Published January 24, 2013
While airlines are squeezing every last dollar out of their economy travelers, they’re splurging more than ever to attract those coveted first- and business-class patrons.
Recently, many airline lounges have evolved into stress-easing sanctuaries where travelers can work, relax and sleep in high style. “Showers, complimentary food and drinks and work spaces have all become the standard and are now expected,” notes Dan Gellert, CEO and co-founder of GateGuru, a mobile app that provides flight-tracking and user reviews of airport amenities such as airline lounges.
Many lounges also have gone the extra (frequent flier) mile, incorporating over-the-top amenities such as luxury toiletries, complimentary spa treatments and even nanny service.
Don’t have a first- or business-class ticket to enjoy such delights? Don’t fret – some lounges, such as American Airlines’ Admirals Club, offer a day pass for just $50. With lounges like the ones listed here, you may just cross your fingers for a long layover.
Qantas First Lounge, Sydney International Airport
After a while, air travel can feel like you're wandering through a stifling maze of man-made material, which is one reason the 98-foot, 8,400-plant vertical garden that greets passengers at this beloved first-class lounge is such a welcome sight. The delightful design continues upstairs in the bright, airy interior by renowned Australian designer Marc Newson, with eye-catching wooden partitions and sleek windows overlooking the runway that evoke the feel of an awesomely retro-yet-modern aircraft.
Another Australian celebrity, chef Neil Perry, helms the open-kitchen restaurant, whose menu features dishes like crab and avocado salad and fine Australian wines. Other high-end amenities include complimentary spa treatments, private meeting rooms (equipped, interestingly enough, with PlayStations) and a mobile-device-free library stocked with magazines, books and board games.
Lounge Istanbul, Turkish Airlines, Ataturk International Airport, Istanbul
Design aficionados will swoon over the extravagant interiors of this elegant lounge, which opened in July 2011. The 32,000-square-foot space is anchored by separate but streamlined areas with beautifully scalloped ceilings and entryways. Other exquisite local touches include prayer rooms, a garden with two olive trees and an olive bar, food stations including gourmet Turkish cuisine and a library/billiards room with books in several languages.
Modern amenities include free Wifi throughout (even in the showers!), sleeping rooms, a movie theater, TVs with wireless headsets, roaming massage therapists, and, for parents needing some downtime, a dedicated kids’ area complete with PlayStations.
Singapore Airlines Silverkris Lounge, Changi Airport, Singapore
At Singapore’s award-winning Changi Airport, the Silverkris Lounge, which has locations in Terminals 2 and 3, is something to behold. First of all, its glorious spaciousness, with plenty of room between individual seating areas, is especially welcome when one is about to be sharing recirculated air with strangers for the next few hours. Guests can choose from a variety of appealing options for a meal, rest or work, with private relaxation rooms, a business center, library and billiards room all among the offerings. Another bonus: The lounge is open 24 hours a day.
(And if you don’t have a first- or business-class ticket on Singapore Airlines, don’t despair: the Changi Airport, one of the best in the world, boasts of some incredible amenities of its own, including a butterfly garden, free movie theater and rooftop swimming pool and bar.)
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York
This chic, swanky lounge is a rare bright spot in the dreary environs of JFK, with an upscale atmosphere that evokes Manhattan’s latest “it” hotspot. In true Virgin flavor, a red-and-purple color scheme anchors the space, with a curving “red ball” sofa and ambient lavender lighting, handsome pool table and, of course, a sexy, serpentine bar. Complimentary food is available for order anywhere in the clubhouse. Or, for a more formal setting, the brasserie dining area offers a la carte meals and fine wine.
Travel-weary guests in need of some pampering can take advantage of the Clubhouse Spa, the first of its kind outside of London, a Bumble & Bumble salon and products from skincare specialist Dr. Hauschka. And, for some peaceful downtime, wool-lined “cavities” in the wall are perfect for a quick snooze before takeoff.
The Pier, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong International
It’s hard to choose what stands out the most in The Pier, Cathay Pacific’s glass-enclosed first- and business-class lounge in Hong Kong International: delectable cuisine like freshly made Japanese noodles, a spacious layout, private shower suites or the relaxing ambiance that quickly soothes the hassles of travel. The perfect antidote to a red-eye, shower suites open as early as 6 a.m. and almost double as personal mini-spas, with rainfall showerheads and individual toiletries. To fuel up, there are several dining options, including the popular Noodle Bar (where you can grab some of those aforementioned Japanese noodles) and the first-class Haven restaurant.
