Top 10 Things I Look For In An Airline Lounge

A few days ago Jason and I thought it would be fun to rank business class airline lounges into five “tiers”. We collectively agreed that Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong The Pier Business Class Lounge belonged in Tier 1, and the Lounge Pacific at Osaka belonged in Tier 5. However, it was fun to talk about some of the airline lounges that we had differing opinions of.

img_5289Geneva Airport is a good example of why I value lounges

This led me to think of what is important in an airport lounge in general, since it’s one of the things I really enjoy reviewing up here at Young Travelers (I don’t want to be a designer in the future, but I love great designs, and a lot of my friends are aspiring designers as well).

There are two things that I’ve decided to address, which I’ll talk about in this post. First I decided to think of the top 10 things that I value in an airline lounge, so you guys reading can chime in on your thoughts. 🙂

So what are top 10 things I value in an airline lounge?

1. A Relaxed, Quiet Environment

One reason I much prefer lounges to terminals is because they’re much quieter. Usually it isn’t a function of the location of the lounge – it’s about how crowded it is, and how it normally regulates crowds at a certain period of time. For example, the Qantas Lounge Hong Kong is open to one of the busiest parts of the terminal and is open to all oneworld premium passengers (there’s a huge oneworld airline in Hong Kong that allows access to this lounge…), though it’s created, designed and managed in a way that allows it to be quiet wherever you sit – one of the reasons I love the lounge.

img_2081Qantas Lounge Hong Kong

If we’re really talking about Cathay Pacific lounges, The Bridge is smack dab in the middle of all the gates, and it’s not massive – it can be pretty crowded at times. The Bridge is designed to be private with all the bookshelves, which insulates some of the noise from around the lounge. I’ve been there when the lounge was full and still come out with a positive impression.

img_2180Cathay Pacific The Bridge Lounge Hong Kong

2. Great Decor

I’m not looking for decor that suits my tastes, but it’s always really nice to see a lounge with decor that has clearly been thought out. It’s always nicer to see a space that looks aesthetically pleasing in some way, or at least modern – it works much better than mismatched furniture or a really bland colour scheme.

DSCF5992Japan Airlines’ Osaka lounge has a selection of great colours

3. Nice workspaces

I really like when airline lounges leave special places for us to work, as I like to be productive before I board a flight, especially one without WiFi (or really expensive WiFi, for that matter). I love when airlines leave cubicles where we can work somewhat privately. I love it even more when there are high-backed chairs blocking everyone’s view of what you’re doing, especially since I normally write up lab reports in a lounge.

img_5423Lufthansa’s Frankfurt lounges have great workspaces

4. A variety of comfortable seating

Normally, I like to hop around if the lounge is particularly big and has a variety of comfortable seating. For the first while I might want to take a seat by the food area, then I’d transition to work for a while, then grab a “nap” or “relax” seat, etc. I guess comfortability is completely subjective, but that’s exactly why I like lounges that provide more options – for example, there are many choices of where to sit in Cathay Pacific’s The Pier lounge, and there are even a few “rooms” that are themed for different purposes. As a people-pleaser, I love that.

IMG_0122Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge has enough seating to make it my favourite lounge

Since Cathay Pacific’s lounges are some of my favourite in general, I’ll mention Cathay Pacific’s Taipei lounge as well, which is around a fifth of the size of the massive The Pier lounge. Still, Cathay Pacific manages to chock the lounge full of different seats – and they aren’t even placed in a way that seems confined by any means.

IMG_0542Cathay Pacific Taipei Lounge Hong Kong

5. Good food

While I don’t have really high expectations of airline food no matter whether it’s in the air or at their lounges, some airlines really manage to make their lounge food really good. I think that simplicity is key to this – sure, I’m looking forward to having an a la carte meal at Qatar Airways’ lounge in July, though I don’t think that’s necessary. I love that Swiss’ Dock E lounge in Zurich has a few “specialty” dishes – while I didn’t end up trying one of those dishes, they had a few “chef’s dishes” that you could order, and those were pretty good according to my family.

img_1872Swiss Business Class Lounge Zurich Dock E Food Menu

For oneworld status holders based in Hong Kong, Qantas’ lounge at Hong Kong also features a few specialty dishes – their “dish of the day” at night, and a delicious char siu dish that is available all day round.

img_2111Qantas Lounge Hong Kong Char Siu Dish

6. A bar with a great drink selection (and a barista!)

While I don’t drink (I’m kind of under the drinking limit), I love a good mocktail. Quite a few business class lounges have bars that have good drinks, including mocktails, which I’m a fan of. Qantas’ Hong Kong lounge comes to mind again, with their fruit punch and their “Asian fruit punch”, the latter of which was spectacular.

img_2048Qantas Lounge Hong Kong Bar

img_2108Qantas Lounge Hong Kong Asian Fruit Punch

Of course, for those that can drink, you’d appreciate Cathay Pacific’s bar which has an entire room of this – speaking of which, they also have a separate barista, which translates to really good coffee as well.

IMG_0107Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge Hong Kong Bar

IMG_0180Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge Hong Kong Hazelnut Latte

7. Fast Internet

This is one of the amenities I actually value most in a lounge, due to how much I work. I love staying connected before a flight, and while it’s not a big deal in airports like Hong Kong and Singapore Changi where there’s fast, free WiFi, it’s a little harder in airports with crap WiFi. The Thai Airways lounge in Phuket lacked this, which was part of what made them the “worst lounge of the year” in 2015, which wasn’t nice (though it’s kind of understandable, since Phuket isn’t exactly a world-class hub).

