Sometimes it’s an enthusiastic neighbour begging for a tour. Other times, it’s a drive-by thumbs-up from a stranger far from home. An Airstream inspires endless nostalgia and carefree dreams of hitting the open road, and people don’t hesitate to share theirs with you immediately after laying eyes on it. But does it live up to the hype it inevitably creates? This pre-owned 19-ft 2017 Airstream Flying Cloud, loaned for review by Can-Am RV in London, Ont., absolutely does.
The 2017 model year was the last one for which Airstream’s used the Flying Cloud name on single-axle trailers. A model much like this one, with the same floor plan but different fixtures and decor options, is sold today under the Caravel line.
First Impression: 9.5/10
Does anyone else remember Bob Blumer’s Toastermobile, an Airstream that the celebrity chef had retrofitted into a mobile kitchen shaped like a toaster? I might be both dating myself and calling attention to my food-nerdiness here, but that’s what I think of first when I look at one of these. This is my own version of Airstream nostalgia, but everyone seems to have one – whether it’s recalling camping trips with family or just seeing them around as a kid. Either way, it’s guaranteed to draw smiles.
The interior carries on the exterior’s promise, employing more polished wall panels behind high-quality finishes. Yes, you’re paying a premium to get this look, and there are lower-priced camping trailers that will do the same job. But add on well-considered spaces and unique features, and you get what you’re paying for.
I learned something about myself while on this two-week road trip up Highway 11, through Manitoba, and back across the north shore of Lake Superior north shore: A 19-ft trailer sits perfectly at the limit of my personal comfort level for towing. I have a tendency to pull into places like scenic overlooks, often before considering whether there will be a place to turn around once I’m in. But between the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 I was piloting and the Airstream’s dimensions and manoeuvrability, I never found myself in a mess that I couldn’t get myself out of without some time and patience. The trailer’s eight-ft width is perhaps better suited to a full-sized truck, but a set of clip-on towing mirrors did the trick for getting a view around the sides – though they did vibrate a fair bit at higher speeds. This unit was fitted with a roof-mounted back-up camera, but I only felt the need to use it when I knew I had something solid right behind me and my daughter wasn’t in the mood to be an attentive spotter.
Cabinets, cabinets everywhere! I managed to get two weeks worth of stuff, including plenty of clothes and a solid stash of food and snacks, packed into the trailer without much difficulty, leaving some of the less-desirable storage space to spare. Between the six overhead compartments, two drawers and a cabinet under the sink and stove, a fridge-side pantry, medicine cabinet above and a cupboard below the bathroom sink, and a large compartment beneath the bed, a family of four could get at least a week’s supplies in without much trouble.
The lockable exterior storage space is not large enough to hold folding camping chairs, so we stowed ours inside under the table. But it does work well for loose bits like wheel chocks, levellers, and power cables that are prone to getting dirty and aren’t fun to drag inside.
There’s a lot that makes sleeping in this Airstream pleasant. The main bed is permanent, with a standard-depth mattress. The curve in the rear corner makes it look smaller than it is; two familiar people can share it comfortably. A second bed is created by folding the kitchen table down to rest on the supports for the benches and arranging the cushions on top. This arrangement is actually more spacious than the one in the back and is nearly as well-cushioned. I slept on it most nights with few complaints, and the sliding divider between the two spaces allowed me to work or use a reading light without disturbing my daughter. The only thing I’d change is the darkness level: In the back half of the trailer, the blackout curtains cover everything almost perfectly, while the window on the main door lets in more light and left me dodging the sun on brighter mornings.
A 16,000-BTU ducted heating system runs on either electricity or propane, and the on-board air conditioner becomes available when the trailer is plugged in. That said, the ventilation systems on board are so good that we hardly ever found the need to use any other means of temperature control. (We were up north in July, and while it was humid, it never got sweltering hot.) Instead, we used the roof vents constantly and kept a window open a crack overnight to feed air to the powerful fans.
The constant flow of fresh air proved pleasant, leaving no need to worry about unexpected rainfall flooding the trailer overnight thanks to moisture detectors that close upon the first sign of water. (The downside is that even morning dew can trigger the sensors, annoying when the vents are needed for showering or cooking first thing in the morning.)
This unit came equipped with a three-burner gas cooktop, an optional convection microwave (a microwave without convection would be standard equipment), and a 113 L fridge and freezer that can be run on either electricity or gas. The auto function uses electricity when it’s available and otherwise runs on gas power from the pair of propane tanks mounted just above the hitch. It’s a very slight annoyance to have to turn the fridge off before pulling up to a gas pump, but not nearly as much as dealing with a cooler full of ice or a lot of spoiled food.
The whole arrangement is easy to use and keep clean, apart from the folding cover for the cooktop, which is a bit fiddly and tends to stick. I was never in a situation where I was at a 15-amp campsite and had to be selective about what appliances to run; at the 30-amp sites I used, I had no load issues whatsoever.
Cleaning Up: 9/10
I was told that the hot water tank would heat up in about 45 minutes on propane power and about two hours with electricity, but I found that it actually took about half that time in both cases. I could flip on the heater while making my coffee and easily have hot water in time for showering and doing the breakfast dishes.
Speaking of the shower, this might be the Airstream’s best feature. It’s standalone, roomy, and has a good amount of flow without drawing too much water. The rest of the washroom area is a little tighter and might not be so comfortable for those with larger builds – but hey, at least it’s there. For messy beach feet, there’s an external shower setup as well.
The Messy Bits: 9/10
Between the 87 L fresh water tank, 80 L grey water tank, and 68 L black water tank, we were stopping for a complete dump-and-replace roughly every two to three days with the two of us using water as we would at home. The process is about as easy and tidy as can be hoped for: A storage compartment under the trailer floor holds the sewer hose, which slides out to be connected to an external pipe. Connect the hose to the RV and run it into the dumping station. Open one valve to empty the black water, close it and open the other valve to empty the grey water – which also does some of the black water rinsing job for you – and then close it up. Give the sewer hose a final rinse, and it’s ready to slide into the holder and put away. Including a complete refill of the water tank, the whole process took about 10 minutes on average.
A caveat here: I am not an awning person. I’m often the only adult on our camping trips, and I’ve rarely encountered one that isn’t far too awkward for one person to handle alone. With a quick-rolling action and plenty of under-lighting, this Airstream’s awning is lovely principle. But when I was shown how to use it during the handover demonstration, it was bulky and stiff and required committing multiple steps to memory. I was so terrified that I would roll it out at a campsite and then have to recruit neighbours to stuff it back in again, so I simply never used it. If I were staying in one place for a longer time with a second set of hands to help, I would have been more likely to go to the trouble.
Overall Appeal and Value: 9.5/10
Any complaints I’ve registered here are things that I’d be more than happy to live with. For the two of us, the size of this unit is perfect – and with two kids who can share a bed without starting a war, a family of up to four people could easily enjoy it as well.
Just before we headed for home, my daughter declared that we should sell our house in Toronto, buy this exact Airstream, and set off to drive across Canada full-time. My response?
“Don’t tempt me, kid.”
Pricing: 2017 Airstream Flying Cloud CB19
New from $84,000/This unit listed at $79,900
19 feet/8 feet
Max Loaded Weight (GVWR)