What Amenities Make An Airport Lounge Good?

What Amenities Make An Airport Lounge Good?

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I write a lot about airport lounges on the blog, ranging all the way from domestic lounges in the United States, to the best international first class lounges. When I rank the lounges I like most, some readers understandably have very different takes.

I thought it would be fun to start a discussion about the basic standards of airport lounges, and what makes them exceptional.

The basic value proposition of an airport lounge

Obviously lounge standards should differ depending on whether you’re using Priority Pass to access a lounge or are traveling in international first class, so we’ll get into more detail on that below.

Broadly speaking, what I’m looking for in a lounge is a (relatively) quiet place to sit, connect to Wi-Fi, recharge electronics, use a clean bathroom, and maybe have some water, coffee, or Diet Coke. Other things are good to have, but not something I necessarily expect.

There are also some deal killers for me when it comes to airport lounges. Personally if a lounge is packed I have no interest in being there, and that largely reflects that over the years, terminals have become much better places to spend time:

  • Unlike a couple of decades ago, a vast majority of airports offer free Wi-Fi, so that’s not usually something that differentiates lounges anymore
  • Many gate seating areas have been improved with plenty of outlets; you can almost always find a completely deserted gate to sit at, with no one around
Basically a lounge, minus the snack mix

So unless you’re looking to chow down or drink up, you’re generally going to find more comfortable accommodations in the terminal. And before someone says “you’re so obsessed with privacy,” let me point out my biggest issue with crowding — it’s that there’s invariably going to be someone within earshot of you making a loud phone call or watching something without headphones.

My take on what makes a lounge good

I figured I’d share my expectations for lounges, and I’ll break it up into three tiers of lounges (admittedly some of the lines are blurred here):

  • The first tier of lounges are those belonging to Priority Pass, contract lounges, credit card lounges, and membership lounges
  • The second tier of lounges are those specifically for long haul international business class
  • The third tier of lounges are those specifically for long haul international first class

I think it’s also important to note that everyone is looking for different things in lounges:

  • If you have a long connection, resting facilities can make or break a layover
  • If you’re traveling in long haul economy, chances are you’ll appreciate lounge food a lot more than someone traveling in business class, who hopefully has access to great food onboard
  • Some people are looking for a festive start to their trip, and just want to drink

I think the two below videos from Cathay Pacific from several years ago oh-so-beautifully sum up what makes lounges great. The commentary in the videos is almost poetic.

With that out of the way, let me share my basic expectations of various types of lounges, and admittedly these reflect my preferences and biases.

Priority Pass & membership lounges

My expectations for Priority Pass lounges, airport contract lounges, airline membership lounges, and credit card lounges, are pretty simple. I’m happy if I can actually consistently get in and have a quiet place to sit. Sadly that’s not as straightforward as it may sound, with so many stories of lounges denying entry to club members, Priority Pass members, etc.

What sets a “basic” lounge apart? I’d say showers, bathrooms that are significantly nicer than in the terminals, workstations, a good food selection (ideally with hot food), good coffee, and employees who actually make you feel welcome.

Just to give a couple of examples of lounges in this category that I consider to be exceptional:

  • The Capital One Lounge DFW is my favorite lounge in this category, as it has hot food (including grab & go options), great coffee drinks, nice decor with natural light, Rumana, and lots of amenities, from nap pods to exercise bikes
  • The Primeclass Lounge MCT is probably my favorite Priority Pass lounge, as it has endless features, and even has nap rooms
  • As far as airline membership lounges go, I’d say that Delta Sky Clubs are the gold standard when it comes to quality, with the caveat that they’re also the most consistently overcrowded, which is an issue
Cold brew & iced lattes on tap at the Capital One Lounge (DFW)
Primeclass Lounge nap room (MCT)

International business class lounges

My expectations are a bit higher for purpose-built international business class lounges. In addition to what I expect from the more “standard” lounges above, I hope that international business class lounges will have hot food, a more premium drink selection, showers, and workstations.

What sets an international business class lounge apart? I’d say a la carte dining, nap rooms, barista-made coffee drinks, and generally elevated decor.

Just to give a couple of examples of lounges in this category that I consider to be exceptional:

  • United Polaris Lounges are awesome, even by international standards, with a la carte dining, nap rooms, barista-made coffee, great shower suites and individual bathrooms, and great decor
  • The Air Canada Signature Suite Toronto is probably the world’s most elevated business class lounge, and offers true restaurant-quality dining
  • For international business class lounges that also allow elite members access, I think American Flagship Lounges are top notch as well
Polaris Lounge a la carte dining (EWR)
Air Canada Signature Suite (YYZ)

International first class lounges

International first class lounges are as premium as they get, so expectations should be high. In international first class lounges I expect a la carte dining, barista-made coffee, some sort of an area to rest, a truly tranquil environment, and staff who make you feel welcome.

