About time I chimed in on the Lounge Life. Airport Lounge Life, that is.
The purpose of this blog is not to advise you on how to gain access. The Blogosphere has already done a fine job of that. Check out this Lifehacker article, for one.
My purpose here is to convince you that if you travel by air more than say, three times a year, you seriously need to look into Lounge Life.
You already know what Airport Peasant Life looks like. Mobs of mouth breathers and their offspring, $10 burnt toast and $15 beer, wifi connections that might be trying to hack your mainframe, top-decibel public announcements reminding everyone to hold tenaciously onto their stupid bags with upmost vigilance, and… the furniture.
Let us not forget the furniture. Sadism must be a desired quality of airport designers, because those chairs are not build for sitting. Certainly not for sleeping, should you require a nap! And how often do you find a working power socket near the seats? Most of the time, you have to relinquish your uncomfortable seat in order to charge your phone or laptop, and now you’re sitting on the floor… which on the bright side is something of an upgrade.
For years, I wondered what lay beyond that chrome desk with the softly smiling clerk. Whatever it may be, thought I, certainly not worth the $40 entry!
Then one year, I caught a break. I worked for an Emirati school (read: money, money, money), and they had a good deal going with the local bank where members could get a Diners Club card with no annual fee. I had no idea at the time, but Diners Club carries serious weight in airports. Every airport I’ve visited, even minor hubs, have at least one lounge with access for Diners Club holders. My first time trying it, I was nervous. Surely, they’d be on to me. They’d immediately see that I wasn’t some corporate so-and-so, or they’d somehow notice I’ve never used the card for anything ever, and my account with that bank has been closed since 2013. But no! I got in then, and every single time since.
It’s like the first time you tried dope in high school (or you know, whenever). It’s an epiphany. You feel the world up to now has lied to you, cheated you, and no way will you ever return to your old life again. Just beyond the desk, the airport din gives way to soft jazz. The stark industrial whites give way to muted beige and wood panel. There’s a panoramic view of the tarmac, reminiscent of the pre-9/11 days of waving goodbye to Grandma as she flew home after Christmas. And that’s just the beginning.
Nobody likes airport food. With the exception of chicken rice in Kuala Lumpur’s Terminal 2, and the laksa in Singapore’s Changi International, I’ve not found airport food that’s worth the 50%+ markup (although I’ll tip a cap to the Chicago dog at O’Hare). So all things otherwise considered equal in the world of airport cuisine, and assuming we can all agree even the worst airport food is better than the best food in economy class, let’s talk about Lounge Life food.
It’s not the Ritz, but it ain’t half bad either. Plaza Premium lounges for example, which seem to be everywhere in Asia, offer pretty much the same deal in every location: noodles, rice, a curry, some local soup, and a modest salad bar, always with super fresh greens. When was the last time you saw a salad in an airport not wrapped in seven layers of plastic? God knows you need those vitamins and nutrients for the flight ahead. Especially considering all the beer you’re about to drink.
Laksa, proof that all is well in the Universe!
Oh did I not mention that before, the free beer? Yeah, so long as it’s an international lounge, you’ll have access to bottomless beer. Suddenly, that $40 entrance fee (only $20 in many Asian airports) doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, it sort of feels like… a challenge. And don’t worry about dehydration. Lounges offer a full array of soft drinks, fruit juices, and if you’re lucky, infused water.
One of many.
But back to the food. Somehow, lounges also manage to serve up some really lovely petits fours for dessert. I’ve not much of a sweet tooth, but I’ll take a free bite-sized tiramisu, caramel ganache, or panna cotta any old day of the week.
Let’s say you have a five hour layover in Heathrow, en route to JFK. Here’s the broke and brilliant way to go full Monty Python whilst in London. Stop one: Duty Free. The shops in LHR do tastings all day long. A little margarita here, a bit of manhattan there. Some free smart water to keep your brain from getting irey. Now onward to World of Whiskies, the loveliest corner of the airport. Within reason, you can try a wee dram of anything on the shelf, 10 year, 12 year, 18 year, you name it. Honestly, I’m not sure what’s meant by “within reason” because in the past I’ve gone far beyond what I thought to be reasonable requests, and those lovely people kept pouring, talking about peat and smoke and so on.
By now, you should have an appropriate clean liquor buzz going. Just enough to keep the rest of the airport experience light and friendly. Time to find the lounge. Show your card or cash, grab a cappuccino, and nestle into a cozy chair. Hell, take a nap. Or solve the cryptic in your complimentary issue of the Times. Or enjoy some free wifi.
You’ve done well. You’re now one of those people beyond the shiny chrome desk.
EDIT: One tip not yet featured in the aforementioned Lifehacker article… many airlines have their own boutique credit card. Aside from extra miles and instant discounts on airfare, some feature lounge access as well… but for an annual fee! I just got an American Airlines card with all those benefits, and my first year is free. I will enjoy the bounty of the card for 364 days (in my case, it means I get to choose from an array of lounges), then cancel. Still get to keep the miles, and still get to chill out, far from the swarms of irate flyers and their screaming babies.