IMG_1642Thai Airways Lounge Phuket

8. A dedicated relax area

I don’t normally relax in lounges (whenever I get lounge access, I’m normally in business class, so I can relax on the flight), but I know that people appreciate a great place to sleep during long layovers. Quite a few hub lounges get this right – Cathay Pacific’s The Pier business class lounge has an entire area dedicated to rest, which I appreciate.

IMG_0152Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge Hong Kong Rest/Relaxation Area

IMG_0154Cathay Pacific The Pier Business Class Lounge Hong Kong Rest/Relaxation Area

9. Decent shower rooms

I like taking a shower before my flight, so sometimes it’s necessary to do so in a lounge when I check out of my hotel by 12 PM, get on my phone for seven hours straight while my mom shops, and take a two-hour ride to the airport for an 11 PM flight. I love it when airline lounges provide great showers that fit in with the rest of the lounge’s decor. One airline that doesn’t get this right is Korean Air, whose Incheon lounge shower rooms look like an afterthought, and kind of feel like storage rooms.

IMG_7151Korean Air Business Class Seoul Incheon Shower Room

10. Some local flair, or something special

While I’m always excited turning up to a new lounge, after I snap some pictures and work for a little bit, I get kind of bored, and start waiting impatiently for the flight. I love it when airlines create something unique to their own lounges. Cathay Pacific does this really well with their Noodle Bar – not only is this a nice touch, but their noodles are also consistently excellent across the board (at least in Hong Kong). Another airline that does this is Qantas, which always tries to inject some local flair into their lounges (for example, the char siu rice explained above at their Hong Kong lounge, but their Singapore lounge is unique in its own right as well).

IMG_0172While I’ll talk about my problems with Cathay Pacific’s The Wing below, both they and The Pier offer great noodles

As for variety (I still have a lot of the world’s best lounges to visit), I’d also like to commend Frankfurt’s Lufthansa lounges. While the Concourse Z lounge isn’t my absolute favourite, they do have an endless supply of great pretzels, sausages and cinnamon rice pudding, putting some German flair into their buffet options. Nom nom!

img_5448Lufthansa’s Concourse Z lounge sausages and pretzels

My Beef with Cathay Pacific’s The Wing

One lounge that Jason seems to love is Cathay Pacific’s The Wing. I’ve reviewed it before a couple of times, and I’ve never really liked the lounge, even though it’s pretty well-renowned and seems to be the lounge 90% of travelers like to visit.

img_2156Cathay Pacific The Wing Lounge Hong Kong

I’d like to say that The Wing is at an unfair advantage just for being Cathay Pacific’s most popular lounge, as that quickly takes away from the “relaxed, quiet environment”. But here I’m not trying to pan Cathay Pacific for having a bad lounge – rather, I just want you guys to be able to choose the best lounges. 😉

Here’s why I don’t like The Wing at all, and would actively avoid The Wing for The Bridge, The Pier or The Qantas Lounge.

1. The decor is bleh

I’d like to think that Cathay Pacific has my all-around favourite cabin and lounge designs. Yes, I remember calling their cabins bland once, but that was merely there to counter a post from Jason that effectively gave Cathay Pacific free promotion – if his posts don’t make sense, why should mine?

But yeah, The Pier and Cathay Pacific’s Taipei lounge are designed brilliantly. As for their older lounges, Cathay Pacific’s The Bridge is also stunning. Even their Paris lounge and The Cabin have pretty great designs (despite them being pretty boring otherwise).

img_2130A less drab red theme throughout The Cabin

I kind of feel like Cathay Pacific ordered way too much furniture when they were building The Cabin, so just decided to refurbish The Wing while they were at it. Don’t get me wrong, it is modern, but all the colours just seem to be kind of bland. There’s a touch of orange, red and wood that spruces up the lounge quite a bit, but it’s not nearly enough to rid the lounge of its boringness.

img_2158Cathay Pacific The Wing Business Lounge Hong Kong The Long Bar

I mean, the most good-looking part of The Wing is The Noodle Bar, which is fairly nice and well-decorated. Even then, it seems kind of bland, and the colour of the leaves get eaten up by the blandness of the walls and the floor.

img_2161Cathay Pacific The Wing Business Class Lounge Hong Kong Noodle Bar

2. The lounge is cramped

For a hub lounge, The Wing is kind of cramped and seems like the seats were arranged to increase capacity. In order to get from one part of the lounge to another (unless I’m going up the stairs, which is less of an issue), I kind of need to weave between seats and tables and possibly interrupt discussions.

Which is fine, by all means, duh, I get it, it’s consistently crowded – but a The Pier-esque refurbish with more open space would be nice. I mean, if there are no seats, there are four other lounges to visit.

IMG_0558Little open space on the carpeted area creates a sense of crampedness

3. No relax area

Cathay Pacific’s The Bridge has a couple of L-shaped sofas that are great places to relax. The Pier has its own dedicated relax area with a large sofa and a handful of daybeds.

img_2200Nice L-shaped sofas in Cathay Pacific The Bridge Lounge Hong Kong

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the closest thing to those are upright sofas at The Wing. Which is fine, by all means, but rather disappointing especially since The Wing is/was Cathay Pacific’s flagship lounge and continues to be the lounge people have long layovers in.

img_2152Cathay Pacific The Wing Business Class Lounge Hong Kong Relax Area

Bottom Line

As for the top ten things I find nice to have in an airline lounge, I’ve come to develop those over the past two years and I definitely still have a lot to learn, so I hope I have more opportunities to visit lounges in the near future. As for Cathay Pacific’s The Wing, objectively it’s fine, but I don’t think it’s one of the best business class lounges in the world by any means. Those are just my two cents, though, so if you like the lounge, take everything I said with a grain of salt (or visit The Pier, and you might think otherwise). 😉

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