What sets an international first class lounge apart? Dining that’s (high-end) restaurant quality, an amazing drink selection, individual nap rooms, spa treatments, and a ground experience that extends beyond the lounge. That’s to say either tarmac transfers or an escort to the gate, and that’s no doubt an area where many airlines fall short.

I’ve reviewed the world’s top first class lounges in detail, so it’s no secret what my favorite options are the Air France La Premiere Lounge Paris and Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt.

Air France La Premiere ground service (CDG)
Lufthansa First Class Terminal (FRA)

Bottom line

We’re all looking for different things from airport lounges, and I think that’s totally fair. Standards should differ based on what kind of a flight you’re taking, how you access the lounge, what you’re trying to accomplish by visiting a lounge, etc.

Everyone will have a different take on which lounges are great vs. just okay, and that’s fine. While I care about tranquility and good coffee, others care about great food and drinks.

I’m curious to hear from OMAAT readers — what makes a lounge great, in your book?

Conversations (32)
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  1. CJW Guest

    Agree with Ben on how nice Air Canada Signature Suite Lounge in Toronto is. Get a business trip to Japan every so often and work the system/leadership hard to book me thru there over other options just due to the lounge. ANA Haneda Business Lounge is very nice too.

  2. Boogen Guest

    It's hard to beat the first class lounge in Doha. Last trip there I had 6 free hrs in the sleeping room and paid a reasonable sum for another 6 hrs. I had 10 great hours of rest. Except for the ride to the plane, Flagship Dining in my opinion is better than the Frankfurt Lounge. I'm not sure any lounge right now serves better food than Flagship Dining. This past trip yesterday was Flagship...

    It's hard to beat the first class lounge in Doha. Last trip there I had 6 free hrs in the sleeping room and paid a reasonable sum for another 6 hrs. I had 10 great hours of rest. Except for the ride to the plane, Flagship Dining in my opinion is better than the Frankfurt Lounge. I'm not sure any lounge right now serves better food than Flagship Dining. This past trip yesterday was Flagship Dining in Dallas, Flagship Dining in JFK, and the Concorde Room. All great and gained more weight than at Thanksgiving. Maybe the perfect lounge would be food from AA, wines from La Premiere, sleeping rooms in Doha, baths from The Pier, and service from Frankfurt.

    1. Andrew Diamond

      So you're not an Amex fan? XD

  3. David Guest

    Shower facilities that have proper ventilation. I hate getting dressed in a sauna after the nice shower.

  4. Kenneth England Guest

    What's everyone's take on the Emirates lounges?

  5. Reno Joe Guest

    It's worth noting that in Europe, there is an array of independently operated lounges -- some are nice, others are dumps. Typically, if a particular airport is not a major destination for an airline, that airline will contract with these operators for lounge access . . . and they are often the same lounges to which Priority Pass grants access.

  6. Reno Joe Guest

    Quiet, uncluttered, and clean. Without these, it's hard to enjoy the food and drink.

  7. Sir Digby Chicken Caesar Guest

    Good coffee, good wine, good cocktails, and a cigar lounge

  8. Leigh Guest

    Great post, and bound to get a million replies.

    For me...drinks (I prefer self-serve), quality food even if just appetizer style, quality showers with amenities if on a long layover, universal power connections (surprising that this is still inconsistent), privacy designed seating areas and/or just seats with privacy head level partitions....AND, for all us AvGeeks....great runway and/or tarmac views!!! I HATE lounges that offer views of nothing, and there are many of them...I'd rather pay...

    Great post, and bound to get a million replies.

    For me...drinks (I prefer self-serve), quality food even if just appetizer style, quality showers with amenities if on a long layover, universal power connections (surprising that this is still inconsistent), privacy designed seating areas and/or just seats with privacy head level partitions....AND, for all us AvGeeks....great runway and/or tarmac views!!! I HATE lounges that offer views of nothing, and there are many of them...I'd rather pay for drink/food in the terminal rather than sit in a lounge with no view of airplanes.

  9. John Guest

    Gate proximity is important. The Capital One Lounge is amazing, but it’s in Terminal D at DFW. Unless you have hours to kill, it’s not worth the effort if your flight leaves from the other side of the airport. For the same reason, lounges outside security are also worthless.

  10. Volleyball New Member

    In order, great food, available seating and operational outlets/USB ports

  11. George Romey Guest

    Self serve bar, quite areas, plenty of spacious seating, ample bathroom facilities and variety of changing of complimentary food options/menu.

