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It has been a while since Air Canada Signature Suite debuted in Terminal 1 of Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ). I finally had the opportunity to experience it on my way to London Heathrow last month. While excited, I managed my expectations because my peers visiting this flagship lounge earlier had been underwhelmed.
Air Canada Signature Suite – An introduction
The Air Canada Signature Suite is a premium airport lounge at Toronto Pearson International Airport and Vancouver International Airport. It is designed to provide passengers on international journeys with an elevated pre-flight experience before a Signature Class service (YUL-DEL, 14 hours in Signature Class). The lounge is characterized by its distinct emphasis on refined comfort, cuisine, and priority services.
The unique aspect of the Signature Suite Lounge is a complimentary à la carte menu crafted by the esteemed chef David Hawksworth. Additionally, guests can choose from the fine bar menu or the all-day buffet for quick meals. The lounge offers a premium selection of beverages, including signature cocktails and various spirits, including Moët & Chandon champagne.
Air Canada Signature Suite – Access
For exclusivity, Air Canada has restricted access to the Signature Suite to paid business class passengers on international itineraries and those booked on Business Flexible fares with Aeroplan award redemption. Air Canada is not the first airline to implement such limitations, as other airlines impose similar restrictions on their first-class lounges. That is partly why I could not find many review posts from the Canadian bloggers I am familiar with.
The Air Canada Signature Suite is in the international departure area, next to Gate E77, on the upper level beside the Plaza Premium Lounge. The exact access policy for the lounge, as shared by AC is as follows;
* Air Canada Signature Class customers travelling on a non-stop Air Canada-operated flight (to Europe, Asia and South America) originally booked and ticketed in the following booking classes will be eligible for access to the Air Canada Signature Suite: J, C, D, Z, P. Only Aeroplan flight rewards booked as a Business Class Flexible Reward or a First Class Flexible Reward in J, C, D, Z, P, I booking classes are eligible for access. All bookings in R class (including, but not limited to, eUpgrades, Last-Minute Upgrades, and AC Bid Upgrades), Aeroplan flight rewards booked as a Business Class Lowest Reward or a First Class Lowest Reward, Star Alliance Upgrade Awards, Business Class flight rewards booked and ticketed by partner airlines, and I (including Star Alliance Upgrade Awards), as well as bookings made during irregular operations where the customer was not originally booked and confirmed in one of the eligible booking classes, will be excluded. Eligible customers may not invite guests. Access to the Air Canada Signature Suite is not available to customers travelling on promotional tickets or employees.
Air Canada Signature Suite – Ambience
Designed by the acclaimed Montreal designer Heekung Duquette, the lounge uses wood panelling walls to lead guests into the exclusive restaurant, which opens into a larger space with Italian marble touches and a panoramic mural of a northern winter scene. Unfortunately, the signature lounge has started aging and losing its polished, elevated look. The red chairs and grey couches dotted around the lounge are standard equipment from Maple Leaf Lounges, which took away from the flagship look of the space. The temperature in the lounge was a bit warm for my liking after the long walk from the domestic terminal.
I also found the space to be crammed for a flagship lounge in a large airport hub. When I entered the lounge around 7 pm, it was as crowded as Best Buy on Black Friday, but I was there to unwind and prepare for my red-eye transatlantic flight. From 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm, there are eight Air Canada flights where qualified passengers can use the Signature Suite – prime time for lounge crowding.
Air Canada attempted to alleviate the situation by mandating passengers to check their carry-on bags (yes, in the lounge), which has to be the world’s first. It felt like an afterthought, as the baggage room also doubled as storage space for liquor bottles and other inventory items used in operating the lounge. It may be an excellent way to make the lounge less cluttered, but it forces passengers to decide what to take or leave behind. The check-in system in the lounge used bag tags with the passenger’s last name so that the bags could be returned when leaving the lounge. I wondered about the potential of lost or misplaced baggage in this situation.
I prefer to have more space and to keep my carry-on bag with me when visiting a premium airline’s flagship lounge.
Air Canada Signature Suite – Food and Drinks
The a la carte menu by Chef Hawksworth and the food were the highlight of my lounge experience, top-notch by Canadian standards. The small portions allow you to try more dishes, and I truly enjoyed all the dishes. The a la carte dining area was separate from the buffet, and guests could order food from the menu and pick up items from the buffet area. I could not easily access the buffet offerings and needed to constantly maneuver between tightly placed dining tables to grab some options from the buffet. There were some excellent offerings in the buffet area, but it felt like I could enjoy only one or the other.
The curated list of cocktails in the lounge was well done, although mostly sweet, in my opinion. I wish there were more variations to cater to different palettes and preferences. The premium liquor offerings were decent and only on par with the Maple Leaf Lounge. However, the experienced and well-trained bartenders did a great job with the resources on hand. I enjoyed the mocha latte the most, which was surprisingly delicious.
Air Canada Signature Suite – Service
The service was a notch above the self-serve Maple Leaf Lounge, but the friendliness of the staff could have been better – to showcase genuine Canadian hospitality. Staff training continues to be a challenge as well – One of my first appetizers was spilled on the dining table, and the stain remained throughout my entire meal, despite the server confirming that someone would clean it up. No one did. Overall, the service at the Signature Lounge was hit-and-miss.
Air Canada Signature Suite – Amenities
In terms of high-end quality amenities, the Signature Suite fell short. It would be fair to say that the lounge felt more like a restaurant with a waiting area. The amenities in the washroom were the same as those in the Maple Leaf Lounge, and I found the absence of shower rooms quite interesting, considering many passengers who visit the lounge area on red-eye flights. Given the comfort of Air Canada’s well-known business-class product, a shower would be a welcome addition to combat the fatigue caused by long flights.
Access to the Air Canada Signature Suite Lounge is best suited for those willing to pay a revenue business class ticket regardless of the cost. With dynamic pricing at play, the amount of Aeroplan points required to redeem for a transcontinental flight in business class is exorbitant. I doubt many would find the value in booking Business Flex Fare to add on the access to the Signature Suite. As exclusive as it is now, the space feels very crowded during dinner time, and the service is inattentive. I will not go out of my way to visit this lounge, as I would for Al Safwa, LH’s F terminal, the Wing or the Private Room.