Another bonus: The lounges are seamlessly united by a main thoroughfare, which makes it a cinch to grab a bite to eat or drink while still keeping an eye on your belongings.
Qatar Airways Premium Terminal, Doha International Airport, Qatar
Completed in 2006 for nearly $100 million, this posh terminal, which is separate from the rest of the airport, blends elements of a luxury hotel and spa – which means for the lucky travelers who spend time there, it might take some effort to leave.
First-class ticket holders can indulge in private relaxation rooms and a full-service Elemis spa, including a Jacuzzi and sauna, but the business class section has plenty of perks, too. Choose from a mouth-watering array of international cuisine, from sushi to Middle Eastern dishes to a 24-hour signature breakfast to high tea. In addition, travelers can take advantage of practical airport offerings like high-end boutiques, a huge duty-free shop and travel clinic, which are all part of the terminal.
Finnair Lounge, Helsinki Airport, Finland
Sleek, smart design and saunas are two staples in Scandinavia, so it’s no surprise that both are key elements of this swanky first-class lounge. Handsome Finnish and Nordic furniture – the bubble chairs are especially eye-catching – and sweeping views of the runway, plus felt walls that absorb outside noise, create an oasis of calm. Thoughtful extras include a wireless mobile phone charging system, an always-open buffet and Marimekko tableware.
Though the spa is currently being renovated, it’s one that spa-going travelers should indulge in, with traditional Finnish saunas, a mineral water pool, paddling pool and steam sauna. (Until it reopens, there are showers in the main lounge.)
Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt International Airport
A ride to your flight in a Mercedes or Porsche. Bars equipped with 86 whiskies, including every Johnnie Walker label from Red to Blue, and a cigar humidor. Private sleeping rooms. Showers stocked with toiletries by high-end Italian brand Etro. In other words, this first-class terminal is about as upper-crust as one can get flying commercial airfare. It’s a favorite among the top-dollar-paying patrons, and not surprisingly, security is ultra-strict – no trying to talk your way into these elite environs.
If you are one of the lucky-duck travelers who can afford it, though, you’re free to take a fitting souvenir from your luxurious layover: a rubber ducky (part of the offerings if you indulge in a full-sized bath), printed with the Lufthansa logo.
British Airways Concorde Room, Heathrow Airport
You’ll almost want to linger (with a pipe, if you could) in this dapper space, which evokes the refined ambiance of an upscale British parlor with rich velvets, chandeliers and fireplaces. All first-class travelers are provided a complimentary 15-minute massage at the Elemis Travel Spa (book early, as spots fill up quickly), and other modern amenities include a chic Champagne bar, private sleeping and shower cabanas, Wi-Fi and super-fast printers.
There’s also a boardroom available for meetings – it’s worth a visit just to sit in the chairs, which are the very ones from the iconic, supersonic Concorde.
Etihad Airways Diamond First Class Lounge at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Finally, some real relief for travel-wearing parents with kids in tow: this first-class lounge provides nannies available to watch the little ones, along with a colorful family room full of toys, books and bean bag chairs. While the kids are taken care of, parents can choose from any adult-centric amenities, from a cigar room to a foot detox at Six Senses Spa to a relaxing meal at the chef’s table in the heart of the kitchen.
The stress-easing offerings also include shoe-polishing and clothes-ironing services while you shower, a Champagne bar and an entertainment room with flat-screen TVs and individual headsets.
Admirals Club, American Airlines, Los Angeles International Airport
Although it’s not quite as posh as some of its cousins in other parts of the world, this quiet little haven is well-known among savvy travelers: For a $50 day pass, you’re granted entry -- and an escape from the constant pandemonium that LAX is infamous for. Located in Terminal 4, the lounge is one of the largest and nicest of the Admirals Club network, with a bright, spacious interior, tasty food options such as cheese plates and sandwiches, work spaces and even a “Kids Kamp” complete with TVs, toys and a kids’ menu. And however you’re enjoying the space, keep your eyes peeled for celebs, as they’re known to pass through fairly often.