Review: Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport

Filed Under: Other Airlines

My layover in Calgary was about 3.5 hours, as I arrived from Denver shortly before 4PM, and my flight to London departed at 7:20PM. Calgary is a fairly small airport, so I was expecting the transit experience to be quite easy.

First I followed the signage towards immigration and connections, and while walking I saw the beautiful WestJet 787-9 parked, which would be flying me to London.

WestJet 787 Calgary Airport

If you’re connecting from the US to another country there’s a special process for transiting without entering Canada. Now, before I criticize this process, let me note that both the US and Mexico don’t allow any sort of “sterile” transit, so Canada still has the edge in this regard.

Calgary has a makeshift setup for international connections. You go into the immigration hall, and then one of the airport employees hands you a special slip. They tell you to wait in line for immigration and have an officer stamp the slip, and then tell you to come back to them.

Calgary Airport international connection slip

The problem is that quite a few people were making connections, so there were at least a dozen people in the line. On top of that there was a line right next to it for those who had issues using the immigration kiosks while trying to enter the country. There was a single immigration officer to handle both lines. So in all I had to wait for about 30 minutes before I was through.

The immigration officer just stamped my slip, and then I walked back towards the airport employee who handed me the slip to begin with. She then escorted me to an elevator, I went through security, and then I was back in the international departures hall.

So the process wasn’t that bad, but it should be much easier, in my opinion.

On the plus side, the Calgary Airport terminal is gorgeous. It has really high ceilings and striking architecture, and best of all it’s not too big, so it’s an easy terminal to get around.

Calgary Airport international terminal

Calgary Airport international terminal

Calgary Airport international terminal

I was curious about WestJet’s lounge setup in Calgary. Calgary will be the primary base for WestJet’s 787s, so you’d think they’d eventually open their own lounge here.

However, instead WestJet uses the Aspire Lounge for their business class passengers. Using a contract lounge at a hub airport is a bit unusual, so wondered what it would be like.  The lounge does belong to Priority Pass, so if you aren’t traveling in business class, you can still access this lounge thanks to airport lounge benefits that come with certain some credit cards.

The lounge is located just past the regular security checkpoint, near the Chili’s.

There are two elevators leading up to the lounge.

Elevator to Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport

Upon exiting the elevator the entrance to the lounge was immediately ahead.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport entrance

I was promptly scanned into the lounge, and was informed that no boarding calls would be made.

Wow, this lounge is beautiful — it was nicely furnished and wasn’t full at all, which was a pleasant surprise.

Inside the entrance to the lounge is a communal tables, as well as some high-top seating.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport seating

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport seating

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport seating

Then along the windows are sets of four seats set up around coffee tables.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport seating

Further into the lounge are more seats along the windows, set up in rows of two.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport seating

Unfortunately the lounge doesn’t have direct tarmac views, but rather looks out over the terminal.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport view

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport view

Then there’s the buffet, along with four booths.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport booths

In the very back of the lounge is more seating, which includes chairs, benches, and more.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport seating

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport seating

There’s even a nap area in the very back right of the lounge. This consists of some daybeds, each with their own TVs. The daybeds also have curtains for added privacy.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport nap area

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport nap area

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport nap area

The lounge also has a selection of magazines and newspapers.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport magazines & newspapers

The bathrooms and showers are back near the entrance to the lounge on the right, and were well maintained.

The lounge also had a surprisingly good food selection.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport buffet

There were bagels, toast, croissants, cold cuts, cheese, veggies, fresh fruit, snack mix, and several hot dishes.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport snacks

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport snacks

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport snacks

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport hot food

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport hot food

There was also a selection of desserts.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport dessert

The lounge had a self serve coffee machine, as well as a selection of tea.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport coffee machine

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport tea selection

Then there was a self serve bar, including soft drinks, water, juice, liquor, beer, and wine.

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport self serve drinks

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport juice

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport drinks

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport liquor

Aspire Lounge Calgary Airport wine

All things considered I thought the lounge was excellent. I spent a bit of time in the lounge working, which was easy thanks to the fast Wi-Fi.

My flight to London was departing from gate D83, and boarding was scheduled for 6:25PM, which was 55 minutes before departure.

