New Air Canada Lounge Has The World’s Best Business Class Dining Experience

Filed Under: Air Canada

North American airlines have really been upping their game lately when it comes to their premium lounge experience:

Well, there’s now yet another North American airline introducing an incredible new ground experience, and this one is sort out of left field. On Friday, December 1, 2017, Air Canada is opening the Signature Suite at Toronto Pearson Airport, which complements their three Maple Leaf Lounge at the airport. I had the chance to check out the new lounge yesterday, and in this post wanted to share my thoughts.

I actually think this lounge offers the best business class sit-down dining experience of any airline in the world.

What is the Air Canada Signature Suite?

The Air Canada Signature Suite is a completely new lounge concept that Air Canada is launching in the international departures area of Toronto Airport’s Terminal 1.

The airline is testing out the concept in Toronto, and will consider opening similar facilities in Montreal and Vancouver in the future, space permitting (update: a Vancouver Signature Suite is opening in March 2020). The lounge is heavily focused around dining, and features a sit down restaurant experience with dishes from celebrity chef David Hawksworth.

How big is the Air Canada Signature Suite?

The lounge is about 5,500 square feet, and features seating for roughly 150 guests. Based on Air Canada executives I spoke with, they predict that the lounge won’t ever be more than two thirds full, given how Air Canada spaces out their longhaul flights.

Who can access the Air Canada Signature Suite?

The lounge has interesting entry requirements. Air Canada is limited in terms of the space they were able to get to build the lounge, and understandably they want to make sure they lounge doesn’t get overcrowded. As a result, access to the lounge is initially restricted to paid longhaul business class passengers departing from Toronto. “Longhaul” includes intercontinental flights, so flights to the US don’t qualify (those flights leave from a separate concourse anyway, so there would be no way to access the lounge).

“Paid” business class in this case is defined as those paying cash for tickets — award passengers and upgrades aren’t eligible for access. Elite status won’t get you access to the lounge either.

On one hand that’s a bummer, though on the other hand I appreciate that they want to make sure the lounge doesn’t get overcrowded. In the future they’re open to expanding entry requirements if the lounge isn’t overcrowded, but they’d rather start with restrictive criteria and then expand it, rather than the other way around.

What hours is the Air Canada Signature Suite open?

The lounge is open daily from 6:30AM until 11:30PM, which should cover all outbound international flights.

Where is the Air Canada Signature Suite located?

The lounge is located in Terminal 1, in the international departures area (which is different than the transborder concourse), one level up from the main terminal level. The lounge shares an elevator with the Plaza Premium Lounge, and is located near gate E77.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto exterior

Upon exiting the elevator you’ll see the Plaza Premium Lounge to the left, and the Signature Suite to the right.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto entrance

Air Canada Signature Suite facilities

The Air Canada Signature Suite is stunning. It really doesn’t feel like it’s at an airport. There’s an entryway with beautiful vertical wood panels, and then on the right is a wall display with some grass. I love the contrast.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto entrance

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto entrance

Inside the entrance is a host stand, and the intent is that you’re then brought to a seat based on what you’re looking to do. There are roughly four different zones in the lounge. Just inside the entrance is a circular couch.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto seating

Then there’s the main dining and bar area. Along one wall is the buffet, and then along the other wall is the bar. The lounge feels more like a restaurant than an airport lounge to me, and I especially appreciate how they mix up the type of seating to add a bit of variety.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

There are just over a dozen tables along a mural, which are closest to the entrance.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

Then there are another half dozen tables near the bar.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

Between the marble and the lighting, the bar area is gorgeous, though I’ll talk more about the food & drink selection in a bit.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto bar

The next area is inside the entrance and to the right, and consists of more traditional lounge seating. This is ideal if you’re not looking to have a full meal.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto lounging area

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto lounging area

Then in the very back of the lounge are even more dining tables, each seating 2-4 people.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto dining area

In the back of this area is a private dining area. This isn’t necessarily just for VVIPs, but rather is available on request (though I imagine over time that may change if too many people use it).

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto private dining room

Past the private dining area were the bathrooms. All the bathrooms were fully private, which I appreciate, though I did find it a bit disappointing that the lounge doesn’t have showers. However, passengers can head over to the Maple Leaf Lounge to shower, if so desired, as it’s not far away. The Air Canada executives at the event mentioned that this is only an outbound international business class lounge, so they don’t think all that many people will be looking for showers here. Fair enough.

Air Canada Signature Suite bathrooms

Air Canada Signature Suite bathrooms

Air Canada Signature Suite drink selection

To start, as a coffee addict I should mention that I love the fact that they have a proper espresso machine so you can have a barista-made coffee, rather than just a machine where you push a button.

