Review: British Airways Galleries First Class Lounge Chicago Airport

Filed Under: British Airways

I landed from Tampa at around 9:45AM, so first decided to head to the American Flagship Lounge. American operates out of Terminal 3 at O’Hare, while Cathay Pacific operates out of Terminal 5.

The lounges in Terminal 5 aren’t exactly exciting, so I decided to first spend about an hour in the Flagship Lounge.

Then at around 11AM I took the train over to Terminal 5. This requires leaving security, so at around 11:15AM I was at Cathay Pacific’s check-in counter.

I was quickly checked in and greeted by the station manager. My boarding pass was issued within a minute, at which point I was escorted through security.

The way foreign airlines escort premium passengers through security in the US is wildly inconsistent:

This escort was somewhere in the middle. She tried to get me to the front of the line, though I’m pretty sure she was the least assertive person on the planet.

So she sort of halfway walked me to the front of the line and then just kind of stood there, while the passengers behind me proceeded to cuss me out in what I believe was Russian, because they thought I was trying to cut the line.

I think it takes a certain personality to be an escort (security line escort, that is… though I suppose true otherwise as well), someone who isn’t afraid to push their way to the front and say “excuse me” to the passengers behind them.

Anyway, security took maybe 10 minutes, at which point I was lead to the British Airways Galleries First Class Lounge. It was located just past the security checkpoint and to the left, across the concourse from the British Airways Terraces (Business Class) Lounge.

British Airways First Class Lounge Chicago O’Hare Airport

Last time I flew Cathay Pacific first class from Chicago to Hong Kong I was only invited to use the SAS Business Class Lounge, which is a shared business/first class facility. Funny enough, I was actually denied access to the British Airways Lounge the last time I flew Cathay Pacific out of Chicago, in clear violation of oneworld policy.

There was a friendly attendant at the door, who immediately admitted me after the escort handed her my lounge invitation.

The British Airways Lounge was tiny. It was basically one long and narrow room. There were about a dozen seats on the left of the lounge, both lined up along the wall and by the window.

British Airways First Class Lounge seating Chicago O’Hare Airport

British Airways First Class Lounge seating Chicago O’Hare Airport

Then there was more seating in the center and on the other end of the lounge, with maybe another dozen or so seats.

British Airways First Class Lounge seating Chicago O’Hare Airport

British Airways First Class Lounge seating Chicago O’Hare Airport

British Airways First Class Lounge seating Chicago O’Hare Airport

Back near the entrance was an open bar with one bar-height table.

British Airways First Class Lounge open bar Chicago O’Hare Airport

The open bar consisted of liquor, beer, wine, champagne, soft drinks, a coffee machine, etc.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago open bar

The champagne on offer was Nicolas Feuillatte, which is unoffensive, though nothing to get excited over.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago open bar

The food spread was absolutely abysmal, though.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago buffet

There were a few types of stale finger sandwiches.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago buffet

Then there were four types of vegetables with ranch dressing.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago buffet

Then some packaged cheese and crackers.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago buffet

And then three kinds of chips, including Popchips and Miss Vickie’s.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago snacks

British Airways First Lounge Chicago snacks

British Airways First Lounge Chicago snacks

And then I guess to appease the Cathay Pacific passengers they also had instant noodles.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago instant noodles

Then on the right side of the lounge were several containers with cookies, snack mix, etc.

British Airways First Lounge Chicago snacks

There were two private bathrooms in the far left of the lounge, though neither had a shower (the business class lounge has showers, though).

British Airways First Lounge Chicago bathroom

The only redeeming quality of the lounge was that it had a nice view of the tarmac and runway in the distance.

United 767-300 O’Hare Airport

The lounge was terrible for an international first class lounge, between how small it was and how bad the food selection was. So I decided to just roam the terminal for a bit and enjoy some of the views, including of an Air India 777-300ER (which I really want to fly).

Air India 777-300ER O’Hare Airport

Unfortunately the inbound aircraft was delayed, so I received the news that boarding would start about 15 minutes late. I headed to the departure gate at around 1:30PM.

