What’s Important To You In An Airport Lounge?

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

Cathay Pacific is one of my favorite airlines, and they’re undergoing a (mild) brand refresh.

As part of that, they’re renovating many of their lounges. Perhaps the most exciting is Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge in Hong Kong, which reopened several weeks ago. It looks stunning, and I can’t wait to check it out, as I think it beats The Wing First Class Lounge in Hong Kong.


That’s not the only lounge they’re renovating, though. They’ve also recently opened a new lounge at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, which looks great as well.

As part of these lounge refreshes, Cathay Pacific has released two videos, about their lounges in Tokyo Haneda and Hong Kong. And they’re abstract and visually stunning, and almost put me in a trance. Let’s look at those before I get too much further in the discussion, because I think the videos raise some interesting points.

First, here’s the video of Cathay Pacific’s Haneda Lounge (I find the commentary in this video to be especially interesting):

And then here’s the video about Cathay Pacific’s The Pier First Class Lounge Hong Kong:

Between the images and the almost hypnotically on point and soothing commentary, I could watch those videos over and over.

Clearly Cathay Pacific has the right strategy when it comes to lounges, and I think that’s perfectly captured by the lady from Studiolise, who is providing the commentary in the first video. I think she really nails it with this quote:

A lounge is that inbetween point, between the stress of an airport and getting on the plane, so it’s really the last moment when you feel grounded. It can slow you down. It can allow you to breathe. Just to take that moment. Traveling well is thinking about all those small details during the journey and how they come together as a total experience.

Airports can be alienating places. So to feel more like a living room than an airport lounge, people on the move need to feel sharper when they arrive than when they left. And the experience as a whole should address this and make their lives better.

That’s why I think the living room concept of The Pier is brilliant. That being said, I couldn’t help but reflect on my “experience” at lounges, and what I’m actually looking for at lounges. Let me preface this by saying that:

  • My expectations/hopes for a lounge differ based on the type of lounge (for example, I have different expectations of an Admirals Club in the US than I have of the Air France First Class Lounge Paris)
  • I realize my “work” situation is unique, so my views are probably much less representative of the “average” person than the studies Cathay Pacific has done

That being said, I couldn’t help having incredibly mixed feelings about this statement in particular:

A lounge is that inbetween point, between the stress of an airport and getting on the plane, so it’s really the last moment when you feel grounded. It can slow you down. It can allow you to breathe.

For me it’s quite the opposite. Generally speaking in my travels, the time I spend in lounges is the time where I slow down least and also “breathe” least. It’s very task oriented. Why?

  • I’m getting ready to be disconnected entirely from the world, often for 15+ hours, so I want to make sure I’m as caught up on work as possible, and also make sure everything is in order
  • I always talk to my parents and often catch up with friends before I travel longhaul
  • Often I haven’t been connected to the internet for a while, since I had to get to the airport, clear security, etc.
  • Since I’m usually flying first class, eating in a lounge isn’t really a priority, since I know I (typically) have a good meal waiting for me aboard
  • After a longhaul flight my top priority is often a shower

With that in mind, what makes a lounge especially awesome, in my book?

  • Comfortable seating from which to work, whether that comes in the form of cubicles, quiet rooms, or those half-desk chairs that Cathay Pacific has
  • Servers proactively offering beverages (I’ll take a sparkling water, glass of champagne, cappuccino, etc. — I gave up drinking soda altogether a few weeks ago… yay?)
  • Lots of power outlets; it amazes me how many lounges don’t get that right
  • Amazing shower rooms — there’s nothing quite as restorative after a longhaul flight as a great shower
  • If I’m going to spend time before a flight relaxing, there’s nothing better than a quick massage, even if it’s just 15 minutes
  • This might sound simple, but so many airlines get it wrong: an overall soothing and quiet environment, whether that comes in form of quiet background music, people not yapping on their phones, etc.




When traveling on Cathay Pacific out of Hong Kong, where does my relaxation start? The second I step on the plane and am offered a beverage. That’s when I start to slow down and “breathe.”


Anyway, none of this is to disagree with Cathay Pacific’s ideology. The videos are stunning, the lounges are gorgeous, and I think their concept is spot on. But for me it was interesting to reflect on what I look for most in a lounge, after Cathay Pacific so beautifully laid out the concept they were going for.

