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Thursday,  July 25, 2024   2:39 PM
VIDEO: “An exclusive getaway”: Inside the new Aspire | Air Canada Café at Billy Bishop
Scott O’Leary, VP of loyalty & product at Air Canada, shows off the new Aspire | Air Canada Café at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. (Pax Global Media)

Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) just got a little sexier.

The island-based facility known for its close proximity to downtown and easy-going vibe welcomed its first airline lounge on Thursday (June 1): the “Aspire | Air Canada Café,” a co-branded space developed by Air Canada and Swissport.

PAX joined media yesterday morning to get an exclusive tour of the warm and modern space, which is located in Billy Bishop’s domestic departures terminal.

Some of the amenities include a hot and cold buffet, grab-‘n’-go items, a slick central bar with complimentary beverages and premium for-purchase drinks, dedicated work areas, a private meeting room and high-speed Wi-Fi.  

The Aspire | Air Canada Café opened at Billy Bishop airport on June 1. (Pax Global Media)

With some 140 seats, the cozy corner offers an “exclusive getaway” for Air Canada customers who are connecting to a business class flight or who have elite Aeroplan status (50K or above), explained Scott O’Leary, vice-president of loyalty and product at Air Canada.

“Billy Bishop is our highest concentration of premium customers where we didn't yet have a lounge. So, it was number one our list,” O’Leary told PAX.

Scott O’Leary, vice-president of loyalty and product at Air Canada. (Pax Global Media)

Some of Air Canada’s best customers travel to and from Toronto, out of both Billy Bishop and Toronto Pearson (YYZ), O’Leary said.

Especially to Montreal, where Air Canada flies up to eight times daily out of YTZ, and has 17 more departures out of YYZ.

The Aspire | Air Canada Café is the only airline-branded lounge at Billy Bishop. It marks the 27th lounge in Air Canada’s network and the sixth Canadian location for Aspire.

The space is also open to Star Alliance Gold members and Aeroplan premium co-brand cardholders. Passes can also be purchased for $55 ($35 for children).

From left: Hali Hamilton, sr. manager, product design, AC; Emily Van Den Akker, manager of product development, AC; Madeline Long-Duke, director of commercial communications, AC; Scott O Leary, VP, loyalty & product, AC; Mark Nasr, EVP, marketing & digital, AC/president, Aeroplan; Jamie Steiner, sr. manager, brand & B2B marketing, AC. (Pax Global Media)

Designed for quick visits

The “Air Canada Café” concept is about offering food and beverage items that can be taken to go, or enjoyed briefly, in an upscale café-style environment.  

Air Canada’s Maple Leaf Lounges, in comparison, offer a more full-service experience, for longer periods of time.

Inside the new Aspire | Air Canada Café at Billy Bishop. (Pax Global Media)

The Aspire | Air Canada Café makes sense for a small (but mighty) airport like Billy Bishop, where travellers often take pride in how close they can cut it to their departure time.

With underwater tunnel access, short security lines and smaller aircraft (there are no jets), YTZ is set up for a fast and hassle-free airport experience.

Warm woods adorn the seating areas in the new Aspire | Air Canada Café. (Pax Global Media)

“Even at busy times, you're right to the front of security,” O’Leary said. “Customers now have the convenience of this lounge, just before stepping on their flight. There's absolute value in being able to stop in – if only for a minute – to enjoy the space and grab something to go.”

Some of the to-go items on display yesterday included fresh bagels, pastries, pre-wrapped sandwiches and juices.

The coffee machine, in particular, is a piece of technological eye candy: visitors select their preferred brew on a digital tablet, which then dispenses their beverage, into their mug, from a tap.

A tablet-enabled coffee machine in the new Aspire | Air Canada Café. (Pax Global Media)

At the same time, there’s an invitation to sit down and enjoy the living room-like atmosphere, which is enhanced by warm woods, punchy art, leafy décor foliage, and triangular-shaped LED lighting.

The buffet-style food and beverage station – with both healthy and indulgent items – offers hot meals at all times of the day.

Meanwhile, the trendy, square-shaped bar in the centre of the room serves complimentary alcoholic drinks, but guests can also purchase top-shelf options, if they like.

The prices, O’Leary noted, are “substantially less than what you'd be paying outside in the retail side of the airport.”

A private meeting room in the Aspire | Air Canada Café. (Pax Global Media)

Demand for premium higher than ever

The new Aspire | Air Canada Café is part of a strategy at Air Canada to “dramatically expand” its lounge footprint – not just in Canada, but across its network, O’Leary told PAX.

“The demand for premium services are higher than they’ve ever been,” he said. “Our greatest challenge is making sure we can create sufficient premium capacity, and premium facilities, that still maintain their exclusive feel and function.”

Two thumbs up at the new Aspire | Air Canada Café at Billy Bishop. (Pax Global Media)

The airline, over the next few years, will be “heavily investing” not only in airport lounges, but also in its premium cabins and the experience that comes with that, O’Leary said.

What’s fueling the demand? O’Leary points to what he believes is a post-COVID byproduct of hybrid working environments.

“Folks are taking longer trips,” he said. “And because they're taking longer trips, and further trips, there's more value seen in splurging on a more premium experience.”

The team cuts the ribbon to open the new Aspire | Air Canada Café at Billy Bishop. (Supplied)

O’Leary’s message to the travel advisor community is “we’re listening.”

“We've heard from you, and we've heard from our customers, about the importance of a consistent experience,” he said. “And so, we wanted to make sure that no matter where you are departing out of Toronto, that as a premium customer, you can have a sufficiently parallel and elevated experience in this lounge that we've created at Billy Bishop.”

“It absolutely delivers on that.”

What does the new Aspire | Air Canada Café at Billy Bishop airport look like? 

PAX had its cameras rolling during our tour. Watch our exclusive video here!

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