Cathay Pacific 777-300ER taking me to Hong Kong!

Boarding gate for flight to Hong Kong

At 1:35PM boarding finally started, with first & business class passengers all boarding at once through the left side of the gate area.

British Airways Chicago First Class Lounge bottom line

For an international first class lounge this was downright depressing. Heck, for a business class lounge of a non-US carrier it’s depressing. I assume (hope?) the lounge’s catering is better when there are actually British Airways passengers, but this certainly wasn’t a good showing. This is hardly worthy of even a mention on my list of the best airport lounges in the world.

On the plus side, the lounge was quiet, the Wi-Fi was fast, and the views were nice. I certainly wouldn’t arrive at the airport even a minute early to use this lounge, though.

  1. I used the lounge when flying BA296 awhile back, the preflight dining is fantastic. There is a little seperate first class dining room inside the J lounge where there is a nice menu with restaurant quality food. And fantastic service.

  2. I’ve used this lounge when flying ba f and the spread is much better. Given the lighter f loads ex ord this lounge makes perfect sense. I’m surprised cx haven’t had complaints from f pax about this though as it’s a poor substitute from other us lounges they use.

  3. It’s a shame they stopped using the LX airline ages ago. It was a tiny lounge but had better offerings.

  4. The fellow in the red uniform at AA Premium desk Term 4 LAX is no shrinking flower when it comes to pushing F class folks to the front of the line. He seems to use the luggage ,a loud voice and the fact that he is about 6′ 4” to part the hoard.

  5. Pretty much the same thing as SFO, where the BA First Lounge is a tiny room within the larger Business Class lounge. I always sit in the larger Business lounge!

  6. Unfortunately, you can say something similar on BA’s lounge in JFK which is their biggest station in the U.S. Pre-flight dining at JFK probably doesn’t make up for it.

  7. I’ve used this lounge several times (and as a side note I’ve never had problems accessing it with my OneWorld Emerald – even when flying Y). It is far too small (every time I’ve been there it has been much more crowded than your photos) and the food is only good for a snack. The upside is that Tortas Fronteras is immediately across from the lounge and they have no problem with you bringing in food unlike some other lounges (I’m looking at you United Club).

  8. Hi Ben,

    I enjoy your blog so much. It has become my everyday reading. I want to ask you If I want to accumulate one of Star Alliance member mileage program. Which one is the best for redeeming? For example, I use BA to look for tickets availability of One World, and redeem on AA. Does Star Alliance have a similar thing?


  9. as a prior respondent said, the food is good and is across the hall in the dining area (two sides, one for business class which is an excellent buffet and one sit down service for first). Its a separate room again across the hall.

  10. the dining room in the J lounge across the hall s where the more substantial food options are. The only real “first” aspect of this one is the door to the entrance to the jet ridge from which BA’s flight leaves. ….and even that isn’t a huge perk as BA pre-boards lounge passengers from both lounges anyways, before general boarding. . (They announce it in the am a lounge a few feet across the hall).

  11. @ Makalo Lee — How do you mostly earn miles, what are you looking to redeem for, etc.? Tough to say without knowing details of your “patterns.”

  12. @lucky – I usually earn miles through AA or US Airways website when they have buy miles promotions, and I also have a US Airways Master Card. I don’t know if United or Singapore Airlines or other Star Alliance member has the same thing as AA. I also want to get Chase Sapphire card soon. Could you give me some advice on that? (The best thing I want to do is to find a Star Alliance airline that has good deals of miles promotion every year.)


  13. Apparently worse than PVG *A J lounge, where you would see most amenities that are only available in F lounge.

  14. The only benefits of the 1st Lounge are the view and the direct boarding to gate M12. Except the past three flights I’ve taken departed from gate 10, around the corner. The two times I boarded from the lounge all the hoi polloi was held back for the F pax ; ). BA drives me crazy with their freestyle boarding, where every person with any status boards at once: F, J, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Emerald, Ruby, Sapphire, etc., in other words half of the plane!

