If only the Wright brothers could see us now. More than 100 years after their first successful flight, we are no longer impressed that a large metal bird can carry hundreds of passengers halfway around the world in a matter of hours. Air travel is a fact of modern life, and most of us are just trying to get where we’re going as quickly and conveniently as possible. Airports are often places of stress and discomfort, which is hardly the best way to begin or end a vacation or business trip. The solution is the airport lounge.
An airport lounge can be an oasis that offers escape from common airport unpleasantness. But behind these mysterious doors travelers can find a wide range of quality and amenities. While some are like exclusive 5-star resorts, others are anything but stellar. Are airport lounges worth it? Not always, but these six airlines go above and beyond to give their passengers a luxurious travel experience. Try one of these to make sure the airport is a memorable part of your trip for all the right reasons.
Why Visit an Airport Lounge?
Frequent travelers know the hassles of airports. Passengers wait in long lines for everything from baggage check and security to bathrooms and water fountains and eventually boarding the plane. The chairs seem to be intentionally uncomfortable and making a phone call is nearly impossible with the constant announcements reminding you not to leave your baggage unattended. If you’re hungry, a meager selection of cafeteria-style restaurants takes advantage of their captive audience by charging inflated prices for unimpressive quality.
Airport lounges can eliminate these headaches. They often can offer passengers special security checks, direct access to the plane, and comfortable areas to wait. Use the waiting time productively with access to wifi, phones, printers and other office equipment in a quiet environment. Most lounges provide their guests with complimentary food and beverages. Skip the typical airport frustrations and arrive at your destination ready to hit the ground running.
What makes an airport lounge great?
Defining a great airport lounge is abstract and subjective, and determining which lounges are the best is a matter of opinion. Different travelers have different priorities for the time they spend in lounges, and they rate their favorite lounges accordingly. Nevertheless, there are some common criteria that most travelers value, which are used here to determine which airport lounges are worthy of being listed among the best in the world.
- Age. Newly built or renovated lounges are usually better adapted to modern technology and amenities. They create a more contemporary atmosphere and show that the airline is willing to invest in this space for their loyal customers.
- Food and Beverages. Most lounges will offer some form of complimentary food and beverages to their guests, but there is a broad spectrum of standards in this category. The best lounges in the world employ a gourmet chef and experienced serving staff and their menu offers a fine dining experience.
- Amenities. Free wifi is a start but these days, that’s available throughout most airports. Amenities that make a lounge stand out are things like private office areas or nap rooms, showers, spa services, and other amenities to make your time at the airport as comfortable as possible.
- Access and Exclusivity. While some airport lounges are open to anyone who purchases a day pass or who uses the airline’s credit card, others are restricted only to ticketed first-class passengers. The anticipated clientele of the lounge influences what types of services are offered and how crowded the area is.
- Services. A variety of services are available in lounges, such as simplified security procedures or being driven in a luxury car across the tarmac to meet your plane. International passengers can benefit from immigration and customs services directly in the lounge, saving time in line and huddled around a baggage carousel.
What makes these six airlines special?
While private or independent airport lounges are on the rise around the world, the best services and amenities are still provided by airline-specific lounges. So if you plan to make use of great lounges, you’ll want to plan your travel with the airlines that offer the best of the best.
It’s easy to find lists of all the top airport lounges in the world. Most airlines have made a special effort in their “home” airport and some have created phenomenal travel experiences in these lounges. But since most air travel involves multiple airports, only airlines with top-rated airport lounges in multiple cities have been included here. For example, Air France’s new first-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris is widely considered to be the best lounge in the world. Yet Air France is not listed among these top six airlines because they have not made a similar effort in other airports.
Which airlines are the best?
These six airlines consistently offer world-class service and facilities in their airport lounges in multiple cities. Read on to find out which lounges are the best, how to access them, and any disadvantages to be aware of. They are not ranked but simply listed in alphabetical order.
Who can access their lounges?
Only passengers flying in first- or business-class can access the lounges, in addition to Executive Club members with silver or gold status who are flying on BA or one of their OneWorld partner airlines.
