Airport lounge access: The one thing that makes long airport delays bearable

Sydney airport was recently ranked sixth worst airline in the world for flight cancellations and ninth worse for flight delays. According to flightaware.com, in the last two months almost six per cent of flights out of Sydney were cancelled and 34 per cent were delayed.

It's a worldwide story. Sydney's all-time worst performance figures since records were first taken in 2003 were ignominiously beaten by several international airports, including Toronto Pearson, where 52 per cent of flights were delayed, Frankfurt (45 per cent) and Heathrow (40 per cent.)

With so many last-minute plane cancellations and delays, it seems travellers are doomed to spend more time than ever in airports, testing the hard seats at gates, wandering like lethargic ghosts through the duty-free and sitting disconsolately at tables in fluoro-lit cafes, nursing indifferent cups of $6 coffee.

But for those who have lounge access it's usually a different experience. I say "usually" because not all airport lounges are alike and some, especially the fee-paying ones, are sometimes so dingy and meagre in their offerings I'd rather take my chances out on the main concourse where at least the passing parade of other travellers is endlessly fascinating.

With lounge access, I can take a shower during transit on a long-haul flight, which makes a tremendous difference to how fresh I feel when I arrive at my destination. It means I can avoid eating on the plane and pace my meals according to my own body clock, not a communal microbiome. If there's a delay, I'll be informed and I can spend it in relative comfort with free Wi-Fi and snacks, and with a locker for my hand luggage if I want to wander.

If I'm flying economy class it's the best perk that airline gold status brings, because it's increasingly difficult to get upgrades these days. And while some airports, like Changi and Doha, have plenty of comfortable chairs, good cafes, and activities to occupy long layovers, many don't. I can't sleep in an airport lounge, no matter how tired I am. But in a private sleeping pod in a dark corner of a lounge? You bet.

In recent years the airlines and credit card companies, in competition for the premium travellers who are their cash cows, have worked hard to outdo each other with signature lounges that have become increasingly more comfortable and luxurious. The pandemic proved the wisdom of this. With travellers now spending so much time stuck at airports, lounge access has become as much a prized perk of business and first classes as a lie-flat seat.

Any first-class lounge worth its salt these days has a wellness centre, full concierge service, Michelin-starred chef-led kitchens, ace baristas, top-flight vintage champagne and napping cubicles for long layovers.

At Air France's La Premiere lounge at Charles de Gaulle, culinary legend Alain Ducasse supervises the menu and pampering is by high-end beauty brand Sisley Paris. The Swiss first-class lounge in Zurich features a hi-tech wine humidor stocked with more than 1000 bottles of premium wines. Cathay Pacific's The Wing first-class lounge has full baths in its spa suites, where no doubt you can drink some bubbles amid the bubbles. Emirates first-class lounge in Dubai boasts a cigar bar. Etihad has a Six Senses spa and Style&Shave barbers in its first-class lounge in Abu Dhabi. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in London has arcade games, pool tables and a hair salon.

Advertisement

LATAM's new 43,000 square feet lounge in Santiago, Chile, houses an art gallery and operates on 80 per cent renewable energy.

On a recent trip, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Singapore Airlines' new four-lounge complex in Terminal 3, Changi airport. The complex includes Silver Kris lounges for business and first class, and a Krisflyer Gold lounge for passengers in all classes with gold elite status with Star Alliance. The cherry on top, if you are so fortunate, is the ultra-exclusive The Private Room for Suites and first-class passengers.

I could happily move in and set up house there. It's like a swank apartment, appointed with Poltrona Frau leather recliners, exquisite ceiling installations of coloured glass from Czech glassmaker LASVIT, enormous bathrooms, and day rooms featuring Tempur's plush zero-gravity beds, which allow for completely weightless relaxation.

Fine dining options include laksa with lobster, and the pour is my favourite champagne (Taittinger Comte de Champagne, take note.)

Sadly, I stopped there for only a short time. With access to lounges like these, I'd almost demand my flight be delayed.

lee.tulloch@traveller.com.au