I headed to the gate shortly after 6PM, and it was only a few minutes away. In the gate area they were announcing upgrade offers — they were offering upgrades to premium economy for 649CAD, and to business class for 1,199CAD.

Those prices seem really steep for last minute upgrades. Usually if you’re going to promote upgrades it’s going to be with a special offer, though those are high prices. I would have expected upgrade costs to maybe be half of that.

Boarding started at 6:30PM. Wheelchair passengers were invited to board first, followed by Zone 1, followed by families, followed by Zone 2.

WestJet departure gate Calgary Airport

Aspire Lounge Calgary bottom line

While WestJet doesn’t operate their own lounge, that’s not a problem at all, as the Aspire Lounge Calgary is quite nice. It’s spacious, nicely furnished, and has a good selection of food & drinks. As long as WestJet doesn’t grow their premium presence out of Calgary too much, this should meet the demand for the airline for quite a while.

Calgary Airport as such was beautiful as well. My only criticism of the experience is that I wish they’d make the international transit process a bit easier. Ideally I shouldn’t have to wait 30 minutes just to get a simple stamp on my transit card.

  1. I just went through the Aspire lounge a couple days ago. The Chinook lounge was better. I went to both because I was connecting off a domestic flight.

  2. @lucky, I may be an outlier, but as a beer industry professional and Cicerone, I’m always curious about beer offerings in lounges. In general, I’ve found most lounges do a poor job on beer, favoring whatever international beer brands that happen to be popular in that country or area, but a few do manage to offer some well researched local craft beers, such as Alaska’s lounges and UA’s Polaris lounges.

    Anyway, i know you’re not really a beer guy, but I’d love to see as much attention on beer selections as you consistently offer on wine and spirits, even if that’s limited to “The beer offerings were uninspired.” and a picture of the predictable cooler filled with Heineken or some other slop.

  3. Based on my experience with other Canadian airports the international wing serves international flights other than US flights which have their own dedicated wing. I’m curious how many international flights depart Calgary daily. Your description of the lounge suggests they expect quite a lot of traffic.
    I’m curious what the lounge(s) in the US wing look like. I’m guessing there is a lot more passengers heading to the US????

  4. Calgary airport was designed by morons. Youre just lucky you didnt have to transfer from a Canadian domestic flight to an international one. Its over a 1.5km walk. Their golf cart solution has the capacity of like 4 people with luggage so I have no idea how they rationalized that long term. The airport is basically a big building with no functional elements. Maybe theyre expecting their economy to collapse and everyone will avoid their city? I hate transiting through Calgary.

  5. I refuse to visit another Aspire lounge after my visit to its LHR T5 offering last month. What an absolute dump. There aren’t many lounges that make you want to flee to the sanctity of the terminal but that place does.

  6. Was this one open air to the rest of the terminal? I know the YYC U.S. bound terminal’s Aspire Lounge is partially open air.

  7. How can an American have the audacity to criticise a transit process? Look at the hassle everyone has going through the USA. What an entitled primadonna you come over as Lucky.

  8. @mallthus @david
    I am too! And pricing as well, as for example @United lounges still charge for their “premium” beer, as in anything that is not Miller Lite… yuck.

  9. I visited one of the sister lounges flying back to the states in 2012ish. They sure did up their game

  10. @ Sam — Can you read? I literally acknowledged that in the post and said that anything in Canada will be better than the US or Mexico in that regard. Just because there are worse places in the world for immigration doesn’t mean I can’t share some constructive criticism.

  11. When you’ve got the AC flights to Frankfurt and London along with the KLM flight all departing within a couple of hours of each other the lounge becomes unbearably busy. YYC to me is style over substance even the elevator up to the bridge into the lounge complex is over engineered for a terminal that was designed from scratch.

    There are very few long haul flights which depart from YYC. The only destinations served daily are London, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. Goodness knows how the terminal will cope should demand grow to increase PEK, CDG, LHR etc. to year round daily.

  12. I just can’t help thinking that WestJet has some sort of fetish for Qantas. First they buy their old 767s which were barely running. Now they’ve stolen their tagline – “The Spirit of Canada”… (Qantas’ is “Spirit of Australia”)!

  13. @Ben

    I agree that making you go and get a stamp is a waste of time. You could have entered Canada just by getting your passport stamped by the same person instead of the silly slip of paper. So there’s no time advantage whatsoever. All you saved was a bit of space in your passport. As a Canadian I have no idea why Canadian airports are so bad at implementing better transit procedures. The intent seems to be there but the execution sucks.

