Air Canada was voted 'Best Business Class in North America,' but the two business class lounges we visited didn't entirely live up to the hype

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderAt least the pour-it-yourself bar means unlimited drinks.

On a recent trip to Canada, I was scheduled to leave Vancouver for New York at 10:30 p.m., and I planned on exploring a bit in the morning. Alas, it was the beginning of the city’s rainy season, so I decided to work instead.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe rain was kind of a bummer, but it was still beautiful.

Rather than work from a coffee house or my hotel room, I figured I would head to the airport and spend the day seeing how I could taking advantage of Air Canada’s award-winning business class.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThere were a lot of other passengers working as well.

Source: Skytrax World Airline Awards

Air Canada was voted 2019’s “Best Business Class in North America” by passengers, according to the world airline survey conducted annually by Skytrax — a company that surveys more than 20 million travellers — as well as TripAdvisor’s Travellers Choice Awards.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI had a great view from my seat in the lounge.

Source: TripAdvisor, Skytrax World Airline Awards

After hearing about the renovations made to Air Canada and the addition of its Signature Class, I thought I would try flying what was voted the Best Business Class in North America — and 18th best in the world. And the class experience includes the lounges.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe priority check-in counter for Air Canada in the Vancouver airport.

Source: TripAdvisor, Skytrax World Airline Awards

I had a two-hour layover in Toronto …

Google MapsFlights from Toronto to New York don’t leave from Toronto’s international terminal.

… so I made use of the Maple Leaf lounges in both Vancouver and Toronto airports. Air Canada has Maple Leaf lounges in several airports along its various routes available to both long- and short-haul business class travellers, as well as a Signature Suite in Toronto available only to international business class travellers flying in the newer Signature Class.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderMaple Leaf lounge in Vancouver.

Even though I flew Signature Class for one leg of my trip, I wasn’t allowed to use the Signature Suite lounge in Toronto because Air Canada doesn’t consider the US to be international travel. Travellers flying to the US from Toronto leave from a domestic terminal and can’t access the international terminal, where the Signature Lounge is located.

Sharon M./YelpNot-so-frequent flyers, like myself, may not realise this until they’re at the airport searching for their gate.

The Maple Leaf lounge I visited in Vancouver is nestled inside a fake rock wall in the domestic terminal.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe entrance to Vancouver’s Maple Leaf Lounge.

I arrived at 2:30 p.m. and the vast check-in area was pretty empty. It felt a bit odd to see only one person behind this giant desk.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderA few others were checking in for their flights as well.

After checking in, I headed upstairs using the elevator, of course, because I always have way too many bags to carry. There’s also a staircase travellers can use if they want to get some steps in before a long flight.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderUp we go!

Desperate to put all of my luggage and cold-weather accessories down, I snagged a pair of leather armchairs and set up camp.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI definitely took up a lot of space, but there were plenty of empty seats.

Since the airline boasted “mouth-watering” food by an “award-winning culinary partner,” I went to check the food selection out right away.

Air Canada/InstagramThe post says there is food like this in the Maple Leaf lounges as well.

Source: Air Canada Instagram

There was a small buffet centrally located in the lounge with two hot soup options …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe buffet in the Vancouver Maple Leaf lounge.

… some basic do-it-yourself salad fixings …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThere were tomatoes, mixed greens, cucumbers, red onion, radishes, and carrots.

… a selection of chips, salsa, hummus, and bread …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe jalepeño lime hummus was great.

… and two bowls of what I’d call a featured side — there was a grain salad and a bowl of edamame.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI tried the grains and they were OK.

I started the afternoon with a winning combo of chips, salsa, cucumbers, and hummus. I figured as dinnertime approached there would be a change-over at the buffet.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI kept going back for more salsa.

On one side of the buffet, there was a fully-stocked refrigerator with different soft drink options …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderDrinks included soda and seltzer water.

… but there was also a pair of drinks in dispensers — watermelon and basil-infused water and jalapeño lemonade. I love fruit-infused water so I opted for that.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderFruit-infused water (left) and lemonade (right).

There was also a selection of wine …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe white wines were kept cold.

… top-shelf liquor …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThere were two trays of liquor.

… and beer on tap.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThirsty passengers had plenty to choose from, including two local brews.

All of the alcohol was self-serve …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderSelf-service does make things easy.

… which I thought was interesting considering the photos of another Vancouver airport Maple Leaf lounge show a full-service bar.

Air Canada/InstagramThis is what I thought all of the Maple Leaf lounges would look like.

Coffee was also do-it-yourself. Even though there wasn’t a barista to help make a cappuccino for my daily 4 p.m. craving, there was this easy-to-use machine that made it just as well — sans foam art.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI love a good cappuccino.

I was able to pick my drink of choice …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderTravellers could choose a latte, flat white, cappuccino, and a few others.

… customise it to add another shot of espresso and pick my milk.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI wanted all the caffeine possible for this long night ahead.

It was actually pretty good!

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI can be pretty judgmental of cappuccino, and I actually really liked this one.

After about an hour, I decided it was time for a treat. There were two options of cookies: chocolate chip and oatmeal.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI got excited when I saw the cookie jars.

I love a good taste test, so I loaded up a cocktail napkin with one of each and headed back to my seat. I was surprised that I thought the oatmeal was far superior to the chocolate chip — I’m a chocolate lover, but this cookie was unfinishable.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI never thought I’d meet a cookie I couldn’t finish.

At around 5:30 p.m. a hot dish of penne pasta and tomato sauce was added to the buffet.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderIt went pretty quickly.

It was good, but it wasn’t particularly hot — definitely not what I expected from North America’s best business class experience.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI liked it, but I was expecting much more.

I thought there would be more for dinner, so I didn’t take a full serving of the pasta. But, once that silver tray was empty that was it. It was back to hummus and bread for me.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThere was sliced bread seen above as well as pieces of pita bread.

I ended my day at the lounge with a glass of Merlot from British Columbia — it was the only local wine on offer. The two white varietals were from Australia and the Cabernet Sauvignon was from California.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderIt’s always fun to try the local wine.

While I wasn’t totally impressed by the food at this Maple Leaf lounge, the area itself was really nice and a pleasant place to hang out in.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe lounge itself was lovely.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leaf lounge in the Toronto airport looked a little more tired, so I ultimately chose to sit at the gate instead.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderIt was dark and some of the chairs were ripped.

But not before I grabbed some breakfast. The food was fairly basic. There was a dish of hard-boiled eggs next to two types of melon and some yogurt containers …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThe eggs were the only protein on offer.

… cereal dispensers …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderTravellers could choose from Raisin Bran and Rice Krispies.

… bread and jam …

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderThere was no label on the jam so flavours were a guessing game.

… and two large pots of oatmeal.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI thought I was going to find more soup in these things.

I went for toast with apricot jam and a hard-boiled egg. It did the job at 5:30 in the morning.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderAfter four hours of travel, this was all I needed.

This lounge had taps for beer as well, but they were closed because it was so early in the morning.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderNo beer before sunrise!

They did have the watermelon water, though!

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderYum!

Overall, I thought the food at the Maple Leaf lounges was just fine. It can fill a traveller’s need for a snack but definitely not a meal. Considering Air Canada holds the title of the “Best Business Class in North America,” I found the food in its Maple Leaf lounges pretty disappointing.

Rachel Askinasi/Business InsiderI expected more from Air Canada.

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