If curious to hear how you guys feel — what’s the primary purpose of a lounge for you, and when in the travel process does your relaxation really start?

  1. It’s funny because the Cathay description seems to suggest people are about to get on a crappy flight — and hopefully that’s not Cathay’s goal :). For that matter HKG isn’t too shabby an airport either.

    For someone about to board a flight in coach from LGA the lounge would fit Cathay’s description well :).

  2. It’s surprising how many lounges get electricity all wrong. BA Concorde lounge, it’s extremely difficult to find power out on the terrace, only a handful of seats are near the $3 powerstrips on the floor. Really?

    Other than that, I really appreciate having something that feels like my own space. Better when that space overlooks the tarmac. A lot of lounges do that well, but far too many don’t. Lufthansa lounges – for example. The ones in Frankfurt (e.g. the Senator lounge in Schengen area) look very nice, but they’re so open and way too bright, and I don’t ever remember seeing a single window.

  3. On, the Lufthansa schengen in FRA *does* have windows, just looked at a picture, but I always hide over on the other side with the cubicles.

  4. You’re giving up soda?? Wow! No more Diet Coke with lime, I guess. Trying to watch your figure?

  5. Do you know what, lucky? I’m getting a bit underwhelmed with the lounge idea. I remember when I first started travelling well and spending *hours* in a lounge was part of the fun of travelling. Now, I see them as nothing more than boring waiting rooms and simply can not tolerate spending more than around 90mins in any of them. I’ve done some of the better lounge (LH FRA FCT, SQ TPR, BA CCR, VS LHR Clubhouse, TG BKK F lounge etc etc etc) but now find myself preferring to walk around the departure lounge, people watching and browsing the shops than spend countless hours in the glorified waiting room.

    Anyway, what makes a ‘good’ lounge? A spa, a shower, a good food selection, an even better drinks selection, friendly staff and an absolute abundance of available seating with some degree of privacy.

  6. I think most people flying through HND are connecting passengers from somewhere in SE Asia to the Americas … So when you’ve already had an 8 hour flight from Jakarta and then you have a 5 hour layover and then again 12 more hours to DC, the relaxation is huge. You want to shower, wiggle around a bit and just veg.

    On the other hand I agree if you’re about to board your first leg then the lounge isn’t as relaxing bc you’re trying to get things out the door and it doesn’t really let you unwind until you are on the plane.

  7. What TEX277 said. Plus desktop computers, nothing is more productive than a full size monitor, keyboard and mouse with a nice ergonomic desk and chair.

  8. For me, CP has it just about right. I often do a little work in the lounges, but, for me, it is a place to relax. While I can relax on the airplane as well, it is not inherently a relaxing environment (but I have never flown first class). You are strapped into a seat of varying comfort in a metal tube with a whole lot of complete strangers, one or more of whom may be within inches or even in actual physical contact with you. Not for me, but for many people, the whole flying thing is a very stressful experience, so the airplane is even less a place to relax, but instead, is a place to endure.

  9. Here’s what I think makes for a good lounge:

    * Temperate (far too many lounges are too warm)
    * Variety of comfortable seats (in some airports the seats are no better than availability in the terminal)
    * Fast wifi, and a quiet place to work with power
    * Decent food and drinks
    * Shower

    The options above make a lounge a place to spend some time during a long delay, or when my meetings finish early and I arrive early at the airport.

    To make a lounge great where I would actually go out of my way to spend time there, I would like:

    * Fun zones for kids and adults (Virgin Atlantic get this right with a billiards table, etc.)
    * Massage service (even if it is not free) that’s actually has availability
    * Private space for napping
    * Separate area for high quality dining

    I don’t really drink, so I’m indifferent to the alcohol served, but I appreciate good options being available for when I guest a colleague or a friend into the lounge.