    Similar problems arise with transiting from international to domestic. For international flights originating from certain places (Europe, Japan and Australia) one can now go through immigration and then skip security and go straight to the domestic departures area in YYZ and YVR. The catch is that in both cases you have to take a bus to the domestic area, which adds a bottleneck taking about as much time as going through security.

    Honestly, sometimes I think these processes are designed by people who have never traveled.

  14. yultide –

    the privilege of skipping security after going through immigration at yvr and yyz for passengers from eu, jp, oz, applies to everyone? or only to canadian citizens / us citizens / both countries permanent residents?

  15. Just adding here to my experience in transferring in Vancouver (YVR) while on an itinerary between San Francisco and Taipei recently (with a US passport). It was better than ever – only an abbreviated kiosk entry; then shown directly to the int’l departures area. Straight to down escalators, no security re-screen, nothing. So impressed. I think YYZ is set up similarly, while YYC and YUL have been only “half-way upgraded” due to lesser volumes of third-party country transfers.

  16. I don’t understand why or even where you cleared security at YYC. You should only have had to take the elevator up from the Canada Customs Hall directly to the International Departures Level. Please clarify…

  17. @Paul, Lucky was in transit through Calgary. He didn’t need to enter Canada. the current procedure for passengers in transit is to go through OSS (One Stop Security). In his case, he talked to the immigration officer before he proceeded to the departures hall (bypassing security). If he wanted to enter Canada or happened to miss OSS, he would need clear customs and immigration before entering the country, go up to departures level and clear security again.

    @yultide, I experienced OSS in YVR on the way back to YYC, and I agree it was not as seamless. I do like the bus part, although sometimes you have to wait which is not great if you’re in a hurry.

  18. @yyc

    He writes:

    “She then escorted me to an elevator, I went through security, and then I was back in the international departures hall.”

    I agree with you. The layout of YYC does not supoort this. Since he had OSS, where and why is he going through security? Something makes no sense here.

  19. $1199CAD is $890US; is that the upgrade from economy or premium? If economy that doesn’t seem that high.

  20. Enjoyed this review of Calgary airport; i suspect Westjet will open her own ‘branded’ Westjet lounge in the future. If you have a chance, the Cathay lounge in Vancouver airport is quite pleasant. Happy and safe flights

  21. Bit hard to take a pot at Canadian and US immigration after my trip some years ago through Melbourne airport – passengers getting off to get back on the same plane to continue to Auckland without leaving sterile airside – where we all sent through one barely functional security scanner line before ending up in a cramped gate with no seats. No time for lounges. Comments that Melbourne wasn’t ready for the whale did not go down well but were proven correct next trip when the whole area had been tripled in size and security did not take an hour or more.

    But 30 mins to get a form stamped is stupidity, eh?

  22. @capybara
    I can’t be certain, but from the look of it, skipping security in transit is available to everyone with travel originating from those countries. Bags are checked through to the final destination. The issue seems to be the point of origin. I transit frequently in YVR. Coming from LHR there’s now no security. Coming from HKG or TPE, I still have to go through security. In YVR there’s also a separate immigration queue for passengers with domestic connections.

    I’ve transited international to domestic in YVR in 20 minutes gate to gate, including immigration and the security check. (Admittedly, that’s an all time record and not the norm.) I’ve also done it in about 20 minutes with the bus and an escort. (I had a rather tight connection.) I don’t see any material time saving. All you save is the hassle of yet another superfluous security check.

  23. Rare I disagree with you Lucky, but I really didn’t like this lounge when flying out of YYC a few years ago. Food selection might be varied, but everything tastes atrocious. It was also very busy when I was there, during the AC European departures. The design is also very basic in my view.

    I far preferred the MLL in the domestic terminal, which I was able to use even though I was coming off a US flight. I had a long connection so it was worth going to the domestic terminal just to use the MLL there.

  24. I just flew out of Calgary a few weeks ago but back to the US so I was in the terminal for US flights. The Aspire lounge there was just as good and had the same food choices, excellent drink selection. I didn’t see the nap chairs and it was a smaller lounge but a fantastic one.

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