Airline lounges range from opulent and decadent to basic and overcrowded. Here are the bare minimums for a decent airport lounge I think. Many people have sought to socially distance, but personal space mattered before the pandemic. But there are many things beyond that which make a great lounge.
Many lounges are still closed, especially lounges for international flyers. That will change. And new airlines or credit card companies will take over the space and have to consider what’s most important for them to offer.
- There should be plenty of seating. The lounge should be large enough that it never feels crowded. The seating should almost all have readily available power so you can charge up before your flight or at least avoid draining down devices before you fly (the airline should have seat power too but why rely on it working?).
American Airlines Flagship Lounge, Miami
- The wifi should work, and it should be fast.
- There should be helpful and experienced agents to assist with travel disruptions.
AAngels in the Washington National American Airlines Club
- There should be food and beverage offerings, and they should taste good and look appetizing. A buffet shouldn’t sit unattended for hours, and food shouldn’t be shrink wrapped sandwiches, just veggies and dip, or a snack tower of sadness.
Noodle bar, Cathay Pacific business lounge Singapore
- A lounge should have restrooms. Don’t send customers into the terminal. These restrooms should be kept super clean.
- A lounge at an international hub needs showers. Ideally shoot for Cathay Pacific cabanas in their ‘The Wing’ first class lounge in Hong Kong, but I’m happy as long as the room is large, with a toilet, toiletries, and somewhere to place your luggage and clothes as you change.
United has eliminated showers from its standard club concept. Their Polaris business class lounges have showers. Long haul economy passengers won’t have access to showers even with elite status and even with a club membership.
In order to really create a plus experience, go beyond the bare minimum, the elements of a really nice lounge are:
- Great dining. food that doesn’t taste like you’re in the airport. Enjoy a sit down meal before your flight and you can go right to sleep on the plane.
I give real kudos to Qantas lounge dining, but I think that American does a nice job in their Flagship First Dining rooms (sadly only American’s own three-cabin first class passengers have access, though ConciergeKey members are being invited to try it and the airline sells access).
Flagship First Dining New York JFK
Miami Corn Chowder With Corn Fritters
Emirates does a nice job with sit down dining in Dubai. Air France does an exceptional job in Paris, Lufthansa in their home markets. Cathay Pacific is great in Hong Kong. And cooked to order food is probably the one (and only) nice thing about the Singapore Airlines Private Room in Singapore. It’s also done incredibly well in the American Express Centurion Lounge Hong Kong’s dining room that’s exclusive for Black Card members.
Centurion Lounge Hong Kong, Centuron Cardmember Dining Room
Thai Yellow Curry Beef, Centurion Lounge Hong Kong
- Great service escort from check-in to the lounge, from lounge to aircraft, how do you make the whole ground experience seamless from airport arrival to departure?
The greatest experiences are those where you don’t have to pay attention to where you are in the airport, when you need to leave, or how to get there. Airports can be unfamiliar environments, and taking away that stress lets you enjoy travel and also focus on enjoying the lounge, relaxing, or working without constantly looking at your watch and worrying about making your flight — that’s someone else’s job.
JetQuay Planeside Gold Cart Pickup, Singapore
Being driven to the plane as Lufthansa and Air France do in their home markets is the best, but I love even the escort to the lounge and from lounge to gate from Thai Airways in Bangkok.
Lufthansa First Class Terminal
- Nap rooms. Long layovers between long haul sometimes mean needing to close your eyes. And it’s much nicer for the passenger to have a private space to do that, and it’s much nicer for everyone else too not to have people falling asleep in a large open room with everyone else watching.
United Polaris Lounge Nap Room, Chicago
A nice solution is what Cathay Pacific offers at ‘The Pier’ in Hong Kong. They have semi-private rooms in an area known as “The Retreat.” These are small cabanas of sort (without their own bathroom), just a little room with day bed and power where you can close a curtain for privacy. They overlook the tarmac offering direct view of aircraft, though you can also lower blinds to keep out the light.
Cathay Pacific’s “The Retreat” Inside the Pier Lounge, Hong Kong
- Indulgent services. The best lounge massages are sixty minutes from Thai Airways in Bangkok, and these are available on an abbreviated basis even for their business class passengers subject to availability.
Thai Airways Spa, Bangkok
I find the 20 minute massages from Qantas to be excellent. A private spa treatment room, and a table, is key to the relaxation. Etihad has long closed down their “Style & Shave” which is too bad, there was nothing like getting a hair cut before your flight!
- Design, beautiful spaces. Ideally a lounge will have large windows and tarmac views, I don’t want a darkened windowless space. That’s my biggest complaint about the Qantas first class lounge in Los Angeles. But beyond airport views there are design elements that simply make a space pleasing.
I think the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow is beautiful. I love the feel of Cathay Pacific’s The Pier first class lounge in Hong Kong.
Cathay Pacific ‘The Pier’ Hong Kong
But perhaps the most beautiful lounge, to me, is the Qatar Airways first class al Safwa lounge in Doha. It’s not a top five lounge otherwise, though I think it’s top ten, but the space is just gorgeous.
Qatar Airways al Safwa Lounge
For the purpose of this post I’m not really interested in what one lounge is best overall in the world, or ranking lounges, just thinking about what elements make for a great lounge.
In some sense my favorite lounges aren’t actually the very best lounges but they are very good and also accessible. The Qantas first class lounges and the Cathay Pacific first class lounges are all very good and also open to top tier elite frequent flyers in their own programs as well as those of their alliance partners.
So while I’d love to be able to visit American’s Flagship Dining I’m not often flying American three-cabin first class, indeed they don’t offer it on many routes at all.
And the American Express Centurion Dining in Hong Kong inside the Centurion lounge there is limited to Centurion cardholders. And I’m not shelling out the initiation fee and annual fee for a Black Card, even if I could finagle an invitation!
Just as with award availability where the best product is the one you’re able to book, the very best lounge is the one you have access to – provided they’re hitting the marks on seating, power, and food.