Luxe airline lounges
Author: Kendall Hill
Photography: Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines
Cocktails on the sun terrace. Yum cha trolleys. Private cabanas
fitted with baths and daybeds. Being stuck in transit is set to
become much more bearable as airlines open a cluster of lavish,
look-at-me airport lounges this year.
Carriers increasingly see these premium retreats as their strongest calling card and a critical first contact with their most valued passengers, so they're pulling out all stops - wine bars, on-site bakeries, chefs' stations - to leave a favourable first impression.
Leading the lounge revolution are elegant new spaces in the revamped Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles, and a suite of luxurious havens from Sydney to Santiago.
Cathay sparked the lounge revolution in 1998 with The Wing at Hong Kong International Airport - a sanctuary hailed by the august Architectural Review as "the most restful, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing airport lounge in the world".
Cathay has raised the stakes again with its sixth and most ambitious lounge in Hong Kong. The Bridge, opened in October, is a lavish quarter-hectare expanse created by star architects Foster & Partners, the firm behind London's Millennium Bridge and Berlin's transformed Reichstag. Foster was also responsible for the 2012 makeover of The Wing, with its Champagne Bar and cabanas equipped with baths and daybeds.
The Bridge opens into two wings from a central reception area with a 14-metre Carrara marble counter and a luminous wall of Venetian glass tiles. The north wing offers freshly baked breads and pizze from The Bakery, a TV lounge and refreshments from the Long Bar. The south wing has a self-service bistro and the Coffee Loft, with an on-site barista. There are nine shower suites clad in Travertine stone and designer furniture, from Foster 520 Armchairs to B&B Italia sofas.
Design brief "An inviting environment of understated luxury."
Access Business and first-class passengers, Marco Polo Diamond, Silver and Gold members; Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire members.
Qantas fired the imaginations of premium flyers when its Marc Newson-designed first-class sanctums appeared at Sydney and Melbourne airports in 2007, featuring Neil Perry-branded restaurants, botanical walls by gardening guru Patrick Blanc, and day spas.
Seven years on, the carrier is set to redefine the waiting game again, with four new lounges slated for Asia and the US. First off the tarmac is the Qantas Singapore Lounge, which opened last year at Changi and sets the tone for a lounge in Hong Kong, due in March, and two at LAX.
Each space aims to reflect "something quirky" about its location, says Alison Webster, the executive manager of international customer experience. Hence Singapore has Peranakan tiles in the lobby, bamboo flooring and natural light pouring in through atrium-style windows.
Qantas has ramped up food offerings, too, so passengers can refuel on the ground and sleep in the air. At communal eating areas or seated at the chefs' station, diners can choose from local cuisine, Spice Temple staples or signature Rockpool Group plates.
Webster says Qantas's new lounges aim to "really demonstrate we recognise [our customers'] needs better than anyone else". To that end, at its Changi retreat Qantas has doubled the number of showers and refined its cocktail offerings.
In Hong Kong, there will be a Spice Temple-branded Barbecue Bar and, most thrillingly, yum cha trolleys laden with dim sum.
In LA, Qantas is putting the final touches to the Oneworld business lounge it will share with Cathay and British Airways. It will be double the size of the old Qantas business lounge at LAX and will have a wine bar, open kitchen and food truck-inspired eating options. And the Qantas valet will be on hand to attend to shoe-shining and shirt-pressing needs.
The carrier's marquee opening this year will be the Marc Newson-conceived First Lounge at Los Angeles in October.
Design brief "The premium journey experience starts on the ground."
Access Qantas First at LAX will be available to first class, Qantas Platinum and Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers. Qantas business lounges are available to business class, Qantas Club, Gold and above frequent flyers (Sapphire and above on Oneworld).
The new Star Alliance lounge at the revived Tom Bradley Terminal in LAX, which opened in September, will be a tough act for Oneworld to follow. Its mid-century styling, bar and library are all very well, but what top-tier alliance members will treasure most is the open-air terrace bathed in Californian sunshine and with views to the Hollywood Hills. Design firm Gensler has incorporated fire pits and a waterwall to give this outdoor oasis the full resort feel.
Design brief "A truly unique and glamorous lounge experience."
Access First, Business and Star Alliance Gold Card.
LAN and TAM
The recently merged LAN and TAM airlines (LATAM) plan to open five new lounges by the end of this year. The retreats will cater to all tastes, with children's areas, chaise longues for the sleepy, business centres for the busy, and South American-accented food and drink.
The first Studio Putnam-designed digs opened in November at Bogotá's new El Dorado International Airport; more to follow in Santiago, São Paolo, Buenos Aires and Miami.
Design brief "A unique and precious environment where the traveller can work, be entertained, or just get some rest."
Access All LAN and TAM passengers in premium economy class and above, plus Emerald and Sapphire tier Oneworld frequent flyers.
Singapore Airlines has budgeted $90 million over five years to reinvigorate its network of SilverKris lounges, which started with the relaunch of its Sydney stronghold in December. The design brief aims to create a "home away from home" and there will be more personalised service from lounge staff. Meanwhile, flying partners Virgin Australia and Etihad plan to open new lounges for first- and business-class clientele in Sydney and Melbourne this year. And Finnair will incorporate a sauna into its prototype lounge at Helsinki Airport, slated to open this northern spring.
Hong Kong-based Plaza pioneered the pay-for-use lounge concept in 1998 for unattached corporate souls who lack the loyalty points to use dedicated airline lounges. Plaza operates at 29 international airports; its flagship lounge at Hong Kong International, reputedly Asia's largest paid-access facility, opened in November in the airport's West Hall. Entry costs from $60 for two hours (showers extra) to $83 for five hours.