DesignAir’s Top 10 Airport Lounges, released yesterday, is getting quite a bit of pick up. So let’s settle things quite simply with this ranking. It is downright silly.
- Any list of world’s 10 best lounges that does not include any of the Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Air France La Premiere lounge in Paris, Emirates A380 first class Pier in Dubai, or Thai Airways First Class Lounge and Spa in Bangkok lacks credibility.
- The British Airways Concorde Room at Heathrow is not one of the world’s 10 best lounges. Neither is the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow, though it’s one of the world’s better business class lounges (along with, for instance, the Turkish Airlines CIP lounge in Istanbul). The Qantas First Class Lounge in Sydney is excellent, but it is not the world’s best.
So what’s the real list?
I’m not going to make claims about the rank order of 1, 2, 3, etc. We can have great discussions about what makes for the ‘best’ lounge — whether it is spaciousness, personal attention, food, a spa or a car service from lounge to plane.
Instead I will offer four ‘groupings’ that total 10 lounges. I’m not making a rank-order claim within each grouping.
Top Group: What I Believe Are the Three Best Lounges
Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt
The First Class Terminal is one of the most refined airport experiences you can imagine. They’ll return your rental car for you. Security is individualized and polite.
The design of the lounge is gorgeous. There’s a cigar lounge, a bar, and more types of water to choose from than you’ve ever seen anywhere.
You’ll get service in the restaurant or at your seat. And you can have a shower, or a nap. If you wish, when taking a shower (or bath) you can ask for a rubber ducky which makes for a great souvenir.
Since you’re in a separate terminal from all of the business class riff raff, the challenge is: how do you get to the plane? You’ll be collected when it’s time to depart — usually by the same person who initially greeted you — and taken down the elevator to a private passport control, and then turned over to your driver who will take you across the tarmac in either a Porsche or Mercedes to the plane.
Thai Airways Royal First Class Lounge & Spa, Bangkok
They’ll escort you from check-in, through immigration, to a waiting golf cart to take you to the first class lounge. Or they’ll meet you on the jetway of your connecting flight that arrives in Bangkok. And since they escort you from lounge to your onward flight, they provide a seamless experience.
The lounge has semi-private living rooms, and a rather bizarre food room where items not on the small menu can be pointed to and then cooked-to-order.
The true highlight is the spa, with hour-long treatments for first class passengers (and 30 minutes for Thai’s business passengers, as available). These are the best treatments you’ll get at any lounge in the world, bar none.
Air France La Premier Lounge, Paris Charles de Gaulle
I haven’t been through here. I’ve read about the lounge, seen pictures, and it’s hard to imagine doing better than they appear to do here.
The lounge features a car service, as Lufthansa provides. Dining is by Alain Ducasse. And the design looks more attractive than most other world’s top lounges.
It’s exceptionally exclusive because presently first class awards are limited to Air France’s own elite members and even then only spending rulebuster-style points. That means most of us won’t see the inside of the lounge, at least under current restrictions.
Second Group: The Next Best Lounges in the World
Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney
The lounge is sprawling and attractive.
The salt and pepper squid is one of the best dishes I’ve ever tried in a lounge, the green chili dipping sauce complemented it perfectly.
The spa treatments are out of this world good.
Service in the lounge could be better, for instance drink service at your seat and being checked on frequently. While they’ll come let you know when it’s time to go to your gate, there’s no checkin-to-lounge or lounge-to-gate escort. And while the spa is very good is isn’t as good as what Thai offers their own first class passengers in Bangkok.
Lufthansa First Class lounges, Frankfurt and Munich
The first class lounges are very similar in design to the first class terminal. You don’t get a car transfer for all flights, though. The lounge in Munich, and some of the lounges in Frankfurt, will provide a car when you’re departing from a non-gate position… so you can avoid the dreaded buses.
But the food and drink and showers? The same.
Emirates A380 First Class Pier, Dubai
Emirates devotes an entire level of their A380 concourse to their first class lounge. There is a separate lounge at each gate, as well as dedicated services like a restaurant, spa, and duty free. There’s little question that this represents the largest first class lounge in the world. Boarding is directly from the private first class area of each gate.
The 7th and 8th Best Lounges
Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge, Hong Kong
The first class side of the Wing has had a nice renovation. The restaurant is better and more appealing, and the refresh of the Cabanas is outstanding – these are the best shower rooms at any airport.
Service is ok, and the lounge is often crowded (it’s open to all top tier oneworld members).
Qantas First Class Lounge, Melbourne
The first class lounge in Melbourne is similar in many respects to the Sydney lounge. It has similar design and furnishings, though not as grand, and also has a spa. Think of it as “Sydney-lite.” When they redesigned it, it was such a step up from the previous offering.
Rounding Out the Top 10
Singapore Airlines The Private Room
The Private Room is certainly exclusive, open to Singapore’s own first class passengers only and not partner first or elites.
The room itself has ample seating, although it’s not the most comfortable or the most suited for productivity. Service in the lounge is good, and food is cooked-to-order although not nearly as good as what you’d find in hawker stalls outside the airport.
They also don’t offer check-in to lounge or lounge-to-gate assistance as normal course.
Etihad First Class Lounge, Abu Dhabi
This is an attractive lounge with a spa. The highlight is the cooked-to-order menu, which you can take either in the restaurant or wherever else in the lounge you prefer.
Notice that this list does not include the British Airways Concorde Room where food and service are poor, cleanliness isn’t the greatest, and internet connectivity can be spotty.
The only thing it has going for it in my view are the cabanas, which can be tough to reserve and are somewhat threadbare in any case.
There will be partisans for Qatar’s premium terminal, or the JetQuay lounge in Singapore. I’ll be visiting the new JAL first class lounge at Haneda in the near future and have heard good things.
I’ve been fortunate to sample some amazing lounges. I’ll return to two of these over the next month, and have a booking for shortly thereafter that will bring me to another lounge listed here.
For the most part they’re comfortable places to wait before a flight, to relax and make travel a bit less stressful. The very best make travel truly effortless by escorting you from the moment you enter the airport until the moment you leave. When you never even know what gate you’re leaving from — as with the Lufthansa First Class Terminal and Thai Airways First Class Lounge — that’s truly the top level of ground service. It’s someone else’s job to worry about that for you.
We can debate about the relative importance of the rest of the service — how much the ‘best’ food, showers, nap rooms, etc. matter in the relative weighting. What we can be sure of is that a list that calls the new Qantas lounge in Hong Kong the second best in the world just isn’t paying attention.