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ espresso machine

Moet is the champagne of choice in the lounge, and they have both white and rose.

Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto champagne

There’s a beautiful drink display behind the bar.

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ bar

Here’s the lounge’s wine list:

Here’s the beer list:

Here’s the cocktail list:

Here’s the non-alcoholic drink list:

I also like the variety of glassware they have in the lounge. That’s a proper red wine glass!

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ wine glasses

In addition to just the Moet “straight up,” I also had a French 37.

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ cocktail

Air Canada Signature Suite buffet

If you’re just looking to have a quick bite, or even if you’re looking to complement an a la carte meal, there’s a self serve buffet.

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Here’s a list with everything on the buffet (kudos to them for having this, because far too many lounges have poorly labeled buffets):

I’ll let the pictures of the food speak mostly for themselves:

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ soup selection

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ buffet

Air Canada Signature Suite YYZ dessert selection

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining

The highlight of the lounge is the incredible a la carte dining featuring David Hawksworth dishes. The main menu read as follows (as you can see, prep times range between 15 and 30 minutes):

On top of that there’s a “quick bites” menu, for those on the go:

The quality of the a la carte food was simply through the roof. I was able to sample several appetizers and mains, and I’d have a hard time choosing a favorite

The albacore tuna tataki with daikon, watermelon radish, avocado, muffed white rice, and ponzu, was phenomenal.

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining — albacore tuna tataki

My other favorite was probably the Korean fried cauliflower — nom nom!

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining — Korean fried cauliflower

However, the roasted pumpkin soup with sage and brown butter croutons was excellent as well.

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining — roasted pumpkin soup

For my main I ordered the English pea falafel with roasted zucchini, cherry tomato, and pistachio salsa verde, which tasted every bit as good as it looked.

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining — english pea falafel

I also had the chance to try the soy-marinated sablefish with bok choy, mushrooms, and bacon dashi.

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining — soy-marinated sablefish

While I didn’t try it, others enjoyed the grilled lamb chops wih roasted cauliflower, yogurt, and mint chermoula.

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining — grilled lamb chops

And of course there was a burger on the menu as well.

Air Canada Signature Suite a la carte dining — hamburger

WOW! This is by far the best business class dining experience offered by any airline on the ground. While there are some airlines that offer a sit down dining experience in first class, there’s not a business class lounge out there that offers this kind of ambiance, food quality, and presentation, in my opinion. Several times during the meal I forgot that I was actually in an airport.

My concerns/constructive criticism about Air Canada’s Signature Suite

This is an incredible lounge, though to be balanced, I wanted to share a few downsides, or at least general concerns:

  • I always love a good apron or runway view from a lounge, though this lounge has no exterior views
  • The lounge doesn’t have showers or nap rooms, though I get that they had limited space, and also probably that they’d be of limited use for outbound international passengers
  • I don’t love the name “Signature Suite;” to me that sounds like a seat on a plane rather than a lounge, and it certainly doesn’t highlight the fact that the focal part of the lounge is that it almost feels like a restaurant
  • Obviously the access requirements are restrictive, partly because of the complicated border situation (which means you can’t use this when flying inbound) and partly because of the limited space
  • The food quality and service were phenomenal, though this was a media event with under two dozen people, and presumably everyone was on their best behavior, as even David Hawksworth was in attendance; so I hope that the service and food quality are every bit as good when the lounge is open, when it’s full, etc., though I’ll have to return at some point to find out firsthand

Air Canada’s new lounge is simply spectacular

While other airlines are hyping what their premium experience will be like in five years, Air Canada seemingly is introducing this lounge overnight. They just officially shared information about the lounge for the first time today, and it will be opening before the end of the week.

I just can’t think of another business class lounge anywhere in the world that offers a comparable dining experience, so that’s incredible on Air Canada’s part. Not only was the food fantastic, but they have freshly made espressos, excellent champagne, and great cocktails.

Then there are all kinds of little touches that really set the experience apart. The plating of all the dishes was beautiful, I loved the proper red wine glasses, there was lovely ambient music in the lounge that was soothing without being obnoxious, etc.

This really is one of the best airport lounge experiences in the world.

If you have the chance to visit the Air Canada Signature Suite in Toronto, you’re in for a real treat.

What do you make of Air Canada’s new Signature Suite Toronto?

  1. Looks amazingly good.

    Completely agree with you about the word “signature”. Now ludicrously overused and utterly devalued: McDonalds in the UK is currently advertising its “signature burgers”, so you know this word is on its way out.

