Just a few years ago, the lounge situation in North America was rather bad. In the lounges of the big airlines, there was seldom more than cheese, chips or salad. But things have changed in recent years: United & American Airlines have opened their own premium lounges that also deserve the name. And Delta will soon have its first real business lounge.
Star Alliance member Air Canada is not bad either, now operating two Signature Suites in Toronto & Vancouver. What the business lounge in Toronto has to offer – and why this review almost didn’t exist – is what you’ll read in the following paragraphs.
The Signature Suite in Toronto is located above Departure Gate E77 in the international departures area. In order to reach the lounge, you first have to go through passport control, which is now completely automated for a connecting flight international → international, and a form no longer needs to be filled out.
As soon as you are at Gate E77, there is a small sign to the left signalling the way to the lounge. The Signature Suite shares an elevator with the Plaza Premium Lounge. Air Canada also has the (much worse) Maple Leaf Lounge for Star Gold cardholders at the other end of the terminal.
Then let’s get in:
The Signature Suite is one of the lounges with the strictest access rules that I know of. According to the website, all the following criteria must be met for access:
- Long-haul, non-stop flight (from Toronto/Vancouver) operated by Air Canada
- Business class ticket
- Eligible destinations: Europe, Asia, South America
- It must be a paid ticket in the following booking classes: J, C, D, Z, P
- The original booking class when booking the ticket is decisive
- An award flight does not qualify for access (except for Business Class Flexible Reward on Aeroplan)
- Entering with a guest is not allowed
This makes the Signature Suite significantly more exclusive than, for example, a United Polaris Lounge in the USA, because Lufthansa business class passengers are granted access there, even with an award ticket. On the other hand, Air Canada limits access to its own flights.
My Odyssey Trying to Enter the Lounge
During my visit, I realized that even these strict access rules only exist on paper. Some time ago I booked a business class ticket Amsterdam – Munich – Toronto – Santiago de Chile (and back) for just under €1,300. All long-haul routes were operated by Air Canada, making it a perfect mileage run for United MileagePlus.
I was also very much looking forward to being able to test the lounge in Toronto, which was still unknown to me. The anticipation lasted until the boarding pass was scanned. There I was suddenly told that my ticket would not give me access, but that I could go to the Maple Leaf Lounge next door.
So I took another close look at the rules on the website:
* 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.
Non-stop flight to South America? Check. Booking classes? Originally Z, through rebooking J – check. Operating airline Air Canada? Check. But the computer says no.
I went through the entry rules with the staff one by one, and they could not find any reason why entry would be prohibited. Instead, there were a few unfounded statements such as: “This is a codeshare flight. Air Canada does not receive any money for this”. On the one hand, this is factually incorrect, on the other hand, the flight number
AC 92 was not a codeshare. And even if it was, codeshares would never be ruled out according to the above rules as long as the flight is operated by Air Canada.
All three employees at the lounge reception were now involved. But nobody could explain why the computer said no. Nevertheless, after a bit of typing, it stayed the same: Unfortunately, exceptions could not be made, and I was asked to leave.
I’m not one to call the supervisor for every little thing. But since I had 5 hours and the discussion was obviously not leading anywhere, I asked for the supervisor. He was then connected to me by telephone, and I calmly explained my request. Looking at my ticket, he couldn’t find any reason for exclusion either.
After a few minutes of conversation between the manager and the lounge staff, it was said again that my ticket actually did not give me access, but that the manager was so kind and personally invited me to the lounge.
Not a satisfactory answer, but after 20 minutes of arguing, it was okay at this point and I enjoyed the rest of my stay. According to experiences in Flyertalk, I wasn’t the only one with the problem.
A total of 10 days elapsed between the outbound flight and the inbound flight via Toronto. During that time, I tried to reach out to Air Canada via Twitter, Facebook, and email to sort out the issue before flying back. Air Canada has not responded to any of my requests.
Although customer service ignored the request, I had better luck on the way back. The boarding pass directly showed the invitation for the Signature Suite, and so this time I got into the lounge without any discussion. What exactly the reason was, I couldn’t find out.
The lounge is roughly divided into three areas. When you enter the lounge, you will also find yourself in the buffet area with a large, manned bar. There are numerous tables with appropriate seating distributed around the bar. If you want to work on a laptop, this is also the best place to be. There is no dedicated work area.
To the right is a small, quiet area with various armchairs and coffee tables. This place is best for unwinding before your flight and whiling away the time before boarding. However, the space here is rather small.
But the real action takes place in the furthest corner because that’s where the fine dining is. There are another 12 dining tables here, which are stylishly set with wine glasses, tablecloths, etc. The tables are quite close together, so you sometimes have to squeeze through to your own seat. At least, no one has to wait long for a table (hopefully) even during rush hours.
The interior of the lounge appealed to me as soon as I entered. It is stylishly decorated with numerous plants, patterns and lamps. The Signature Suite exudes the charm of a luxurious hotel lobby rather than an (often sterile) airport lounge.
By the way, there are no windows in the lounge. In my opinion, the decor of the lounge compensates for this quite well – even if a view of the apron would have its own charm.
