Review: British Airways Lounge San Francisco Airport

Filed Under: Airport Lounge Reviews, British Airways

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Update: British Airways has renovated this lounge since I reviewed it.

Our flight from San Francisco to London was scheduled to depart at 4:30PM, so we got to the airport at around 2PM. British Airways departs from International Terminal A at SFO. We had already checked in on line, so we proceeded straight for security.

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San Fransisco Airport international terminal

While the security line wasn’t all that long, it was a bit chaotic, as they didn’t have enough bins for passengers, and also most of the people ahead of us didn’t seem familiar with the screening process. I sure miss TSA Pre-Check in instances where I don’t have it!

Eventually we were through security, and headed towards the British Airways lounge, located between gates A4 and A6. Once past security, the lounge is located about a third of the way into the terminal, on the right.

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San Fransisco Airport international terminal

The lounge looked quite small from the outside, which is probably because most of it is one level down.

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British Airways Terraces Lounge San Francisco Airport exterior

There was a sign on the door indicating that Korean Air also uses this lounge for their passengers. Conveniently they also had a sign indicating all the other lounge agreements in the terminal, which seemed like a helpful thing to do.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco hours

While there was theoretically a reception desk on the concourse level, there was a sign advising passengers to proceed down a level to check-in. You could go down a floor either by elevator or stairs.

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British Airways Terraces Lounge reception desk

Once there we found ourselves standing in front of an associate who didn’t welcome us or anything. Instead she just sort of sat there until we handed her our boarding passes. Since we had checked in online, she had to verify our passports as well.

The main entry room had a few oddly placed chairs and a high-top table, though I imagine that was intended to be overflow seating.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco reception area

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco reception area

The rest of the lounge was located down a hallway to the side of the reception desk. Immediately on the right was the first class section, which I’ll talk more about in a bit.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco hallway

The main part of the lounge itself felt like most other British Airways lounges. On the plus side, the lounge had lots of natural light and high ceilings. On the other hand, the lounge was densely furnished, and a lot of the furniture was in bad condition and felt pretty cheap.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco seating

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco seating

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco seating

On the left side of the lounge was an area with a business center, which included a few PCs and a printer.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco seating

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco business center

In the back right of the lounge was more seating in a darker area, which felt a bit more like a library.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco seating

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco seating

Also in that area was a door and a podium, so I imagine if a flight departs from the right gate, you can board directly through the lounge. Unfortunately in our case, our flight wasn’t departing from that gate.

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British Airways lounge SFO boarding door

The buffet spread was in the very back of the lounge, and in a word can be summed up as pathetic. While the drink selection was decent enough, the food select was pretty bad.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco buffet

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco buffet

As far as food goes, there was soup, cookies, several types of chips, candy, packaged cheese, fresh veggies, and small finger sandwiches and wraps.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco buffet

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco buffet

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco food selection

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco food selection

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco food selection

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British Airways Lounge SFO food selection

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British Airways Lounge SFO food selection

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco food selection

While the food was fairly readily available towards the beginning of our stay, virtually the entire buffet was empty by the time most passengers showed up.

The liquor selection was fairly good, at least in comparison to the food selection.

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British Airways Lounge San Francisco liquor selection

Then there was beer and wine, though they were almost entirely out of wine. For example, they only put out one bottle of white wine, and that was typically empty within a couple of minutes. Then it would be another 15 minutes until they brought another bottle.

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British Airways Lounge SFO wine selection

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British Airways Lounge SFO beer selection

They didn’t have any champagne, though they did have prosecco.

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British Airways Lounge SFO prosecco

Fortunately thanks to my oneworld Emerald status we had access to the first class section of the lounge. Surely that would have a better food & drink selection, right?


The first class section was simply a separate room. While it wasn’t too full when we arrived, within about an hour every seat was taken.

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British Airways First Class Lounge SFO seating

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British Airways First Class Lounge SFO seating

The food selection in the first class section was identical to the business class section.

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British Airways First Class Lounge SFO buffet

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British Airways First Class Lounge SFO buffet

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British Airways First Class Lounge SFO buffet

The drink selection almost entirely overlapped as well.

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British Airways First Class Lounge SFO buffet

I really don’t get it. We had access to the first class lounge but didn’t actually use it, because it was basically just a more depressing version of the business class lounge. Why even bother?

Our flight was scheduled to board at 4PM, so at 3:45PM we headed to our departure gate, A7. The gate had a beautiful view of “our” British Airways 777, as well as the Air France A380 at the gate next to us.

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British Airways 777 SFO Airport

Within a few minutes boarding was called for first class and oneworld Emerald passengers.

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British Airways departure gate SFO

Bottom line

The British Airways lounge reminded me of the domestic lounges offered by US airlines, except the alcohol selection was a bit better. I really don’t understand why British Airways bothers having a first class section in the lounge, when it’s just a separate, smaller room, with the same offerings as the business class section.

