Air Canada’s new Signature Suite lounge at Vancouver International Airport doesn't want to be just any business class lounge: it fancies itself as an exclusive restaurant which happens to be perched atop the airline's bustling Maple Leaf Lounge.
And not just any restaurant, for that matter, but a fine-dining establishment under the wing of feted Vancouver-born chef David Hawksworth, where high flyers can enjoy a three-course à la carte meal, accompanied by wine, Champagne or cocktails, before jetting off to a distant corner of the globe.
That's the PR pitch for the Signature Suite Vancouver, which opens this Saturday March 14 as only the second lounge in Air Canada’s flagship network, alongside the Signature Suite Toronto. (A Signature Suite lounge for Montreal is understood to still be several years way, pending extensions to Montreal's international terminal.)
Here’s the Executive Traveller executive summary on Air Canada’s Signature Suite lounge at Vancouver.
Where is Air Canada’s Signature Suite Vancouver lounge located?
Air Canada’s Signature Suite Vancouver lounge sits atop the airline’s international Maple Leaf Lounge, opposite gate 52 of the Pier D departure level, with entry via the Maple Leaf Lounge itself.
Signature Suite guests will bear left, towards a concierge area where staff can tuck your wheeled cabin-bag into a luggage locker area (leaving you a little less encumbered and a little more like those carefree travellers you see in the glossy advertisements) before you head upstairs, perhaps taking a moment to appreciate the 'cloudscape chandelier' by Toronto design firm Moss & Lam.
Having these two lounges co-sited makes plenty of sense, not just in terms of operations but also access – because Air Canada has very strict rules on who is, and who is not, welcome at the Signature Suite.
Who can access the Air Canada Signature Suite lounge at Vancouver?
Like its Toronto sibling, the Signature Suite Vancouver is the exclusive domain of business class passengers travelling on a paid ticket. (More specifically, those are Air Canada flights booked in J, C, D, P and Z ticketing classes.)
If you’ve obtained your business class ticket using frequent flyer miles, either through an outright award booking or an upgrade, the Signature Suite Vancouver is off-limits and you’ll have to make do with the Maple Leaf Lounge downstairs. The same applies to frequent flyers travelling in premium economy or economy, even if they hold the loftiest elite status.
You’ll also need to be on an intercontinental Air Canada flight: domestic hops within Canada, as well as flights to the USA, won’t qualify for access (those flights leave from seperate domestic and ‘transborder’ terminals at Vancouver, each of which has its own Maple Leaf Lounge).
Finally, the Signature Suite Vancouver – again in keeping with the Signature Suite Toronto – is restricted to Air Canada passengers. Even business class travellers on other Star Alliance airlines flying out of Vancouver’s international terminal – a roster which includes Air China, Air New Zealand, ANA, EVA Air and Lufthansa – will have to cool their heels in the Maple Leaf Lounge.
Inside Air Canada’s Signature Suite Vancouver
Air Canada describes its overarching Signature Suite concept as “a haven away from the airport hustle". In the case of Vancouver, the lounge's compact footprint is almost entirely given over to its core function of pre-flight dining, so that business class passengers can maximise their sleeping time in the air. Of around 100 seats, over 80 are at dining tables.
There's a relatively open and busy 'bistro' space framed by the bar and the self-serve counter, which incorporates some elegant banquette-style sofas near the bar.
A quieter, dedicated dining room at the far end of the lounge makes for "a more exclusive dining experience", Air Canada says.
Sequestered away at the start of that dining room, behind panes of frosted glass and a locked door, is a truly private dining room which Executive Traveller understands will be made available to VIPs flying with Air Canada.
The entire Signature Suite lounge is flanked by tall windows which make the most of the elevated position for view overs the gates, as well as letting daylight flood the space.
Given the laser focus on pre-flight dining, the Signature Suite Vancouver doesn't follow the more conventional lounge layout with a demarcation of other spaces for working and relaxing.
This nook of six low-slung chairs, adjacent to the staircase which connects the Maple Leaf Lounge and the Signature Suite – and which is rather loftily branded as the 'West Lounge' – is perhaps the closest thing you'll get to a 'quiet area'.
AC/USB sockets can be found along the walls and even tucked under the bar, and we clocked the WiFi at a zippy 50Mbps, both down and up.
Something else lounge doesn't have: its own showers. Guests will have access to the showers of the Maple Leaf Lounge downstairs, albeit on a priority basis.
Although the Vancouver and Canadian design influences are far from obvious, they include locally-produced bronze wall panels; Telupana Blue stone, quarried on Vancouver Island, at the bar; custom hand-made wool carpet which "emulates the grey-blue hues of ocean vistas"; and "works of art drawing inspiration from and celebrating the Pacific Coast landscape and waterways."
Dining at Air Canada’s Signature Suite Vancouver
David Hawksworth, a son of Vancouver and considered one of Canada’s leading culinary talents, is behind Air Canada’s Signature Suite catering, both in the air and on the ground.
For the Signature Suite Vancouver, Hawksworth has curated an à la carte menu which draws heavily on west coast produce, with over 90% of the ingredients locally sourced.
Hawksworth tells Executive Traveller that some of those 'local heroes' will include sablefish, sidestripe prawns, morel mushrooms and pine mushrooms, and also white King salmon.
Compared to Toronto, Hawksworth says, "one of the great things about Vancouver is that we get three or four distinctive seasons, and so that's a great opportunity for a chef to do lots of variety" in seasonal produce, with the menu changing every three months.
"It will maybe be a little bit more focused on Asian flavours. I just want to make sure that when people leave the Air Canada Signature Suite, they have a fantastic lasting memory of Canada."
In addition to the à la carte menu, the self-serve buffet offers a variery of hot and cold dishes.
And with everything from Moët & Chandon Champagne and premium wines to signature cocktails and barista-pulled coffee, the tended bar will be a magnet for many. The bar also has its own menu.
Executive Traveller will publish a full review of Air Canada's Signature Suite Vancouver lounge in the coming days.
David Flynn travelled to Vancouver as a guest of Air Canada.