Airline lounges are upping their game by providing stylish and refined new spaces for premium travellers pre-flight.
A traveller’s journey begins on the ground, and the airport experience is part and parcel of that vital first impression of his or her chosen carrier.

Realising this, airlines are picking up on the need to offer premium services right from the very start with state-of-the-art and efficient ground services. An important element of this is serious investment in lounges, in order to provide passengers with a taste of what’s to come for the rest of their journey.

Intense competition and higher passenger expectations have driven airlines to transform their lounges almost beyond recognition. Gone are the simple pit stop locations of the past, that offered little more than a seating area with basic food and beverages – today’s lounges represent a microcosm experience of the carrier brand itself, with the help of new technologies, graceful interiors and a wider range of services.

Cathay Pacific

Name of lounge and airport: The Wing, Hong Kong International Airport

Location: In between Gates 2 and 3 on 6/F Departure level

Date of last renovation/opening: The carrier’s signature lounge, which first opened in 1998, has recently completed a major refurbishment project. The first phase of renovation focused on Level 6 and was completed in April 2011; then in January this year, the carrier completed a second phase that changed the entire look and feel of Level 7. At present, The Wing’s dedicated First Class lounge is undergoing renovation and is expected to be complete by the fourth quarter of this year.

The feel: Level 6 and 7 have been redesigned by London-based architects Foster + Partners in a way that maintains the classic Wing feel that the carrier’s most frequent travellers are fond of while introducing some refreshing elements. The lounge has been reconfigured so that the six workspaces and shower stations have moved down to Level 6, leaving Level 7 purely as a relaxation zone. The classic Wing colour scheme of black, dark woods and white marble has been maintained but complemented with more natural light and plants.

Cathay Pacific’s specially designed pod-like Solus chairs are now present in this lounge, providing individual travellers with a convenient space of their own that encompasses a coat hanger, universal socket and side table. Complimentary wi fi and universal power sockets are available throughout the lounge.

Food and drinks: Catering services at all of Cathay Pacific’s HKIA lounges are provided by The Peninsula hotel, thus ensuring high quality and consistency. The Noodle Bar on Level 7 has been expanded and enhanced to now consist of space for 172 people, instead of the previous 80, and boasts more natural lighting. There is also a new eatery, Coffee Loft, that serves breakfast items in the morning, afternoon tea followed by cocktails in the evening, while the signature Long Bar, with fantastic views of the runway, has been retained. Other than these dining options, there are self-serve buffets on both Level 6 and 7.

Technology: All six of the workstations on Level 6 are equipped with iMacs, printers and fax machines.

Standout features: The dining outlets and the Solus chairs.

Access: In addition to business and first class passengers, this lounge is available to Marco Polo members of silver tier and above, as well as oneworld alliance members of sapphire tier and above.


Emirates

Name of lounge and airport: First Class Lounge, Dubai International Airport

Location: Terminal 3, Concourse 1

Date of last renovation/opening: This lounge opened in August last year and is the second first class facility at Dubai airport, the first of which opened in 2008 in Concourse 2. 

The feel: To maintain consistency with the renowned first lounge, this new facility features a similar design including the same brown, beige and gold colour scheme, Italian marble flooring, plush leather armchairs and, of course, the gold-plated Rolex wall clocks. It also boasts modern artwork and water features that imbue it with a sense of relaxation.

Measuring 1,058 sqm, the lounge offers a quiet zone with eight recliner chairs, shower facilities, a business centre with 10 workstations, a spa and a complimentary shoe-shining service.

Food and drinks: There is a 24-hour buffet section as well as an à la carte dining option serving gourmet meals all day and a selection of fine wines, as well as a separate bar.

Technology: Free wifi access throughout.

Standout feature: The recliner chairs.

Access: First and business class passengers and Skywards Gold members.

Qatar Airways

Name of lounge and airport: Qatar Airways Premium Lounge, Heathrow Airport

Location: Terminal 4

Date of last renovation/opening: This lounge, which opened in January this year, is the carrier’s first outside its Doha hub, built in response to the popularity of the London route and in anticipation of increased traffic to and from the British capital.

The feel: The facility exudes a contemporary and luxurious charm yet still feels distinctly Arabic. Although it deliberately resembles a "boutique hotel or private members’ club", the lounge also draws inspiration from the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, incorporating elements that reflect the carrier’s roots, such as a colour palette of cream, beige, brown and maroon alongside abstract, contemporary versions of Islamic mosaic prints and Arabic calligraphy motifs carved on the wall and printed on carpets.