Regardless, it blows my mind how the lounges operated by the UK’s two biggest airlines are polar opposites. While I find most of British Airways’ lounges to be underwhelming, Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses are among my favorite business class lounges out there. All of them have fantastic a la carte dining, while with British Airways you’ll be dining on finger sandwiches and packaged chips.

The point is, if you’re flying British Airways or Korean Air out of San Francisco, don’t arrive early to use the lounge. 😉

Lastly, I should note that if you’re flying British Airways you can in theory use the Cathay Pacific lounge, though you’ll have to watch the opening hours, as the lounge isn’t always open.

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  1. At YYZ and PHL, the BA lounges have terrible food if you are not pre-flight dining – it is usually a bunch of stale sandwiches and nuts/cookies. I suppose it is better than nothing but the amount of attitude I got when I tried to use the YYZ terraces lounge when I was travelling Finnair you’d think they have the most elaborate food spread and are the best lounge at the airport. In contrast, at YYZ, the Plaza Premium lounge has a better food spread, might also be because it is the lounge Cathay uses.

    BA is still stuck in an era where they were cutting edge and better than everyone else.

  2. Ah Ben. Welcome to the lament of the SFO based flier. The airport has been under construction since, well since Fred Flintstone landed the first Pterodactyl Airlines bird there. Lounges move around, relocate, get shut down, get contracted without rhyme or reason. Of all the major US airports I have explored SFO surely has the worst collection of lounges. If you want abominable just try the United Red Carpet Club (which Lufthansa uses). The Cathay lounge as an alternative to BA? Forget about it — way below par. Alaska is a little sliver of nothing. Delta is clean and fresh, but also huge, overcrowded and underwhelming. American is also nothing to write home about. Air France. Nah. Heck, I am not even all that impressed by the AMEX Centurion Lounge (relative to their other properties). And how can a great food town like San Francisco have such pathetic lounge bites? Perhaps it is because of the fast pace of Bay Area living? People want to rush from their cars to their planes, with no time for lounging. Or perhaps it is because SFO is a destination rather than a transit/connection point? There just never has ever been an emphasis on any of the lounges.

  3. 2 yr ago i did same trip, there the lounge was connected with the bridge – like ORD, so boarding was a breeze. But give them credit for the beer selection Anchor is a good beer and in large quantity they make you sing all the way to your seat wearing your Mickey Mouse hat.

  4. Spot on review. Both the standard and first class lounges can get very crowded. There is occasionally minor differences in the food available. I have gotten to board my flight directly from the lounge, and it is a nice experience to bypass the waiting crowds ready stampede aboard. Not an impressive lounge.

  5. The lounges on the A side of the international terminal at SFO are definitely a mixed bag. The EK lounge is up to standard with all EK lounges and quite nice. Never been to the BA lounge, but the CX lounge, since being remodeled is quite nice (albeit a bit crowded). The JL lounge is a bit disappointing and not really worth visiting. They too have a “first class room” with nothing other than private seating. The VS lounge is outside security, which is very inconvenient. Was only in the AF lounge once when it was still a DL lounge, and it was ok. Never have gone to the CI or PR lounges – but can’t imagine those to be all that exciting.

  6. Interesting to see the Air NZ plane there in the background of one of the photos — must have arrived into A (then departs from G)

  7. Are they really allowed to deny Qantas passengers and send them to Air France? I’d have presumed OW rules would have allowed them.

  8. BA’s SFO lounge had been scheduled for complete refurbishment to bring it up to the standard of the new BA lounges elsewhere, such as the brilliant new lounge in Singapore. HOWEVER, the new CEO Alex Cruz cancelled this refurbishment only about two months ago.

    SFO is a premium route for BA, carrying some of their highest value customers from finance and tech, and the state of the current lounge is an embarrassment and a disgrace. It will be telling for the future of BA’s ‘premium’ F and J product to see what if anything they do with this terrible space instead.

  9. What a disappointment. I was just in the BA lounge at Dulles via my PP membership. It was late morning so didn’t have the packaged snacks, fruit and treat jars…Xactky as depicted in your photos. However the lounge space itself was very well laud out, nice new furniture and excellent power and bath/shower facilities. And lots of red and white wine to choose from. When the BA flights actually operate, they had entire dining section closed off with a large (empty) buffet. Very nice setup and really highlights the inconsistency of their lounge network.

  10. I’m writing this comment *from* the Centurion Lounge at SFO and to echo John H.’s comments, it’s underwhelming. I know you, Ben, have a boner for this place but the food spread has been sporadic in that not all of the dishes have been out at once, I had to wait for a table because the place is crowded, and they need more outlets in the bar area.

    Having been to nearly every lounge at SFO, John H. is spot on. They’re all pretty terrible save the EK lounge, which is pretty cookie-cutter, which is great because the EK lounges are pretty decent, but otherwise it seems EVERYTHING here is super underwhelming. I get here a TAD bit early for the Centurion Lounge but can’t be arsed to arrive early for any other lounge unless I have a work necessity where I have to leave my office early and can just set up shop in one of these subpar waiting areas.

  11. As a SFO-based BA client, I am glad you shed the spotlight on this disappointment. Your comments, especially regarding the first class gulag, are spot-on.

