Over the last 15 years of my career, I’ve traveled to a number of cities in Asia and in the US and a few places in Europe (Paris, France, the Canary Islands in Spain and Darmstadt, Germany). Over the years, my membership in Cathay Pacific’s Marco Polo Club, and more recently Priority Pass, has allowed me the opportunity to relax at the airport in the quiet comfort of a business lounge. I’ve only been to a First Class Lounge once (Thai Airway’s in Phuket) and the experience was worth forgetting about.
For the most part, business lounges are a reward by airlines to travelers who frequently favor specific airlines. For instance, when I travel, I would favor traveling on Cathay Pacific because the accumulated air miles would, eventually, allow me to qualify for free access to their business lounges. Why would I want to avail of these lounges?
If you ever traveled by air, it is customary that you are asked to arrive at least two hours ahead of your departure times. Because most check-in processes don’t last over 30 minutes, you wind up having at least an hour to mull around the airport. I suspect this was intended to force you to buy your idle time either at shops or restaurants. Except for fast-food chains, most restaurants and shops at airports are priced higher than downtown. Inevitably you will notice people uncomfortably sleeping at airports. These are passengers who have to sleep the time off waiting for their flights so they can be on their merry way to whichever destination they are headed to.
Early in my travels, I hated airports because many were built not with the comfort of traveling passengers in mind. Most airport seats are made of hard plastic, wood or steel, and more recently synthetic leather. If you sit long enough, your bottom will take on the shape of the seat, including indentions caused by large rivets that protrude off the flat surface of the seat itself. I used to wait for people to stand up from their seats so I can scoot over to their recently vacated seat. Why? It beats the feel of cold steel passing through your jeans and giving your butt frostbite.
Traveling long-haul on economy class is like lining up sardines in a canning factory. Some aircrafts have cramped seats, recliners that don’t always work, toilets that eventually start to smell after the first meal is served, and if fortune doesn’t favor you, a full flight with really hyper children or babies that just won’t stop crying like what happened on my journey from Hong Kong to San Francisco last week. For the record, I have two kids and both traveled economy class by air with me on a number of trips. But I was very fortunate that in both instances, my kids didn’t scream their heads off in any of the trips we took them to.
Back to the lounges
Airport lounges make frequent business travel less painful. These offer a place for you to relax (and prep yourself for the coming flight). They are particularly great when your itinerary involves at least one stopover before your final destination.
Many of these lounges are designed to “pamper” frequent travelers with a limited selection of free food, drinks, free domestic calls, and private toilets. Some lounges, like the one operated by Thai Airways in Phuket or the Cathay Pacific lounge at the old Ninoy Aquino Airport in Manila, are a discredit to the brands they carry. Others like the United Airlines Red Carpet lounge in Seattle are reminiscent of hospital corridors, minus the smell of course, an almost lifeless atmosphere save for the warm greeting afforded by the receptionist.
My favorite lounges have, so far, been the British Airways lounges in New York and San Francisco. The layout, atmosphere and amenities are same. It’s like entering a well thought out, classy home. The bigger lounge in New York has two large bars and food kiosks where you can help yourself to food and drinks. If you want a quiet place to read a book, there are reclining seats near resemble beach or patio furniture. A gentle water fountain offers a soothing background noise to quiet your mind. If you want a bit of work, you can go over to one of their workstations.
One lounge amenity I have learned to take advantage of is the shower room. Why? If you find yourself starting to smell like a used carpet after a 12-hour flight, a quick shower with clean towels will have you smelling good and feeling better before your next meeting or next flight.
Below is a video taken by a couple who happen to enjoy the British Airways lounge in Seattle. From what I could see in the video, the setup is very much the same as that in San Francisco and New York, although I note that the New York lounge s bigger compared to the one in San Francisco.
Below are some photos I took of the British Airways (actually I was told its shared by One World members) business lounge at the San Francisco International Airport area.