Skift Take

The arms race in premium lounges continues this year as the majors fight for the most valuable premium flyers.

This year there have been many new lounges appearing around the world. Each offering a unique level of luxury and identity that has meant a broad and interesting collection of spaces in a variety of spaces. Excellent spaces that didn’t make the list, but should still be commended, include Virgin America’s ‘The Loft‘ in LAX, Hong Kong’s new independent Plaza Lounge and last year’s ‘Dolce Vita’ lounge in Rome for Alitalia.

Whilst there are a few familiar faces compared to last years list, there are some new faces here, showcasing the recent investment into the customer experience in the aviation field. Whilst these lounges have been awarded the recognition on an overall product, from service, to space, to their individuality, it is predominantly the design of the lounges that has the weighing factor.

10. Qatar Airways lounge, London Heathrow Terminal 4

Designed more as a private club than a lounge, Qatar Airways‘ new business class lounge in London Heathrow is a welcome change to the more generic spaces that are gradually fading away at the UK’s main airport. The space features a wealth of zones, from Brasseries to Delicatessens, Showers to IT zones. The Signature Martini bar however is the perfect way to unwind after a long day at work, before boarding a flight to Doha. There is even a wine tasting menu to delve into. The entire space, which has a modern and striking Middle Eastern design, is both elegant and defined and helps lift the otherwise slightly dreary Terminal 4 experience. This combined with the new 787 service from London, is a must-do trip. The touches of Qatar Airways’ Middle Eastern heritage, Arabic calligraphy on walls and carpets, the mosaics and the gentle sounds of water features and atmospheric scents of real olive trees and herbs around the dining areas, this is one fully immersive experience not to be missed.

9. Air New Zealand Lounge, LAX

Opened a little over a month ago, the new Air New Zealand ‘Star Alliance’ Lounge at the Thomas Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles’ LAX airport is the first indoor/outdoor lounge at the airport. It is a haven for travellers in the new TBIT terminal. It’s not small either, the new premium customer facility offers space for around 400 Business Class and Star Alliance Gold passengers, including an exclusive area for First Class passengers. Designed by global architectural firm Gensler, the 18,000 square foot (1,675 square meter) lounge features a unique open air terrace, featuring fire pits and a water wall, offering panoramic views of the northern runway towards the Hollywood Hills. The lounge’s experience zones are designed to accommodate passenger needs ranging from social gatherings to quiet time away from home. In addition to the outdoor terrace, the lounge offers a bar area for socialising, a library space, a den, a study and a media room. Those wishing to freshen up before their flight can do so in one of eight shower rooms. Run by Air New Zealand, expect brilliant service, great food and a wonderful wine selection.

8. LAN/TAM Lounge, Bogota

We love that LAN & TAM have combined forces, investing into creating a ‘Best Of Latin America’ offering for their travellers. The latest investment is in the shape of five VIP lounges for their premium passengers. The first of which is the El Dorado lounge in Bogota, designed by Olivia Putman, and is a retro-über-styled lounge. LAN and TAM offer their passengers a dedicated (and thoughtful) children’s area, along with relaxation areas, individual bathrooms, showers, chaise lounges for sleeping, Business Centres and unique beverages and cuisine inspired by all that the region has to offer.

And what of the service offering? Expect nothing less than the warm hospitality that South America is famous for. It’s the design we love here, which is more Mad Men in style. A hint of 1960′s luxe, that brings our hearts back to an era of true JetSet glamour, once found only by the exclusive international premium travellers of some of the biggest American carriers. A lovely touch is that the lounges are also available to premium economy passengers, further enhancing the product in all of their premium cabins.

7. Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge, Istanbul

Last years number 9, Turkish Airlines‘ 1100sq/m CIP lounge in Istanbul 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, as it has expanded dramatically over the past 12 month, is becoming an airline to contend with!

6. Qatar Airways Private Terminal, Doha

A non-mover this year, but the second entry for Qatar Airways. A private terminal with chauffeur driven cars to the plane, perfect. 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.

5. Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt

Much more business than pleasure, this very strong and masculine designed terminal echoes the design ethos of the Lufthansa. Featured in last year’s list, this stand-alone dedicated terminal at Frankfurt still 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 its 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!

4. British Airways Concorde Room, London Heathrow Terminal 5

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.

3. Emirates First Class Lounge, Dubai

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 hot on the tails, causing Emirates to refocus and reinvest into their products. 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.

The perfect place to prepare or recover for your long flight to Los Angeles, perhaps, the lounge 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. Recently the airline has improved the service offering in the lounge, helping it climb the ladder this year to a respectable 3rd place. If only the place felt a little more intimate, we could see it climbing higher.

2. Qantas First Class, Sydney

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. Still a delightful lounge, and only beaten by a conglomerate of lounges.

1. Cathay Pacific ‘Lounges’, Hong Kong

Since the launch of The BridgeCathay Pacific has taken full dominance of Hong Kong International airport. With a whopping Five main lounges, the airline has managed to sneak effortlessly designed lounges into every nook and cranny of the gargantuan airport. Featuring The Bridge, The Cabin, The Wing, The Pier and The Arrivals lounge, there is no chance of not finding yourself a seat to relax. Whilst The Wing, situated just after passport control, is the largest of all the lounges, and perhaps the most convenient, it is The Bridge, that has become the main attraction now.

Split into two lounges, connected by a walkway, on entering the hardest decision you have to make is ‘left or right’ as each wing offers a slightly different experience. This wonderful lounge, which we will review in detail soon, is supported by a myriad of other lounge experiences, from dark and intimate lounges, to practical and light and airy lounges, Cathay have managed to create a sense of unity in their design, whilst offering every traveller something to fall in love with.

But it’s not just the clean lines, marble finishes, artworks, textures and soft furnishings that make these lounges sing to us. It’s the service levels, whereby every staff member is a sheer delight every time we have visited. It’s hard to treat these lounges as anything but one entity, as you are able to visit all of them or just one (such as The Cabin which featured in last years list) when you fly.

Whilst they are spread out, they work as one, and each lounge has familiar elements that run throughout them all. We salute Cathay Pacific in 2013, with their new business class, excellent first class product and lounges to die for, this airline has quietly taken on it’s competitors, and won.

designairsml3This story originally appeared on TheDesignAir, a Skift content partner.

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Tags: air new zealand, british airways, cathay pacific, latam, lounges, lufthansa, qantas, qatar airways, turkish airlines

Photo credit: The Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney. Qantas Airways

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