I used to love airports. As a child and probably until my mid 20s, airports represented some kind of futuristic luxury and the exhilarating thrill of traveling in a jet airplane at mindboggeling speed across vast distances – which for me, most often meant a long voyage across the Atlantic to Europe and finally, Sweden.
Today, heading out to an airport is kind of sucky and a tiresome, at best boring, necessity. A means to an end. Aside from the usual bombastic architecture and an extremely exaggerated amount of ceiling space, as if the airport itself could double as a hanger for a fleet of A380s, nowadays, most departure hall interiors look and feel pretty much the same.
Regardless of where you travel from, today’s international airports have the same string of multinational chain clothes shops, gift stores, sports bars, fast food restaurants, coffee cafés and pharmacies. And despite claiming to be “Duty Free”, seasoned travelers will know all too well that most stuff bought at an airport is inevitably going to be more expensive than anywhere else in the country your departing from. Especially when flying out Asia, southern Europe or Africa.
Airports are usually state owned and notorious for charging exuberantly for even the tiniest retail space. And shop owners are more than happy to pass that additional “airport tax” on to us, their unsuspecting stressed-out customers. That said, I still find myself buying Duty Free once in a while. Not because I’m convinced that I’ll be enjoying a “good deal”. No, it’s more of a motivational argument in the spirit of; I might as well buy that bottle of bourbon, perfume or camera gadget, ’cause if my plane goes down, I won’t be around to enjoy the money I saved anyway.
Like most passengers, I usually stress out before my flight and arrive at the airport way too early. If for no other thought-through or obvious reason than to brace myself for the inevitable slow, snaking lines through security and the ever-so serious immigration officials, before entering what is usually a departure hall filled with thousands of other passengers, pushing their carts around between shops, food outlets and departure gates.
About ten years ago, I discovered the lounge scene and instantly became accustomed to the appreciably calmer and significantly more comfortable waiting experience they provide at most airports.
Far from all lounges are created equally, though.
As similar as most departure terminals tend to be, lounges vary in all kinds of ways. I’ve been a Priority Pass card holder for about a decade now, so unless I’m flying business class and have access to a more exclusive lounge, my options are limited to those that are bundled with several other airline carriers and club cards.
There is definitely a correlation between airport size and lounge space. Not always, though. But most of the international airports I frequent have at least one huge lounge. I definitely prefer the spacious ones. The smaller they are, the less options you tend to have and the more likely it is that I won’t be able to secure a space for myself. Optimally, I’ll grab a corner location towards the far end of the lounge with a comfortable chair, a table and limited or, even better, no activity at all going on behind me. The “Poker Spot”, as I like to call it.
Lighting is super important in any kind of space – and especially in a relaxing environment like a lounge. In, for example, Palma de Mallorca, they had a tiny lounge with horrendously bad lighting. It was as if the cleaning staff had determined how the place should be lit to allow them to make tidying up easer – with zero consideration for how un-cozy that kind of lighting would be for the lounge’s guests.
In Costa Rica, the lounge at San José’s airport is small, dark and has barely any editable food. Worse yet, the snacks were boring (crackers, peanuts). Alicante, on the other hand, had a large lounge with comfortable armchairs, a fair amount of decent food and a well-stacked bar. The lighting was good, too. And unlike many of the lounges I’ve frequented in a decade or so, the staff actually called out boarding times for each and every departing flight.
In New Delhi, the lounge’s check-in staff provided you with a petite piece of paper with an almost comically long login and and convoluted password for the wifi. Fortunately for me (with my less than optimal vision), I just grabbed one of the waiters and convinced him to type it in for me.
So far, the best lounge experience was somewhat surprisingly KAL lounge at the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX. It’s big, has mostly vegetarian-friendly food, a good bar, a wide range of seating and lighting options, and lightning fast Internet.
Now, lounging a few hours at an airport isn’t exactly free. As a Priority Pass member, you pay an annual fee and on top of that, roughly €25 per visit. But when all is said and done, I still feel I’m saving piece of mind by spending an hour or two working or relaxing in a relatively controlled environment – and not scurrying around among neurotic passengers as they mindlessly zigg-zagg in and out of the airport’s duty-free strip mall.