  2. O Canada. This does seem amazing, pity no nice views from the lounge as that would be icing on the cake. Nice that they are offering Ontario wines but pity they don’t seem to feature quality Canadian craft beers (of which there are innumerable in Ontario and Quebec alone). But overall this obviously exceeds anything we find south of the border in America and makes the long-haul biz class flight deals ex-YYZ seem more attractive.

  3. @ Luis — You couldn’t use it, unfortunately, because the transborder terminal is separate from the other international terminal, so you’d have no way of even reaching this lounge.

  4. Sometimes I think that AC attempts to do better with their business class because they don’t have any higher class of seating. No First Class on AC.

  5. Also calling it ‪”Best”? It’s not even open yet! And the VS Clubhouse still looks better.

    The fact that Gary Leff also called it “best” makes it sound like Air Canada just paid off the entire BoardingArea like shrills.

  6. Ben, I think I saw you strolling through international departures, Terminal 1 at Pearson last night with Ben Smith and the entourage. All wearing visitor badges? Around 9:30 pm? On your way from the lounge tour?

  7. Sorry, I completely disagree with you that differentiating between paid and award flight bookings in business class to determine eligibility for access is justified. Previous attempts to do this (cf. SQ’s private room when it first opened) went down like a damp squib, and it’s a slippery slope when airlines begin to differentiate between valuable and less valuable premium class customers in this way. No problem in excluding elites, but if you’ve booked business class you should have access, regardless of how your ticket was funded. If space is tight (and, let’s be honest, there’s no excuse in it being so in a brand new lounge) then access to business class passengers should be permitted on a first come, first served basis.

  8. “The best” is a very strong expression…I’m not so sure if you can call the dining experience here “the best” after only visiting it once for a media event.

  9. @ JL — That’s fair enough, though I really don’t think Air Canada has any competition in North America when it comes to the dining experience. What other airline offers a comparable dining experience? The closest is the Polaris Lounge, and that’s really just a dozen tables in the middle of a totally overcrowded lounge. It’s a perfectly nice experience, but it’s not restaurant quality in the same way this is. But you’re right, and I do want to visit this lounge “undercover” sometime when it’s mostly full.

  10. @ Michael — I see where you’re coming from and I somewhat agree. I don’t like airlines differentiating between ticket types in a given cabin. But I disagree that a first come first serve model is any better. For me the single most important aspect of a premium experience is being able to manage expectations. You want to know exactly what you can expect when you go to the airport, so you can arrive as well rested as possible. That’s simply not possible if everything is done on a first come first serve basis, where you don’t know whether you’ll be able to have a proper dinner before the flight or not.

    So while I don’t like them discriminating between ticket types, I don’t think there’s a better model to go with. And I say this as someone who books mostly award tickets and upgrades. They’ve literally taken over all the lounge space they can get, so they’re doing their best. Also keep in mind this is what they’re starting with, and it’s possible they’ll make the access requirements less stringent in the future.

    But to me nothing ruins a nice lounge like it being completely overcrowded to the point that there’s only standing room.

  11. Based on the pictures it doesn’t seem there’s anywhere to properly set up a laptop and work. There appears to be LOTS of dining tables and some living room-like areas with couches and armchairs, but no pub-height bars or tables with outlets. I would imagine that most travelers on paid J tickets would be business people and would value a workspace. Seems odd they overlooked that in favor of (too many?) 2- and 4-tops for the restaurant style dining. Were there other work areas that just didn’t make it into the blog entry?

  12. @ keitherson — I’m calling it the best dining experience, not the all around best lounge. I love Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses, including the spas, showers, fun vibe, etc. All things considered I might even prefer it to this lounge if I could only choose one. But the food there simply isn’t comparable.

    For example, here’s my review of the JFK Clubhouse, which has things like corn dogs, flatbreads, and chicken wings on the menu. It’s perfectly edible food, but not really gourmet. Do you disagree?

  13. CX has no problem to accommodate Oneworld emerald members and people travel in first class to their first class lounges. Yes CX has more F lounges in HKG but there are also more people can access the lounges.

  14. @ Arcanum — It’s a fair point, but the issue is the limited capacity of the lounge. With up to four daily flights on Austrian, Lufthansa, and Swiss, that would add a lot of people. Hopefully they can expand the lounge eventually.

  15. @ Mitch — That’s a great question, am following up on that and will let you know. My gut says yes to Iceland and no to Bermuda, but I could be wrong.

  16. Wow this does look incredible! Will be interesting to see how it compares to the QF lounge at LHR T3.

    Ben, do you think you could do a post listing which business class lounges are your favorite? I’m wondering which other J lounges provide a la carte dining. Polaris of course. What about Al Mourjan? Any others?

