Airline Arrivals Lounges, and American’s Offering at London Heathrow

Most airport lounges are places to wait before getting on a flight. Some are even designated as departure lounges only, which is to say that you need to show a departing boarding pass to get in (either a business class or above boarding pass, or a coach boarding pass and something else to demonstrate you’re entitled to access like an eligible elite frequent flyer card).

But there are also designated arrivals lounges, usually places to shower up after a long flight.

This is especially important in some markets where many long haul flights arrive in the early morning — business travelers turning up and needing to go straight to the office, a place to clean up and even have a suit pressed, leisure travelers who get into the city too early to check into their hotel and at least they can shower (and burn off some time to make an early check-in more likely).

Flights from North America to Europe are nearly all overnight — there are a couple of exceptions where East Coast to London flights take off in the morning and arrive late at night. These are the classic example of such flights, and a reason why arrivals lounges are common in Europe.

There aren’t many in Asia, though Cathay Pacific offers one (“The Arrival”) in Hong Kong. Departures from the US around midnight will get in in the very early morning. But certainly not all flights to Asia are like this, and most depart either late morning or early afternoon from the US and arrive in Asia late afternoon. Arrivals lounges are often only open in the morning.

One of the reasons I love Intercontinental Hotels’ Royal Ambassador status — I’ve said in the past this is the best benefit of the program and whenever I lead off with that statement people assume I’m going to say ‘free minibar’ but I’m not — is guaranteed 8am check-in. That’s hugely valuable for arrivals in Europe, though would also help with early morning arrivals in Hong Kong, in Sydney, Singapore, or even U.S. domestic eastbound redeye flights.

I wrote about the Air France Paris Arrivals Lounge back in January. It was only my second time visiting that lounge, and it was a long schlepp from where I landed — Air France no longer flies out of terminal 2C where the lounge is located, and I suspect not many people even know about it let alone make the trek over there. But it features showers, coffee and juice and water (I grabbed more than my share of water bottles — water is so hard to come by in Europe sometimes!), meats, cheeses and croissants. It does the trick.

When I flew American’s new 777-300ER business class to London in March I visited their Arrivals Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 and really liked it. I haven’t visited enough arrivals lounges to make a broad declaration about how it compares, but it excelled for me in the things most important — a large quantity of showers — 29, excellent coffee, hot food, and an efficient pressing service.

Onboard my flight in business class I was given a flyer letting everyone know about the arrivals facilities open to business and first class passengers as well as American’s Executive Platinum members and oneworld partner top tier elites. (I would have imagined the arrivals lounge was open to American Platinums but apparently not.)

Of course the most important thing in an arrivals lounge is the ability to shower up after a long flight, and then change into fresh clothes. I don’t know any lounge that has more showers than this one. If I had a complaint it would just be that I prefer individual bath amenity bottles over soap and shampoo mounted on the wall, but that’s not a huge issue (and the Thai Airways first class spa even has their L’Occitane amenities mounted to the wall!).

Fairly low-tech but what’s innovative about the shower rooms is that there’s a pass-through in the door for clothing. Put your clothing into the door, press a button to notify an attendant, and they will take your clothes through the other side of the door and press them… and return your clothes into the closet that’s built into the door when they’re done.

That way you can take your clothes off (or out of your suitcase) in the shower room and pass them to the attendant to press without the awkwardness of finding a way to cover up while doing so. Very efficient.

I also liked that the lounge had hot food in addition to continental breakfast. East Coast to Europe overnight flights don’t get much breakfast, largely because they’re short flights so the second meal service doesn’t make sense to be particularly extensive but also because it’s Europe — coffee and a croissant (or a ‘bacon roll’ is breakfast. The Air France arrivals lounge in Paris has only cold items. So a nice distinguishing benefit to American’s lounge at Heathrow.

On the way out of the lounge I noticed a car service driver waiting in the sitting area off the entryway. I asked the staff about this, and said that drivers often wait for guests in the lounge — that it isn’t something they advertise but that lounge regulars know it’s something they can do. I’ve never had a car service meet me at Heathrow 🙂 but many business travelers do of course, this seems like a great way to do it.

Of course there’s no putting green in the Heathrow Arrivals Lounge, like at the Admiral’s Club in Austin…

Have you availed yourself of an arrivals lounge? What’s been your experience?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I also swear by Arrivals Lounges. I have used Arrivals Lounges everywhere from Hong Kong to Frankfurt to Johannesburg to London, but unfortunately it seems that people like you and I are in the minority.

    Back when my employer used to fly into Gatwick, we had partnered with US Airways to give our Business Class passengers use of their excellent Arrivals Lounge there. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that hardly anyone used them. Less than 5% of eligible passengers actually bothered to visit there, despite being given invitations and directions and everything else. Even US Airways was having problems maintaining adequate volume (they opened it back when they served Gatwick from Philly, Charlotte AND Pittsburgh but as the flights decreased so did the patronage) and the lounge’s days were sadly numbered. At the end of the day, most business travelers prefer to head directly to their hotels after a red-eye flight and it is only the tiny minority of passengers that have demand for this kind of facility.

