation prize by making the middle seat wider by an extra half-inch.  

Bombardier says it was also able to modify the contour of the fuselage to gain two inches of extra shoulder width for people sitting in the window seat.

There was a lot of legroom, though the test model used on the ceremonial flight had 118 seats compared to the 125 that will be on plane outfitted for Swiss International. The Zodiac seats used in this plane are quite clever: When the backrest reclines the seat moves forward a little bit, squeezing out a little more room to stretch your legs and making sure the person sitting behind you doesn’t end up too cramped.

One downside to the two- and three-seat arrangement is that, from the aisle seat on the three-seat side, it was a big reach to adjust the fan, turn the light on and off, or call the flight attendant. This could mean an arm in someone’s face as you stretch past the person in the middle, or make it difficult for shorter-armed people to reach it at all.   

Damon Van der Linde

Damon Van der LindeFor a regional jet the CS100 cabin is surprisingly roomy and gets lots of natural light.

The overhead bin

With many airlines charging for even one checked bag, it’s getting more and more common that when you bring your maxed-out carry-on allowance to the gate, it seems everyone else had the same idea. That means either struggling to find a place in the overhead bin or having to check a carry-on at the gate when you might have items you wanted to keep close during the flight.

The CSeries bins are cavernous. There’s enough room for every passenger to fit an oversized carry-on bag and they open low, so as to be within reach of people who are not so tall.

This wouldn’t stop airlines from charging for carry-on bags, but that is, of course, out of Bombardier’s hands.   

Damon Van der Linde

Damon Van der LindeIt’s a bit of a stretch to reach the light, fan and call button from the CS100 aisle
seat.

The noise

Initially dubbed the “whisper jet,” Bombardier says the CSeries has the lowest noise levels of any commercial jet in production, thanks in large part to its two Pratt & Whitney engines. The company says the brand new engine reduces noise by 50 to 75 per cent, which is supposed to make for a more comfortable flight and gives the plane more options when flying in and out of cities and other places with noise restrictions. 

While it’s hard to gauge the noise level from memories of other flights, the CSeries wasn’t so loud that it would mean raising your voice to have a conversation. 

“You didn’t really hear the takeoff but you probably felt the performance,” Dewar says.

Damon Van der Linde

Damon Van der LindeWhat it’s like to be a passenger on Bombardier’s CSeries jet.

The lavatories

From the sythetic granite sink to the laminate hardwood floors, the lavatories gave the impression there was some thought put into the design — not always easy to say about cramped airplane washrooms.  

The CSeries lavatories are spacious and designed for people with reduced mobility and offer six inches of extra headroom compared to those of Bombardier’s competitors, according to Dewar.  

Having a nice washroom is not a top priority for most passengers when buying a ticket, but once there, most appreciate a better experience.

The first CS100 left Montreal for Zurich on Thursday. Swiss International will begin regular service with the aircraft July 15, and receive another 29 planes between now and 2018.

Damon Van der Linde

Damon Van der LindeThe CSeries ditched the tiny lavatory trend seen in many jets for a more spacious design.

Financial Post

dvanderlinde@nationalpost.com

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