  12. Jerry Diamond

    Lucky, I think you failed to mention one of the most important benefits of lounge access, and that's accessibility to agents that can help during irrops. I've noticed a lot of Schengen lounges shifting primarily to automated entry, and as lounge agent numbers are cut, it could mean longer waits when things go South.

  13. e30st Guest

    I was always wondering how can bloggers write so positively ablut KLM’s new crown lounge. Even you were very positive about it, but especially Matthew from liveandletsfly was so obsessed with that lounge. It’s one of my least desirable lounge. First of all, it’s always full.
    There are only 19 showers. BA’s T5 arrivals lounge has over 100 of them.
    Shower suites don’t have toilet. I know that well over 50% of people...

    I was always wondering how can bloggers write so positively ablut KLM’s new crown lounge. Even you were very positive about it, but especially Matthew from liveandletsfly was so obsessed with that lounge. It’s one of my least desirable lounge. First of all, it’s always full.
    There are only 19 showers. BA’s T5 arrivals lounge has over 100 of them.
    Shower suites don’t have toilet. I know that well over 50% of people pee in the shower, but there it’s just not an option. I personally also prefer to take a program 2 before having a shower.
    And they have this fancy online reservation system they are so proud of. But when I was first to enter the lounge at 5AM, I went straight to take a shower, and I was told to wait 30 minutes. Yes, you can wait for a shower, I know it’s a limited amenity, but I never had to wait at any other major EU hub. Not to mention, that there was a 3 months consecutive period back in 2019, when their showers only had cold water… once again, only at KLM.
    They have a work corner with a few 27” iMacs. But those have a 3rd party unusable operating system running on them with 1024x768 resolution, and the software doesn’t let you open or print PDFs. I needed to print a document, and I had to screenshot every page and upload it to a website to make it printable. So unprofessional…
    Drink selection: Heineken. Or alcohol free Heineken. Also they have a terrible sparkling wine, which retails for 3€/bottle online.
    Soda selection is not any better, they have these touch screen soda pouring machines with like 5 options. And the glasses. They are so small, around 200ml each, maybe even smaller. If you put ice into them, you get like 100ml drinks for each turn. I always start with 2 glasses of diet coke, but as soon as I sit down, they are empty within a minute, and I have to walk up to the machine again, and wait in a long line, because they have like 4 of these stations in the whole lounge, which proudly serves 1200 guests. Oh and they don’t have lemon slices. Not a big deal though.
    Food selection makes me crazy too. For breakfast, they had (I’ve counted) 11 types of bread. From different rolls to sliced bread, white, brown, even those so-called bread popsicles, which are a seeded roll on a wooden stick. And for all these, they have 2 types of cheese, both being gouda, one Is a little bit more aged. And two types of turkey hams.
    If someone decides to offer 11 types of bread, it would be nice if some of it were gluten free, as it’s a common dietetary need, but no, they just don’t.
    If you want a croissant, you don’t have butter. I’ve asked the staff, they said they don’t have butter (in their defense, on my latest visit they had).
    There are those fancy fruit plates with pineapple and watermelon among other fruits, where they just cut them into pieces, with the shell still on. Looks nice, but very impractical, also much more wasteful.
    They also have a hazelnut spread. I’ve never expected nutella, but its the most inedible sugary palm oil stuff which is usually served in overpriced amusement park food stalls.
    Lunch or dinner service is not better either, with a chevy chicken stew and 6 different types of sides.
    At least their hummus is good.
    The desserts, well I can’t even describe them, nor could I eat them.
    Also it’s a fairly new lounge, but there is not enough toilets, and they are always dirty.
    And those fake plants everywhere…
    After visiting any Air France lounges, it’s impossible to beleive that these are actually the same company.

    1. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

      KLM's lounges have always been beyond pathetic with inedible food. Maybe it's because intra-Europe business-class passengers have access, which lends to overcrowding. Also, KLM serves meals on those short intra-Europe flights. KLM's lounge wine is undrinkable. If I want to drink good stuff, I purposely choose to connect through Paris with Air France or through London with Virgin Atlantic. Despite Air France and KLM having the same parent company, they are for all intents and...

      KLM's lounges have always been beyond pathetic with inedible food. Maybe it's because intra-Europe business-class passengers have access, which lends to overcrowding. Also, KLM serves meals on those short intra-Europe flights. KLM's lounge wine is undrinkable. If I want to drink good stuff, I purposely choose to connect through Paris with Air France or through London with Virgin Atlantic. Despite Air France and KLM having the same parent company, they are for all intents and purposes two separate airlines. The only good thing about KLM is its operations and, for Americans, its partnership with Delta Air Lines. I find KLM more reliable and its customer service agents are more familiar with Delta than Air France. This is a big advantage, in my opinion.

