On several of my recent trips I have had the opportunity to try a number of the airport lounges on offer around the UK. If you have the right ticket (business class generally), or are the owner of the right kind of frequent flyer card then you can access the relevant airline lounge free of charge. A nice perk to have indeed. Although, Virgin offer you the chance to buy your way into their famous Clubhouse Lounges at Gatwick and Heathrow which is unusual for an airline.
But if you are travelling low cost, charter or in the cheap seats then your ticket will not get you access, so the only way to enjoy the lounge lifestyle is to buy your way in. And in the last year, the offering available to passengers, particularly out of Manchester, Gatwick and Stansted has moved up a gear. Finally leisure passengers are being targeted by the airports for some TLC before their flights.
Take Manchester Airport for example. For many years you have been able to buy your way into lounges run by ground handling agents such as Servisair. The cost is around the £18 mark per person. These lounges are designed for business travellers and are operated on behalf of airlines in order to give their business passengers a comfortable lounge to work in. Free drinks and some snacks, a location to connect your laptop or read a magazine ahead of the flight out to a business meeting or on your way back to the office. Functional but hardly aimed at leisure travellers.
But earlier this year, the airport management upped the ante considerably, by opening new lounges in Terminals 1 and 2 called Escape. And what lounges they are – decorated in rich colours with lots of gorgeous fabrics and drapes, the lounge in Terminal 1 is a real haven to escape from the hustle and bustle of the normal seating and shopping area. And it feels luxurious rather than the utilitarian feel of many airport lounges. The atmosphere is one of calm and quiet, yet with a friendly and welcoming tone. There are separate areas for working and browsing the internet, dining, resting in comfortable armchairs with a fake fire to warm you and an excellent children’s area (big boys and girls allowed too!) to play on video games and to race on the full size Scalextric set.
One of the main selling points of the entrance fee is that the Manchester lounges include free food as well as drinks. Forget bowls of crisps, nuts and chocolate bars, they offer you everything from bacon butties, porridge or a continental starter to your day, through to panini’s, sandwiches and snacks. More importantly it is waiter service and Kate who served me with my hot sandwich and drinks was an absolute delight.
If that is not enough, then you can order from a special menu a range of full meals such as a Chicken roast or a full cooked breakfast, nothing costing you more than £5.50. When you add up the value of free drink and food, newspapers and magazines as well as the chance to watch some TV or wait for your flight in calm and quiet it is well worth the pre-book entrance price which has been as low as £12 per person, or £25 when you pitch up. And they can be used by everyone, whether you are travelling for work or leisure, as a single, couple or family giving you a great start to your holiday or working day. You can even buy it as a gift for friends or relatives or even honeymooners to get their trip off to a flying start.
My only criticism? You can’t see any planes from this particular lounge which many people like to do, but this is more than made up by the service and ambience. Oh, and one last thing – please build one in Terminal 3 as well so that all terminals are then covered.
At Gatwick, No.1 Traveller offers a similar service. Waiters to deliver your food and drink, a great kiddie’s area and table football as well as an impressive living wall of plants.
Now to British Airways. I recently flew out and back to South America in business class, using up the points on my frequent flier card. This entitled me to use lounges at Manchester and Heathrow throughout my trip. You cannot buy your way into these lounges, something that I witnessed a number of people try to do, so there really is a demand for the service. And at T5, unless your airline ticket or flier card allows you in, there is no choice but to sit it out in the main public areas.
Manchester’s BA lounge is functional, has excellent views over the airfield and provides snacks and drinks. As you can only really fly to London now on BA from the North West, most people are not using the lounge for long, so it does the job well.
Heathrow is a different matter altogether. The lounges in Terminal 5, the home of BA are excellent. Spacious, too numerous to list them all or try them all out in one visit, they offer a range of complimentary food, from snacks and drinks through to breakfast, as well as light meals and fresh fruit. A huge range of magazines and newspapers to read, TV areas, kids areas and places to leave your luggage as you go shopping in the terminal. You can even grab a shower in the Elemis spa or enjoy a treatment for tired and flagging travellers. Service is excellent, although the only waiter service is in the ultra posh and exclusive Concorde room, only accessible to First Class and Gold card members, so the likes of me are firmly kept out. The lounges at Heathrow really made my trip, especially on the return where I had a four hour wait for my flight back to Manchester.
So when you are travelling away next, why not treat yourself and make that journey that little more special and memorable for the right reasons.