By Eric Rosen
Sep 30, 2021
FORGET FLUORESCENT LIGHTING, stale buffet food, and spotty Wi-Fi. These days, the best airport lounges feature amenities like yoga studios, detox bars, spa treatments, and dining rooms with menus by celebrity chefs. Of course, you generally have to pay for the privilege of luxuriating in these wonderful way stations by flying business or first class. But some premium credit cards will also grant you access. Here are 13 of the world’s best airport lounges, and how you can get into them.
Some of the best airport lounges in the world might be closed at the moment, but all are expected to reopen. Before any intended visit, be sure to check with your airline about what facilities and amenities are available, and what cleaning and health protocols are in place.
Air France La Première Lounge, Paris
Air France’s La Première first-class cabin is one of the most fashionable flying experiences in the world, and the airline’s ground game is très chic, too. The airline reopened its flagship first-class lounge at Charles de Gaulle in May after an extensive refurbishment that included freshening up the cozy cocktail bar to be brighter and more inviting, adding semi-private relaxation areas and installing new pieces of art. Fliers can still expect cuisine created by star chef Alain Ducasse in the dining room. Hopefully, the Biologique Recherche spa treatments will resume soon, too.
Access: If you’re one of the lucky few departing or connecting in Paris in Air France’s La Première cabin, you’re golden. You can also purchase access if you’re departing on a long-haul Air France or Delta flight that’s not equipped with La Première cabins for 500 euros (US$600), or 75,000 of the airline’s Flying Blue frequent flier miles, per person.
American Airlines Flagship First Dining
Although they are currently closed due to Covid-19, American Airlines fields its best and most exclusive lounges, Flagship First Dining venues, at its airport hubs in Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York JFK. Once inside, guests are seated at their own individual tables and can order from gourmet menus that might include seasonal dishes such as roasted beet and burrata salad, or free-range beef tenderloin with peppercorn crust and prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. The airline also typically serves Krug Champagne along with other premium vintages from France and the U.S., as well as handcrafted cocktails.
Access: Getting into a Flagship First Dining lounge requires passengers to be traveling in the airline’s first-class cabin on international routes, or one of its transcontinental flights in a three-cabin plane (meaning, economy, business, and first class). The Miami location is set to reopen in September, with the others to follow.
American Express Centurion Lounges
American Express has been steadily expanding its network of chic Centurion Lounges, even opening new locations throughout the pandemic in airports like New York JFK and Charlotte. It will soon count 40 locations, including both Centurion Lounges and freshly rebranded Escape Lounges — The Centurion Studio Partner (read: smaller outposts with fewer amenities) around the world. Although the services and facilities vary from lounge to lounge, guests can expect consistent touches across the network, including place-specific décor and installations by local artists, fine-dining menus created by up-and-coming regional chefs, and both signature cocktails as well as more unique options like Napa wines in San Francisco and Colorado microbrews in Denver. Some lounges even house spas, while the JFK one has a speakeasy bar.
Access: If you have a Platinum, Business Platinum, or Centurion (a.k.a. Black) card and present a same-day boarding pass, you can spend some time in these lounges. Those with a Delta SkyMiles Reserve business or personal card can also come in when flying Delta.
Cathay Pacific The Pier First Class Lounge, Hong Kong
Designed by Ilse Crawford (whose other projects include Ett Hem in Stockholm and Refettorio Felix in London), this stunning salon is all about different spaces for different vibes. There are elegant sitting areas framed by floor-to-ceiling windows with tarmac views for the aviation geeks, and a distinctive, horseshoe-shaped cocktail bar with a pale green onyx top for the see-and-be-seen scenesters. The mid-century-inspired restaurant serves classy continental fare (but also the airline’s signature spicy dan dan noodles). For those in search of quietude, however, there are eight day rooms plus shower suites in The Retreat portion, as well as a small spa offering complimentary mini treatments like facials and foot massages.
