Our intrepid travel columnist braves life and limb to test the global airline industry’s best efforts at world-class relaxation.
By Michael Gebicki
First-class lounges are the catwalks of the airline industry. They are where airlines strut their stuff, only granting admission to the upper echelon of flyers for whom they reserve the best of the best.
The lounges that shine belong to established legacy carriers, of which the razzle-dazzle, five-star refuge is a chance to show off the style and personality that sets them apart from their competitors. These airlines invest most heavily in the cities they call their base.
Here are four worth leaving home for.
Hong Kong airport
First-class lounges rarely transcend the safe, bland, corporate aesthetic. However, Cathay Pacific has spread its wings and created a show stopper with its Hong Kong first-class lounge. The Pier is the work of London-based design studio Studioilse, which is known for its stylish, warm and human-friendly interiors. It has fashioned a glowing, onyx-green interior that unfolds like an exotic flower and features a signature green tea and lavender fragrance to treat the nostrils.
Management of The Pier is a partnership arrangement with Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel, a relationship underlined by the choice of the Pen’s branded champagne on the drinks list. The à la carte menu in the dining room features pan-Asian cuisine and there’s plenty to like here: prawn salad with glass noodles, wok-fried beef tenderloin with green chilli and pepper sauce, barramundi with XO sauce and lychee, or a classic Angus beef burger. Designated work space, the Bureau, has six private workstations with Apple iMacs and high-speed wi-fi throughout.
If you seek downtime, head for the Retreat, eight private rooms with comfy daybeds boasting views over the bustling air-bridge and tarmac. Design mavens can enjoy serious eye candy in the form of Cloverleaf sofas by Verner Panton, Agnes chandeliers by Lindsey Adelman and Diz armchairs by Sergio Rodrigues. You’ll be cheering when your flight is delayed.
“The massaging on offer is a lie-down, shirts-off affair, rather than the foot rub that is common fodder.”
Emirates first class lounge
Dubai international airport
United Arab Emirates
Located on the middle level of Dubai International Airport’s Concourse A, Emirates First Class lounge is massive. Covering 29,000 square metres – roughly the size of four football fields – the lounge runs the entire length of the concourse. This separates first-class passengers from economy passengers, thanks to direct access to boarding gates via lifts.
The lounge feels like a concourse in its own right, except there are virtually no other passengers. Hushed, polite and perfumed with the scent of power, the lounge features a clubby cigar room with a range of Cuba’s finest, complimentary 25-minute treatments in the Timeless Spa, dedicated relax rooms with blankets and pillows, and a plush restaurant with meals cooked to order – no buffet dining here.
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You may want to choose an arugula salad with goat’s cheese and pine nuts, or a foie gras terrine followed by a beef tenderloin with potato foam and spinach or soy-glazed salmon with wild rice and shiitake mushrooms.
The first-class lounge even has its own duty-free shopping area, provided your pockets are deep enough. For those who fancy a tipple, a feature is the US$200,000 diamond-encrusted bottle of Royal Salute whisky.
Qantas first lounge
Departure Plaza, Level 4
Sydney international airport
Offering a wide-angle view of docked aircraft and taxi areas leading to the runways, the light and bright Qantas First Lounge is an aesthetic delight. The lounge was designed by Australia’s Marc Newson, the name behind the wonderful Lockheed Lounge, the Ikepod Hemipode watch, the (RED) Leica camera and many more cool and desirable pieces.
Dominating the curvaceous space are giant timber pilotis, framing distinct rooms and allowing for privacy without compromising airiness and open space. The decor is jazzy – black, red and burgundy leather seating with a charcoal and white carpet in a honeycomb pattern over grey-streaked marble flooring.
The walls of the treatment rooms in the spa are a green wraparound, textured with ferns. The massaging on offer is a lie-down, shirts-off affair, rather than the foot rub that is common fodder at most first-class lounge spas.
On the dining front, the highlight is the Neil Perry menu. Indulge in a great choice of seafood, including Perry’s famous salt and pepper squid, a knockout salmon tartare and Wagyu beef, with Asian influences at the fore.
“A feature is the US$200,000 diamond-encrusted bottle of Royal Salute whisky.”
Lufthansa first class terminal
The Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt is airport luxury redefined. It’s actually not a lounge but a separate terminal from the rest of the airport.
When you arrive, you’re met by a personal assistant, who takes care of your passport and check-in formalities; makes your bags disappear; ushers you through security; ensures your needs are attended to in the lounge area; and advises when your flight is boarding.
Lufthansa has gone for a clean-cut and slightly moody, minimalist design. Understatement is the key in the list of amenities, which include day beds with proper sheets; a posh restaurant; a bar with more than 80 varieties of whisky; computer workstations in private, individual office rooms; a cigar lounge; and plush shower rooms, including some with spa baths. Catering is by Austrian company DO & CO, which provides top-notch hotel and restaurant services in Europe and North America.
Because this first-class facility is a separate terminal from the main Frankfurt Airport, there is no direct access to boarding gates. Come flight time, passengers are ushered into a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Porsche Cayenne and whisked straight across the tarmac to the aircraft, presidential style. It’s the little things that make a difference.
Leg room and other perks of travelling premium economy