As detailed here, I signed up earlier this year for the CIBC Club Privileges Travel. One of the features of this program is that it affords access to all of Air Canada’s airport lounges for lowly not-as-frequent flyers like me.
To my surprise, I’ve made a lot of use of this access. One of the facts of life on the “new Air Canada” is the hours one must spend in Halifax or Montreal waiting for connecting flights on to the U.S. or back to Charlottetown. Spending these hours in the slightly upgraded comfort of the lounge makes it slightly less annoying.
The greatest benefit of the lounges, for me, is the quiet. There is a palpable and very annoying hum in airport waiting rooms — I don’t know whether it’s the flourescent lights, the jetliners, or the masses of disgruntled people, but it can drill into your brain. Air Canada’s lounges are generally much quieter — you notice this as soon as you walk in the door — and that greatly reduces the stress of travel.
What hasn’t paid off to the extent that I imagined is the access to food and beverage. If you’re a big consumer of alcohol, access to unlimited beer, wine, and liquor is probably pretty attractive. Indeed, from the prominence of the liquor area, this appears to be one of the big selling features of the lounges for a lot of travelers. This doesn’t hold a huge appeal for me — drinking before flying makes flying a lot worse — so I’m left to graze around the edges and partake of the meagre non-alcoholic offerings.
Food-wise, it appears, from the kitchen infrastructure in place, that food was once an important component of the offering. This is no longer the case. The worst example is Halifax, where there’s never more than cheese and crackers, and those cardboard-infused “sesame snacks” that Air Canada offers in the air. In Montreal, especially at breakfast time, things are somewhat better: toast, bagels, yoghurt, fruit. In Newfoundland yesterday there was a snack area with uncommon variety of cookies, chips, nuts, etc. But you’re not going to find anything resembling a meal in the lounge.
The true gem of the lounge network however, from my limited experience to date, is the Air Canada Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow airport in London.
This lounge isn’t advertised a lot. It’s hard to find: you have to go outside Terminal 3 to the area in front of the shuttle buses and enter through an almost-hidden door. And it’s tiny.
But they offer hot showers, in well-equipped personal washrooms. A decent breakfast, endless tea and coffee, a good selection of newspapers and magazines, and an Internet terminal (albeit a locked-down, very slow Internet terminal).
For the opportunity to have a hot shower alone, the yearly fee for lounge access is worth it (I was able to bring Dad in for a $20 guest fee; he agreed). Nothing takes the edge off the catatonia of trans-Atlantic travel like a hot shower. And having a little quiet area of regroup before heading back out into London chaos after arrival formalities was quite useful as well: we had a long travel day (bus to Stanstead, plane to Slovenia, bus to Ljubljana) ahead of us after landing, and the break was very welcome.
On the way back through Heathrow to Canada, I stopped in at the departures lounge for a quick use of their Internet access. This lounge is hared with the Scandinavian airline SAS, and the style is very Nordic: bleached woods, clean design, cool colours. I didn’t spend a lot of time there, but it did seem a very pleasant space, especially if you had a couple of hours to kill: there was a TV lounge, about a dozen Internet terminals, slightly more food than usual, and a lot of interesting areas to sit. And the supply of Scandinavian magazines and international newspapers on the racks to pilfer was welcome too.