A Sneak Peek at Air Canada's Ultra Exclusive New Lounge, Signature Suite
Air Canada has been in the process of revamping its premium product offering. In 2016, the carrier introduced its new "Executive Pod" business-class product, which is now available on its 787 and 777 aircraft. While its in-flight experience has been getting a facelift, the airline recognized there was more it could do, especially with its ground experience. Enter the carrier's latest, very exclusive lounge at its Toronto (YYZ) hub, known as the Air Canada Signature Suite. The lounge offers travelers a way to escape the hectic terminal with plenty of food options and amenities. Set to open to passengers on December 1, 2017, the Signature Suite helps the carrier up its premium experience on the ground with the goal of matching its international competition.
In order to maintain its exclusivity, the first thing to know about the Air Canada Signature Suite is that it's difficult to get into. Whereas the carrier's other Maple Leaf Lounges are more lenient in terms of who can enter (Air Canada elites, Star Alliance elites, Priority Pass members and more have access), the Signature Suite is exclusive to revenue business-class passengers.
Yes, you heard that right. The lounge is exclusively for revenue business-class passengers, which means that business-class passengers traveling on Air Canada metal on an award ticket aren't allowed entry. In addition, Star Alliance business-class travel won't get you in — even if it's a revenue ticket. In short, you must be flying with a revenue ticket on a long-haul route on Air Canada metal in business class in order to enter. For access purposes, Air Canada considers transatlantic, transpacific and deep South America to be long-haul.
The airline is taking exclusivity of the lounge very seriously — at the time of the lounge's opening on December 1, 2017, not even Air Canada elites will be allowed entry.
Right away, the strict requirements seem a bit much. It'll be interesting to see if the carrier can fill the Signature Suite with just paying business-class passengers. With Air Canada announcing earlier this year that it was ending its relationship with Aeroplan to develop its own loyalty program, this is an especially interesting move. Of course, the new program isn't expected to launch until 2020, so there is plenty of time for the carrier to potentially alter the Signature Suite entry policy before the new loyalty program takes effect.
Location & Entrance
The new Air Canada Signature Suite is located in the International part of YYZ's Terminal 1. The entrance is located by Gate E77. To find it, follow signs for the Plaza Premium Lounge.
You'll hop on a short elevator ride before arriving at both the Signature Suite and the Plaza Premium Lounge. At this time, there's no signage on the ground level to indicate where the lounge is located, and it's unclear if any signs will ever be there, in the name of exclusivity.
Once you arrive on the lounge level, the entrances to the Plaza Premium and the Signature Suite are located right next to each other. Again, like on the ground level, there's virtually no signage entering into the lounge.
Once you find your way, travelers are greeted by maple wood and the classic Air Canada maple leaf.
In all, the Air Canada Signature Suite is 5,500 square feet, which isn't particularly large. That being said, it does feel rather open with plenty of seating for passengers.
During the lounge's peak hours between 5:00pm-9:00pm, Air Canada expects around 90 people to visit. With a capacity of 150 people, there should be plenty of seating. Because the access restrictions are so tight and limited only to paying business-class passengers, Air Canada expects many of its passengers to be traveling solo. As such, inside the lounge are plenty of two-top dining tables.
There are two main components to the lounge's seating arrangement: areas meant for dining and an area meant for lounging. By far, the dining area is more robust than that for lounging, which, depending on how you like to travel, could be a downside. The only true lounge section is a single strip of seats.
As I'll get to later on, food is a major focus in the Signature Suite, with three choices for how you want to dine: buffet, à la carte or a bar menu.
Alongside of all of the outside dining seating areas, there's even a private dining room to seat larger parties.
The bar area is well lit, well stocked and well dressed with its white marble finishes. If sitting at the bar, you'll be able to dine off of the bar menu.
One downside to the lounge is that there's a severe lack of power outlets. Many of the lounge's walls and furnishings are bare of power outlets — a huge issue for an airline lounge. With the exception of a few seats, many of the dining area's tables had no outlets.
When I was in the lounge for a couple of hours with just a few other bloggers, it was hard to find outlets. I can imagine that when the lounge is up and running at capacity, it'll become incredibly challenging to find an outlet to charge your devices. Hopefully Air Canada continues to install more power outlets to make it more convenient for passengers.
Overall, the feel and decor of the lounge was warm and comfortable. With dim lighting, high ceilings and light warm color tones, the Signature Suite feels welcoming, which is exactly what you want before a long-haul flight. In addition, the decor is very local — many of the furnishings are Canadian made. The highlight of the decor is a large mural on the side of the lounge in the dining area. In the center of the wooded area stands a long maple leaf tree, which, according to airline representatives on premises, represents the smaller carrier growing among the larger, more established carriers.
