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Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge: A Visit During COVID‑19

While the impact of COVID-19 on the travel industry as a whole remains profound, ground and on-board service offerings that had been axed during the height of the pandemic are returning in a new form.

With buzzwords such as biosafety protocols and prepackaged everything, airlines have redesigned their service offerings to provide travellers with a sense of security when travelling during a pandemic. With fare sales and promotions aplenty, airlines are doing their darnedest to get people travelling again.

Ricky outlined eerily desolate airports and flying in a near-empty plane when he flew from Toronto to Montreal at the beginning of June. At that time, lounges remained shut and onboard services were restricted to a bottle of water and a plastic baggy of sanitation supplies.

In mid-July, Air Canada announced that they would begin slowly reopening lounges with a number of new measures in place in light of COVID-19. The domestic lounge at Toronto Pearson was the first to open, with the domestic lounges in Vancouver and Montreal to follow.

(At the time of writing, the lounge in Vancouver has reopened, while the lounge in Montreal is set to open by Labour Day.)

 

I recently visited the Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge in Toronto (when I moved to Vancouver Island at the end of July) and in Vancouver (during a layover en route to Edmonton). This post outlines my experiences in both lounges, along with a series of pictures from the Vancouver lounge, so that you’ll have an idea of what to expect during your next visit.

Upon entry, the lounge staff, who are behind a large plexiglass barrier, will direct you to scan your boarding pass and, if needed, swipe your lounge membership card, to verify your entitlement to enter.

If you need any assistance with your lounge access (e.g., from a TD Aeroplan Visa on an Aeroplan redemption or a one-time pass from Air Canada Altitude Select Privileges) or with your flights, they would be happy to assist.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Entrance

As soon as you enter the lounge, there are floor markers that both direct the flow of traffic and encourage passengers to stand at least 6 feet apart at all times. The stickers are found throughout the lounge, including at the entrance to the bathrooms.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Floor markers and stanchions

There are also stanchions or physical barriers set up that discourage you from going against the recommended flow of traffic. Stanchions are also used to block off sections of the lounge that are closed off for cleaning throughout the day or for areas that only staff members may access.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Floor markers and area blocked off for cleaning

The seats have been rearranged to allow for physical distancing between passengers. While some areas featured staggered seats, others feature seats that near each other (from a distance), which would be good for people travelling as a couple or a family.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Physically distanced seats

Close to the food area, there are a number of tables set up for solo travellers or couples to dine at.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Dining area

At each seat in the lounge is a table with a QR code and NFC code for the Air Canada @ la table service (see below). Each code pulls up the hot food menu for the day. When you order hot food, it is delivered right to your seat by a staff member. Note that you can order as many items as you wish.

There is also a reduced capacity limit, although I don’t imagine high volumes of people will be an issue for the foreseeable future. In both my experiences, the lounges were largely empty, with a passenger to staff ratio of around 2:1.

There are numerous hand sanitizer dispensers and Lysol wipes stationed throughout the lounges. In the washrooms and on stickers throughout the lounge, you are reminded how to effectively clean your hands and prevent the spread of COVID-19 (and other communicable diseases, for that matter).

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Lysol wipes

Seats and side tables are to be wiped down by staff before they can be used again. Cleaning staff use electrostatic sprayers several times throughout the day. Dedicated washroom attendants clean the areas frequently.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Hand-washing instructions

As onboard and in the airport, you are required to wear a mask at all times when in the lounge. There is an exception when you are eating or drinking. All staff wear masks and other personal protective equipment.

Magazines and newspapers are no longer available as hard copies. Rather, passengers must download PressReader and then gain free access from Air Canada to over 7,000 publications.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – PressReader instructions

To get access, you need to download the PressReader app (for free) and create an account. As long as you are connected to the lounge’s WiFi, you will have access to all publications, which can be downloaded and used for at least a few days after your lounge visit is complete.

For the business travellers out there, current services are limited to complimentary WiFi and remote printing. There was ample space for both of my visits, though, so you shouldn’t have any issues finding an appropriate space to work if that is your thing.

As exciting as biosafety measures are, if you’re like me, lounges are all about food, drink, and getting your lounge on. Indeed, one of the things that drew me into the Miles & Points world was the allure of lounges in the first place.

For food, you have two options. The first is to order a “grab and go” bag of food from the main food area (where the buffets used to be). The daily offerings are listed at the entrance to the main food and drink area.

The staff will fill the bag with your selections, which differ between breakfast and lunch/dinner. Cold options are kept cold until they are removed from a refrigerator. No worries about adding a few extra chocolate bars or bags of chips 😉 

The second option is to order hot food from your table. I am, admittedly, a bit of a Luddite, so it took me a while to figure out what QR codes are and how NFC codes work. On my phone, the regular camera scans the QR code and a link appears at the bottom of the screen. You may need to download a QR scanner app to pull up the menu.

For the NFC option, you’ll first need to enable NFC on your phone. Once it is enabled, you have to physically tap your phone to the NFC button and the menu will be automatically pulled up.

After scrolling through the selections for your desired meal, select your desired option, confirm your choice, and it will be delivered to your table shortly thereafter. It was nice to see the kids’ options too – if I hadn’t made a dope mac and cheese the day before, I may have been tempted to order the kids’ option myself.

I wound up ordering both hot options during my visit, as my marathon training has my metabolism working at a very healthy pace. As for the cold options, I am terrified of tuna salad in general and the turkey and provolone sandwich didn’t sound particularly appetizing to me.

In my experience, it took around 10 minutes for the hot items to be delivered.

Farfalle primavera
Chicken rice bowl

I was neither impressed nor disappointed by the hot food options. They were pretty much on par with most of my previous experiences in Maple Leaf Lounges. Having hot options is certainly better than “Grab ‘n Go” bags, but I would love to see some more variety in the hot food offerings in the near future.