The Concorde Room at London’s Heathrow Airport (terminal 5) and at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport are both among the best in the world. Small cabanas can be reserved, and there are private rooms with beds and showers. For a completely private dining experience, order room service to your cabana. The restaurant and bar serve a full menu in a luxurious setting. The cozy fireplace seating area is relaxing and welcoming, or you may prefer the natural light of the terrace, which looks out over the tarmac. Lounges with similar features are also available in Singapore and New York (JFK). Another perk that makes British Airways stand out are its Arrivals Lounges. Passengers arriving on British Airways to London (HTR) or New York (JFK) can rest and freshen up after their flight before even leaving the airport.
The popularity of these lounges combined with the volume of passengers flying on British Airways through these major cities means that the lounges can, at times, be crowded. Cabanas should be booked in advance, if possible, and passengers have complained that the showers run out of hot water on busy days.
Who can access their lounges?
Passengers in first- and business-class on Cathay Pacific as well as selected members of their Marco Polo Club and some OneWorld partner program members. These passengers may bring one guest with them to departure lounges.
The Pier and The Wing in Hong Kong’s airport are two of Cathay Pacific’s lounges that are widely acknowledged to be among the best in the world. Guests can easily forget they are in an airport, since it feels more like an upscale hotel. Reserve a cabana for a luxurious and restful bath, or enjoy a hot shower in a shower room. Enjoy a meal from the buffet or order off the menu. There is a champagne bar separate from the main bar, and all guests can take advantage of a complimentary 10 minute massage. The Cathay Pacific lounges in London Heathrow’s Terminal 3 are also top notch, featuring separate lounges for first- and business-class passengers. Cathay Pacific offers arrival lounges in both London (Heathrow) and Frankfurt.
Because they are available to all OneWorld members with Emerald status, the lounges may be more crowded than the typical first-class lounge. Guests may be forced to wait for cabanas or other services during peak times. The Hong Kong lounges do not offer a dedicated security or immigration channel.
Who can access their lounges?
Access to Etihad’s lounges is available free of charge to first- and business-class passengers as well as Etihad Guest Gold members. Passengers in any cabin can access the lounges for a fee. Children under 5 enter free of charge with their parents, and the fee for children ages 5-11 is 50% of the adult fee.
The first-class lounge in Abu Dhabi has a beautiful design and offers outstanding food and spa services, as is expected in a first-class lounge. The addition of a gym in the lounge sets it apart, since air travel involves a lot of sitting still and many passengers welcome the opportunity to exercise and shower while waiting for their flight. There is also a “Style and Shave” salon and a brightly-colored and well-stocked playroom for children. For adults who are so inclined, there are designated smoking areas and even a cigar bar. An arrival lounge is also offered in the Abu Dhabi airport. Etihad also offers premium lounges in New York (JFK) and Washington DC (Dulles). These lounges do not offer spa services or some of the extras found in Abu Dhabi, but unique features such as prayer rooms keep them rated above average.
While the extravagant first-class lounge in Abu Dhabi is open 24 hours a day, lounges in other cities are typically only open 4 hours before scheduled flights. Offering access to lounges to all passengers for a fee, including families traveling with children, is not a popular policy with all travelers and can contribute to more crowded lounges and more competition for the use of the facilities.
Who can access their lounges?
Like many airlines, Lufthansa has different types of airport lounges with different policies regarding access. First-class lounge access is restricted to departing first-class passengers and HON Circle members.
Lufthansa’s first-class lounge in Frankfurt is no mere lounge, but an entire first-class only terminal. Guests here bypass the regular airport terminal completely and are assigned a personal assistant upon arrival at this terminal. The assistant escorts passengers through a quick security screening and keeps track of their flight time and boarding details. The selection in the restaurants is so extensive that there is even a water bar for the thirsty traveler with discriminating tastes. Take a jacuzzi bath or shower, and be sure to collect one of the famous rubber ducks. Servers roam the terminal,so there is no need to be seated in the bar or restaurant in order to be served. For an additional charge, rent a Porsche for a few hours during a longer layover. There are no gates in this terminal. When it is time to board the plane, passengers are driven to the plane in a Mercedes or a Porsche. A similar experience is offered at Lufthansa’s first-class lounge in Munich. Their first-class lounge in New York (JFK) is widely considered one of the best airport lounges in the United States.
