Airport Business Lounges


Simon Scotting

There is nothing glamourous about modern air travel. From the humiliation of the security screening theatrics, to the crush of angry humanity packed in far beyond their comfort zone, no one actually enjoys the experience of flying from A to B. It seems to be a necessary evil we suffer as quickly as possible to reach our final destination using the closest thing we have to time travel. Luckily there exists a small way to reduce the traumatic effects of air travel, a calm oasis in the middle of the storm: The Business Lounge.

Selection_186Business lounges exist in airports to soothe the nerves after dealing with the terrors of the airport, and when properly utilized can be used to induce a trance-like state to carry you through most of the air journey itself. There are 3 ways to access the business lounge:

1. Travel business class

2. Travel frequently enough with the same airline group (One World, SkyTeam, Star Alliance)

3. Purchase access one-off through an annual membership

If you already travel business class, then congratulations on having too much money (or working for a company which doesn’t realize Russia is in a crisis).

If you travel frequently, join an airline loyalty program and try to always stick to flights within the group to gain enough ‘points’ to gain ‘elite status’. Once you have achieved a certain status, you will receive free access to business lounges globally whenever you travel in regular economy class with any airline within the group. If you live in Moscow, you might want to consider joining the Air France KLM frequent flyer program (Flying Blue) since they have a relatively low threshold of 40,000 annual miles (or 30 flights) for ‘Elite Plus’ status required for business lounge access with any SkyTeam airline (Delta, Air France, KLM, China Southern, China Eastern, Korean Air, Kenya Airways, and more). Aeroflot requires 50,000 annual miles (or 50 flights) for the same SkyTeam ‘Elite Plus’ status, which means that you can access the business lounge on Aeroflot flights if you have accumulated 40,000 miles on an Air France KLM frequent flyer membership, but not on an Aeroflot frequent flyer membership.

If you don’t travel often, purchasing a business lounge membership will be the only way to gain access. You can purchase single access at various airports for €20-50 depending on the location, but it is more cost effective to purchase an annual membership with a company like ‘Priority Pass’ for €250-€400. Some airport business lounges are better value than others, so purchasing single access can be a gamble unless you are familiar with the airport (and if you familiar, you are probably a frequent flyer with status access anyway).

Business lounges are useful before departure, but they are really useful at transit hub airports between connecting flights. Some airports also have business lounges for arrivals, which some might think as obsessive, but they are there to be used by someone (why not you?). They vary enormously in quality depending on the airport, but they will always be a better place to kill time than the airport itself.

Once you have access beyond the velvet rope, you need to get strategical with your time in the business lounge. Here are my top tips:

1. Arrive early. This applies to any kind of travel, but it’s worth repeating again and again. Planning to arrive early will significantly reduce stress and therefore result in a better experience. If something does arise, you will have time to solve the problem. If you are early, you will have more time to enjoy the business lounge. Both options are better than sprinting through an airport or re-booking a flight you have missed.

2. Shower. Airports and airplanes are filthy. With non-stop usage there is no time for a proper cleaning. The stress and nuisance of the check-in and security charade is de-humanizing. Almost all business lounges offer shower facilities and these should be used without any hesitation. Unless you have just exited an airport hotel within the terminal, the shower should be the first thing you do after arriving in a business lounge. Don’t be shy, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. As soon as you enter, ask the lounge receptionist for shower access. There is sometimes a waitlist, so get on it as soon as possible. There will be towels and toiletries provided, but you might want to plan on having some extra clean clothes in your carry-on luggage. Between connecting flights, it is incredibly revitalizing to have a long, hot shower and change into some fresh socks. Take your time in the shower, you’ve come a long way baby.

3. Food & drink. After the shower is sorted, get tucked into the free food on offer. Different lounges will have varying quality of food, but most is similar to the business class food you would find on a plane. I would recommend eating as much food as possible to avoid eating on the plane itself. Don’t be shy, stuff yourself silly. This will allow you to maximize your sleeping time on the plane which is the best way to pass the time in the sky. When the Aeroflot stewardess offers the ‘cheekin or feesh’, you can smugly reply ‘nyet’. Look around at everyone else after they finish their meals and are stuck looking at their meal tray, the look of regret in their eyes will tell you the decision was right.

Take some fruit, sandwiches, etc., with you if you want. This is not strictly allowed, but as long as you are not taking the piss and trying to take the entire salad buffet the lounge staff will not be bothered.

There is free booze in the business lounge, and many first time visitors (and some repeat visitors) will treat it like the start of a ‘zapoi’. I would recommend abstaining from booze since it will dehydrate you, and the recycled air on a plane is already very dry. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but you will probably regret it. Use your own judgement.

I would recommend drinking as much water as you can to battle the effects of dry, recycled air on the plane. Usually there are bottles of water, so feel free to stash a few of these in your carry-on luggage. As with the food, take a few bottles of water with you to avoid waiting for the stewardess to refill your little paper cup on the plane. As with the food, don’t be afraid take what you want. Bringing along a plastic carrier bag from an airport store will not be questioned as extra carryon luggage by the airline, take advantage of this loophole.

4. WiFi. Modern airports will have some kind of free WiFi internet access, but the business lounge will have its own network with faster speeds (and less people trying to connect). Ask for the WiFi internet password as soon as you arrive in the lounge and book a shower space. Use this to download movies or (shudder) get some work done.

5. Enjoy the space. The general traveling public in airports can sometimes resemble the cast of extras from a Gogol play. Before you have to sit cheek by jowl with a few hundred of them, take a moment to enjoy being alone. There will be a lot less people in the business lounge, so find a quiet spot and spread your stuff around to keep others away. This is your moment of Zen.

Most airport lounges do NOT announce plane boarding times, so keep track of the time or set an alarm on your phone or watch (or phone watch?) so you don’t miss your flight. With enough shower steam, food, and WiFi you can build up your store of serenity to handle the flight and arrive with a bit of your dignity intact. Good luck and best wishes for a slightly less shitty flight.