If possible, may I also suggest packing a toothbrush, as you’ll be breathing in whatever food you have consumed for as long as your mask is on your face.

Notably missing were the ubiquitous tortilla chips and lukewarm salsa that Ricky has opined about on several occasions. Along with the parsley omelette, I’m wondering if Air Canada is reconsidering some of the staples that have been around for ages.

For the beverage service, as there were hardly any people in the lounge, I didn’t have to wait for a beverage refill at any point of my stay. The offerings were all the same, with the only difference being that someone else was doing the hard work for you.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver (Domestic) – Bar

There were a few things that struck me about the current state of affairs for lounges.

The first was how quiet it was in the lounge. It was awkwardly quiet. I could hear every word the gentleman close to me said to his significant other over video chat (as well as her responses). I could hear the kitchen staff speaking to each other from behind a closed door. One passenger was very specific in how he wanted his beverages poured and delivered, and I got to know those details over the course of my stay.

An empty Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver

The second was how different it felt to ask staff for everything.

In times past, interactions with lounge staff were largely limited to pleasantries during check-in and awkward smiles if you bumped into them during your stay. It was a huge change to hear staff asking passengers: “May I clear your table?” and “What can I get for you today?”

The third was how few people were in the lounges. In Toronto, I was at the lounge on a Monday morning, which usually meant that the lounge was packed with passengers on a host of domestic departures. There were 10 or fewer passengers in the lounge on both of my visits, and this made me feel the harsh reality of travel right now during the pandemic. As someone who loves to travel in any way, the emptiness of the lounges was a reminder of how much things have changed, and how long it will be before the old normal will come back, if ever.

An empty Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge Vancouver

Overall, given that I was in an indoor space frequented by many others during a global pandemic, I felt relatively safe during my lounge experience. While I wasn’t sure of the exact reason, I even saw cleaning staff scrubbing the bottoms of stanchions and the stickers on the floor during my stay.

There were ample reminders and opportunities about measures to take to ensure your safety and the safety of your fellow passengers. The small number of passengers certainly aided this observation, as I’m sure the buzzwords promised in online advertising would be much more difficult to adhere to if the lounges were packed.

Conclusion

I don’t anticipate spending a lot of time in lounges in the near future, but it is nice to know that airlines are slowly starting to reopen with a number of preventative measures in place. Given the current border restrictions and the risks associated with becoming ill during international travel, domestic flights (and good old-fashioned road trips) may be on your radar for the time being.

If you availed yourself of the many recent promotions offered by Air Canada, you may be able to enjoy an even quieter space than the rest of the airport and some complimentary, albeit mediocre, food and drink during your travels. And if you were used to packed lounges and vying for good seating pre-COVID, you’ll be treated to ample spaces and plenty of room to yourself likely for the foreseeable future.

Until travel picks up to anywhere near pre-pandemic levels, Air Canada’s lounge experience is likely to be as described above.

Feel free to leave a comment below if you have been to a lounge recently or if you would like to see anything changed.

18 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Zack Gallinger

    Does anyone know if the showers have reopened in the Vancouver lounge?

    1. Avatar
      TJ

      I was there a few days ago and can confirm that they haven’t reopened yet. It may be a while.

  2. Avatar
    Alex

    Are the showers open?

    1. T.J.
      T.J.

      I don’t think the showers will reopen for the foreseeable future.

  3. Avatar
    Mervyn

    Has the Montreal lounge opened yet

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      Not yet, as far as I’m aware.

  4. Avatar
    Mic

    Thanks very much. Super helpful description of the way it is… Great website too, one of the better points sites I’ve been to. Cheers, Mw

  5. Avatar
    Alan Vlemmiks

    I have been through Air Canada lounge several times this lat two months. The staff fo not enforce the mask law. Allowing large groups to drink together even after the latest BC restrictions. They are also very surely. Dissapointed big time as a million miles plus flyer

  6. Avatar
    John Phillips

    Hello T.J., any update on when Montreal’s Maple Leaf Lounge will reopen? We’re connecting through to Athens on Oct 1. Thanks!

    1. TJ
      TJ

      Hi John! The latest I’ve heard is *maybe* by the end of the month (September). But unless things pick up, it could be pushed back even further. I hope it opens up for you, though!

  7. Avatar
    Arthur Toft

    there is no automatic way to open the washroom door at YVR domestic lounge. So everyone has to touch the door handle.If there was the automatic push button we could use our elbows

    1. T.J.
      T.J.

      Good point – for as much of a touchless experience as possible, that would be a great improvement. When I visited, one time the door was propped open, and the other time, there was a paper towel dispenser conveniently located close to the door.

  8. Avatar
    Alex

    Been on Aug 15 in the AM in the Toronto Maple lounge – huge disappointment.
    I had rather little time – and scanning the codes and waiting for food was too long for me (besides the fact that the gentleman at the entry didn’t tell us nothing about QR codes).
    So I opted for a coffee and the grab and go – which was a huge disappointment.
    The experience is ages away from what it was before covid.
    All in all, next time I have a short time – I’ll just eat at the great lounge of Tim Hortons.

    1. T.J.
      T.J.

      Sorry to hear you had a less than satisfactory visit. I’m hoping that the Air Canada Cafe opens back up, as it was doing the grab and go style pre-COVID. And the coffee was 200% better than what is offered in the main lounge.

  9. Avatar
    Timbo2

    oh, it works..

  10. Avatar
    Kevin

    I just scanned the QR code in the picture and ordered a hot dish to table 22 lol

    1. T.J.
      T.J.

      Looks like table 22 is the place to be if you’re hungry 🙂

    2. Avatar
      Anon

      LOL. This is a major oversight if it actually works

T.J.

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