In order to ensure high-quality service, the carrier has recruited staff from five-star hotels and restaurants. Other amenities include private showers, a business centre and power sockets for every seat.

Food and drinks: The Global Brasserie kitchen, which features a live open kitchen, and a delicatessen and signature martini bar.

Technology: Wifi is available, and the shower facilities consist of heated floors and mirrors.

Standout features: The décor and the martini bar.

Access: Exclusively for business and first class passengers of Qatar Airways.

Swiss

Name of lounge and airline: Swiss Arrival Lounge, Zürich Airport

Location: Arrival hall 2, next to customs

The feel: The lounge, measuring 770 sqm, maintains the carrier’s elegant minimalist feel with simple black and white tones and a distinctive limestone wall. Its greatest draws are the services and amenities rather than its look and feel. The facility consists of 20 shower suites, three hotel-style bedrooms (including one with a private bathroom) for those who cannot check in to a hotel yet, 10 workstations, free internet access and private telephone cubicles.

Food and drinks: A spacious bistro-style area serves hot and cold dishes and a range of fresh juices, coffees and other beverages.

Technology: There is a discreet and efficient ironing service offered to the shower suites whereby passengers can place their clothes in a cabinet, close the door and press a button for the clothes to be ironed. Within minutes, the crisp clothing returns and an indicator in the shower informs the passengers that their items are ready.

Standout feature: The private bedrooms.

Access: First and business class passengers, frequent flyer members with Frequent Traveller status or above, and Star Alliance Gold members.

Virgin Atlantic

Name of lounge and airport: JFK Clubhouse, JFK International Airport

Location: In the A-Concourse, above gates A4 and A5.

Date of last renovation/opening: The lounge opened in March this year, replacing the previous landside offering.

The feel: Officially described as "Understatedly Uptown, Unmistakably New York", the JFK Clubhouse is not only double the size of the previous lounge but also extremely funky, colourful and contemporary to match the carrier’s vibrant persona. Designed by New York-based Slade Architecture, the lounge features flashy golden cylinders hanging from the ceiling, a cloud-shaped cocktail bar, a red ball sofa and a curtain of steel rods within an area called "Central Park".

In addition to the jazzy seating in Central Park, Virgin has introduced "person-sized round cavities" lined with wool that allow individual travellers to relax, similar to the idea of Cathay Pacific’s purpose-built Solus chairs. The lounge also consists of an internet bar equipped with four iMacs and, for those with more time to spare, an entertainment area with a pool table.

To step up the game a little more, the lounge also houses a hair salon and spa with hairstylists from the famous New York brand Bumble and Bumble.

Food and drinks: Guests can order food or beverages from anywhere in the lounge, or choose to eat in the more formal brasserie dining area that offers à la carte meals, desserts and fine wines. Dishes include typical New York delicacies such as Brooklyn Ale pie. The large, cloud-shaped bar is another F&B attraction, staffed by professional mixologists offering signature cocktails.

Technology: The concierge team at the lounge offer phone-charging services.

Standout features: The hair salon and spa.

Access: The lounge is for Upper Class passengers and Flying Club Gold members.

Pay-in lounges

Premium passengers and frequent flyers usually have fantastic lounges to go to, provided either by the airline or an airline alliance. Thus even in places where an airline does not have a lounge, partnerships with other carriers ensure that passengers can still access a comfortable haven before their flights.

But for those odd occasions where no such facilities are available, a pay-in lounge can do the trick as they offer most of the things that airline lounges do. However, you should be prepared to share the space with fresh new travellers who haven’t yet built a loyal relationship with any carrier; and then there are the backpackers…

Plaza Premium Lounge

This independent lounge operator had its first opening at Hong Kong International Airport back in 1998. Today, the network consists of 60 locations at 17 international airports in China, Malaysia, Singapore, India, the Maldives, Oman, Canada and, of course, Hong Kong.

All of its lounges offer food and beverage buffets with à la carte menus for the more premium customers and, in some locations, Halal or vegetarian food is also offered to cater to the needs of different travellers. All lounges also have shower facilities, private resting areas, free wifi access, workstations with computers and printers, as well as spas (although treatments will cost extra).

To access these lounges most guests pay for each visit, with rates varying for each lounge. However, the group now also offers annual passes in Canada and Malaysia. Some airlines, that do not have lounges at a given airport, partner with Plaza Premium to offer complimentary access. For example, Finnair passengers flying out of HKIA have free access to the Travelers’ Lounge near Gate 1. 

