web Musings of The Global Traveller

Monday, June 29, 2009

Airline lounges - my second home

As I have been asked about airline and airport lounges a lot lately, I figure it is time for another blog post about them. Airline lounges can generally be accessed by:

  • paid club membership - of the specific airline's club or a partner airline's club with reciprocal useage rights
  • pay per use membership
  • frequent flyer elite status
  • airline class of travel

So far, I have never bought club membership or paid for day use of a lounge. Despite this I have used over 260 lounges in over 120 airports worldwide, several of them over 100 times. The quality of lounge varies widely from the luxury of the Lufthansa First Class Terminal with dozens of fine single malt whiskies, to a peaceful oasis of calm in what is otherwise a horrid airport (lounges in Dhaka and Lahore spring to mind), to the downright nasty crowded rooms (such as the LAT Lounge at Beirut which makes the Red Carpet Club at Los Angeles look good!).

What do I look for in a lounge?


Most airline lounge users do not shower in the lounge. However, for me it is an invaluable asset and I wish more lounges had them. Whether it is because I'm in the middle of 2 or more days constant flying, or because I'm rushing straight from work to flight to work with no time to visit home or hotel in between, I use airline lounge showers very frequently.

Of course not all showers are equal. Most have towels, soap and other amenities. Some do not. I bring my own towel just in case. Some have toilet and basin in the shower room, others do not. Some are heavily used and require lengthy waits (eg Lufthansa Frankfurt nonschengen B lounge in the morning and evening).

The best airport showers I've had are in the Los Angeles Air New Zealand lounge. It is great to wash away the hassles of security (and often lengthy immigration queues too) in the middle of 30 odd hours of flying. Oh yes, the cabanas at Cathay Pacific Hong Kong The Wing First Class lounge are also pretty nice.

Business facilities

I'm in the minority here amongst business travelers, but a lot of the time I travel without a laptop. Downtime in transit is an opportunity to catch up on messages and get some work done. For this reason I wish every airline lounge had free internet computers, preferably with printers and photocopiers available. Free local calls are a nice bonus if available.

The best airport lounge business facilities I've used are the bookable rooms in the Melbourne and Sydney Qantas First Class lounge. Not only do they have all of the above, but also little things like office stationery (pens, pencils, paper even a stapler & sellotape). To keep any meetings confidential there are also privacy blinds and enough space and chairs for a few people to use the room at once.

Lounge agents

When things go wrong, as they are bound to from time to time, having good airline agents in the lounge who are authorised to fix things is invaluable. Not only does it save time queueing at a desk in the main part of the terminal or on hold on the phone, but by getting quick access you sometimes can take advantage of fleeting opportunities.

One example is in the United San Francisco Red Carpet Club (RCC) a few years ago. I had one of those tricky itineraries flying to Anchorage via Portland and Seattle, having just arrived from New Zealand. The weather along the west coast was bad with many flight delays. My flight to Portland was delayed a couple of hours which would likely mean misconnecting with the once a day flight from Seattle to Anchorage. I spotted the issue when a delay announcement was made at the gate and headed straight back to the RCC with it's service desk inside. The nice agent in the lounge quickly saw the problem and rebooked me on the nonstop flight to Seattle that was just about to board. If I'd tried calling or heading to the landside service desk I wouldn't have even reached an agent in time to take this option.

The extras

Showers, computers and good agents are the 3 things I really look for in an airline lounge. Other stuff, however, may be the difference between a good lounge and a great one. Here are some examples of lounge extras I like. See if you can pick which lounges I am referring to?

  • children's play room, complete with playstations - less noise in the main part of the lounge and keeps kids away from the computers
  • air hockey table - for the inner child
  • special lounge security and immigration to bypass the regular ones - faster and less intrusive
  • great picture windows overlooking tarmac, runway and scenery
  • wide selection of magazines and newspapers
  • great restaurant quality food and drink with proper meal service
  • Fauchon green tea ice cream
  • spa or massages
  • sleeper rooms, complete with wakeup service so you don't miss your flight
  • bar tenders that remember my order and have it ready when they see me coming

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