  12. Alex Cruz comes from Vueling (IAG’s ULCC). Simply put he was sent over to BA to MAXIMIZE shareholder returns and WEAKEN customer offerings/experience, and there most certainly is no room for luxury at BA…those days are long long long gone.

    Don’t be surprised if the lounges get closed and a pop up bar with curtain shows up at the gate for F, J and elite passengers.

    BA’s new motto “like it or lump it…if you do not wish to fly us, other suckers will”

    NOW, if you’re on a $1200.00 J ticket, not much to complain about.

  13. I think EasyJet might take issue with your two largest British airlines comment…but otherwise your points are valid.

    Having been a big BA apologiest in the last I’ve been very pleased with the Virgin experience that I’ve been able to use recently. Now when I have to fly on a BA route to the US I try to get on an AA operated flight. Ground Service and food are terrible on BA. Such a shame.

  14. Lucky, honestly I think your standards have been spoiled by your visiting some of the best first class lounges in the world, and now comparing everything against this. I have not been to this particular lounge, but from the pictures it really doesn’t look worse than 90% of the outstation business class lounges of various airlines I have been to. And if you go to an LH business class lounge in Frankfurt (their home base), you will not get much more food either.

  15. How long will it be before the Bean Counters close all these “lounges”, just like they’ve dumbed down everything else and closed every city ticket office (remember those?), ended interlining privileges, cut back arrival lounges, narrowed seats, eliminated amenities, down-gauged planes, etc???

    Be careful how we denigrate these remaining havens of sanity away from the jam packed under-fixtured, screaming brat-filled municipal bus stations most US terminals have become, or you’ll hasten the end. At least many lounges (including BA’s SFO room) still have a selection of newspapers, video other than FoxNaus, chairs that weren’t stamped out of aluminum covered in plastic, and occasional peace.

    (Perhaps my irascibility today is caused by my current three hour layover at LAS, with no lounge and all of the above plus bus station-quality food)

  16. As an SFO based flyer who regularly flies to SFO-LHR. If BA have an A380 in service the day you travel the SFO lounge overflows. I agree it’s long past needing an update. The seating and poor food offerings are very weak and overdue an overhaul. It was nice in the days of 747-400’s when you were sitting in the lounge and the plane would pull up outside the window you waited an hour then boarded through the side of the lounge. Those days are long gone now though and we’re left with a crappy lounge and a walk to the plane. BA are slipping .. 🙁

  17. @Craig
    Qantas pax are refused entry to all lounges as SFO except Air France.
    The exception is Chairman’s Lounge pax which are on an invitation-only list at the Cathay Pacific lounge.

  18. There’s no direct access to the A-380 BA flight because they cannot shoehorn a A-380 onto the side of the terminal that that the BA lounge is on. All the A-380’s there (Air France, Emirates and BA) use the west-side.

    Your 777 should have docked on that side, however. It usually does, as did the 747’s.

    The First Class “lounge within a lounge” is a joke,especially as anyone can just walk in, which must have been what happened because it should rarely be full – maybe when the 777 flight is late and the 380 flight is not.

  19. Several years ago, the First lounges had better food than the Club lounges, but that is not really the case any longer at their outstations (but is still the case at BA’s hubs).

    The trend among recent BA outstation lounge renovations (IAD, SIN, DXB, and per rumours, LGW) is a combined business and first class lounge, with a Concorde area for first passengers and CCR card holders, though this lounge within a lounge is typically just a bar area with better drinks.

    Many of the F lounges are no longer better than the club lounges, though they’re often less crowded than the club lounges.

  20. SFO is my home airport and I’ve used this lounge dozens of times when I travel to the UK. Dreadful is how I’d describe it. But it’s better than waiting with the masses.

    I will say the reference to the Cathay Lounge may not mean much, as it’s equally as dreadful. Really embarrasing for these two airlines to have such poor lounges.

  21. Is this a hospital/doctor’s office waiting room or an airport lounge? The first few pics are depressing.

    Actually, I’ve been in hospital & doctor’s office waiting rooms which were far nicer.

    BA is in a race to the bottom. Between cutting meals on TATLs and reducing the quality everywhere else, they might as well slap an EasyJet sticker on the side of the planes.

  22. Maybe if these elitist lounges would go away the rest of us would have better options in the terminal. As of now, it’s one of the worst airport terminals to fly out of as a standard passenger. Be grateful for what you have. And this is coming from someone who had a good amount of time invested in the remodel plans and stood to make a good bit of money from it happening. I came here looking for info on the project moving forward, so thanks for the update Daniel. 🙁

  23. The BA lounge at SFO is so filthy I can’t describe it – carpets stained beyond being cleanable. The first class room is pathetically small and totally inadequate. This whole place is a joke.

  24. I was in this lounge a couple of years ago and must confess I was quite underwhelmed – especially at the first class area. Some have commented on works to update the lounge that have since been abandoned. Would you happen to know if anything has happened in the intervening time? Are BA likely to show this lounge some TLC any time soon?

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