Access: Another one closed until further notice, we expect this lounge to reopen eventually given its popularity. To get in, you’ll need to be departing in first class on Cathay Pacific or another Oneworld airline, or have Oneworld top-tier Emerald status.
Delta Sky Club, Atlanta
Delta fields no fewer than nine Sky Clubs at its home airport of Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson. Visit the one in Concourse F because that’s the location with the outdoor Sky Deck, where guests can enjoy snacks and drinks with views of the runways. Barring that, try to swing by the flagship in Concourse B. It has the most space to spread out, and fun features like a “wine wall” of bottles curated by Andrea Robinson, the airline’s master sommelier, as well as a rotating selection of Southern tapas from acclaimed Atlanta-based chef Linton Hopkins. A gallery of works by local artists and brightly lit shower suites are added bonuses.
Access: Want to access either location? You’ll need a Delta Sky Club membership or to be flying business class on international or transcontinental routes with Delta or its SkyTeam partners. Some SkyTeam elites can also get in, as can folks with the Amex Platinum or Delta SkyMiles Reserve cards who are flying with the airline the same day.
Emirates First Class Lounge, Dubai
The Emirates First Class Lounge at Dubai International Airport is essentially its own terminal, spanning nearly the entire length of the airport’s international concourse. Once inside, guests can indulge with a tasting in the lounge’s wine cellar or a treatment in the Timeless Spa. Then, perk up with an espresso at the coffee bar or sit back with a stogie in the cigar lounge. There’s also a whole arcade of in-lounge duty-free shops. The dining room fields an extensive buffet, with everything from sushi to pastries, as well as à la carte options, though feel free to order food and drinks from any of the expansive seating areas you happen to settle in. There are also shower suites and semi-private quiet rooms for napping, if you just want to unwind.
Access: If you want to spend some time here, you’ll need to have Emirates Skywards Platinum elite status or be departing in first class on an Emirates flight.
Lufthansa First Class Terminal, Frankfurt
Lufthansa has created not just a first-class lounge, but an entire First Class Terminal, at its hub in Frankfurt. Instead of heading to the main airport, fliers can pull right up to the First Class Terminal and go through security screening on-site before enjoying the lounge’s many attractions. They’ll then pass through a dedicated customs and immigration checkpoint before being chauffeured to their flight. The lounge’s highlights include a cigar lounge, a bar serving over 130 different kinds of whiskey, a full-service dining room, and shower rooms including one with a full bath (ask for one of the airline’s signature rubber duckies before you lather up).
Access: The First Class Terminal will reopen on Sept. 1. When it does, you’ll need to be departing in first class on Lufthansa, or arriving on Lufthansa in first class and connecting to a flight operated by Lufthansa, Austrian, or Swiss. Uber-elite Hon Circle fliers can also get in.
Qantas First Lounge, Sydney
When you make your way past the massive living wall of plants and step onto the escalator that whisks you from the crowded concourse up to the lounge level at Qantas‘ Sydney hub, it’s like taking a journey back to the golden age of flying, complete with a vintage-style destination board featuring clattering letter and number tiles. Guests can while away the hours nibbling on seasonal fare created by Aussie celebrity chef Neil Perry (let’s face it: celeb-chef cooking is one of our favorite perks of the best airlines and airport lounges), or step into the day spa for a complimentary massage or facial performed with fancy LaGaia products. There are also a number of marble-clad shower suites for freshening up and private conference rooms for impromptu meetings.
Access: Closed for now, this lounge should reopen when international flights resume. First-class fliers on Qantas, Emirates, or Oneworld partner flights can get in, as can certain Qantas, Emirates, and Oneworld elites departing on Qantas, Emirates, or Oneworld partner airline flights.
Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Business Lounge, Doha
You might think Qatar Airways’ industry-leading business-class Qsuites are the main reason to fly the airline, but a sojourn in its spacious, sophisticated lounge in Doha isn’t a bad rationale either. Measuring up at over 100,000 square feet, there’s something for everyone, including dedicated family spaces, both quiet and more communal sitting areas, small semi-private napping rooms, not one but two dining rooms, and a warren of individual shower suites, plus a game room with pinball machines, foosball, PlayStation, and even an F1 race car simulator — making it not just one of the best but by far one of the most fun airport lounges we know. Saunter down the sculptural spiral staircase to the reflecting pool to feel like a true jetsetter.
Access: To get in, you need to be flying business or first class on Qatar Airways, or one of its Oneworld partners, though you might be able to purchase access online ahead of time or during travel if you’re flying the airline in economy or on a basic business fare.
Swiss First Class Lounge, Zurich
The first thing you see when entering Swiss’s flagship lounge is a glassed-in humidor containing 1,000 bottles of wine, some of which are served at the nearby Champagne counter and in the lounge’s two restaurants. Passengers with longer connections can take advantage of two fully equipped “hotel rooms,” complete with Hästens beds and ensuite bathrooms. If you’re just passing through, however, a rinse in one of the shower suites might suffice, while business travelers can book a conference room for meetings on the fly. Take a moment to step out onto the terrace for a breath of fresh air and views of the Alps, too. One of the best airport lounges with the best airport air for sure.
Access: The lounge is currently closed, but will hopefully reopen soon to guests departing or connecting on Swiss or Lufthansa in first class.
Turkish Airlines Lounge Business, Istanbul
At more than 60,000 square feet, and with space for 765 people, you might think Turkish Airlines’ lounge at the relatively new Istanbul Airport is too large to be luxurious enough for this list of best lounges, but you’d be wrong. There are a variety of comfy seating areas, including individual cabines for folks who want a quiet space to nap or work. There’s a multimedia room with a wall of televisions for entertainment and a business center outfitted with iMacs, plus a kids’ area with a small playground. If you’re feeling peckish, simply wander around to one of the various food stations for both buffet and made-to-order specialties such as pide, gözleme, and baklava. And if the lounge happens to be crowded, you can always pop into one of the private shower suites for a preflight ablution.
Access: First- and business-class passengers on Turkish Airlines and other Star Alliance flights, as well as Star Alliance Gold elites, should be able to get in.
United Polaris Lounge, Chicago
Along with rebranding its international business-class cabins and service a few years back, United also began building bespoke Polaris best-in-class business-class lounges at several of its airport hubs. The mother ship is at Chicago O’Hare and features unique elements, like an installation by artist Wolfgang Buttress on the ceiling that mirrors the Chicago night sky, as well as relaxation areas with chaise lounge’s outfitted with Saks Fifth Avenue pillows and blankets. There are also plenty of seating spaces, depending on whether you want to socialize or work, including individual pods with a single armchair and desk each. The large dining area includes a buffet and a full-service menu with dishes like mahi mahi tostadas and orange-seared chicken, as well as creative cocktails like the Polaris paloma.
Access: To enter, you must be flying United Polaris (not just the airline’s domestic business or first class) or business or first class internationally on a Star Alliance carrier.
Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, London
Virgin Atlantic almost singlehandedly made flying fun again when it debuted back in the 1980s, and nowhere is that swinging spirit still on display more than in the airline’s flagship Clubhouse at London Heathrow. There’s a 14-meter cocktail bar for carousing with your fellow passengers, as well as a dining room with à la carte selections (like the classic Clubhouse cheeseburger), where you can also linger over a leisurely afternoon tea. Your first stop, however, should be the salon and spa desk to book a first-come, first-served complimentary hair or spa treatment, so you look your best for your flight.
Access: Heathrow Terminal 3 just reopened, so this lounge can’t be far behind. To get in, you’ll need to be flying Virgin Atlantic Upper Class or Delta One, or some combination of high-end elite status with Virgin Atlantic or one of its airline partners.