As previously mentioned, the highlight of the lounge is arguably the food. Loungegoers have three choices for dining: self-serve at the buffet, ordering off of the à la carte menu or ordering off of the bar menu.
Like Air Canada's on board business-class menu, Vancouver-based chef David Hawksworth designed all three menus in the Signature Lounge.
I'm not usually a fan of buffets, but the selection here looked fantastic. Air Canada advertises the lounge fare as restaurant-level food — even the buffet — and it seems like the carrier has hit the nail on the head. At the buffet, there are both hot and cold options. Cold options included: charcuterie platter, cheese platter, black bean and avocado salad, heirloom beets, black kale salad, globe artichokes, mixed green salad, heirloom tomatoes and buratta pugliese, prawn cocktail, smoked salmon and Sicilian white anchovies.
Hot choices included roasted pumpkin soup, heirloom tomato soup, beef bourguignon, thyme-roasted woodland mushrooms, rosemary and garlic fingerling potatoes and porchetta sandwiches.
I opted to try a couple of options from the à la carte menu. For an appetizer I chose the roasted pumpkin soup, which was served with crisp sage and brown butter croutons. The soup was amazing — the best pumpkin soup I've ever had.
Other appetizer choices from the à la carte menu included albacore tuna, kale salad or foie gras.
For my main course, I wanted to try something a little different, so I opted for the English pea falafel, which was served with roasted zucchini, cherry tomato and pistachio salsa verde. The meal was excellent with so much flavor in each bite. The vegetables were incredibly fresh and the salsa verde paired extremely well with the falafel.
Other choices for mains included: soy-marinated sablefish, bok choy, mushrooms and bacon dashi; grilled lamb chops, roasted cauliflower, yogurt and mint chermoula; and braised beef cheek, corn polenta, pickled mushrooms and jalapeno.
The Air Canada Signature Suite surely has a leg above its competition when it comes to the dining available in the lounge. With plenty of options, there's something for every traveler. If you're hustling to make a tight connection, the buffet options look delicious, and if you have more time, the menu options are of restaurant quality.
Premium dining options don't stop with the food. In the lounge, you'll also find a wide selection of drink options. Aside from a full bar, there's a bin full of Moët — with both Imperial Brut and Rosé available.
With my dinner, I chose to try a Canadian option — a Muskoka Maple, a Northern inspired classic. The drink, which was made with Canadian ginger ale, bourbon, sweet Canadian maple, savory thyme and lemon, was terrific. I was worried it might be a little too sweet for my liking, but was very impressed.
Another highlight of the beverage options is the coffee machine. On one side of the bar, there's an iPad where you can select what kind of coffee-based drink you'd like. The drink is then made behind the counter and served to you. It's a really neat, hands-on ordering system.
In the rear of the lounge is a hallway of bathrooms. Each is pretty spacious and well lit, but unfortunately, there are no showers in the lounge. For travelers looking to shower, you'll be able to tell a lounge attendant. The lounge attendant will then call down to the Maple Leaf Lounge, and you'll receive priority over all other loungegoers. Once the shower is ready, you'll be told to make your way down and can shower there. Although inconvenient, it's nice that the option exists in some form.
The lounge isn't great if you're looking to do some planespotting. Situated near the middle of the terminal, you'll have views looking out into the terminal, and beyond that, windows to the tarmac.
As previously mentioned, there's a deficit of power outlets, which is a huge bummer. Hopefully the number of outlets in the lounge increases so it's on par with other modern lounges.
Overall, the Air Canada Signature Suite is a huge addition for the carrier. The food options especially help to set the lounge apart from its North American counterparts. With a wide selection and tasty options, travelers making their way through the lounge have plenty to look forward to before boarding their long-haul business-class flight.
In the future, Air Canada may consider adding Signature Suite options in its other major Canadian hubs at Montreal (YUL) and Vancouver (YVR). However, it doesn't have plans to expand the Signature Suite lounge offering internationally.
There are a couple downsides, with two of the largest being the lack of power outlets and strict entry requirements. Hopefully in the future, Air Canada can work on adding more outlets to the lounge and ease entry requirements so those traveling on an award ticket, elites or more can enter. In the interim, the carrier has plenty to be proud of with this lounge, offering a product on par with — or even superior than — its international competition.
*Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the Executive Pod is now available on all Air Canada 777 aircraft.