It’s a funny place, a kind of limbo land between the parking lot or garage and the airplane.
I have traveled a bit and visited airport lounges across the globe and they are all a little different with their own unique traits, locations and staff.
If you travel often enough the lounge staff get to know you, it can be very personable and possibly unnerving.
I am not sure if that’s a good thing, being known, after all it means you have a pretty miserable life spending the equivalent of weeks every year holed up in the lounge.
There was a time when airport waiting lounges were a positively awful experience and the executive or guest lounge was something stupefyingly awesome by comparison.
Airport food was expensive and crappy and there was very little on offer beyond the bar and a bag of crisps or nuts.
In those days the airports were run by an airports authority or civil aviation. They were very utilitarian and had one objective, corral the passengers and make sure that they were all present and accounted for before the plane departure.
Ok so the main function of the airport hasn’t really changed, and for that matter, the airport food is still largely crappy but to be honest it depends on the airport, most airport ‘companies’ recognise that the airport itself can sometimes be a part of the destination and make money from squeezing cash out of waiting passengers.
For some years I have held a priority pass, a third party access card to airport lounges. It has proven a bit of a boon particularly when I am with a guest. Alcohol and other beverages as well as some light snacks and foods are often on offer and of particular value is the fact that they have well serviced ablutions and nice comfy living room seats or work areas.
They are particularly good when you have a long lay over at the airport.
As I said, the quality of amenities at airports are somewhat variable.
The same is true of the various executive lounges. For many years I have made use of Alaska Airlines lounges in the US, Aspire and No1 in the UK. Most recently I have started to use the British Airways Galleries thanks to overdue elevated status.
My first visit to one of these was a little rushed, and conveyed an impression to me that they were tired, worn out and overrun with a multitude of diverse travellers.
International travelers with high status levels in the US or certain classes of ticket have free and easy access it seems but British Airways status is a struggle to attain particularly if your traveling makes use of multiple carriers as mine does. I choose the best value flights rather than always the same carrier.
Accordingly I pay the price by having mileage spread across four different carriers reward programs. Only a couple of them have reciprocity and mixing things up is hard.
Today I am bound for South Asia. I am traveling through Heathrow T5. This is the newest of the Heathrow airports and is dominated by One World planes, mostly British Airways.
For quite some time the Priority Pass was useless at T5 because the was no lounge that accepted Priority Pass. Recently Menzies Services opened an Aspire business lounge here and for a few months I have used that, it is a good one, particularly if you have a flight first thing in the morning.
Today I made use of the North end of the terminal Galleries lounge, as usual it was busy, swarming with what seem to be business travelers, surprising given that this is a Saturday, however it just goes to demonstrate that business travelers don’t respect weekends.
I am leaving on a Saturday evening because based on past experience if I leave on a Sunday and arrive on a Monday there is an expectation that I show up at the office in the afternoon anyway and if you’re shattered with jet lag that is no fun at all.
So I am sacrificing half of my weekend in order to get into the office on Monday in at least a semi refreshed state.
I arrived at The Galleries today at cocktail hour, basically too early for ‘dinner’ and too late for lunch.
There always seems to be plenty of wine on offer and if you want something a little harder I believe it is available from the bar however I didn’t go in search of it.
Instead of a pot of coffee or an urn of boiling water and instant coffee sachets the hot beverage facilities at the lounges are pretty sophisticated these days. Alaska use Starbucks machines, I don’t recall the Galleries ones but there is a veritable wall of them offering espresso shots, Americano, latte and cappuccino. There also always seems to be cake and cookies available. Cookies mind you not biscuits. Cookies, despite their cutesy name are those obnoxious oversized medallions of baked sugar and flour with a faux home made rustic look about them. No self respecting collection is complete without chocolate chips.
The cocktail hour snacks today comprised cut sandwiches on white and brown bread, a sundried tomato option which was either with egg or cream cheese. I couldn’t be sure, tasty nonetheless.
A corn and tuna on brown bread which I dodged and a chicken mayonnaise option which was good but predictable. There was also what seemed to be soup on offer. I saw some partakers but it really didn’t look too appealing – steaming, brown and chunky.
After about half an hour some cheese and crackers arrive along with some basmati rice, macaroni cheese, a kind of spaghetti sauce, chicken curry and salads.
I tried the curry, it was surprisingly very good, unusual to my mind, in that it was made of very finely chopped chicken. A good flavour though, I wondered if it had been made from scratch or industrially defrosted.
The beetroot salad with sunflower seeds was excellent and so too, was the potato salad.
The furniture and comfort of Galleries though at the North of T5 is also worthy of mention.
The further in you go, the poorer the air conditioning seems to be. I found it actually quite sweltering hot at one end, possibly due to lots of unshaded window onto the runway. The terrace was cooler but out there was a family with crying baby.
It seems strange to me that there is a lot of seating without armrests in this lounge though, perfect if you plan a nap perhaps but otherwise inappropriate. A lot of single seats and couches that would be better suited to a cocktail lounge than to a business lounge were also to be found. A bit of a design fail there I think especially for those who are there for for an hour or longer.
The bathroom facilities also seemed to be lacking any communal urinals in the general section. Not that I am a strong advocate of communal ablutions, simply that with every toilet facility being a conventional bowl with a hand basin behind a closed door it means that the patrons start forming queues fairly often.
Anyway all told it was a pretty good experience today, one of the better ones and a good start to a long two days of travel.