  2. Virgin (and I think BA) have had these for at least a decade. Virgin’s has all the amenities you describe, plus the soap and shampoo bolted to the wall. As well as spa services I’ve never tried. They also have that pass through door thing. Good to know AA have finally followed suit.

  3. What happens to your checked baggage if you spend an hour at the arrivals lounge? I would worry that it is sitting on the baggage belt or would be taken/lost etc.

  4. The Swiss arrivals facility at ZRH is a lot smaller than the AA facility you’ve described here, but it is a very nice experience for arriving LX passengers after overnights. In my case I was coming back from Nairobi, so it was a nice gradual decompression from East Africa chaos to organised Swiss Christmas. Plus, croissants.

  5. Agree that the ability to clean up and change clothes after an overnight flight is a huge benefit, especially if you’re hitting the ground running (on business on leisure). Haven’t seen enough dedicated arrivals lounges to compare (judging arrivals lounges the world over sounds like a new project for Gary), but this one certainly looks like it does a good job. Any idea whether Amex Platinum holders would get access? My guess is no.

  6. I just booked a business class award ticket to fly CLT to MUC. I used UA miles, but the my ticket says “flight operated by Lufthansa”. According to the Lufthansa site, arriving passengers with business class tickets can use one of their departure lounges in MUC on arrival. Am I eligible if I booked the flight as a *A award? Do I have to go through immigration then out of terminal and then back in through security to get to a lounge (I only have carry ons)? Will make my first day in MUC so much better if I can get a shower after the overnight flight!

  7. The BA arrivals lounge at Heathrow is definitely a cut above the lounges mentioned. After a great shower and freshly cooked brekkie you can than lounge around in the sofas and read all the papers and then avail of a 15 minute Spa Treatment before you leave.

  8. Virgin’s arrivals lounge at LHR is pretty nice. Very similar to the AA lounge you described. Probably 20 or so shower rooms (shampoo on the wall and pressing service with cool 2-way lockers like you described), and a lounge with made to order breakfast and drinks (table service). I got in with VS Gold status, but the weird thing about it, no guests were allowed in with you. Departure lounges, you are allowed to bring in a guest flying with you, but your guest is on their own if they want to shower!

  9. Gary, I’m hesitant to use a guaranteed early check-in because I think it dramatically cuts down odds of a suite upgrade (and my overnights are usually leisure).

    What’s been your experience on upgrades with early checkin.

  10. agree with @Michael

    @gary, if you like AA’s London lounge, then don’t ever visit the BA lounge because you won’t want to go back to the AA one

  11. @john – I would never pick American’s Flagship (departure) lounge over BA’s first class lounge in T3, and in fact I used BA’s F lounge rather than American’s lounge before my flight back on AA…

  12. I’ve used the AArivals @LHR and found it very nice. Next week I arrive on BA in First and look forward to that arrivals lounge and I think I’ll choose the mini facial 🙂

  13. @beachfan – the way it is supposed to work with intercontinental is if your suite is unavailable, they give you a different room to use first. i’ve experienced that at the intercontinental manila where i was upgraded to the presidential suite but it wasn’t yet ready when i arrived at 1130am… i used a regular room, and then moved.

  14. @Gary How does this compare with the BA arrivals lounge in Terminal 5? I remember vaguely the AA arrivals in 2007 on a trip but this has got to be a new space as that space certainly didn’t have 29 showers I don’t think……

  15. AA lounge is fine if you are in and out or if you need the shower, pressing, etc. But for a leisure traveler needing to hide out until the hotel is ready, it is less than ideal. Food, yes, and a place to sit, but not a comfy place to sit and VERY crowded if on the early arrivals. I found it better to go the hotel and sit in the lobby or walk around for a while. I would much prefer sitting in the Admirals Club, but alas that is NOT an option. For leisure travelers, much better to take the late departures and arrive late morning at LHR.

  16. @john C – you pick up your bag first, exit customs, and then head to the Arrivals Lounge. I have used AA’s LHR arrivals and thought it was great.

  17. Your mileage may vary, but I’ve always found the greatest Lounge Benefit to be a nice hot shower after a long international flight. If one is heading directly to a hotel upon arrival, it may not be necessary, but that is snot always the case. A few times I’ve made a long flight and faced a long layover before yet another long leg – with no hotel available. That’s when the arrival benefit is especially welcome. Sure, the outbound lounge is more comfortable than setting at the gate, but lounge-type services -for me- are most important upon arrival and during a layover. I hope to see more long-haul carriers offer or expand this service.

  18. The top arrival lounges are Virgin at Heathrow. While there are the showers, there’s also the opportunity to book a treatment like a shave or shoulder massage. It’s divine to have a shave and facial – you feel like you’re on top of the world. Virgin offers a cooked to order English breakfast in addition to the made to order coffees and cereals/croissants. The BA lounge in T-5 in Heathrow competes with Virgin and offers a lot of showers and treatments as well, but their breakfast is buffet style and a lot more cafeteria like.

    I also used the Swiss arrivals in Zurich and the calm quiet atmosphere was fantastic to get settled into the day. There’s an understated elegance to it even though the breakfast items are limited.

