Thanksgiving in Mumbai: Washington Dulles and the Lufthansa Senator Lounge

I decided to have my Thanksgiving dinner with Indians, so my wife and I went to India. She expressed a strong preference against my usual ‘let’s try out new flight product’ approach, and I didn’t take the opportunity to fly Turkish first to Istanbul or fly the new Swiss first (hop up to Montreal..). Instead we made the flight with just two flights in each direction, 3 segments in first class on Lufthansa and a final flight home in first on United.

I’ve actually been a fan of the Lufthansa first class product, it’s old and dated but certainly comfortable. But it’s sure wearing thin. And the United product, well, we’ll get to that. I was flying the old United first. I haven’t flown it internationally in 3 years. At first it seemed familiar, like going home. But then we took off…

Before I get ahead of myself, I should start at the beginning, departure from Washington Dulles to Frankfurt on Lufhansa.

I hate Dulles, I really do. I’m fortunate to leave near Washington National, it’s a great little airport and the only annoyances are TSA … especially for early morning departures when security lines can be incredibly long, and it’s most a staffing issue. One morning last week at 5 a.m. or so there was only a single line open for the United/American concourse and at least 100 travelers waiting to pass through. Fortunately there was an elite and first class line open at the time, something you can’t ever count on there, but the vagaries of the security line makes for the only reason I don’t leave home about 45 minutes before flight departure.

Dulles on the other hand is a monstrosity. Except for those folks who actually live out in McLean and Reston, it’s a long drive (far from DC and close-in suburbs). And when you finally arrive at the airport you’re not anywhere near your gates. Some of the parking is walkable. You check in and if you don’t know to start off downstairs then you’re walking a long maze just to get to the security checkpoint. And once you’re there you’re still… nowhere near your gates. Some of those are still serviced by moon buggy, but the majority are still serviced by train. Though if you’re flying out of United’s C gates you’re still going to walk a long distance. Why? Because they built the train to let passengers off where they intend to build new gates in the future rather than where those gates are today.

An annoyance. Every step of the way. And the Red Carpet Clubs are awful, there’s even the one that had rats…

Well, Lufthansa raises the experience somewhat. Just somewhat better.

On arrival at the airport I had a short wait at checkin, business class was moving more quickly than first but it was perfectly acceptable. Check-in is outsourced, they’re a bit lackadaisical but no concerns. Boarding passes issued, bags checked, and we were off to the B terminal via security and by train.

I’ve had really good luck at security avoiding the nude-o-scopes, usually I just hang back a bit and wait until someone else goes through and then I’m not randomly selected. This time no such luck, I opted out, and they called over a groper to give me the ‘enhanced’ patdown.

Clearly uncomfortable with the idea, he actually tried to get me just to go through the metal detector instead, but the guy who sent me over was watching so he couldn’t get away with just motioning me through. He explained what he was going to do, and I replied, “You can do anything you’d like, but I don’t kiss on the mouth.” Uncomfortable to begin with, he cringed, and proceeded to give me the regular old-style pat down and not the enhanced body rub.

Then it was off to the Lufthansa Senator lounge.

The Lufthansa lounge is one of the better choices at Dulles. I still like the small 2-level Virgin lounge the best, mostly for the design elements and also for the table service. Plus there’s a shower, though not a particularly great one.

But the Lufthansa Senator lounge is especially useful at Dulles because any Star Alliance Gold member can use it… even a United Premier Executive or Continental or US Airways Gold flying purely domestic. Because it’s a Star Alliance lounge. United, Continental, and US Airways do not permit elites from those three airlines to use their own lounges when flying domestically. The rule is not that those elites do not have lounge access domestically. A common misconception.

But on this trip I was actually supposed to use this lounge. Around 5pm though every departure lounge at Dulles, more or less, is going to be crowded. The United lounges are madhouses. It’s when the bulk of international departures are heading out.

In the Lufthansa lounge they made announcements for the South African and Scandinavian flights while I was there. After that it cleared out just a bit. But when we arrived we couldn’t even get seats together.

In fact, the lounge was so full that the wireless network couldn’t accommodate anyone and I had to wait until it cleared out a bit before I could log on:

Still the spread is nice for a lounge in the US.

And you get a nice view of airport operations.

Finally, the ability to board the jetway from the lounge, without returning back into the terminal, is a plus. It doesn’t make a huge difference but it’s a thoughtful part of the construction.

It was quickly time to board and I realized it’s been too long since I had flown a Lufthansa 747, since I went down the jetway to board from the front with business class when of course the coach jetway drops you off right at the staircase to walk upstairs to first…

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. Hi Gary,

    I love reading your blogs, posts, etc, but this post confused the heck out of me.

    1. The entire paragraph about access to the LH Senator Lounge is kind of confusing to me. Especially the sentence with the double negative.

    2. You later refer to the LH Senator lounge at IAD as a domestic lounge? What?


  2. Good post. Have first international F experience on LH 747 coming up on Saturday. Eagerly awaiting the next post in the series!

  3. @Poster, you’ll get some photos of cabin and service et al as the review progresses. We’re not there yet! You’ll see cabin later in the trip, I didn’t take any on the first segment. I do agree though that the new Swiss product would be nice, but as I explained I did NOT choose to fly it!

  4. The LH Senator lounge is accessible to all Star ALliance Gold members regardless of their itineraries or lounge memberships as long as they are flying same-day on a Star Alliance flight. I will take a look at the paragraph and revise as-needed.

  5. ok, I think I understand it. I think you are pointing out that if I am *Gold from a domestic US airline (UA, US, CO),
    flying domestically out of IAD, and I don’t have a paid lounge membership, I can still use the LH Senator lounge (it is a *A lounge), but I can’t use my own airlines lounge in that set of circumstances.

    Is that it? 🙂


  6. yeah, I didn’t realize we could do that.

    But as you pointed out, I do avoid IAD like the plague.


  7. Was this on Nov. 21 around 4:15ish? I think I volunteered to switch seats to let you and your wife sit together…

  8. Dear Gary,
    How packed is first class in a general sense on Lufthansa? Are you usually alone or are all 8 seats full?

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