Priority Pass

Launched in 1992, Priority Pass today has an expansive network of 600 lounges in 300 cities around the world. The lounges offer all the basic amenities, including wifi, food and beverage buffets, shower facilities, beds and workstations.

Unlike Plaza Premium, Priority Pass only works on a membership basis, and to make use of their lounges travellers have to sign up beforehand. There are three types of membership: standard, which allows guests into lounges on per visit basis; standard plus membership which offers members 10 free uses of any lounge within a year; and prestige membership, which gives guests unlimited use of all lounges for a year. Contact your UNIGLOBE Expert to get more details and buy membership.

Both of these lounges have partnerships with American Express to offer certain cardholders free access, such as Platinum members who gain free access to Priority Pass lounges.

Furthermore, at certain locations membership with one of these brands may allow access to a lounge belonging to the other brand. For example, Priority Pass members have complimentary access to the new Plaza Premium lounge at Edmonton International Airport. In certain cities, select independent lounges are accessible by members of either one of these programmes, such as The More lounge at Taoyuan International Airport, which provides complimentary access to Priority Pass members.

Old is Gold

These lounges are not new nor have they recently undergone refurbishment, yet they’ve stood the test of time and are still 
favourites among frequent travellers.

British Airways

Name of lounge and airport: Galleries Club Lounge, Heathrow Airport

Location: Within Terminal 5A, which is dedicated to British Airways and consists of a total of six Galleries lounges.

The feel: This lounge is the largest of the Galleries in T5 (spacious enough for 830 passengers), and is part of a three-lounge complex that also includes the Concorde Room (at the top of the lounge hierarchy) and Galleries First. The Galleries Club lounge may be at the bottom of the hierarchy but it is no less impressive, boasting the same modern British charm as the other two as well as comparable service and some great facilities. These include a quiet area for snoozing, a 20-seat cinema that screens live sporting events and other entertainment, a children’s play area, 20 shower suites, two separate work areas at each end of the lounge, universal power sockets and free wifi internet access throughout.

BA has commissioned several art installations especially for the Galleries, such as statues of black horses with lampshades on their heads, and these are complemented by paisley patterned furniture. The large Galleries complex also sports an Elemis Spa for First and Club World passengers and Gold Executive Club members, with some complimentary treatments. There is one main food bar – dubbed Chef’s Theatre – as well as a small café and a Silver Bar with a Swarovski crystal chandelier.

Standout feature: The cinema.

Access: First and Club World (business) class passengers as well as Gold and Silver Executive club members.

Lufthansa

Name of lounge and airport: Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt Airport

Location: The dedicated terminal is located close to Terminal 1

The feel: The entire facility takes luxury to a whole new level, offering first class passengers exclusive facilities and services. The terminal has its own check-in desks, security checks, a duty-free store and even a personal assistant who takes care of immigration, ensuring that discreet-minded passengers can go from their own car into the lounge, then on to the aircraft by chauffer-driven car, without having to pass through the main terminal at all.

The lounge, located within this terminal, offers guests a quiet escape with daybeds, private shower facilities (inclusive of bathtub), a cigar lounge and working units as well as free wifi throughout. There is a separate area that serves fine wines, hot and cold dishes from a buffet, or an à la carte menu. Also, a bar offers a selection of more than 86 whiskeys.

Standout feature: The entire concept of a dedicated terminal.

Access: Exclusively for First Class passengers and HON Circle members.

Qantas

Name of lounge and airport: Qantas First Lounge, Sydney Airport

Location: Terminal 1, past immigration on Level 4

The feel: This lounge, designed by the renowned Marc Newson, brings together contemporary elegance and a relaxed ambience. Even before entering, guests are greeted by a refreshing "rainforest wall" set against stark white interiors, while inside the lounge is decorated in Italian marble, oak wood and funky patterned carpets.

Dedicated concierge services are offered, in partnership with Sofitel Hotels, which can help guests with tasks such as making a restaurant reservation or ordering a car pick-up at their destination. Other facilities include a spa (also featuring the "rainforest wall" to create a sense of tranquillity) with complimentary services, a fully equipped business centre, a library with board games, shower suites and complimentary wifi access.

The lounge serves an à la carte menu created by celebrity chef Neil Perry, alongside fine wines and a self-serve buffet. It also has a bar where guests can order dishes from the à la carte menu.

Standout features: The concierge service and spa.

Access: The lounge is open to first class passengers on Qantas, British Airways or other oneworld flights, Frequent Flyer Platinum level members or oneworld Emerald tier members and above. 


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