The first class terminal services are for departing passengers only. Lufthansa only has an arrivals lounge (“Welcome Lounge”) in Frankfurt, not in any other cities, and not even this lounge includes immigration or customs services to bypass the lines.
Who can access their lounges?
While different types of lounges have different access requirements, first-class lounges can only be accessed by first-class passengers and Platinum Frequent Flyer members. Platinum Frequent Flyers are permitted to bring one guest with them into the lounge.
The Qantas lounge in Sydney is their flagship. Well-designed to be both beautiful and incredibly functional, the lounge manages to have an open, airy feel while still being partitioned well for privacy. Guests receive a complimentary 20-minute spa treatment, and first-class passengers receive a phone call the day before their flight to schedule an appointment. Business-class passengers can schedule these services upon arrival if appointments are available. The Qantas lounge in Los Angeles (LAX) is almost as amazing as its Sydney counterpart, except that it lacks spa services. A brand new first-class lounge, rivaling the beauty and function of the Qantas lounge in Sydney, is set to open in Singapore in late November 2019. Pre-released plans and pictures indicate that it will quickly rise to be among the top airport lounges in the world.
Qantas has a dress code for their lounges, so passengers who prefer to travel in clothing that might be deemed “gym clothes,” “beach wear,” or “sleepwear” may be denied access. Clothing that is torn or appears unclean or too revealing is also not permitted. Since these standards are somewhat subjective, this policy is a clear disadvantage. Footwear is also grounds for refusal for passengers wearing some types of sandals, slippers or Ugg boots.
Who can access their lounges?
Ticketed first- and business-class passengers on Qatar Airways and their OneWorld partners can access lounges designated for their cabin. Others can purchase access to the lounges for an additional fee.
No expense was spared when creating the enormous and luxurious Qatar Airways Al Safwa First-Class Lounge in Doha. Check in at a private, sit-down check in desk and go through special immigration and security checkpoints to enter directly into the lounge without needing to enter the regular terminal. Once there, the lounge is well-staffed and provides plenty of space for resting, working, or whatever is needed. The food in the restaurant is excellent and there is a theater-style TV room. Premium lounges are also available in London (Heathrow) and Paris.
Spa services and access to the jacuzzi are not complimentary. Some space is dedicated to a duty-free shop, which many travelers would wish to avoid, but which others may consider an advantage. Because lounge access can be purchased by passengers from any cabin, the lounges can be crowded which reduces the availability of spaces and services.
How to Choose
There are many benefits to loyalty to a specific airline. Frequent travelers will easily accumulate enough points for free tickets, upgrades, lounge access, and more. Quality of airport lounges is just one factor among many to consider when choosing an airline.
Geography is the biggest and most obvious factor. A beautiful and luxurious airport lounge is a nice perk, but the point of air travel is to get where you are going. If you travel often to the same city or region, then your options may be limited to airlines with a full schedule of flights to that region. If you tend to travel between major international hubs along routes offered by many airlines, for example between London and New York, there may be more choices available to you. Since you are probably spending a lot of time in airports anyway, choosing based on the quality of airport lounges makes sense. A great lounge can make all the difference in your travel experience.
If your travel needs are more diverse, consider the significance of airline alliances. Many of the airlines listed here will honor a first-class ticket on an allied airline for admission to their first-class lounges. Four of the six are members of the same alliance. British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas, and Qatar Airways are all members of the OneWorld alliance. Lufthansa is a member of the Star Alliance, and while Etihad is not, it is rumored that they may soon join. Nevertheless, Etihad has partnerships with Lufthansa and a number of other airlines. Joining loyalty programs is one way to make sure you have access to the world’s best airport lounges, wherever your travels may take you.
For extensive reviews of airport lounges in major airports around the world, including comprehensive photographs, check out this resource from One Mile at a Time.
A great lounge can change your airport experience from a necessary evil to an enjoyable part of traveling. Arrive at your destination well-rested, well-fed and feeling relaxed and refreshed. Check out one of these exceptional lounges on your next trip!