The best airport lounge in the world… does it exist?
I have been thinking about this topic for a while – i.e. what makes the best airport lounge, as I feel it is quite important and relevant for frequent travellers. A while ago, I asked my readers what their thoughts were on airline loyalty programmes - it did make for a very lively debate. It was extremely interesting to see how obviously our home airport conditions our choices and preferences but ultimately, there were a lot of strong opinions – favourite airlines, favourite alliances.
Recently, I have started a series about luxury hotel reviews, appropriately named ‘My hOtel’. Why? Because after I started another debate on what people really want, expect, love and hate about luxury hotels, the floodgates opened. I don’t care much about coffee and tea facilities, but many of you do – and I took on the challenge to review each hotel stay I go on according to our combined standards. It has been a very interesting experience. Recently, one of my favourite travel publications, the Sunday Times Travel did a feature on the topic and kindly quoted me – yes, I hate those hangers that are stuck in cupboards. I promise you, I have never stolen a hanger from a hotel (or anywhere else).
Let’s talk airport lounges…
The need for airport lounges, in my opinion, is two-fold: they are (or can be) a very nice (or not so nice place) to kill some time before a flight or when (God forbid) a flight is delayed. But, and most importantly for me, they can really add to the travel experience and can actually make a difference.
I am spoiled. Why? Because my home airport is London Heathrow and my standard for a lounge is (or are) the British Airways lounges at their home airport. If we take Terminal 5 as an example, you have the choice of 5 lounges, which you can access depending on the class you are flying or your loyalty programme status.
- The Concorde Room – aka a little bit of heaven. Beautifully decorated and designed, it is a very quiet space and exclusive to those flying First (First, I must add, is not what USA-based airlines regularly call ‘first class’. That is business class for us on this side of the pond). A visit to the Concorde Room is a real treat for me, which usually happens once or twice a year and it is so good, it is worth getting to the airport early! Champagne bar, seat service and proper fine dining. You also get a 2-week membership of luxury concierge service Quintessentially which can prove quite handy for those hard to get tables in your destination. And if you can get organised, you can even pre-book one of the three cabanas and your Elemis spa treatment. I have recently reviewed a visit to this lounge, and you can read it right here.
- Galleries First – this is the lounge where you will find me more often. Open to BA Executive Club gold (oneworld emerald) cardholders (and First passengers), this lounge is larger but really really nice. I love the champagne and the wine bar, the fact that in terms of food you can either help yourself to the buffet or actually order anything from the menu and it will be brought to you either to your table or seat, depending how formal you want it to get. Needless to say, lots of computers, printers etc. They do some cracking bacon and egg sandwiches for breakfast which is great if you have enough time. One should not rush through this lounge.
- Galleries Club (2 lounges available on T5A and 1 lounge on T5B) – open to all business class and silver Executive Club members (one world sapphire). These lounges welcome a significant number of visitors but they are pretty decent. You have a fully stocked bar, a good breakfast selection and good food throughout the day – think pasta, rice etc, actual cheese (i.e. not plastic), fresh fruit and now some yummy cookies. The only thing missing for me is ice cream and chocolate (why not?). There isn’t a champagne bar in this lounge, but you can ask for a cheeky glass and it will magically appear.
There have been recent changes in the catering and I am sad to report that the best bacon sandwiches in the world (you can sense a theme here) are now gone. If anyone from BA is reading this (or if you are a frequent flyer and miss them too, join me!), please bring the old bacon sandwiches back. They were incredible and sometimes I even had two because they were the perfect size (and I promise I will only have one from now on!).
The paragraphs above were just to explain why I am spoiled – why this is the standard for me when I travel. I think BA have a very good lounge product in their home base, but sadly it is not consistent everywhere (especially on the return journey).
So without further ado, here is my airport lounge wish-list:
- Clear entrance policy – especially when code shares are involved and at away from home airports. Guests or no guests? When? It would make life easier for everyone. Oneworld seems to be making some progress in this area, but I find that there still are too many exceptions to the rules.
