Fundamentally, a business class ticket is a business class ticket…confirmed passengers who paid with miles instead of dollars should not be treated as second class citizens.
From all initial reports, it appears Air Canada’s new Signature Suite in Toronto sets the standard for à la carte airport lounge dining in North America. I am very excited to try it and salute Air Canada for its efforts to create a world-class product on the ground.
Nevertheless, I am dismayed at how strict the access policy is. Access will only be granted for paid business class passengers on Air Canada. Passengers who upgraded or paid with miles are not granted access. Travelers on Star Alliance partners, even in paid business class, are also not granted access.
Lucky’s Point: Restricted Access Better Than Overcrowding
Ben from One Mile at a Time lays out a well-reasoned argument for why this policy isn’t ideal, but the best “in this case for now”.
Citing overcrowding concerns in a lounge that is only 5,500 square feet and designed to handle 150 guests, Ben argues that limiting the lounge to paid business class passengers on Air Canada is a better alternative than either allowing guests in on a first-come-first-served basis or permitting overcrowding that makes the experience unpleasant for everyone.
Furthermore, he argues that nothing is being taken away from business class travelers who upgrade or use points.
Let’s keep in mind that nothing is being taken away from passengers here — passengers who previously had access to the Maple Leaf Lounge will continue to have access, and arguably they’ll have an enhanced experience, as the lounge won’t be as full (assuming Air Canada doesn’t make cutbacks there).
He also, rightly in my mind, argues that opening up the lounge to more guests later on is better than introducing restrictions due to unmanageable overcrowding.
But I also see this from Air Canada’s perspective. Keep in mind that they’re starting with these entry requirements, and in the future they’re open to expanding access as space permits. They’d rather be strict now and then extend access to more passengers, rather than the other way around.
My Point: Treating Mileage Customers Differently Sets Too Dangerous A Precedent
Ben’s case is strong. I agree that an overcrowded lounge can be a horrible lounge. And yet I believe that separate but equal is inherently unequal.
Let’s take an example, Toronto to London. Say on a given date that Air Canada is willing to sell a business class seat for $3,000 or 55K miles. Why should the passenger who paid with miles be treated as an inferior customer to the one who paid cash?
Seriously. Why is there an implicit bias against those who paid with mileage? Why not allow only passengers who used mileage into the lounge instead of those who paid cash?
Because that would be absurd. But why doesn’t the same logic apply in the other direction? Passengers who choose to pay with one currency may still have access to the same perks they once had, but they are no longer given the same benefits of those who paid with a different currency.
That just strikes me as unfair.
Should “Fairness” Matter?
Obviously, Air Canada has the prerogative to set strict access limits on its new lounge. Yet even Singapore Airlines allows award ticket passengers into its exclusive Private Room in Singapore. Lufthansa and SWISS allow award tickets access to their wonderful first class lounges.
I’m very much in favor of restricting this lounge to business class passengers only (i.e., no elite members traveling in economy class). I’m even okay with limiting access only to Air Canada customers, even though its a tad ironic that passengers on JV-partner Lufthansa will not have access.
But I’m not okay with Air Canada prohibiting access to those who upgraded or are traveling on award tickets. In some cases, the upgraders have paid more. Many corporate travel policies only permit economy class bookings, but a full-fare economy class ticket upgraded to business class is often much more expensive than a discounted “paid” business class ticket.
I’m of the opinion that even if it results in overcrowding, all business class passengers on Air Canada should be granted access. If there is a waiting list for a table, passengers can enjoy a drink or appetizer in the nearby Maple Leaf Lounge. When their table is ready, they will be paged. It’s that simple. If it feels too crowded at full occupancy, remove some tables…
Let’s also not forget that Air Canada is quite stingy in releasing award space. It’s not like each flight is full of those who used miles (again, though, this should not matter). I honestly do not think allowing those traveling on award tickets into the lounge would necessarily even make it crowded.
I’ll answer this question now: is a lounge with an unfairly restrictive access policy better than no lounge at all? No, I don’t think so. But I also think that is not applicable to this situation. There are easy ways Air Canada can allow all Air Canada business class passengers to use the lounge without sacrificing its quality.
What do you think?