    You should also try out the Star Alliance Arrivals in Heathrow, offering bacon baps, cereals and several showers as well.

    It’s a great benefit that I have always used because my room is never ready, and nothing better than a proper coffee and breakfast on the ground!

  19. Lucky and I got into it on twitter over my frustration that the lounge did not extend hours when AA changed their departure times on some flights (AA 136, for instance, used to arrive at 1:15p and now arrives at 2:15p). He said it was unreasonable for a lounge to be open after 2p but I pointed out that BA/UNITED/DELTA all have evening flights from LAX that accomodate pax w lounges. So I just don’t get why PAX from a ten hour flight from LAX have no lounge to go to.

    Re: the lounge itself. I think it’s terrific (hence my frustration at not being able to use it on my last flight).

  20. Lacking an arrivals lounge at LHR, Delta has long contracted with Yotel in T4 ( to provide BusinessElite and Sky Team Elite+ passengers one hour in a personal “cabin.” While I’d prefer a proper lounge, the Yotel facilities are much appreciated on early morning arrivals. Apparently Delta will eventually relocate to T3 to join Virgin Atlantic, assuming US and UK authorities approve the airlines’ proposed joint venture. It will be nice to gain access to VS’ arrivals lounge.

    @Gary — The AF arrivals lounge in CDG has the same pass-through lockers to facilitate pressing.

    @John C — Arrivals lounges are typically “air-side,” enabling passengers to reclaim checked baggage before entering.

  21. Can we access these with AMEX platinum? Thinking about the Mercedes Benz card right now…

  22. On our RTW trip Nov/12 we flew SQ in F on SIN-LHR, arriving early morning. SQ offers F pax access to Virgin’s arrivals lounge. The lounge is also a great meeting place for your car-service driver. Very hospitable staff & SQ had even pre-booked two shower rooms for us.

  23. The Cathay one at HKG was very efficient. They held the bags for us and we managed to spend a day walking around till our flight to BJS.
    Right opposite to that was a paid lounge that took Amex cards.
    I was not sure if the lounge took care of luggage and was looking for a storage unit and found they charged 10HK$ an hour (cost me a 10$ tip at the lounge for a day instead)

  24. @Brad If you are arriving at LHR T3 and have the Priority Plus Select Card that comes with your Amex Platinum, you can use the Air Canada Arrivals Lounge. Not as nice as AA Arrivals and pales in comparison to VS Revivals, but still fine for a hot shower, some wifi and a bite of breakfast.

  25. Does Duesseldorf Germany have an Arrival Lounge. We are flying ORD to Berlin TXL via Duesseldorf and hope to freshen up so we can hit the ground running in Berlin. Alternatively, does TXL have an arrival lounge? Airline is Lufthansa

  26. We are flying AA FC into LHR terminal 3 with the AA arrivals lounge already closed. Then several hours later are connecting, on the same AA FC award, to Madrid from Terminal 5 with Iberia. I’m only AA Gold, and the Madrid flight is of course “Business Class”, since there is no FC available, despite our continuing on with a FC award.

    Anyone know what lounge, if any, we are entitled to use in T5?

  27. Delta’s deal with Yotel at Heathrow T4 proved to be delightful on Easter weekend. Wife and I had flown in for the British Museum 40,000-year-old art exhibit. Delta’s biz class attendants knew to announce the service on the way in, and hand out cards. We were the only ones on the 777 to use it, though. Staff was excellent at Yotel. See Mark’s note below, #24.

    (Of course, my last few years’ experience, showers at the Delta Narita lounge, saw more convenience, as you really did have a stadium-size living room to rattle around in. Food not great, as many of you know.)

  28. Thanks for the review, lucky! I’ve used the LX arrivals lounge in ZRH and it had exactly the same setup with the door for getting shirts pressed – I thought it was ingenious! Love arrivals lounges so you can have a nice shower after a long flight.

  29. Ahem. Apologies, I meant thanks *Gary* 🙂 Have been reading too many reviews!

    At LGW BA offer an arrivals lounge (with nice showers and a continental breakfast) at the Sofitel at North Terminal.

  30. Is baked beans a European thing? I just got back from a cruise and they always had baked beans on the breakfast menu/buffet and it made no sense to me.

  31. @Ken – maybe it is – I thought I’d seen it in the States too but perhaps not. Certainly a standard part of a cooked breakfast here in the UK – probably less so in Continental Europe.

  32. Hi, I am arriving at Heathrow from JFK and will be able to use the arrivals lounge, travelling First Class. I then have a connecting flight home to Edinburgh. I understand the Lounge closes at 2 pm but my flight to Edinburgh departs at 5.25 pm. Is there another lounge I can use? Don’t fancy sitting around the public area for 3 hours. My journey doesn’t officially end till I reach Edinburgh.

  33. “Arrivals” lounge, ok. You should state in your review whether this lounge will work for the other 50% of passengers, those who will depart rather than arrive. Would be helpful to know.

  34. I am landing at heathrow at 8 am from ho chih min. i am flying vietnam airlines. is there a lounge i can use to rest while waiting to check in. my check in is at 130 pm. i am travelling wigh elderly and a toddler.

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