  10. for me it varies, unlike Ben I have a full time office job, but flexible enough to do long weekend trips. When I do short trips (Business class or coach) and work still gets into my everyday life, I am more like Ben on the lounge usage. I used it as a time to catch up on work and stay connected. Eat if I know the airlines I am about to fly has bad food. Shower of course. No time for massage (work gets in the way lol)

    When I fly First classes, mostly longer trips around the world, 4-5 times (rounds) a year, they I tend to wanna maximize the experience and put the work aside and relax in the lounge. This case, I will focus on eat and drinks. Qantas First lounge in SYD, MEL, LAX, and Air France’s top chef, I will make sure I go to the airport early or have long lay-over at those place to eat. Thai’s massage/sauna, i’ll go early to experience it too. Lufthansa FCT,, on the other hand, there is no reason to stay there long for. Most other First class lounge don’t do much for me: EK, EY, QR, BA .. maybe SQ private room is in between. I guess my top criteria for First class lounge maybe food then… cuz then Air France and Qantas come first. …

    I love this vdos, the commentary is great. Look forward to try this new lounge in September. Sad that some airlines that have great service on board do not pay attention to the lounges: KE, OZ, JL, NH (JL is slightly better but still)

    One thing I would love airlines lounge to have… that it not yet had…. is the gym and swimming pool. Singapore airport has both but it is not part of any airlines lounge. …. since I love to eat way too much.. I need to burn it off! Would be nice to swim in door and watch the plane at the same time! I’ll pay $$$ for the airlines that starts that!

  11. Hi Lucky,

    I’ve just acquired Platinum with AA courtesy the status challenge and will be transiting HKG. What business class lounge at HKG would you recommend?

  12. @ BrooklynBoy — No motivation in particular, just realize it’s terrible for my health, and haven’t minded replaced it with sparkling water. Working well so far!

  13. A few days ago, I had a one-hour layover at the Concord Room at LHR, transiting between two long-haul flights in BA First. All I wanted was a shower but the waiting time, I was told, would be 1h20m. That’s because all the BA lounges — Business, First, & Concord — use the same showers. In other words: a long-haul first class passenger with top-tier status can be denied a shower by a short-haul economy class passenger with mid-tier status.

    I had to take the train all the way to Terminal B to shower at the business class lounge there. I ran onto the plane, exhausted, without enjoying any lounge.

    So: if you’re a top-tier British Airways frequent flyer on a paid first class ticket and you want a shower… then you’d rather be at an Admirals Club in Chicago than at the most elite BA lounge in the world.

    The other thing I care about in a lounge, apart from showers, is being able to serve myself. I don’t know why it’s a “perk” to have no self-serve bar and to be watched by loitering servers. I want to be able to fix my own drink. In a lounge, I’m frequently jet-lagged or cranky or stressed, and I don’t want mandatory interactions with overly-helpful staffers. I want to at least have the option of being on my own. (This is why I hate the much-lauded Thai Airways First Class lounge in Bangkok. It’s impossible to fix myself something to eat or drink, the way I want it. I need to flee to the business lounge, if I don’t want to be gazed at by phalanxes of eager but incompetent first class servers monitoring my every move.)

  14. @Lucky, what is the best first class lounge in your opinion?

    My favorite is Cathay Pacific. Emirates is also good yet their decoration is not stylish enough (seriously? So many gold color make lots of things look cheap) Same problem for Singapore Airlines first class lounge, it is good but to me it is really ugly!!!

    I feel lots of people don’t like “luxury” decoration(Waldorf) but contemporary decoration. (park Hyatt)

  15. I’ve been lucky to fly up front about 95% of the time the last decade or so, and over that time the lounges in general no longer cause much “excitement” in me as they used to (especially being based in South America – with the exception of the renovated LAN lounges in SCL and BOG), most lounges are a joke). I think I began to take them for granted, truthfully. I also agree with TEX277 – at times the airport terminal itself is better than a lounge.

    I have a whole new appreciation for lounges as my ultra-long-haul in economy approaches. I need a large number of EQPs in a short time (EXP challenge) and don’t have enough work trips coming up. So it’s SCL-JFK-LAX-MEL-PER-SYD-DFW-SCL for me – 66 hours over five days in the back (upgraded on the two AA segments, but can’t do anything for LAN and Qantas flights, so 50 hours in the back) – and the lounges are suddenly more important. Food, drink, showers, WiFi, and comfortable seats are all what are making them the highlights between the hours spent in Y. Right now, the lounges, even the not-so-great ones, are looking great!

  16. I’m flying F TO HKG in September. (CP). Any chance arrivals can use this lounge? If not, do they have an arrivals lounge?

  17. Most all lounges offer the same thing: a semi private place to relax away from the gate and a place to have a free drink or coffee, with perhaps some fruit or cookies/crackers.

    What i really value is something akin to an actual meal. I’m easy to please: i don’t think something as simple as a ham sandwich and some hot soup is too much too ask for. Really anything that can be considered a meal.