    2. Eskimo Guest

      take program 2 in the shower.

  14. Mantis Guest

    My biggest request for lounges is comfortable seating. So often an otherwise nice lounge will be ruined by uncomfortable seats. Sleep areas are great too, but they are far too rare. Also a nice view of the tarmac helps. I hate the feeling of being stuck in an interior room for hours...I then invariably start noticing annoying fellow travelers more.

  15. Mango Guest

    Shower, shower and shower

  16. BeeDazzle Member

    Mine is pretty simple, but so hard to achieve: Spaces regularly bussed (we've all seen lounges with dirty dishes everywhere, a decent selection of food that tastes fresh, wide variety of liquors and classy-cocktail mixers (the alcohol and mixed drink selection is what Centurion does best, IMO), clean showers with little to no wait if an int'l hub, and a lounge that isn't crazy packed with a wait to get in (what Centurion does worst, at least until February ;) )

  17. Khatl Gold

    Where you actually receive service from someone who shows appreciation for your being there instead of being just another body in the lounge they have to provide service to. I don't understand Delta being on the list as gold standard, particularly (as you note) they're invariably crowded and lack privacy, and you have to pay for any reasonable drinks that would be free in any international carrier's (or AA flagship) lounge.

  18. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

    Wine that costs more than $15 a bottle retail. Also, real champagne, not cheap prosecco, cava or any other cheap sparkling wine masquerading as champagne and deceiving the 90% of customers who don't know the difference between champagne and fake champagne.

    1. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

      Also, real tables to eat from as opposed to the coffee table height surfaces that make eating or working from difficult without bending or leaning over.

    2. BeeDazzle Member

      While I enjoy a good bubbly, I find I tend to enjoy a good cava more than most of the standard NV champagnes (Veuve / Perrier Jouet / etc). It's not always about price or the "label".

    3. FNT Delta Diamond Guest

      I don't mind a high-quality cava, but most places serving cava in lieu of champagne are serving a very cheap and poor quality cava. Don't get me started on the French sparkling wine made from the charmat or prosecco method. At least cava is made from the same traditional method as champagne. The issue with cava is the grape varietals used aren't familiar to most wine drinkers. I also don't get the brioche or yeast...

      I don't mind a high-quality cava, but most places serving cava in lieu of champagne are serving a very cheap and poor quality cava. Don't get me started on the French sparkling wine made from the charmat or prosecco method. At least cava is made from the same traditional method as champagne. The issue with cava is the grape varietals used aren't familiar to most wine drinkers. I also don't get the brioche or yeast notes as champagne. I've never understood why more U.S. lounges don't serve American sparkling wine made from the traditional or champagne method, especially considering how many people want things local or regional. If it's about cost and reliable supply, even some of the French cremants (sparkling wine from the champagne made but not from Champagne) are excellent and relatively cheap.

    4. Mike Guest

      So just so that I understand… if retailers decides to increase their margin on a $12 bottle and sell it at $16, that bottle would now be acceptable to you?
      Using price to determine the quality of the wine is as ridiculous as using the colour or font of the label. As it happens, survey showed that beige, old looking labels make some people report the wine tastes better.
      Regarding champagne - I...

      So just so that I understand… if retailers decides to increase their margin on a $12 bottle and sell it at $16, that bottle would now be acceptable to you?
      Using price to determine the quality of the wine is as ridiculous as using the colour or font of the label. As it happens, survey showed that beige, old looking labels make some people report the wine tastes better.
      Regarding champagne - I will take a nice sparkling over an mediocre champagne any day. And most champagnes are sadly mediocre.
      Personally, I very rarely get a nice wine at a lounge.

    5. Caveman Guest

      You really are a pompous arse and you clearly dont know what you are talking about.

      Cava is Spain's most popular sparkling wine and it undergoes the exact same production process as Champagne. However, the Spanish process is known as traditionelle, instead of méthode Champenoise, as only wine makers in Champagne may legally label their products méthode Champenoise. Both are the same. Idiot

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FNT Delta Diamond Guest

Wine that costs more than $15 a bottle retail. Also, real champagne, not cheap prosecco, cava or any other cheap sparkling wine masquerading as champagne and deceiving the 90% of customers who don't know the difference between champagne and fake champagne.

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Jerry Diamond

Lucky, I think you failed to mention one of the most important benefits of lounge access, and that's accessibility to agents that can help during irrops. I've noticed a lot of Schengen lounges shifting primarily to automated entry, and as lounge agent numbers are cut, it could mean longer waits when things go South.

2
Andrew Diamond

Don Draper? Is that you?

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