This month we feature our Top 10 Lounges 2012. Competition is getting tough, as lounges are constantly improving year on year, but our selections are based on product offering, design aesthetic, unique offerings and synergy with the respective airline’s brand. Let’s commence with Number 10…
A wine cellar? Sold. Emirates has always been seen as a global market leader when it comes to luxury airline travel, however over the past years its competitors are quickly catching up and even overtaking what was once the most opulent way to travel. Still, the new terminal at Dubai International Airport provided Emirates with the blank canvas it required to create one of the largest lounge complexes in the world. Whilst there is a massive Business class lounge, it’s the First Class lounge that gets our vote. It is split into three different seating themes, with the addition of a lá carte dining, spa treatments, bubbling indoor water features and a wealth of luxurious offerings mean that Emirates, normally a one-stop airline for most travellers, means the stop over can now actually be better than the mini-cabins of the airplanes themselves. No mean feat. What does stop this from climbing up the ladder is the fact that the lounge is still a little sole-less compared to some of the other lounges listed here in our view, and lacks the personality that really defines your journey experience.
Turkish Airlines over the last couple of years has developed their product and this year was the launch of the new 1100sq/m CIP lounge in Istanbul that really makes the airline the real ‘European’ version of the Middle Eastern counterparts. The airline lounge is separated out into small sections, carefully done with a clever use of joint arches that span the area. Grand pianos, TV screens, pool tables, library, showers and an array of differing dining options separated out into unique dining areas feature in the lounge. The only thing that is missing is a view of the apron, still, with live flight tracking, there’s something there to keep the aviation geek in all of us happy. The big thing here is the design though, it’s so stylish, modern and effortlessly mimics the design aesthetic of the region, making the lounge a destination in itself. Turkish Airlines is quickly becoming the airline to watch!
Perhaps a little unusual for a small independent lounge group to make it into this list, but No.1 Traveller has done something quite unique in the aviation industry, bringing a lounge concept to 4 airports in the UK based on a heavy design aesthetic. The heathrow lounge, the No.1 Traveller flagship, offers sleeping areas, a travel spa, along with a massive pay-for lounge that makes lounges like Servisair look like the set for TV series ‘The Office’. With only 4 lounges, and 6 years behind it, this mini success story is reason enough for inclusion. Whilst they may not have the caché of some of the airline lounges, the joy with this lounge is that anyone can experience the lounge for a nominal charge, no matter what airline you are flying or what class of service you take.
‘The Hub‘, Paris’ answer to SkyTeam’s premium ‘super’ lounge has already had some coverage with us earlier this year. But now actually a reality, the Hub is a perfectly clean design-lounge. Whilst the visuals give it a fairly sparse image, we here feel it deserves inclusion for seamlessly recreating the clean design aesthetic of the airline’s brand. The design itself is modern and oozes European chic, the lighting recreating the feeling of relaxing in a park, with areas of light and shade, and the obvious leaf motif. Whilst it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of some of the other lounges in our Top 10, it merits inclusion purely based on its simplistic, considered and well executed finish. What we feel it lacks though, is an a lá carte at-table food service, rather than the more traditional buffet style, and perhaps more intimate areas, as the main lounge areas are still fairly big and full of seating, not offering much privacy.
A private terminal with chauffeur driven cars to the plane? Whilst not new, we still can’t get enough of that. Qatar airways really does deserve its 5 star Skytrax rating for how it treats its passengers (more like guests than travellers). This dedicated terminal is a calm, tranquil and subtle Middle Eastern gem. Polished surfaces, swathes of orchids, a spa that belongs in a hotel and some of the best lounge staff in the industry really set this airline’s lounge experience apart from the others. The terminal, available to both business and first class passengers, has its own duty free shops, fine dining options, and personal hosts that cater to every need. This is a lounge you are happy to connect through, and I bet most secretly wish for a longer connection time than they actually have. What is evident here, from a design perspective, that the lounge feels complete and understated, and the quietness of the design actually enhances the passenger’s experience, making them focus on the services provided, rather than their ornate surroundings.
