Inside The World’s Most Luxurious Lounges
Cathay Pacific’s first-class lounge, The Wing, at Hong Kong airport. Photograph by Mr Lit Ma. Courtesy of Studioilse
The VIP areas to check out after you’ve checked in.
Sometimes we complain that the golden age of travel is behind us. We pine for the days when trunks were lugged by porters, you could leave your bags unattended without causing alarm and, if you asked nicely, you could say hi to the captain in the cockpit.
For the premium passenger of today, the closest thing to this level of service is in the lounge. It goes without saying that you’ll find free Wi-Fi and a fridge full of complimentary drinks, but, more often than not, the food is still a bit school dinners, the plates too small, the cutlery too big and there are too many unhealthy temptations in the form of cakes and crisps.
Where are the freshly made green juices, the pre-packaged quinoa boxes to take on board and, while we’re at it, the gyms and spinning studios? Well, they’re not here yet, but some lounges are already going the extra mile.
If you’re travelling first or business class, or have elite status in a partner loyalty scheme, we’ve tracked down the best lounges, the ones that offer vintage champagne, three-course meals, mani-pedis and shirt pressing. Here are seven to check out after you’ve checked in.
Photograph courtesy of Eurostar
The food in this chic new Eurostar lounge has been overseen by Mr Raymond Blanc, so say “au revoir” to sad bowls of peanuts. As of February, Business Premier passengers whizzing between London and Paris can graze on healthy salads and pesto chicken with quinoa. UK-based architect Softroom was assigned the task of transforming this high-ceilinged apartment-style space (this isn’t a revamp of the old lounge) with plush velvet and rotating artwork curated by London’s Hospital Club. There are white marble fireplaces, sleek co-working benches and floor-to-ceiling windows (some of which look down on the platforms). The pièce de résistance is a circular bar where you can order bespoke drinks made by the London Cocktail Club. Santé!
What to wear
Photograph courtesy of United
The United Club lounge in Heathrow’s new Terminal 2 is open to business-class passengers flying with the airline, as well as gold members of the Star Alliance group (includes Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and ANA). Its gleaming marble bar is the longest in the airport. Take a seat beneath the Tom Dixon pendant lamps and the staff will whip you up a free Bloody Mary (in United lounges in the US, you have to pay for alcoholic drinks). A vast buffet has all-day hot and cold courses, starting with a generous full English in the morning. With a long flight ahead of you, it’s advisable to freshen up before boarding. Here, there are hotel-grade shower rooms stocked with Cowshed products. Help yourself to a copy of The Times and relax in one of the retro wing chairs, which are surrounded by an installation of blanched driftwood trees.
What to wear
Photograph courtesy of Qantas
When business class is so good, airlines have to work even harder to make first class stand out. With Qantas, the journey begins at the Mr Marc Newson-designed lounge at Sydney International’s Terminal 1. The day before your flight, a member of staff will call to book you in for a 20-minute massage or facial in the jungle-like spa with living walls of plants. There are desktop Macs, an old-school tiled departure board, a library and broad cubist leather armchairs. A self-service bar offers a choice of Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger and Dom Pérignon. Clonakilla, Innocent Bystander and Penfolds are among the Aussie wines on offer. Fine-dining comes courtesy of Australian chef Mr Neil Perry, who specialises in seasonal menus and locally sourced ingredients such as sustainable black cobia from the Coral Sea. The salt and pepper calamari and black Angus minute steak are perennial favourites.
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Photograph courtesy of Star Alliance
The Tom Bradley International Terminal has its fair share of celebrities and fashionistas passing through, and they will probably be heading to the business-class Star Alliance lounge (it’s even bigger than the first-class section). The highlight is its huge al fresco terrace, which offers views of the runway and the Hollywood Hills beyond, and is illuminated by fire pits at night. Comfy outdoor seats have built-in power sockets so you can charge your laptop while sipping a margarita. Inside, you’ll find a screening room and monochrome prints of iconic LA sights. Self-serve fizz from the Napa Valley is free-flowing and, laid out in front of a wine wall, are SoCal-friendly salad and noodle stations. Even if you’re not famous, you can expect the VIP treatment in here.
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Photograph courtesy of Qatar Airways
The Al Safwa first-class lounge at Doha Hamad International airport is so sci-fi, you almost expect it to be staffed by stormtroopers. From the silver, lozenge-shaped reception desk, you walk down a long, cavernous corridor to a hall where you’re greeted by a decorative pool with a water feature that flows down from a triple-height ceiling. Lines of private seating pods have light brown footstools. A further living zone is located under the atrium of the main terminal, and gives the feeling of being outside. You’ll never have to wait for a table at the Al Safwa restaurant, where staff rush to take your order (it’s all free, remember) of international and local dishes. For something lighter, there’s a sushi counter and a deli for sandwiches. For something heavier, there’s the dessert room. And for the ultimate pre-flight refuge, head to the spa for a Jacuzzi and a nap in one of the sleep pods.
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Photograph courtesy of Turkish Airlines
Described as a “destination in itself” and capable of hosting more than 1,000 people at any one time, the two-storey CIP lounge at Istanbul Ataturk puts its focus on food and entertainment. Chefs whip up traditional simet (similar to bagels), pide (pizza), gozleme (stuffed pancakes) and manti (beef ravioli) and there’s sticky baklava and aniseed-flavoured raki aplenty. The famous Austrian patisserie Demel has installed a counter for Viennese pastries. If you are travelling with friends, the billiards table awaits and, if you arrive extra early (it’s worth it), you can practise your swing in the golf simulator, watch a blockbuster in the cinema, play on the PlayStation 4, or rediscover your inner child on the Scalextric. If all else fails, sip a glass of champagne and listen to the grand piano.
What to wear
Photograph by Mr Lit Ma. Courtesy of Studioilse
Cathay Pacific has six lounges in Hong Kong. This one, however, is located on level seven of Terminal 1 and is just for Cathy Pacific first-class passengers or Oneworld (includes British Airways, American Airlines and Qantas) Emerald members. Show up and help yourself to a glass of Moët. Indulge in the recommended wine pairings to go with the à la carte menu of East-meets-West dishes. The seared salmon with potato cream and devilled eggs, for example, goes best with a 2013 Mount Riley sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. There’s also dim sum and spring rolls, fruit and a salad buffet. The ultimate USP, however, is checking into one of the five private cabanas complete with daybeds, showers, baths and robes. Ask for the ironing service and a concierge will return your outfit freshly pressed, ready for you to crease it up all over again on board.