In my opinion, a few square meters more would have been good for the lounge, e.g. to accommodate a small work area with desks. Even in the evenings during the large wave of departures, I always found a seat to eat and work, but between 18:00 and 20:00 the lounge fills up significantly.
Food & Drinks
You can choose to eat à la carte in the restaurant area or from the self-service buffet. If you have enough time, you should not waste any time with the latter, but directly make yourself comfortable in the restaurant.
À la Carte
After entering the restaurant area, I was immediately assigned a seat. I didn’t hesitate for long, ordered the obligatory Coke Zero and then took a look at the menu:
In theory, the map can also be viewed online. However, the menu on the website is still as of April 2022, while we have now arrived at the winter menu.
We’re not flying Saudia here, so friends of alcoholic beverages don’t miss out either. From two types of champagne to wines and cocktails, everything has been thought of. A quick online check shows that the champagne regularly costs around €50 to €80 per bottle. From about 20 bottles, you’ll have the costs for the business ticket back.
To start, I chose the duck confit with a tropical vegetable side dish. A somewhat strange combination that tasted just as unusual as it sounds. But at least the duck meat was good.
We continued with a portion of beef tenderloin. It ended up medium-rare on my plate, accompanied by crispy potatoes and some roasted broccoli. And it was absolutely delicious:
Luckily, I still had enough time – despite a 3-hour delay on the outbound flight and a long discussion in the lounge – to try my way through the menu. However, I didn’t get too far on my first visit, because the tenderloin was so good that I had to order a second portion.
On the second visit (two weeks later) I tried the crudo (raw fish) and the fried king oyster mushrooms. The beef is unmatched, but these two dishes were excellent as well:
Only the dessert menu was a bit disappointing for someone who doesn’t drink coffee or alcohol, as it offered an espresso cake or a sorbet with whiskey. So only one scoop of ice cream remained, unfortunately without whipped cream. But I can’t blame Air Canada for my taste.
Not relying on the buffet was definitely the right decision. Because there are primarily small snacks:
- Cheese cubes
- Sausage and ham
- Pulled pork sandwiches
- A warm chicken dish with rice
- Small pieces of bread with salmon
- Two desserts (brownie and fruit crumble)
It didn’t look bad, but I would have expected a little more. At least, the options are of higher quality than in the Maple Leaf Lounge. Therefore, even a short visit to the Signature Suite can be worthwhile.
Surprisingly, there are no self-service drinks. You can either get them at the bar or have them brought to you by the staff. I’m usually not a big fan of that, but it worked out well here because the service was extremely attentive. So I could make myself comfortable with the laptop, and the drinks came all by themselves.
When eating, it should be said that all dishes are freshly prepared, so expect a 10-20 minute wait per course. You should plan at least an hour for the starter, main course and dessert.
In contrast to Finnair, enough waiters are employed, so there were always two or three employees nearby. The service in the restaurant area was good to very good overall. The only thing I would have wished for was a more active approach when refilling the drinks, as I had to wave the staff over once or twice.
The service in the buffet area was excellent. I hadn’t even realized that there was no drinks machine, and a member of staff was already asking me what drinks I wanted. On the second visit, everything went smoothly again.
There aren’t many extras because the lounge is generally rather small. For example, it has no showers. That’s particularly annoying given that the showers at the nearby Maple Leaf Lounge are closed “for renovation.”
Toilets, on the other hand, are sufficiently available. These are all private unisex washrooms, as it now seems to be the standard in premium lounges.
I didn’t see any sockets in the dining area. If you want to work on your laptop for a long time, you should sit at the buffet anyway, so as not to disturb the atmosphere. There you’ll find – at least on one half of the seating area – numerous American power sockets.
Wi-Fi is of course available. Access was comparatively slow at around 12 Mbit/s, but that’s enough for work:
- Comfort & Furnishing
- Food & Drinks
The Signature Suite is the first airport lounge I’ve visited that can actually compete with an upscale restaurant. This is something you only get as a first-class passenger elsewhere.
The rules for access are correspondingly strict, e.g. if both companies offer transatlantic flights in a joint venture, I find it a bit strange to exclude Lufthansa passengers. Luckily, Air Canada’s in-flight product is better anyway, so I’d fly with the Canadians if both options cost the same price.
For the problems with access despite a legitimate ticket, I devalued the service aspect by one star. Apparently, this is an exceptional case in connection with tickets that were not issued by Air Canada. However, staff should be able to overwrite a computer error.
I was in the lounge a couple of times and since it was opening (I was there shortly after its opening back then the first time) the quality and overall impression seem to suffer.
When it opened, you could feel that the employees have been proud (and the customers impressed) and were willing to serve and doing a fantastic job, although anyway the food quality for sure never has been “upscale” restaurant quality, just a solid restaurant experience imho.
Now the service is “I do my job” and the food quality good, not more. In the context of airline lounges the food is very good, to be fair (but even in downtown YYZ you can find easily better restaurants).
Compared to other lounges, still the Signature Suite is for sure one of the top 5 in North America, competing with AA Flagship dining. In both cases, even if we talk business vs first class lounge, they are targeting their best (a ka full fare paying) customers.