Here is Lufthansa’s take on the Qatar Lounge. Much more business than pleasure, this very strong and masculine designed lounge echoes the design ethos of the airline. This stand alone dedicated terminal at Frankfurt doesn’t get much press, it’s almost like a secret in the aviation industry, a club dedicated to First Class passengers who value privacy as much as they do comfort. Valet parking, personal staff, a cigar lounge, even the opportunity to take a bath makes you feel like you’ve come home, rather than taking a flight, and whilst there are cocktails, a lá carte menus and fine wines to splash out on, don’t be fooled, this terminal means business. Wifi, business centres, printing, faxing and a host of gadgetry means that this is more an office than your actual office. We love the design of this terminal, it plays to it’s efficiency and doesn’t add any unnecessary flourishes to its design, and if the reviews of the actual product are anything to go by, a must visit!
One of the newer lounges in Hong Kong, and one of Cathay Pacific‘s myriad of lounges, The Cabin, located a stone’s throw from gate 23 is a real designer gem. We love the mini ‘Solus Chair’ pods that are perfect to cocoon yourself away from the world with a good book, or a laptop. Whilst Cathay is world renowned for its quality of service and this is a given, let’s talk product. A stylish thin ribbon of red connects each of the zones in the lounge, including an IT zone (with a plethora of computers), a deli that includes sandwiches made to order and buffet dining options, and also a health bar, serving more cocktails than health drinks (who turns down free alcohol?), but the thought was there. One thing that confuses us with Cathay’s lounge offerings, is the fact they have 3 lounges, with no real point of difference between them all, and their older lounges are being refitted with similar seating products, so passengers may find themselves a little ‘spoilt for choice’. One thing to note is that the new First Class lounge at Hong Kong is imminent and no doubt that will knock the current lounges out of the park, but until then, it’s ‘The Cabin’ that gets our vote.
British Airways new First Class product, rolled out last year now gives a real reason to fly First Class with BA. The older tired cabin was in many respects a downgrade from the newer Club World product, but now it feels there is a refined and considered product here. One of the best reasons to fly BA is to use the Concorde Room, dedicated to First Class passengers only (no frequent flying economy passengers here). The best bit about the lounge however is its fine dining options. The menu is fairly extensive and food and wine are really at the top of their game. If you need some time to relax, they offer ‘Cabana’ style rooms, with comfortable day beds and en-suite facilities. Obviously flying first means you have access to the Elemis spa that is part of the larger lounge concept at Terminal 5. Forgot to book the Opera in New York? Don’t forget to check out the Quintessentially concierge, only here at the Concorde Room, a lounge living up to its name, where time does tend to go faster than you want.
This may come as a bit of an unusual selection, as the Virgin flagship clubhouse in Heathrow, London normally wins the crown for the Virgin group, with spa, garden, insanely large bar and differing zones dripping in über-cool tech and design. However, Virgin invested into both the JFK and Newark lounges this year, creating a real NY-LON polished product (especially with their new Upper Class Dream Suite), and this hasn’t gone unnoticed. The new JFK lounge is more Soho-house than airport lounge, and it has proved that Virgin still understand what cutting edge design is. The perhaps now slightly faded lounge in Heathrow, whilst still a leader in its own right just doesn’t have the clean, contemporary edge that the JFK lounge has. Bold design statements adorn every surface, and every turn leads to a different design element and texture meaning even the most frequent travellers will constantly have a fresh visit, noticing things they may not have noticed before, something important for frequent flyer retention. Plus who doesn’t love a giant red billiard table? The perfect way to de-stress after a long day at the office.
What is it about Aussies that just get design so right. Qantas is no exception, with a lounge spearheaded by their Creative Director Marc Newson the International First Class lounge really is leaps and bounds ahead of their competitors. A large lounge, compartmentalised to provide smaller areas of privacy. There’s a spa that can offer a 50 minute long all body massage surrounded by a living wall of lush green foliage, a restaurant with fine Australian cuisine on tables that look like helipads and a wine list that any Michelin-starred restaurant would be proud of. There’s also a libary, and business centre (naturally), and a sweeping panorama of the airport. What really helps set this lounge apart is the feeling it was designed from the ground up, a space that wasn’t ever meant to be anything from what it now is. The wooden veneers, clean white seating, splashes of red and living walls offer a calming, contemporary environment that don’t challenge the eye, but naturally provide a sense of relaxation and luxury. A difficult blend to master, but this lounge, just seems effortless. Now that Qantas will own the furthest flight in the skies, there is good reason to rest up and enjoy the lounge for as long as possible before boarding. Congratulations Qantas, our number one lounge for 2012, and well deserved.