Airport lounges can be bleak backwaters hardly better than the airport terminals they are meant to provide refuge from. Power outlets are scarce, Wi-Fi is spotty, lighting is fluorescent, the snacks are stale, and the booze has labels you’d be embarrassed to order in a bar. Or, at least many lounges in the U.S. are like that.
Premier international carriers like Etihad and Cathay Pacific, however, field families of lounges that put luxury hotels to shame with amenities like in-house spas, celebrity-chef restaurants, cigar rooms, and even chauffeur service. For someone like me, who travels more than he is home, these lounges can be like a beacon of peace and calm amid the hubbub of modern travel, and I’ve spent many happy hours being pampered and getting my work done in their convivial confines.
Here are some of the best experiences I’ve had.
1. First Class Facial in Hong Kong
My most recent travels took me to the Far East, namely Hong Kong, aboard the city’s home carrier, Cathay Pacific Airways. The airline is one of my favorites in the world thanks to its excellent business- and first-class cabins, but also because it has an incredible network of lounges at Hong Kong International Airport where I sometimes have long layovers en route to other destinations.
Last month, I had a few hours to spare and so I stopped by the airline’s most recently refurbished lounge, the Pier. The Pier is actually two separate lounges. There is a business-class lounge, which just reopened in June, with some phenomenal features like its tranquil Tea House, where you can order from dozens of JING teas.
I was given access to the smaller The Pier First Class lounge, which reopened last June after a full renovation by London-based design studio Studioilse by Ilse Crawford. The space contains a variety of stylish seating areas with views of the tarmac as well as a handsome semi-circular cocktail bar topped with pale green onyx. There’s also a full-service dining room with gourmet à la carte options. I had a light tuna Niçoise salad followed by the signature spicy dan dan noodles.
I didn’t have time to take a nap in one of the day suites, but I did manage to squeeze in a shower in one of the shower suites, complete with Aesop bath products, before scheduling a facial in the small spa area. The airline recently partnered with London brand Gentlemen’s Tonic to offer guests 20-minute complimentary facials. The treatment includes a scrub with the Gentlemen’s Tonic’s Hydro Fresh Cream Cleanser, their B Intensive Toner, and an Active Anti-Oxidant Peel before the application of Revitalise Eye Cream and their Power-Packed Nourishing Moisturiser.
I just laid back and let my therapist do her thing, and at the end, my skin felt much brighter and well-moisturized before my 14-hour flight back to LA. I would just suggest asking for an appointment as soon as you get to the lounge because slots fill up quickly.
If you want to try The Pier First Class lounge for yourself, you’ll need to be flying first class on Cathay Pacific Airways or another oneworld carrier, or have oneworld Emerald status.
2. Shave and a Haircut in Abu Dhabi
As I mentioned, I travel several months out of the year, sometimes for weeks at a time. On one particular trip, I’d spent about six weeks in Australia and Asia before transiting through the Middle East en route to a friend’s wedding in France. Suffice it to say, by the time I got to the Abu Dhabi airport to catch my Etihad flight to Paris, I pretty much looked like the Wolf Man.
That was all part of my plan, though. You see, as a first-class passenger, I had access to Etihad’s premium lounge (since I flew, a new dedicated first-class lounge has opened). That meant I was eligible to enjoy not only a complimentary 20-minute spa treatment in the Six Senses Spa within the lounge, but also a wet shave or a haircut in the lounge’s Style & Shave salon.
Before my flight, I sauntered in there and was paired up with a nice barber named Abdullah whose coif resembled my own. I explained what I wanted and that I had a wedding to attend so I didn’t want anything too dramatic. Within 20 minutes, I was shampooed, sheared and styled and ready to board my flight. Though it was a bit nerve-racking entrusting my ’do to a complete stranger, he did a great job, and it was just that much easier to kill some of my transit time taking care of an essential errand.
To get into Etihad’s first-class lounge, you must be flying Etihad in the Residence or Apartment or first class on the airline or one of its partners; or be an Etihad Guest Platinum member, or a Virgin Australia Velocity Platinum member.
3. All You Can Eat in Sydney
Many airlines now partner with celebrity chefs, and Australia’s largest carrier, Qantas is no exception. The airline has worked with Aussie chef Neil Perry (Rockpool) as its Creative Director of Food, Beverage and Service for years now, and I pretty much got to sample everything on his menu during one particular visit.
My flight out of Sydney was scheduled to depart at around 2:00 p.m., but due to some aircraft issues and delays, it actually got pushed back all the way to 10:00 p.m... and I was already at the airport for my original flight time! Luckily I had access to the Qantas First lounge.
One of my favorite features of the lounge is a “living wall” along the entrance designed by landscape architect Patrick Blanc. The lounge itself is also rather impressive, its enormous hangar-like space and design by Marc Newson reflecting the industrial prowess of aviation in general.
After some time working in one of the conference rooms (I swear I was working and not playing games on the PS3) and enjoying a mini-treatment in the lounge’s spa, I sat down to lunch at the all-day restaurant. Little did I know it would be the first of two meals and a fair amount of grazing throughout the day.
I got a few specialties like salt-and-pepper squid and chili-caramel glazed pork belly. Then a few hours later, I went full-on Aussie with a leg of lamb. And since I had some time to spare (and was just about the only passenger in the lounge for a two-hour chunk of time), I even had an impromptu tasting of almost the entire list of wines on hand. I think — but I can’t remember that part so well!
The summer 2016 menu just debuted (remember, their seasons are opposite of ours) and includes things like crispy fried duck salad, slow-cooked beef with carrot puree, and Sichuan minced pork and tofu.
I practically rolled onto the plane when we finally did depart and promptly fell asleep for most of the flight back to L.A. If you want to get into the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney, you must be flying first class on a Qantas, Emirates or oneworld carrier flight, or have oneworld Emerald status and be flying a oneworld carrier.
4. Chauffeured Mercedes to the Tarmac in Frankfurt
One of the things I love most about flying Lufthansa first class — you know, apart from the stellar service and top-shelf champagne onboard, and yeah, those lie-flat beds — is the chance to visit the First Class Terminal in Frankfurt.
You read that right: Lufthansa has built an entire terminal (it’s small, but still) for its first-class passengers. Instead of going to the airport itself, you pull into the special terminal and are greeted by name, guided through a mini-security checkpoint, and hand over your passport (it’s given back along with your boarding pass when your flight is ready to depart).
The lounge has some standout features including an all-day restaurant with both a buffet and à la carte options, shower suites with full bathtubs (collecting the rubber duckies is an #avgeek pastime) and a cigar lounge.
However, it’s a service element that really stands out to me. When your flight is ready toboard, a member of the staff finds you wherever you happen to be — I’m usually in the recliners by the windows sipping a cappuccino — and takes you downstairs to where a Porsche or Mercedes will be waiting to whisk you directly to your plane.
I had a sleek black Mercedes S-Class, which I actually shared with another passenger who was quite nice to chat with on the way to the plane. We drove along the tarmac to our gate, were shown to an elevator that took us up to the jet bridge and were again greeted by name upon entering the plane. No lining up by boarding group in advance in the vain hope of securing an overhead bin. No jostling with other passengers or fumbling with the wheelie bag. Just cruising along in a Merc.
The First Class Terminal is open to passengers flying Lufthansa first class that day, or if you’re connecting to another flight operated by Lufthansa, SWISS or Austrian.
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