  17. @ Pigx5 — Right, they also have a lot more lounges. What they explained is that there are only five spaces allocated by the airport for lounges in Terminal 3 — Air Canada already has three lounges, there’s a Plaza Premium Lounge, and then there’s this. There’s simply no more square feet they have access to at the moment.

  18. @ AdamR — It’s a good observation. Their explanation is that they wanted to do everything they could to keep a restaurant vibe. One of the reason they didn’t add certain other amenities is because they felt it would detract from the experience of it being like a restaurant. Whether or not we agree with that is a different story, but that’s the explanation of why they don’t have any workstations.

  19. @ BrooklynBoy — It’s a great idea, let me work on a post. Believe it or not, Al Mourjan has cut a la carte dining in their restaurant. The only thing you can order are sandwiches in their little downstairs dining area, and the last time I ate there the food was disgusting. Let me see if I can compile a list.

  20. Michael,

    No, it makes sense. If I pay for premium tickets I do not want to mix with those on upgrades, freebies and award tickets. You can use the bizo lounge. I didn’t pay several grand to hobnob with those who didn’t. Sorry

  21. Lucky, I ask you a question on FB but you have not replied. Are you ok with other bloggers just use onemileatatime’s news directly which they translate into their language and post on their website directly? Are you aware that people are doing this?

  22. @Lucky, do they have any lockers to store carry-ons? The pictures of the dining area near the buffet and bar look really tight. This is where most people would normally sit to grab a quick drink/bite. It looks spacious now but when you add people plus their carry-ons, this will get really crowded.

  23. @ pigx5 — No, that’s not acceptable. If you’d like to share further details we’d of course appreciate it!

  24. Love the wood paneling (also loved the entrance to the new Quantas lounge in LHR) but I was a bit concerned about the local Ontario wines (Niagara Peninsula) wines. The soil and climate in southern Ontario and upstate New York can’t match the wine growing regions in other parts of the world. There may be some exceptions now but that was the case when I lived in Toronto years ago.

  25. Oh well, it’s a pity they don’t allow people with award tickets to go in. The Maple Lounges are terrible, it’d be nice to get access to this one.

  26. Lucky, to be honest, I am not an AC fan. Do you know when the QF @ LHR will open? That’s a lounge to get excited about!

  27. This is great news for me. I fly a few times a year in paid J from WAS to various destinations in Asia via YYZ. Air Canada always seems to have the best J fares, I think to lure American residents to transit in Toronto.

    I agree with AdamR though — it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of places to actually work. I don’t know about other business travelers, but most of my lounge time is working on my laptop, with a bit to eat beside me. I don’t just sit down to dine.

    I also notice a lot of the tables are set up in a 4-person configuration, and I think most paid J travelers are in pairs at most (business travelers), but I guess they can easily reconfigure those.

    Well, a big step up from the Maple Leaf Lounge. I think it will also be quite empty, since the MLL is right in front of you when transiting from the US, after the high-speed moving walkway. Only savvy travelers will know about this relatively hidden new lounge.

  28. This must be the reason why the new YVR MLL in International Terminal, which opened a couple of months ago and is well done design wise, has been given a huge thumbs down on FlyerTalk with regards to almost a total absence of food save for packaged snacks. All the money for food and drink has been siphoned off to this new YYZ lounge. Shame on AC.

  29. Big step up from the existing T1 Maple Leaf Lounge for sure. I’m looking forward to trying it out. In other YYZ lounge news, Plaza Premium has opened a new lounge post US Customs in the T3 transborder area. Coupled with the renovated AA lounge, this gives two great new options for American, WestJet or Delta transborder fliers. Access is open to Amex Platinum or Priority Pass members or to purchase. I was there last week.

  30. Looks like a hybrid of Qatar’s London Lounge, and Qantas and Cathay Business lounges at home bases. combined-elements of all. Even the burger is straight out of the Qatar lounge (and very nice it is too) .
    Great if they keep standards up, but everyone here will have seen great lounges open and then start cost-cutting and degrading the service.
    All the best to them and anything that keeps the bar moving higher is a good thing.

  31. I buy business class tickets on AC every summer for European vacations (there’s good deals sometimes if you set price alerts in Kayak) so yes I will definitely check out this lounge next time. Thanks for the info. Although I do appreciate the showers in the existing lounge after a long hot summer day so maybe I’ll try lounge hopping in this case. My only issue with the good food in lounges is it kills your appetite for the multi course meal on the plane. Of course that could actually be the ultimate first world problem!

  32. @ Bill — I actually specifically asked about this, and they said that servers are told to turn down tips, so not only is there no expectation to do so, but it shouldn’t happen.

