Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Airline Lounges: Fine Places To Wait For A Flight

EVA's lounge at SFO

Many of you reading this don't fly often enough to earn sufficient miles for membership in frequent flyer programs - and regulars know I'm nothing close to an elitist, so this this isn't an attempt to show off - but there are enclaves where you're far less likely to be trodden upon by the thundering herds of people storming off to their respective boarding gates. Been there and done that, bought the tee shirt and have already sold it at a yard sale.

Three of six free X-Box360 stations
in their own enclave in Taipei
Once there they'll sit on rock-hard seats specifically designed to discourage sitting for an hour or more before filing onto their flight to sit for another dozen hours to Asia. With the under-staffed security and check-in staff being tithed with ever-increasing workloads the time spent in lines (or queues to some of you) continues to increase as well, and the old standard advice of arriving two hours before an international flight can now lead to some dedicated nail biting time as you wait... and wait... and wait your turn.

To avoid starting off a journey stressed I prefer to arrive at the airport at least two hours before boarding, but that's a lot of time to fill before attempting to board amid a crush of people who haven't yet grasped the concept that "now boarding rows 20 to 40" doesn't also include anyone from row 63 who can manage a flying leap into the wedge of people already confused enough by the idea of a line being one person in width.  That's another rant, though, so I'll climb off my soap box.  Sorry.

A portion of the hot and cold food buffet in Taipei

On my first few trips I sat in one of the public dining areas and waited, usually eating or drinking something I neither needed or wanted just to fill time and listen to people's unruly offspring, but I soon learned that there were small pockets of calm where, for a fee not much more than my outrageously priced "snack" and reading material I could sit in comfort: the airline lounges.

Different airlines naturally have different rules and regulations for membership, but some - for a fee - also welcome visitors.  Trust me on this one: it's well worth contacting the airline you're considering or have already booked with to see if you have the option of using the lounge.

After a boarding announcement two dozen Chinese broke away and left this screen

Really... wouldn't you rather be waiting for your flight in a leather lounge chair with free WiFi, newspapers, magazines, hot food and unlimited drinks (some with top shelf booze) instead of dealing with the relative insult of the public waiting areas and the overpriced food and drinks there?  Frankly, even if you did have to pay $25 - as EVA charges for admittance to their VIP lounge - I'd suggest considering it a minor add-on to the cost of travel on your undoubtedly well-earned vacation.

The lounge in Taipei was under the siege of "Linsanity" when I was passing through a few weeks ago, and both of the big LCD televisions were tuned to news of the hoopster they're most proud of at the moment, but usually there's news at one end of the lounge and some sporting event at the other. If you're a reader there are always at least a couple of dozen newspapers and magazines, and a half dozen copies of each.

The staff is attentive, it's safe to leave your bags while you go get another espresso or plate of dim sum, the rest rooms are spotlessly clean and well-stocked, there are ample plugs to re-charge your electronics and if you let them know what flight you're on they'll even come wake you up if you nod off in your comfy chair.

If you fly regularly so there's no charge it's a no-brainer.  If you have to pay for it and don't mind the usual waiting spots, more power to you.  I'm not judging anyone here, and $25 buys quite a bit in Thailand, too.  It is - as are most choices while traveling - up to you, but I'd suggest at least checking out the option.

No comments: