The best lounge in North America? A review of the Air Canada Signature Suite in Toronto
Over the last few years, we've seen airlines double down on the business-class ground experience. In the United States, that trend started with American and United building Flagship and Polaris Lounges, respectively, and Delta might finally be playing catch-up. Now there's one other North American airline offering a true biz lounge, and it's Air Canada.
When the Air Canada Signature Suite opened in 2017, it was immediately hailed as being one of the continent's best. And after my recent visit, I'm glad to report that it still lives up to that reputation.
The Signature Suite is located at Toronto's Pearson Airport in the international departures area. Specifically, you'll find the space after you clear security on the third level across from Gate E77.
You need to take an elevator or stairs up one floor to the well-marked entrance. If you're connecting from a domestic Canadian flight, you'll be driven in a BMW from your arrival gate to the Signature Suite.
The lounge opens daily at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m.
Thanks to the strict access requirements, the lounge never got full or felt crowded when I visited. Only paying biz passengers can enter the Signature Suite.
No guests are allowed, and you need to be traveling to Europe, Asia or South America on an Air Canada-operated flight. You cannot enter if you redeem miles, score an upgrade or get rebooked onto an eligible flight during irregular operations (assuming you weren't originally booked on an eligible flight).
While personally I would love if passengers redeeming miles were admitted, Air Canada has done a great job of keeping the Signature Suite very exclusive.
Once you enter the lounge, one of two attendants will scan your boarding pass to determine if you have access. Once admitted, there’s a host waiting to collect your baggage and show you around.
The luggage storage closet is staffed throughout the day, and bags are tagged with your last name, so you don’t even need to get a claim ticket.
Once inside the lounge, there’s a small circular table on the left for larger parties or those looking for extra privacy.
Past this table is the expansive dining area.
There are four rows of tables, with a beautiful steel sculpture dividing the space in half.
There’s an assortment of traditional dining tables, as well as open booths. Tables are set for two or four diners, but the lounge staff was happy to accommodate larger and odd-numbered parties.
At the back of this room is a small buffet. Along one wall is the signature bar, and along the other wall a mural paying homage to the airline and its home country, featuring a prominently displayed red maple tree in the middle.
Behind the bar is another dining area with some more tables. This was treated as the overflow room during my stay, and it only got busy during the peak afternoon and early evening hours.
There’s also a private dining room for six reserved for VIPs and special meetings. You can use it on a first-come, first-served basis if there’s no one inside.
The relaxation area is arranged in a narrow rectangular corridor that spans the length of the lounge from the entrance to the overflow dining area. This space has couches, individual recliners and two-person tables.
Based on how much real estate is dedicated to dining, it’s clear that the focus here is on the food. The small relaxation area is definitely nice, but much smaller than other top-tier business class lounges.
Overall, I found the lounge beautifully designed. The open-air space made for a quiet and relaxing escape from the airport terminal. And this was definitely a noticeable step up from the AA Flagship Lounges and United Polaris Lounges I’ve visited in the U.S.
As an AvGeek, the only thing missing for me was exterior apron views.
Since the Signature Suite is primarily designed as a dining facility, there aren’t many amenities on offer.
There’s no spa, family room, sleeper suites or showers here. If you would like to refresh before departure, you can use the showers at the nearby Maple Leaf Lounge.
There are plenty of (hidden) AC and USB outlets spread throughout the lounge. Only a few tables do not have access to a port nearby.
Though there aren't any showers, there are six individual bathrooms in the lounge.
Each is stocked with Molton Brown hand soap and lotion, as well as "real" individual hand towels.
Wi-Fi is available throughout the space. The open network was quite fast during my visit, at 50 Mbps download and upload.
Food and beverage
As expected, this lounge offers a gastronomic experience rivaled only by the world’s best first-class lounges.
To start, there’s a small buffet offering a selection of bites all day long. From lounge opening until 10:30 a.m., there’s breakfast, and at 11 a.m., it transitions to all-day dining.
I visited during the day, so didn’t get a chance to sample the breakfast fare. At lunchtime, there were breads, salads, two soups (chicken and caramelized sunchoke when I visited), meatballs, polenta, Brussels sprouts and some desserts.
While everything on the buffet was delicious, it wasn’t super extensive. Instead, it was designed as a complement to the incredible a la carte dining offered throughout the lounge. Unlike many lounge buffets, all the dishes here were labeled with all their allergens, which, as a pescatarian, I really appreciated.
The menu was designed in collaboration with the award-winning Vancouver-based chef, David Hawksworth. There were four appetizers on the menu, as well as five entree dishes.
When I ordered, I was warned that dishes can take up to 30 minutes to be prepared. For those in a rush, there’s a smaller express menu for items available on demand.
I tried the winter greens salad, harissa-marinated ling cod and chickpea panisse for lunch, and they were all spectacular. The food was just as good as what I’d expect to be served at an upscale restaurant in a large city.
There was a separate dessert menu with five options. I wasn’t particularly hungry at this point, but figured I’d take one for the team. I tried the sticky toffee and date pudding, and it was one of the best desserts I’ve tasted, in an airport or not.
Throughout the meal (and for that matter during the entire time I was in the lounge), a server checked on me every few minutes. They continually refilled my drink and kept me posted on when my food was arriving.
The beverages were just as impressive as the food. The visually appealing bar was stocked with plenty of top-shelf alcohol including Johnnie Walker Gold and Black label, Don Julio tequila and Ketel One and Ciroc vodkas.
The champagne on offer was Moët Brut or Rosé — a respectable choice for a lounge of this caliber.
There was also a full drink menu with plenty of wines, cocktails, beer and non-alcoholic choices.
I sampled two cocktails during my visit. The rye-based signature cocktail was a tad too smokey for my liking, but the gin-based Lavender Bliss was fantastic.
There were also barista-made Lavazza coffees and Sloane teas for those looking for a bit of caffeine.
All in all, the food was scrumptious and the beverages were fabulous. If this lounge were a restaurant in the middle of Toronto, I wouldn't be surprised if it won awards for its food and drink.
The Air Canada Signature Suite is a top-notch lounge. To start, the strict access requirements combat overcrowding. Once inside, the space is beautifully designed, and without a doubt felt more first class than business.
Though there's not much in the way of amenities, the food and beverage selection was incredible. So good, in fact, that it puts many restaurants to shame.
So, is this the best airport lounge in North America? It depends on your preference. The only other real contender is the Qantas First lounge at LAX, which has a few more amenities such as showers. However, when that lounge is crowded, it's not my favorite place to relax. Plus, I liked the food at the Signature Suite just a little bit more than at the Qantas lounge.
Either way, if you're flying in biz with Air Canada, do yourself a favor and plan a long layover. Your taste buds will thank you.
All photos by the author.