  18. Ben, your post hit the high points for rating a lounge. A couple of other thoughts come to mind as well. A good selection of international newspapers is a must, and a TV room helps. Often the TV rooms are deserted and offer some solitude as well as entertainment. A skydeck with a view of taxiways and runways like at delta’s JFK T4 and ATL concourse F or an outside area overlooking the concourse like delta’s SAN club or the HKG Virgin lounge are nice touches.

  19. Can I use the CX first class lounges if arriving HKG in CX first class but departing in business class?

  20. Makes sense. I stopped drinking soda a few years ago–it’s coffee, water, juice, or alcohol for me!

  21. I just flew back from SJU yesterday. Thanks to the Citi Prestige card I had my choice of the Admirals Club or the Global/Avianca lounge through priority pass. I’ve only ever been in Admirals Clubs before, so we decided to try out the Global lounge. Wow, it blew away the other clubs I had visited (which admittedly aren’t that many.) But the main draw for me was the kids room. See as a mom of a 2 and 5 year old, previous pre-flight waits before having lounge access involved chasing the kids all over the terminal trying to keep them entertained yet not lose them in the crowd. So even a basic club helps tremendously with having snacks and contained, calm area to play on the ipad or color. But I also fear them being disruptive to people trying to get work done. So the kids room was awesome as it had enough toys and games to keep them occupied and away from anyone trying to work or rest. Other great features included the self serve bar with premium alcohol, a great espresso machine and nap room.

  22. @ mbh – Don’t get your hopes up about the arrivals lounge. It’s a small, overheated room with a few computer terminals, a simple breakfast spread and — most importantly — showers. But there are no specific First Class facilities, so if you anticipate something like the Pier First Class Lounge, you’ll be hugely disappointed.

  23. @ Cjkd — Favorites for me have to be the Lufthansa First Class Terminal Frankfurt, Air France First Class Lounge Paris, Thai First Class Lounge Bangkok, and Emirates First Class Lounge Dubai.

  24. Not only Haneda, but CX has also opened new lounges at Manila and Bangkok, with the Taipei lounge opening this December. They all have the same interior designs as The Pier First Class lounge, but definitely scaled down. I think the bespoke fragrance that CX concocted: bamboo, green tea, jasmine and lavender, that is sprayed around The Pier complements that ‘homey’ and relaxing feeling.

  25. For CX newly renovated lounges, except The pier, The bridge, MNL, BKK and HND. CDG also was on the list. While the previously renewed Lounge in YVR and SFO are OK, but gets crowded towards half hour before boarding time. Good to know that TPE is being renovated. But the new SIN lounge will not be available till CX moves to T4, while the current Skyview is def a joke / comparative disadvantage to put into CX. So, a tip for future Silver Card member, don’t waste your quota at SIN, till CX move into T4.

    BTW, the best lounge that I experienced was QF F @ MEL, full 45-min massage, a great la carte meal, and a farewell with most staffs line upon boarding of QF 9, it was a while ago, not sure if they kept their high standard.

  26. We like to spread out our miles more, so unless there is a great deal on business/1st class or it is in Asia (where it’s cheaper to use points), we often fly economy (even on long hauls) and are budget travel hackers. We’ve been able to hit almost 40 countries in the last 4 years this way, so it works for us.
    With that being said, I highly value the food at the lounge. We often will skip the meal before our flight just to save some extra cash in the city and a decent coffee is always a plus in my books.
    However, the wine tasting in Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong lounge didn’t hurt at all either!
    Other things I enjoy about a lounge (especially on long hauls) are plenty of plugs and nice showers (like you mentioned) and GOOD wifi connection.
    After several years of getting lounge access as credit card perks, I don’t care how minimal a lounge is, I don’t think I can go back to the waiting areas of airports again!

  27. Unfortunately, unlike the new JAL Sakura lounges with shower facilities which CX used to use before building their own, there are no shower facilities in the new CX HND lounge! Was stuck there with a cancelled flight for 16 hrs and no shower sadly.

  28. Well that would be just our luck. A few weeks ago we were flying BKK-HKG-HND-SFO-DEN in F and missed the new Pier and new HND CX lounge 🙁 The Wing and the JL lounges were both great though. We had 37+ hours of travel time in 4 flights and just wanted to get home.

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