WHILE ‘no frills’ has become the buzz phrase at the mass-market end of the airline industry, high revenue yielding first and business-class passengers are being wooed with a whole raft of improvements, including massive investment in new airport lounges.
It’s not before time. In UK airports, too many lounges are caught in a time warp of poor décor, bad food and overcrowding that leaves passengers feeling they’d be better off on the main concourse.
Virgin Atlantic has been at the forefront in improving things and their new Clubhouse Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 sets the standards others must follow.
Nobody else is yet offering anything to match the quality of Virgin’s massage, mini-spa, hair salon, restaurant and lifestyle facilities.
Airline industry observer Malcolm Ginsberg, of the ABTN website, comments: “There’s a lot of re-shuffling of gate allocations going on, especially at Heathrow, so airlines have until now been reluctant to upgrade lounge facilities which might end up being at the wrong end of the terminal.”
Emirates, though, has bitten the bullet with a much praised new lounge at Gatwick, offering restaurant-quality food. The Dubai-based airline is planning a new facility at Heathrow.
Also winning praise is Eos, the all-business class carrier flying from Stansted. Check-in is only 45-minutes prior to departure, but even the most hardened business traveller could be persuaded to turn up earlier by the prospect of a peaceful moment in the lounge before take-off.
Eos’s all-business rival MAXjet also occupies a spacious lounge at Stansted, situated conveniently at the end of the pier with pleasant views out over the airfield.
British Airways’ Terminal 4 arrivals lounge is arguably the carrier’s best facility at Heathrow, offering good breakfasts and shower facilities much welcomed by incoming passengers.
In the regions, Manchester International Airport has taken the democratic approach to lounges. With an admission charge of £17, the new Escape facility has an imaginative new approach, being divided into three distinct areas.
The Comfort Zone offers a relaxed style and a range of complimentary snacks and beverages, while for some real peace and quiet there’s the Oasis of Calm, with its water feature and laid-back ambience.
Those with work on their mind head for the Hot Desk Area, with its work stations, phones, faxes, Internet access and photocopying facilities.
Also at Manchester, Air France has a new executive lounge which is open to first and business class passengers as well as high level cardholders who are customers of KLM, Alitalia, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Korean Air, Northwest Airlines and Aeromexico.
three of the best UK airport lounges
Heathrow Terminal 3
From departures follow signs to Gate 12B. The Clubhouse is located on level 2.
Admission: free for Upper Class passengers, or £60 per person otherwise
Double the size of the old one, Virgin’s new Heathrow Clubhouse creates the ambience of a private members’ club, with swanky amenities to match.
Besides propping up the imposing 14-metre long cocktail bar, or relaxing in the plush lounge that spreads over two levels, Virgin clients can get their shoes shined, take a shower or sauna, have their hair styled or catch the rays in the St Tropez tanning booth. The spa also features a hydropool. There’s a business area, a library, a music room, a beauty salon and even a rooftop conservatory.
Service is attentive, with friendly waitresses and restaurant- quality food with table service, crisp linen and fine china.
The Virgin executive lounge at Manchester International Airport (price £18.75 if you’re not flying business class) also sets standards for others to follow. Seating 95, it has business-centre facilities but only offers light snacks, tea, coffee and drinks.
SAS/Air Canada – The London Lounge
Heathrow Terminal 3
Directly adjacent to duty-free transit area
Admission: free to first and business-class passengers and Star Alliance Gold Card holders
Exquisitely designed by renowned Swedish practice Thomas Eriksson Arkitechts TEArk, the two-storey, 1,300 sq m London Lounge replaces the much smaller individual facilities of two airlines.
Besides SAS and Air Canada premium passengers, the lounge is accessible to qualifying customers of other Star Alliance airlines, including Lufthansa, United Airlines, All Nippon Airways, Thai Airways and Air New Zealand.
Downstairs, it resembles a plush and lively hotel lobby, while the second level has a more laid-back and relaxing atmosphere. Both areas are imaginatively designed, with a wealth of inspiring contemporary artworks to lift spirits.
Besides a business centre, there’s a 12-seat cinema and a games room that features table-top curling.
Gatwick North Terminal
Adjacent to departures, below the British Airways lounge
Admission: free to first and business-class passengers as well as gold and silver members of the airline’s Skywards frequent flyer programme.
Part of Emirates’ $13 million programme to install lounges at key airports across their route network, this 1,590 sq m oasis-themed facility – the company’s largest outside Dubai – opened last autumn.
Affording spacious seating for up to 255, the lounge has been designed to cope with future growth and the arrival of Emirates’ fleet of the Airbus A380.
Lush plants and a central water feature create a relaxing atmosphere and seating is appropriately plush. There are also large plasma screen TVs.
A formal work area provides 14 computer terminals and six laptop work stations, all with broadband access.
Passengers on evening departures receive hot soups and curries while open sandwiches and Arab-style meze dishes are served during the day.