Scott McCartney‘s latest Wall Street Journal column makes some interesting claims about lounges.
Why Are US Airline Lounges So Far Below World Standard?
He explains that US airport lounges are below the standards of Europe and especially Asia because they’re populated by low fare domestic passengers rather than high fare premium cabin long haul ones. In other words, the economics are different. (Though I’m not sure why United’s and American’s international first class lounges, then, would be below the standards of their Asian counterparts.)
That said, US lounges aren’t below the standard of many European business lounges, and certainly not below the standard for South America, or for that matter India or Parkistan. But in some sense that’s what George W. Bush used to call “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
I’ve spent many hours in the American Express Centurion lounge in Dallas, and it’s clearly one of the very best in the U.S..
Where Are the Best Lounges?
Among the best lounges, McCartney quite reasonably lists:
Lufthansa has a separate first-class terminal in Frankfurt, where the airline drives top-tier frequent fliers and first-class passengers directly to airplanes in luxury cars.
Thai Airways lounge in Bangkok often scores well in frequent-traveler polls and surveys, as does the Qantas first-class lounge in Sydney. Lounges run by Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong, Emirates in Dubai and Etihad in Abu Dhabi typically are around the top of best-lounge lists as well.
To be clear though it’s Thai’s first class lounge with semi-private living rooms and escorts to the plane, along with priority access to the spa (Thai business class passengers can do 30 minute treatments on a space available basis) that’s special.
And Cathay Pacific’s newly redesigned first class side of the Wing looks fantastic, I’ll be visiting for the first time since its re-open shortly, but overall ground service is not Cathay’s strong suit. And it’s only very specific lounges in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that make sense for inclusion — the Emirates A380 first class terminal level and the Etihad first class lounge in Abu Dhabi’s terminal 3.
Including Delta’s new lounge at JFK makes no sense in this story at all, except in the context of pointing out the lounge investments made broadly at JFK to understand how New York is a premium market relative to the rest of the U.S.
Overall, and not in rank order, I’d say the nicest first class lounges are:
- Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt
- Lufthansa First Class Lounges, Frankfurt and Munich
- Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney
- Qantas First Class Lounge, Melbourne (I haven’t been seen since remodel)
- Thai Airways First Class Lounge & Spa, Bangkok
- Etihad First Class Lounge, Abu Dhabi
- Emirates A380 First Class Terminal (I have yet to visit)
- Singapore Airlines The Private Room, Singapore
- Cathay Pacific The Wing First Class Lounge, Hong Kong
Are there others that belong on this list? Air France has a nice first class lounge in Paris. Swiss does a nice job with its first class lounge in Zurich, of course.
Airlines Have Their Best Ground Experiences at Their Hubs
About another premium market, London, McCartney declares I think incorrectly, “Heathrow is the only airport in the world with rival lounges drawing industry-best acclaim.”
The best lounges are outside the U.S. Airlines tend to have their best lounges at hub cities. And outside the US there aren’t many cities which are hubs for more than one airline.
But since McCartney names Cathay Pacific, it seems worth noting Thai’s ground services in Hong Kong include planeside meet and greet for first class passengers and a lounge with menu service.
And Seoul is home base to both Korean Air and Asiana, and while neither has the best first class lounge in Asia both offer very good lounges. In Korean’s first class lounge they’ll make customized luggage tags for you.
Is the British Airways Concorde Room the Most Overrated Lounge in the World?
Nonetheless London is interesting as a home airport for both British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
But while the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow is certainly among the very best business class lounges, it is hardly a quiet, exclusive enclave.
And the British Airways Concorde Room is perhaps the single most over-rated lounge in the world.
Here’s what McCartney says about the Concorde Room:
The Concorde Room has a conference room with leather seats from the now-grounded supersonic aircraft once synonymous with elite travel…the Concorde Room, with room for just 150 people, has cabanas, daybeds with TVs and dining cubicles with chandeliers, where fliers can order duck, parsnip soup and other gourmet dishes, all free. The most expensive libation at the bar: Johnny Walker Blue Label, which costs about $246 to $328 a bottle. Grand Siecle Champagne, which retails for about $197, is the most popular, BA officials say.
Gourmet dishes? The Concorde Room has bloody awful food. It also has — at best — indifferent service (even by British standards. The wireless internet is spotty as well.
The only positive about the lounge, in my view (though some will differ and name the attached mediocre spa), is that it has well-worn private shower rooms known as the Cabanas. This is not a world’s top 10 airport lounge. Not even close.
What Are the Most Important Elements of a Lounge?
A good lounge has:
- Ample seating and workspace
- Hot food
- Complimentary beverages (including alcoholic beverages)
- Free wireless internet
- Assistance with ticketing and flight issues
A great lounge also has:
- Food made-to-order
- Spa services
- Escort to aircraft
What are the most important elements in a top notch lounge experience to you?