Today marks the opening of Air Canada’s latest new offering in its premium ground services: the Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver.
The 4,400-square-foot space represents Air Canada’s second Signature Suite across the network, following the first location in Toronto which opened a few years ago, and will provide a new level of comfort and serenity to Air Canada’s paid business class passengers – excluding passengers booked in business class via upgrades or Aeroplan redemptions – prior to departing out of Vancouver International Airport.
I was in attendance at the recent exclusive media preview, so in this post I’ll share a mini-review with some of the first pictures from the new space. You can also check out a virtual tour of the space via this link.
Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver – Arrival
The Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver occupies the second floor of the Maple Leaf Lounge in the international concourse, next to Gate D52.
Once you enter the Maple Leaf Lounge, and a separate welcome desk is located next to the staircase that brings you up to the Signature Suite. Guests will have their boarding passes checked for eligibility before being welcomed up the stairs or the elevator.
A cloudscape chandelier welcomes you to the upper level, where a couple of staff members will greet your arrival and help you check any belongings into a luggage checkroom. From there, a series of bronze mesh sculptural screens mark your entrance into the Signature Suite’s bistro and bar area.
Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver – Bistro
The bistro area consists of a series of two-person and four-person dining tables. Guests are free to help themselves to the buffet, sit down for an à la carte meal, or simply enjoy a drink or two.
The catering in the lounge is masterminded by Chef David Hawksworth, owner of the acclaimed Hawksworth Restaurant in Vancouver and the creator behind many of the contemporary Canadian dishes served onboard Air Canada’s Signature Class flights as well.
His buffet selection consists of a series of light bites, such as butter chicken, pork belly and jackfruit baos, rice noodle and duck salad, Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, seared red tuna served in lettuce wraps, and a variety of cheeses and sweets.
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I sampled a portion of every item, and found the pork belly bao and the red tuna to be especially appetizing, and a refreshing step up from what I’ve been accustomed to eating in Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounges. The smoked meat sandwiches were pretty good too, with a few slices of beef and pickles topped with a dollop of mustard.
In speaking to Chef Stephanie Noël, an understudy of Chef Hawksworth’s, I learned that the buffet and à la carte items are exclusive to the Signature Suite and will not be available downstairs, and will rotate on a roughly quarterly basis.
Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver – Bar
For those who’d prefer to sip on a drink before their flight and save their appetite for onboard, the Signature Suite’s bar, constructed out of a block of Telupana Blue Stone endemic to Vancouver Island, is where you’ll want to hang out.
The Signature Suite offers champagne from Möet & Chandon (both brut and rosé) and a variety of high-quality spirits and cocktails.
My friend Jayce from PointsNerd was also in attendance at the media preview, and we enjoyed a few glasses of Moët before ordering a couple of old fashioneds, which we had the pleasure of watching being made right in front of our eyes.
Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver – Dining Room
Proceeding past the bar, you arrive at the dedicated dining space, which features mostly two-person seating, but with tables that can be pushed together to accommodate larger groups as well.
This space acts as a full-service restaurant, where guests may order from a wide range of appetizers and entrées on the à la carte menu.
While the full sit-down dining experience was not a part of the media preview event, we were treated to a sampler dish of the appetizers on the menu.
I’m not a fan of mushrooms, so I skipped the mushroom risotto, but I found the other morsels – particularly the hamachi sashimi – to be delectable, and I would hope to be excused for ordering quite a few portions if I were patronizing this lounge.
The best seats in the house are definitely along the windows here in the dining room, where you’re treated to unobstructed views of the tarmac. In addition to the usual Air Canada traffic here at YVR, Jayce and I watched several other birds arrive and depart over the course of the evening, including the EVA Air Dreamliner bound for Taipei.
Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver – Other Features
In terms of the lounge’s other features, there is a private dining room that’s usually reserved for Air Canada VIPs – an invitation-only “elite of the elites” status tier that’s higher than even Super Elite 100K. When it’s not in use by the airline’s upper crust, it can be offered to families travelling with young children as well.
Then, along one of the corridors past the main entry stairway are the restrooms, including male, female, and all-gender accessible restrooms. Premium toiletries are provided by the London-based apothecary Molton Brown.
However, one downside to the Vancouver Signature Suite is that, due to space constraints, it doesn’t offer exclusive shower rooms; instead, the shower rooms are shared with those of the Maple Leaf Lounge downstairs.
Another limitation may be that the Signature Suite primarily acts as an elevated dining and bar experience, and doesn’t offer much in the way of dedicated seating space for relaxing and working besides a few isolated chairs near the back of the lounge.
A guest who’s finished their meal and drink would potentially prefer to head back down to the Maple Leaf Lounge, where a greater variety of seating options are available.
In terms of the capacity, the Signature Suite offers seating for 105 premium passengers in total, and with most of Vancouver’s international departures taking place later in the day, I’d expect the lounge to be relatively sparse in the mornings before gradually filling up as the evening bank of departures to Asia and Europe approaches.
Who Is Eligible to Access Air Canada Signature Suites?
The access rules for the Air Canada Signature Suite Vancouver are the same as the Toronto location. As per the Air Canada website:
With an allowance for paid business class guests only, and excluding those who are using upgrade instruments or redeeming points, these are some of the most restrictive access rules for any premium lounge in North America.
Speaking to Air Canada representatives, I learned that this is primarily driven by space constraints: the Toronto lounge regularly reaches its capacity during peak times despite these restrictive access rules, and Air Canada would hate to turn away guests (especially those on paid business fares who contribute the greatest revenue) because the lounge is full.
While the airline is continually exploring ways to extend the exclusive experience to all business class passengers regardless of how they booked, the reality of the space constraints means that I wouldn’t expect the eligibility criteria to be loosened anytime soon.
If you’re in the habit of redeeming Aeroplan miles for travel, then you won’t be eligible to access the Signature Suite; however, this is one instance in which booking a discounted Air Canada business class fare via, say, RBC Avion at a value of 2 cents per point (cpp) or using the Amex Fixed Points Travel reward chart might be more advantageous, since those booking channels will leave you with essentially a paid business class fare that would be eligible for access.
There have also been a few data points that customers who were originally booked on a Star Alliance airline with points, but then got rebooked onto Air Canada business class during an IRROPS situation, have found themselves being granted access to the Signature Suite.
Air Canada’s newly-opened Signature Suite in Vancouver will regale premium travellers with the best that Canada has to offer in gastronomy, design, and comfort. Guests can enjoy themselves across three distinct spaces: the bistro, bar, and dining room, sampling a wider range of award-winning cuisine and premium beverages while taking in sweeping views of the YVR tarmac.
While I don’t envision myself flying on a paid business class fare anytime soon, I look forward to visiting this lounge as a passenger one day when I’m able to combine a discounted business class fare to Asia with one of the many ways to redeem points for a flight while still booking into a revenue fare bucket.