Air Canada was first to ban smoking between Europe and North America. Why it matters now.

Air Canada, which took delivery of its first 787 aircraft last year, wants to be known again for innovation. Photo: Air Canada.

Air Canada, which took delivery of its first 787 aircraft last year, wants to be known again for innovation. Photo: Air Canada.

Air Canada believes it was the first scheduled airline to completely ban smoking on flights between North American and Europe, doing so in October 1990. 

Here's what it says on AirCanada.com: 

"Air Canada became the first scheduled airline in the world to offer exclusively smoke-free flights between North America and Europe. Prior to this date, in September 1988, Air Canada became the first Canadian airline to ban smoking on all of its charter and scheduled flights within North America and the Caribbean."

Why is this important? A couple of reasons. First, Air Canada is the answer to a trivia question I have now asked twice. For getting this one right, Jon L. is the winner of a nifty Airbus and Frontier Airlines lanyard. Well done, Jon! 

But here's a second reason this smoking ban is important, according to Air Canada president Ben Smith, who I interviewed last month for Aviation Week.

Smith reminded me Air Canada was once known for innovation and risk taking. In 1963, it was the first airline in the world to introduce a computerized reservation system. That same year, Air Canada believes it was the first major airline to have an all-turbine powered fleet when it retired its final DC-3 aircraft. And in 1990, Air Canada was the first airline to install onboard telephones "at arm's reach" on all of its aircraft. (That advancement didn't take so well.) 

But Smith acknowledges that the early to mid-2000s weren't so great for the carrier. "We really haven't been at the forefront of innovation in a long time," he told me. 

The goal has been to change that, to make Air Canada a world-class carrier, known for innovation and service. By many metrics, Air Canada is already succeeding. In July 2014, for the fifth consecutive year, Air Canada was named the top airline in North America by Skytrax. But Smith told me he thinks his airline can do even better. "We are just starting to come into our own," he said. 

That's part of the reason Air Canada has started or announced a slew of new international routes in recent months, including to Rio, Dubai and Delhi. It wants to be a global player.

Air Canada has a popular flat-bed product in business class. This a Boeing 777. Photo: Air Canada. 

Air Canada has a popular flat-bed product in business class. This a Boeing 777. Photo: Air Canada. 

And part of that plan is to persuade more Americans to fly Air Canada, which believes its new Boeing 787s are especially appealing to passengers. Also, the airline's hubs in Vancouver and Toronto are considered customer friendly.  "When someone in Philadelphia goes to Beijing, and they experience our product, they're never going to want to [connect] in Kennedy, Newark or Chicago again." (Here's a nice trip report of a recent Boeing 787 Air Canada flight in business class.) 

What do you think? Have you flown Air Canada recently? Have you noticed an improvement? Is the airline innovating again?