Expert insight

Spotlight on: Latest developments in airport lounges

14 October 2019

Airport lounges can offer a welcome respite from a hectic travel schedule. Read the latest developments in lounges from across the world.

     

 

The best airport lounges are not too full, have fast WiFi, plenty of power sockets and offer restaurant standard food and facilities to shower, change or freshen up.

They also come in different shapes, sizes – and clientele. At the top end of the market, Heathrow’s Windsor Suite caters for royalty, heads of state and celebrities before they are driven to the tarmac to board the plane.

Setting the standard for premium lounges, but more within the range of C-level business travellers is United Airlines’ Polaris Lounge at San Francisco. Voted best airline lounge in the world by Skytrax, Polaris lounges are open to United long-haul business class, Star Alliance business or first-class passengers.

It’s quite something too. Occupying 28,120 square feet over two floors, the SFO Polaris Lounge is the largest in the world. Bags of space, including private rooms and semi-private cubicles, showers with Saks Fifth Avenue towels and other luxury products and great views of the tarmac are amongst the Lounge’s amenities. Whilst other US hubs like Houston and Los Angeles will both get Polaris lounges this year, London will have to wait until 2020.

The popularity of premium economy and falling prices in business class are driving consumer demand for lounge access. One carrier after another is up-scaling its lounges in key locations including British airport hubs – especially at London’s Heathrow.

Alongside the Concorde Room open only to first-class passengers, British Airways’ new First-Class Wing at Heathrow Terminal 5 also houses the BA Galleries First lounge. If an à la carte breakfast or waiter service for an evening meal is on your VIP travellers ‘must have’ list, this is the place for you.

Both first-class passengers and Gold card holders are eligible to use the lounge. Access from the First Wing area at the south end of the terminal allows passengers to use first-class check in, go through a separate security channel and directly into the lounge.

Other lounges are designed for business class, even if they appear to be intended for first-class travellers. Virgin Atlantic’s Heathrow Clubhouse is one example. Currently being ‘refreshed’ having originally opened in 1993, upper class boarding passes, Delta Platinum or Virgin Gold frequent flyer card holders entering the T3 Clubhouse are faced with purple hues, mood lighting and a long cocktail bar.

Waiter service is available for all meals, with a diverse menu including curries, a salad bar with smoked salmon, healthy hot options and British classics. The Clubhouse also offers spa treatments and haircuts for free of charge.

In contrast, Qatar Airways' Al Safwa lounge recreates the referential (and quiet) air of Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art. Qatar’s Premium Lounge at Heathrow is like a boutique hotel with a taste of the Middle East. Open to outbound first or business class passengers, live trees in the dining area and Arabic calligraphy in the styling of the walls and carpets all add to the feel of the lounge. The dining options are international and all the amenities you’d expect are available.

Food is an increasingly important element of airline lounge products. American Airlines’ passengers can savour fine cheeses, organic meat and vegetables in their Flagship First lounges in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York and due to open at Heathrow in 2020.  At Qantas’ new Heathrow lounge (due to open later this year), food and cocktails will be based on celebrity chef Neil Perry’s Rockpool restaurant in Sydney.

Lufthansa opened its Senator Lounge – the largest of its kind outside Germany - at Heathrow Terminal 2 last year. Lufthansa has one lounge for business class and the Senator Lounge for Star Alliance Gold frequent flyers, even if travelling in economy.

In the Senator Lounge the range of food and drinks is a little more extensive and the space generally quieter. Most visiting passengers are on short haul journeys, so there’s plenty of work space including a dedicated working room, UK and European power sockets at each desk and a couple of seats with computers provided.

Lounge access is not restricted to passengers who turn left on the plane. Alongside the premium lounges detailed in this article are the non-affiliated premium lounges and those providing pay-as-you-go access to economy passengers.

The world's best...

For the fourth consecutive year, Skytrax has judged the Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow Airport T2 to be the world’s best independent airport lounge. The facility includes private resting suites, shower rooms, wellness spa, fully tended bar and a wide choice of freshly prepared food.

Whether the pay-as-you-go model provides good value is debatable. Nowadays there is plenty of choice in food and drink outlets at most airports – and it’s often less crowded than the pay-as-you-go lounges too.

Whoever you fly with next, or from where, one thing’s for sure. There is no shortage of choice when it comes to space to relax or work uninterrupted.

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