There are plenty of blogs that spend a lot of time talking about premium airport lounges around the world. I’ve been to my fair share of the best lounges in the world. I don’t spend a ton of time talking about them here. Most of my readers won’t spend a lot of time in those lounges. I try to focus on those areas where I can be the most help to you.
Every once in a while, though, something really special comes along. I can recall the first time I visited Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal in Frankfurt. Holy smokes! I’ll be honest with you. I felt that way Monday night.
I was invited to be a part of a small group who got a sneak peek at the new Air Canada Signature Suite lounge in Toronto. It’ll be tough to get access. I can assure you it’s worth it.
If you’re selected by Air Canada for a surprise and delight, they’ll pick you up at Terminal 1 (or your arrival flight) in a beautiful BMW and whisk you away to the Signature Suite. It makes for an awful special start to your experience.
Signature Suite is a private experience that focuses heavily on food. When we entered the lounge, the staff greeted me to help get me acquainted. It’s a beautiful entry way and a beautiful facility. There are a few seating areas if you’re not interested in dining.
But, really, you’re here to eat. And, you’ve got plenty of choices. You’ll come down the ramp to the dining room. The staff will help you get seated at a table or the bar. One of the first things you’ll notice is how striking the space is. The art is subtly themed and creates a vibrant, yet muted feel. It’s very warm and inviting.
If you look up you’ll notice that the high ceilings are the same ones of the terminal below. And yet, not a whisper of gate announcements or passenger din. Just soft music in the background.
If you prefer the bar, there’s a separate menu of quick bites. When I arrived in the lounge, I grabbed a glass of champagne and a glass of water from a very friendly bartender.
I moved away from the bar about 15 feet and started having a conversation with one of the Air Canada folks in charge with bringing the Signature Suite to fruition. From that distance, the bartender noticed that my water glass was getting close to empty. She came out from behind the bar and filled up my glass.
There were other servers on the floor who could have filled up my glass. But, this bartender took the initiative. This is the point where naysayers note that it was easy to deliver service to our small group. And, certainly the staff was aware we were VIPs (well, the other folks with me were). Sure, fine. But, you can’t make people deliver service like that. They have to want to do it. And, the folks in the Signature Suite want to.
When you move away from the bar, you can choose the buffet or the a la carte menu. For that matter, you can dine a la carte at the bar as well.
The menus look wonderful. Executive Chef David Hawksworth said that they’ll go through larger changes as the seasons change. However, since the menus are printed in-house he expects there will be small changes every week or two.
Settling in to a table, I was able to sample both the a la carte menu and the buffet. While I took pictures of just about everything, I sampled the Tuna Tataki and Sablefish.
The tuna was wonderful. I don’t generally gravitate to vegetables. However, the radish and carrot were ultra-crisp with a wonderful light seasoning. The tuna worked well with the Wasabi, though a bit more spice would have been nice. It was a delightful plate.
Sablefish is something I don’t see on the menu very often. It’s a delicate fish and it was an easy choice for me. What an excellent dish. The vegetables were crisp and flavorful. The broth balanced very well with the fish. It’s easy to say this was the best piece of fish I’ve ever had in an airport. It was one of the best fish dishes I’ve enjoyed in any restaurant in quite some time. Order it, you won’t be disappointed.
Never one to shy away from trying more food, I sampled some items on the buffet. I wouldn’t necessarily call it Beef Wellington, but I had a delicious cut of beef wrapped in a flaky crust. Some aged cheddar and burrata mozzarella rounded out my second sampling.
The rest of the dishes all looked excellent. I sampled small bites of a couple and heard resoundingly good things from others.
The Rest Of It
You’ll find a second dining area behind the bar. There’s even a private dining room that anyone can book.
The bathrooms are individual, private, upscale. While you won’t find a spa or showers here, you will find those amenities at the nearby Air Canada Club.
If you’re a coffee fan, you can ask the service staff to craft a cappuccino from the impressive machine behind the bar. Or, you can take a different, interesting path. Self-service cappuccino? Air Canada has you covered. I’m not a coffee fan, so I can’t judge the quality of the coffee. But, it sure was cool to operate.
Air Canada is approaching the Signature Suite very thoughtfully. The lounge has a capacity of roughly 150 folks. They figure at their peak time in the late afternoon they’ll have about 100 passengers eligible for lounge access. That’s a reasonable ratio. There were about 25 of us sitting in one small cluster in the dining room. The high ceilings mitigated the sound. The space didn’t feel as crowded as it was.
Signature Suite is accessible for business class passengers on longhaul flights. Think trans-Atlantic, trans-Pacific and flights to South America. You won’t be able to access this on flights within Canada or to/from the US. And, for now, you won’t be able to access it if you’re redeeming miles for your business class ticket. I suspect that’s temporary. Air Canada does a great job treating their Super Elite members well. I can’t imagine they want to deny entry to those top customers when they’re heading out on vacation after all the paid travel those folks dedicate to the airline each year.
The lounge is located in the international hall of Terminal 1, not to be confused with the US transborder area. It’s located near gate E77.
The Final Two Pennies
Air Canada isn’t the first to tackle upscale dining recently. United has their Polaris lounge, though they’ve really struggled with implementation. American Airlines has a lovely Flagship lounge and dining experience in New York at JFK airport. They’ve expanded that to Miami (stay tuned for more on that) and will soon roll it out in LAX and Chicago O’Hare. Even though American did a great job in JFK, Air Canada really sets themselves apart with Signature Suite.
Air Canada is trying to attract passengers from the US to connect on those long flights overseas. Cities like Toronto and Vancouver are well situated for Atlantic and Pacific travel respectively. I have a decent amount of nonstop options out of my home airport of Washington-Dulles. For connecting options, Toronto is absolutely on my radar now as an alternative to New York or Chicago.
I’ve frequently said over the years that there aren’t many airport lounges I would go out of my way to spend time in. As a business traveler, I want to maximize my time on the road so I can get home to my family. When I’m traveling with the family, the trip is generally more about getting to our destination than checking out lounges.
And yet, the Signature Suite stole my heart. I want my wife to fly to Toronto with me and try that Sablefish. I want to linger in the lounge with a glass of champagne while she has a cappuccino, maybe even from that nifty self-service machine. After a delightful meal, I could leisurely stroll to the gate and board my flight. For a short flight to London, it would be easy to decline the meal service and catch some extra sleep. Maybe I’ll dream about that Sablefish.
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