  33. @ Gus — You would get access based on flying Air Canada business class outbound from Toronto to Copenhagen.

  34. This definitely helps their competition in the east coast to asia market, where they have been making efforts at drawing customers through YYZ (eg, competitive prices and the attempt to streamline immigration). It does seem a bit odd, though, that on the outbound, you’d have this fantastic dining experience, while inbound you’d be stuck in the generally overcrowded lounge in the transborder area.

  35. Now maybe they will follow up this lounge policy with no free food or drinks in flight on J award tickets. You’re on an award ticket? Then here’s the price list for hot dogs and sodas on board, while the paid person across the aisle gets served champagne and a 3 course meal.

    I don’t buy the ‘not enough space’ excuse. How many people on any given flight are in J on an award? Surely not enough per flight to ‘crowd’ (sic) the lounge. Allowing elites from partner airlines who are flying in economy, yes, that could cause over crowding. But just people flying on award tickets in J on AC metal? No way…

    There is no such thing as a “free” award ticket. No matter how may full fare flights you took, and how much spend you put on your AC credit card, to get the miles for an award ticket, you are still a second class person with AC. 🙁

    As for Martin, who doesn’t want to slum it with the peasants on award tickets, when he gets enough miles from his paid flights to earn a “free” ticket, he will find himself excluded. I wonder how he will feel then?

  36. The lack of bid upgrade access seems suspect. If you’ve paid for your upgrade and they’re awarding you miles in that class of service it seems as though you should be able to get the full experience. Those bid to upgrade can often be more expensive than a sale P class fare.

  37. It’s disingenuous for you to promote your award booking service and then not call out airlines when they are providing your customers an inferior service. Award miles are just an alternate form of currency, you can’t have it both ways.

  38. Virgin Clubhouse LHR – Better Ambience, better food!!! This still looks good – but i would rate the Virgin heathrow clubhouse far better, just because of the space, the general trendiness, the good food and entertainment value!!!

  39. Exclusion of award J is probably a good thing – if you are only allowed in on an AC flight that means that you have paid at least $500 in YQ. You are way better off booking Swiss on an Aeroplan (at least in the near future) award and use the $500 on a really nice meal somewhere else.

    Typically Ontario – they have not discovered that the best Canadian wines come from the Okanagan Valley in BC. This might be a problem caused by the Ontario Government that has banned the “importation” of BC wines into Ontario contrary to the laws passed in the last two years that prohibit the practice. So the crappy Niagara wines are another reason to either boycott the lounge or find something better elsewhere.

  40. Also worth a mention is our archaic Canadian liquor laws, which mandate that no alcohol can be served before 11 am. So the lounge is dry in the mornings. No mimosas or bloody Marie’s or Caesar’s in the morning. Lounge looks great but rather restrictive with accessibility. I do like the LHR maple leaf lounge quite a bit I wish our domestic ones were half as good especially the crapy ones in YVR.

  41. In all the years of travel and many many airline lounges in the world……this is the worst airline lounge that I have ever been in……this is the customer shower. After 24 hours flying from Brisbane, I was looking forward to a refreshing shower. I was shocked when I got in the shower and looked down …… needless to say, I got out very quickly, fearful of what I might catch. There was orange mould all around the bottom of the shower, grime and a wad of other peoples hair that had not been removed from the plug hole. When I complained, they were not interested.

    The food was bland and has been the same every time I am in this lounge.

  42. Just finished a visit to the lounge. Great experience, and I agree the dining is exceptional—food, service, everything. The lounge decor is classy and creates a relaxing vibe. There seemed to be a good balance between dining seating and non-dining seating options, and while there were quite a few people there it certainly didn’t feel crowded. Really good experience overall and worth seeking out if eligible.

    @yyz – they have a valet who will stow carryons while in he lounge, which was a nice feature.

  43. Looks great.

    Were you invited? I know there was a special media event recently.

    Or did you buy a fullfare J ticket?

  44. It’s too bad there is no such lounge in YVR. I frequently fly from Toronto to Hong Kong via Vancouver, business class full fare.

  45. Recently had the pleasure of visiting the Signature Suite on my way to Mumbai, and enjoyed the best sable fish I have ever eaten. This place is special.

  46. I am sitting in the Signature Suite right now. The dinner was amazing and will save me staying up to have supper on the plane – I will try to get a better sleep.
    The only disappointing thing is the beer selection. Canada prides itself on making good beer. Here the selection is horrendous. There is a huge amount of Craft IPAs and other good tasting beer available in Canada. Why am I limited to Molson Canadian and some international lagers. Guiness is the most exotic beer available???

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