Friday, January 8, 2010

Lounge the World's Airports

What we have here is a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that with the double whammy of delayed and canceled flights and snarled, crisis-driven airport security, travelers are more likely to spend more time in airports than ever before. The good news is, airports are growing more attractive - especially if you can get into posh passenger lounges, where options for eating, drinking, working and relaxing abound.

Here are 10 airport lounges around the world where you might not mind being grounded:

MIAMI INTERNATIONAL, American Airlines Admirals Club. Expansive, with comfortable seating, big-screen TVs tuned to news and sports, some basic hot and cold snacks and a decent bar just off a central lobby-like space. The lounge is helpfully divided into snug work spaces and quiet places to chill, with half a dozen private shower rooms. A good place to pass time before those early morning/late night flights to Latin America - a mainstay of AA in this gateway city. Located in the main terminal, concourse D, across from gate D30 and up one floor.

NEW YORK JOHN F. KENNEDY INTERNATIONAL. Lufthansa Airlines Premium Lounge. Opened in January 2009, Lufthansa spent $10 million U.S. upgrading and enlarging this lounge. Actually, it's a 16,000 square foot complex of three lounges: first class, located on the third level, serves the German carrier's highest-level frequent fliers and includes a dining room and shower facilities; the Senator lounge , on the second level, boasts parquet floors, showers and a bar stocked with German beers and wines; business class, on the main level, is 75 percent larger than its predecessor, with a cinema-style theater with four LCD televisions and 18 seats. The food throughout is handled by Vienna's DO & Co., which also caters Formula 1 events. Located in terminal 1, directly behind security.

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL, United Airlines Red Carpet Club. The largest lounge in SFO's glittering, circa-2000 international terminal, this business-class redoubt has a large expanse devoted to work cubicles, a sweeping runway view for people who'd rather daydream, and a hosted bar good for two free drinks. The only downside is the minimalist food offerings. Downstairs, United has a smaller, quieter, gracious first class lounge with pieces of fine-art. Located in the international terminal, just past security, on the right, up one floor.

LONDON HEATHROW, British Airways Galleries. BA spent a reported $125 million U.S. designing and building a suite of six passenger lounges in the just under 2-year-old terminal 5 at Heathrow, the world's busiest airport for international travel. It shows in quality of materials and attention to detail. The first class lounge has a dining room, dozens of free-access, wide-screen PCs, a Champagne bar and, in a nod to environmental concerns, a virtual hearth. The business class lounge has good food and a huge work area for firing up the laptop, plus free Wi-Fi. Located past security on level 5, in terminal 5.

LONDON HEATHROW, Virgin Atlantic Airways Clubhouse. When Richard Branson's cheeky, upstart carrier opened its Heathrow Clubhouse lounge for Upper Class (Virgin's combined first/business class) fliers back in the '90s, it seemed the Mother of All Airport Lounges, with its manicurist, massage therapist and putting green. The competition has intensified since then, but Virgin's signature lounge is still a gem, with, among other things, a library for quiet time away from mobile phones, a cocktail bar, observation deck and restaurant-style meals. Located in terminal 3, lounge zone H, on the way to gates numbered in the 20s.

ISTANBUL ATATURK International, Millennium Lounge. This spacious lounge, shared by a number of international airlines, is nothing to look at, but it offers decent hot food, non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks, snug seating areas and refuge from the crowds and high prices in Turkey's largest airport. Moreover, it's open 24 hours, a rarity. Located in the main international terminal, up one level, after main airport security and before a second screening at the departure gates.

ABU DHABI INTERNATIONAL, Etihad Airways Premium Lounge. The sumptuous first class lounge of the United Arab Emirates' national flag carrier boasts a kitchen and chef's table, a spa, cigar lounge, Champagne bar, day beds and sleek modern furniture. The business class lounge also has a spa, plus a cocktail bar, an art gallery and business center. Open 24 hours a day. Located in terminal 1, just past the departures immigration desk.

DUBAI INTERNATIONAL, Emirates Air. This elegant lounge shows what money can buy - which, it turns out, is a lot, even in the Great Recession. The first class lounge has a wine cellar, spa, buffet and juice bars, a childrens' play area and free Wi-Fi. The business class lounge has a spa (for a fee), showers, two business centers, PCs and a conference room. Located in terminal 3.

HONG KONG INTERNATIONAL, Cathay Pacific Airways. Cathay has two blue-chip lounges at its home airport in Hong Kong. The Wing, for both first- and business-class travelers, features the superb Long Bar, which overlooks the concourse and is flooded with soft natural light; the Noodle Bar has some of the best airport food on the planet. Open from 5:30 a.m. till the last flight departs and located on level 6 and 7, the main concourse. Cathay's newest lounge, The Pier, lacks the abundant natural light of The Wing, as it's located on a lower level, but is similarly kitted out and comfortable. The Pier is open daily from 6 a.m. till 11:30 p.m. Located on level 5, northwest concourse, near gates 62-66.

SINGAPORE CHANGI INTERNATIONAL. Singapore Airlines' Silver Kris Lounge and Kris Flyer Gold Lounge host the carrier's frequent fliers and holders of the Star Alliance gold card. Both the
airport and the airline score consistently high on surveys of frequent long-haul travelers, and it's easy to see why. Buffet food offerings are toothsome, there is plenty of room to work and dozens of free PCs. Some work stations look out over Changi's lush signature indoor tropical gardens.

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