For business travellers and frequent flyers, airport lounges provide a welcome refuge from the crowds.
The best of them – typically first class lounges in an airline's home port – pamper passengers with pre-flight delights ranging from restaurant-style dining to spas and private rooms.
However, most travellers end up in a more mainstream business lounge a notch below those first class havens for the well-heeled.
These typically tick most boxes on the traveller's “must have” list – ample space, comfortable seating, a decent selection of meals and drinks, plus fast and free wireless internet.
But having nailed the basics, what else is there?
Qantas is putting an increasingly strong emphasis on dining as part of the lounge experience, upgrading the standard buffet to include live cooking stations and regional cuisines.
Qantas looks for local cuisine
In its new Hong Kong lounge, which opens on April 3, travellers will be served Cantonese-style char siu barbecued pork, dumplings and dim sum from yum cha trolleys.
The Qantas Los Angeles Business Lounge, which is also due to open later next month at the freshly-facelifted Tom Bradley International Terminal, will similarly embrace California cuisine channelled through “LA street food”.
“We're looking at Mexican, Korean, Italian,” explains Roger Barstow, one of the Rockpool group's consulting chefs working with Qantas on upgrading the dining across its international lounges.
Barstow tells High Flyer the LAX lounge will also sport influences from Neil Perry's Rockpool restaurant empire.
“There'll probably be a little bit of Spice Temple in there, but it's more Rockpool Bar & Grill and any Rosetta items which are more suited to the West Coast.”
Star's LA powerplay
The nearby Star Alliance lounge at LAX name-checks the city's Asian influence with a small noodle nook.
But what I love most about this lounge is that almost anywhere you sit there are AC powerpoints and USB sockets within easy reach for charging up your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
These power panels aren't always obvious at first glance – sometimes they're neatly hidden behind a pop-out recess. But just glance around and you'll find them built into tables, lounges, benchtops in the dining room, and even in waterproof housings on the lounge's novel outdoor terrace.
The lounge also has a dedicated reading room where you can escape the bustle of the business lounge.
But what if you turned the concept on its head and declared the entire lounge should be a quiet zone?
The quiet life
That's the approach of the SkyTeam airline alliance, which in the middle of this year opens a new lounge at Sydney Airport's T1 international terminal.
Like its siblings in London and Istanbul, the SkyTeam Sydney lounge will swap those TV screens scattered around the lounge for a separate TV room.
“When I'm in a lounge, I've just come from a long day and I have a long flight ahead, I just want to relax and not be bothered by news or sports,” SkyTeam's lounge guru Bert Goren tells High Flyer. “So we have will have a separate TV area for people who want that.”
However, the lounge will encourage socialising and a bit of friendly noise at a dedicated wine bar.
The question is, just how much do these things matter to business travellers who are used to jetting around every other week – for whom flying is not the start of a holiday, but part of their commute?
Back to basics
Last week I was chatting with a colleague who takes a domestic business class flight out of Sydney every two weeks, on average.
He's the consumate frequent flyer: a master of maximising his points, knows the best seats on any aircraft, and has hundreds of tricks of the frequent flyer trade tucked under his belt.
He has recently shifted the bulk of his domestic travel from Qantas to Virgin Australia.
I quizzed him on how the airline compare and was surprised that he didn't rate the Qantas lounge as a stronger factor in the Flying Kangaroo's favour.
By my reckoning the Qantas Business Lounges – which he's entitled to use as a business class traveller and Platinum-grade frequent flyer – best the Virgin Australia lounges, especially in their selection of food.
- See a 360-degree view of Virgin Australia's Sydney domestic lounge here.
There's a variety of hot dishes plus “island dining” treats served in the mornings and evenings.
But that's not something on which he places a premium, despite being quite the bon vivant when it comes to food and wine.
“I don't ask for much from a domestic airport lounge,” he reasons.
“All I really want is a quiet, comfortable place to sit and have a juice or coffee in the morning, and a glass of wine in the evening.
“And I'm not usually after a meal in a domestic lounge – a quick light snack is enough.”
What really matters most to you in an airport lounge? What are the 'must have' elements that lounge designers need to focus on, and which lounges get it right?
David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.
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