Are the big players interested in buying smaller agencies? Well, it depends on who you ask.
NEW YORK CITY — Just how Canadian is Air Canada’s new Maple Leaf Lounge at LaGuardia? There’s Molson Canadian on tap.
The upscale lounge, which had its ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday and officially opened to the public at 5 a.m. this morning, marks the carrier’s third lounge in the U.S. and its 23rd overall. With capacity for up to 126 customers at any given time, it’s also conveniently located after security near Air Canada’s gates in the brand new Terminal B Eastern Concourse, which had its grand opening at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) on Dec. 1.
Air Canada has the distinct honour of being the first airline to open a lounge at the sparkling new terminal.
Speaking to Travelweek, Mats Winter, Director of Airport and In Flight Product for Air Canada, said that the facility not only doubles the capacity from the previous Maple Leaf Lounge that it’s replacing at LGA, but it also elevates the customer experience with new contemporary design elements, many of which are distinctly Canadian.
“We’re extremely proud to be opening this new lounge,” he said, adding that design firm HOK made sure to include touches of Canadiana into the décor and amenities. “We really tried to work with our Canadian partners to bring the Canadian experience down here to New York City.”
In addition to Canadian beer, the 7,105 square-foot contemporary space features artwork by renowned Canadian artists, including Johanna Reynolds, whose four-piece ‘Passages’ abstract series depicts Canadian natural landscapes. There’s also a self-serve bar, a wide selection of beverages including Canadian wines and Lavazza specialty coffees, a cyber counter equipped with PCs and colour printing, complimentary Wi-Fi and access to more than 7,000 digital newspapers and magazines courtesy of Vancouver-based company PressReader.
All this, added Winter, is part of Air Canada’s overall product strategy.
“If you look at our strategy over the last couple of years, you’ll see that it’s really a storyline that focuses on our premium product,” he said. “We started a few years ago with our dedicated Business Class check-in area at Toronto Pearson, then we started the BMW chauffeur service at Pearson for eligible passengers, and last Dec. 1 we opened the Air Canada Signature Suite, also at Pearson, which has been assessed as the Best Business Class Pre-Flight Dining Facility in the world by Skytrax as part of their last Quality Assessment. This is a huge acknowledgement for a North American carrier when you’re going up against the Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines of the world.”
Winters also noted other recent premium initiatives, including Air Canada’s new Signature Service, launched in April on select nonstop, transcontinental flights within Canada and to the U.S., the introduction of luxury amenity kits and new mattress pads to enhance the sleep experience, and Air Canada’s partnership with Chef David Hawksworth who designed sophisticated inflight menus and the menu for Signature Suites.
“It’s been a continuous investment in the premium product and this new lounge [at LaGuardia] is yet another part of it,” said Winter. “The investment in our premium product is ongoing and will continue, but I should also say that we are definitely looking into our Economy Class product as well next year to see what can be enhanced because we do recognize a lot of our customers are in Economy Class cabins.”
When asked whether this is in response to Canada’s increasingly competitive low-cost carrier market, Winter said yes and no.
“From the mainline perspective, we’re not necessarily competing against the WOW airs of the world. We’re really in the market to compete with other legacy and network carriers, and we certainly want to have a similar, if not better offering in all cabins compared to them,” he said. “But we do have a very powerful tool – Air Canada Rouge – a leisure carrier that operates primarily to Europe in the summertime and to the Caribbean and Central America in the winter. That’s really our competitive response to some of the lower-cost entrants into the market.”
Whether it’s Air Canada’s Economy or Premium product, Winter noted how the carrier’s brand has evolved over the years to one that focuses largely on exceptional service. In fact, launching in conjunction with the LaGuardia Maple Leaf Lounge is a brand new employee program called Premium Agent.
Andrew Yiu, Vice President, Product at Air Canada, said that through the new program, employees are specifically trained and accredited to work in Air Canada’s lounges and priority check-in areas.
“We’ve had this program in Canada where it’s been highly successful, and New York is the first city in the U.S. that we’re launching this with the opening of the new lounge,” he said, also noting that Air Canada has been flying to LGA from Toronto since 1941. “The history between us and LGA go way back to 75 years plus, something that we’re extremely proud of, and we’re really proud to be part of history again moving forward.”
So what’s next for Air Canada? Following today’s opening at LGA, the carrier will unveil another Maple Leaf Lounge in St. John’s, Newfoundland within the next two weeks, and one in San Francisco towards the end of 2019.
“I think for next year you’ll see a lot of the same focus on network growth and product investment,” said Winter, “not so much perhaps on international expansion, but definitely the expansion of our North American network.”
The LaGuardia Maple Leaf Lounge operates seven days a week and is located in the departure gate area, on Level 2, of the Terminal B Eastern Concourse. The new terminal is part of a US$5.1 billion redevelopment project and features 13 new shops, restaurants and services, including an airport-themed children’s play area.
For more information go to aircanada.com.
To see more photos from yesterday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony, visit the Travelweek Facebook page here.