    The funny thing is that when one enters the J lounge, the usual Desk Dragon (I’ve forgotten her name) barks “The First Class Lounge is across the hall!” When I was there two weeks ago, I told her I was going to eat in the dining room; “The dining room isn’t open yet! It won’t be open for a while! Go to the other lounge!”

    I always go to the Biz Lounge- far larger, just no view.

  15. @ Makalo Lee — The only Star Alliance frequent flyer program which consistently has promotions on the purchase of miles is Avianca’s LifeMiles program. So they’re worth considering, in my opinion. But in terms of credit cards for Star Alliance, the Chase Sapphire Preferred is going to be your best bet since those points can be transferred to United and Singapore.

  16. I’m glad you included your take on escorts through security as I’ve spent the last month traveling with a pax in a wheelchair and I’ve had similar mixed experiences on how the escort assigned to pushing the wheel chair handles things. I can tell you ive been yelled at by other pax for “cutting the line”…

  17. In the ORD BA F lounge now. This is my 3rd time using it prior to CX 807. It has actually gotten worse over the years, if you can imagine, in terms of the food offerings. No cheap noodles anymore…just a 1/4 full pot of congealed soup. There used to be a nice cheese and fruit plate…now there are just those awful shrinkwrapped plastic tasting cheeses. No fruit except for apples and oranges in a bowl. In fact, I stopped by the J lounge across the hall–same exact stale sandwiches and hard of cookies/nuts. As far as I can tell, the only difference between the F and J lounge is that there are nice windows in the F lounge, and there are a few nicer bottles of alcohol. That’s it. CX should be ashamed to use this place.

  18. In the F lounge now. Unfortunately need to pile on. Horrible.

    I needed to print a document, went over to the “business center” in the business lounge. The printer had no paper. Asked front desk. “Sorry, no paper.”

    Went back to F lounge, told them the story. They went and checked the biz lounge and told me there is no paper. I said I know, I need to print something.

    They came back with the email of the manager. Told me to email my file. I told them this is financial business information and I don’t wish to share it. They said it’s the only way.

    Beyond the lack of decent food, space, etc., the printing of a simple document is seeming like the most esoteric task ever imagined here.

  19. So what is the best option in that terminal if you are flying Cathay First? You guys aren’t exactly selling this one.

  20. I’m flying BA First from London and will be using that lounge on my way back (mid September) – not exactly looking forward to it having read this review!

  21. ditto – flying back in 3 weeks time through O’Hare…. never liked that airport and above just makes me cringe and wonder why i paid the extra.

    TBH – few weeks ago in United lounge and the difference between T3 Heathrow vs O’Hare T5 is huge! LHR far far nicer and O’hare just a mess – almost shanty town by comparison. Its disappointing to see standards have seriously slipped over the years and Chicago has no excuses for the building site they call a terminal and portacabins they call lounges.

  22. 2017 update: I was denied entry to the BA First Class lounge at ORD even though I have One World Emerald status and was flying a One World flight (FinnAir Bus Class to Helsinki). FinnAir tried to direct me to a lounge that was embarrassing (I forgot which carrier it was assigned to), so I strolled down to the BA lounge, knowing that my status and flight would, according to all indications on the AA and BA websites, allow me entry. I was told quite emphatically that I couldn’t enter. I politely mentioned that with Emerald status I should have the privilege, but the manager brusquely said, “FinnAir provides another lounge for you … we can’t even handle our own people.” Truly an appalling level of service and from the looks of the photos on this blog, it isn’t even worth fussing over.

  23. November 2019 update.

    F lounge is unchanged.

    BA continues to ignore its oneworld obligations, and turn away non-BA OW Emeralds. I was told the lounge was “oversold” [sic]. I convinced the entry guard to let me in to just get a pack of chips…and discovered three travelers inside. Yes, three.

    Not only that, I was also turned away from the J lounge, on the alleged basis they had no obligation to let in OW Emeralds. Again I managed to get in for a few seconds. It was dire. I was glad to turn around and immediately leave.

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