Air Canada (AC) – flying the iconic Canadian Maple Leaf for decades on end and proudly representing their home country abroad.
But you get the gist – they are routinely voted the best international major flag carrier from North America by international rating agencies and generally are well liked by the flying public, but lately they’ve taken steps towards a more cattle transport type operation with going to a 3-4-3 ten abreast configuration on their 777 fleet and cramming more than 400 passengers into those aircraft, and also ordering their 787 fleet in the more cramped 3-3-3 nine abreast layout. This has left some frequent fliers at Air Canada a bit peeved and the way the management folks at AC have gone about their expansion as an airline – and understandably so.
But here’s some news that will surely cheer up some hardened Star Alliance and AC passengers based in North America.
In an effort to enhance the experience of their premium customers, both Star and in-house, the airline has finally completed what ended up being a year long process to open a new flagship Maple Leaf Lounge – the airline’s business class and Star Gold lounge – at their hub at Montreal Pierre Trudeau International airport.
At last a facility that properly matches the beauty of their home town.
Located between gates 52 and 53, it is a 1,022 sq meter lounge which places it at one of the largest Air Canada and Star Alliance lounges out there – it can seat just over 250 passengers which serve to be handy at peak hours.
Another great thing about this lounge is that it’s tarmac facing so beautiful aircraft views will be abound with newly installed floor to ceiling windows – I personally hate windowless or underground lounges – not a fan of that ‘comfortable dungeon’ feel. Another thing that I enjoy about lounges are the ones that reflect their home airport or city – one that showcases what makes their hometown special and has some personality, which Air Canada claims this new lounge will have.
The airline had this to say about their new toy:
We are thrilled to welcome eligible Air Canada and Star Alliance customers to our completely redesigned international Maple Leaf Lounge at Montreal-Trudeau airport. Our newest international lounge incorporates many elements sought after by today’s business and premium travelers including a quiet, stress-free place to work or relax while traveling, and our new lounge is designed with this in mind,” said Benjamin Smith, President, Passenger Airlines at Air Canada. “Surrounded by Canadian and Quebec design artistry and craftsmanship, as well as elements highlighting the majestic natural beauty of Canada, customers will enjoy an inspiring environment before their Air Canada flight.”
What’s more, Air Canada is actually quite generous with their lounge offerings in comparison to their larger, similarly alliance bound North American counterparts in American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines.And they’ve just gone one notch up.
It still astounds me that as an international United passenger booked into Business Class I need to pay for a glass of wine pre-flight yet on the same Star Alliance itinerary can enjoy the delights of Thai’s multiple lounges in Bangkok or ANA’s Ippudo catered Ramen bar in Tokyo. I’m not even going to start on Austrian’s Do&Co catered home lounge in Vienna or Asiana’s flagship offering in Seoul.
The list goes on.
Air Canada seems to fall in between their Asian and American counterparts, but the new enhanced lounge offerings further distances themselves from their brothers and sisters to the south:
The new lounge offers customers a full service bar and complimentary alcoholic beverages including a selection of Canadian wines, a live food station with a chef, barista-style specialty coffees, complimentary Wifi, a cyber work counter and facilities, living rooms, lounge chairs, showers with heated floors and an exclusive private area for special guests. It also features multiple zones inspired by nature including a garden ceiling that creates the illusion of a forest canopy with ceramic pieces by Quebec artisan Pascale Girardin that imitate the sound of rustling leaves, travel inspired photography by Montreal based Nicolas Ruel, special maple wood and Ontario Eramosa marble. Custom furnishings are by local Canadian designers Nienkämper, Mobilier Moderne, and Brent Comber.
While I haven’t yet had the chance to experience it I like what I’m reading.
Listen, there are no two ways about this – this is a great upgrade on what is already a premium experience in the North American context to the Air Canada or Star Alliance frequent flier in the region.
It’s great to see that Air Canada is continuing to improve their ground services in their important hubs,and it seems as though they’ll be expanding this new lounge concept pretty aggressively come the new year:
As a leading global carrier, Air Canada is pleased to offer premium passengers access to 22 Maple Leaf Lounges around the world. In addition to the new Montreal international Maple Leaf Lounge, Air Canada is investing in the customer airport experience throughout its network with the recently opened Newark Maple Leaf Lounge, an expanded Vancouver international Maple Leaf Lounge opening in summer 2017, a new Saskatoon domestic Maple Leaf Lounge opening in fall 2017, and refurbishments planned for its domestic Maple Leaf Lounges at Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver in 2017.
And what’s great is that this affects more than just a few passengers – we sometimes forget just how impressive Air Canada’s operations are out of Montreal, choosing to focus on their bigger hubs in Toronto and Vancouver:
Air Canada, Air Canada Rouge and its regional airline partners flying under the Air Canada Express banner operate on average approximately 2,100 flights per week between Montreal and 80 destinations: 23 in Canada including nine in Québec, 18 in the United States, 26 in the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico, 12 in Europe, and starting in 2017 one in China and two in North Africa.
So kudos to AC for making this investment and trying out the new concept in their ‘smaller’ hub before expanding out.
And best yet this all comes just as United is beginning to do the same with their own current (shall we say substandard) lounges with the introduction of the airline’s new Polaris Business Class. The general ground service experience has been enhanced in several of UA’s hubs starting with the new Polaris lounge at Chicago O’Hare and other new lounges slated to open through the end of the year and into 2017, with Los Angeles and San Francisco expected to be next and Newark to follow.
It’s becoming increasingly important to align with your admittedly superior international alliance partners to provide at least a semblance of consistency across the network so that irregardless if I’m on a United, Lufthansa, Air New Zealand, South African Airways or EVA Air ticket, there are some things that remain constant throughout a Star Alliance booking. As it stands, this is not the case especially in North America.
Air Canada has taken these important steps to rectify the situation and fellow North American’er United is following suit. All I can say is that it’s about time!
Has anyone visited the new Montreal lounge in person yet? Is it really the upgrade we all hope that it is!?