- Fresh food & drinks – I have never bought plastic cheese in my life.. why would I want to eat some before I board a plane? I have recently visited Qatar Airways lounges in London and Doha and can’t tell you how impressive it was. Sadly, in Helsinki, with Finnair, the only food we could get was salad and peanuts (and champagne was to be bought at 10 Euro a glass). But my best recent one? Being given a ‘premium drink’ voucher as Oneworld Emerald at an American Airlines lounge and being told that the only free food was pretzels and I think I saw some apples. I was surprised to see at Dallas airport (the home of AA) a full restaurant-style menu – for which you had to pay. I thought it was particularly interesting as I had paid $1200 for a four-hour plane journey where no food was served on-board (well, I could have bought some plastic cheese, if I was desperate). Where is the consistency?
- Wifi – free, of course, and to be honest, in 99% of my flights in recent years it has never been an issue. The exception? The lounge (shared by all airlines) at Barcelona airport which actually when I last visited, didn’t have wifi. I am not joking.
- Decent selection of newspapers AND magazines – this varies enormously and one would think it would be easier to sort out. And please, why have such obscure magazines full of ads? They take so much shelf space which could have been much better used. But sometimes one is so desperate that something in English would actually do. The best magazine selection I ever saw was at Qatar Airways’ London lounge and I sometimes do quite well with BA, but it is not consistent (even at their home base). I am very happy to ‘have’ to leave such items behind for others to enjoy, that is not even the issue.
- Enough seats – and comfortable ones. This is a difficult one as obviously there are space restrictions but…
- Power sockets – things have changed immensely as we all know and the average person has to charge at least one device (or three). Some airlines have really caught on this quickly, others not so much.
- Showers – this is a point raised by many of my readers, which I must confess I am not very familiar with as my normal long-haul flights are door to door, so to speak, so I prefer to shower when I get back home or when I get to the hotel. I would love some comments on this area as I am not knowledgeable enough.
- Quiet areas – and I don’t mean child-free specifically, although obviously there is a definite need for child-friendly areas (for both the little ones and their parents). I like going to the lounge and, well, lounge, relax. And if I have to make a call, I am extremely conscious of my whereabouts and who may be around me (same goes for conversations on planes). I have been noticing more and more people having full-on skype calls where everyone could hear them. I couldn’t help but smile (sadly) when I overheard that poor Jessica from company X was going to be fired. I like the concept of quiet train carriages and some quiet areas on lounges would be greatly appreciated.
- Better Flight information – I seriously think airport lounges need more screens. I actually quite like lounges where no flight announcements are made verbally, but I think better screen information would be welcome. When does the gate open, how long it takes to get there and when does the flight close. I recently missed the first flight of my life, which was delayed, because the screen information wasn’t updated. I kid you not. I was at a lounge, kept actively checking the screen which continued to say ‘Delayed’ and after 3 hours, I decided to go and ask. The flight had departed but the screen didn’t say anything. Great fun.
- Lounge location – again a very tricky one, but in some cases, it can be complete madness. My favourite one is Lisbon airport where the lounge I am supposed to use is by gate 9 and the non-shenghen boarding gates are from 40 onwards. The distance is around 2kms, and I am not making this up.
- Beauty Services and Spa – and since this is a wishlist, I can write whatever I want ;0. Honestly, spas are becoming more and more normal (thank you BA for Elemis which works well) but how about some quick blow-dry bars and maybe nails? Wouldn’t even have to be free, simply for the convenience. With a nice brand, of course.
And here you go, in the perfect world, these are the things that my perfect lounge would have. It is good to see that it is not far from reality – just bring back the bacon sandwiches, por favor.
Do airport lounges matter to you? Which are your favourites and why? What do you want to see in the ‘perfect airport lounge’. I have come up with my wish-list, but would love to hear from you.