This post is a guest contribution from Paul, a frequent reader of Travel Codex. It’s always great to hear how other travelers have used loyalty programs and travel hacking to enhance their own vacations.
A friend alerted me to a $1,450 round-trip flight from LAX to CDG in business class on Air Canada (normally over $4,000). I quickly booked it for my wife and myself to spend some alone time in Paris. Because of the fare class we were booked in (a mistake on the part of Expedia), we were granted entry into the fabled Air Canada Signature Lounge in Toronto. Wow! In short, it was gorgeous and the food would make any restaurateur in LA, Chicago, or NY jealous.
According to Air Canada, this lounge is only for “Air Canada Signature Class customers traveling to Europe, Asia and South America on an Air Canada flight booked in J, C, D, Z, P booking classes.” We could have visited one of the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges (which are open to Star Alliance flyers) but wanted to experience this luxurious lounge instead.
After walking through a gorgeous entryway, we presented our boarding passes at one of the two daises and were then escorted to the Concierge for a private tour. Concierge? Check. Private tour? Check. The space could hold up to 240 people, but they prefer to only have ~170 to keep it comfortable. We saw perhaps 75 people when we checked in, and that grew to over 100.
The Character of the Lounge
Have you ever visited a lounge that is basically just electricity, utilitarian bathrooms, some free low-brow booze and chips? Well, this, my friends, was the opposite. It is drop dead gorgeous with stylized wood all around, eye catching sculptures and dramatic art. This was built to wow and wow it did. I have been to some other wonderful lounges, e.g. the JAL F lounge in Narita, Virgin Atlantic’s F lounge at LGW, and Delta’s spacious lounge at SEA. Frankly, this one is the most beautiful of them all. But, see the photos and decide for yourself.
“If you would care to dine with us, please allow at least 45 minutes,” we were informed by the Concierge. Um, that sounds delightful. Dine vs. eat really explains how lovely this space and experience is. We were whisked into the Signature Dining room and seated by a gracious waiter. I have never been to a lounge with a Dining Room and certainly never one with a special menu created by an esteemed chef, in this case by leading Canadian Chef David Hackworth.
Hmm, gorgeous, highly varied buffet next to a spectacular bar or seated service? Okay, twist my arm. The room itself was sumptuous. Well lit, comfortable and inviting. There was a smaller private dining room available for VIPs and for conferences.
And how was the experience? After we perused the extensive wine and beverage options (and were offered as many taster pours as we wanted), we selected from the short, but exceptional menu. We opted for fresh Canadian fish (my wife) and Canadian meat (me).
How was it? We live in LA and travel a lot and eat out at higher end restaurants every few months. This was truly lovely. Okay, it was not Gordon Ramsey personally delivering food to us, but it was super yummy and far far far better than anything I’ve ever eaten (or dreamed of eating an airport). And it was free. Please Sir, may I have another?
The Bar, Buffet, and Seating Areas
Air Canada clearly designed this space to encourage relaxation, to highlight their appreciation of high end customers and for efficiency. The buffet as mentioned before offered seriously wonderful food, the bar was long and stocked with well-known and craft alcohol served by arty looking drink crafters (no Bud Light on tap here) and the seating areas too were inviting and comfortable.
My wife and I spent a few hours playing cards and relaxing. Of course, it helped that waiters came by every few minutes to offer us refills and whisk away any pesky plates or empty drinks.
You’re writing about the bathrooms? Yep. Why? I’ve been to so many lounges where the bathrooms are about as nice as those you’d find at a stadium. These by contrast were spacious, beautifully appointed and clean. I counted over seven unisex rooms outfitted with luxurious soaps and salves.
Nice to have a respite that is not jarred by the person in the stall next to you chatting without a headset with their kid on FaceTime. I value privacy and these inviting individual rooms delivered.
I will admit that I like exclusivity. This exceptional lounge, outstanding dining experience and wonderful bar was 180 degrees different from, for example, the Alaska Lounge at LAX where as many people as possible are shoehorned into utilitarian rooms with C-quality food. If I had to pick one disappointing thing, I would note that they don’t have showers in the lounge. Those are available at the Maple Leaf Lounge nearby.
But overall, the Air Canada Signature Lounge at the Toronto airport was an occasion to savor, delivered by those who worked there with grace. A beautiful space, inviting menu, lovely staff and exceptional food made it an event, not a lounge visit, that I cannot wait to enjoy again.