Little Opportunities & Lounges

We were pleasantly surprised after traversing security for our departure from the “low cost airline terminal” in Kuala Lumpur that we had access to a rather nice lounge fortified amongst the human zoo that forms the public gate area in most all airports we’ve visited.

This one, named “Plaza Premium Lounge” had a novel feature that I’d not encountered in previous lounges: Electronic massage chairs.

I’m not big on massage, in fact I’d politely declined at least 794 offers of massage in Thailand, and probably 40 more in the 4 days we stayed in KL. But I’d always found the Asian interest in massage chairs fascinating, and having never sampled the delights I availed myself of the opportunity.

The experience itself was interesting if not noteworthy, but it exemplifies part of the joy I take in travel: Little opportunities, never anticipated, that wouldn’t otherwise present themselves.

The existence of a lounge at all is often the unexpected delight. Before commencing the trip we purchased “Priority Pass” memberships – which theoretically provide members access to several hundred lounges in most airports throughout the world. Even at that time, when we expected to make half as many flights as the 30-odd we’ve boarded thus far, it seemed like a reasonable deal at around $450 for 12 months unlimited access.

The theory we held is that waiting in airports is one of the least pleasurable aspects of travel. Particularly at some of the low rent airports we knew we’d be visiting, where departure gates can be horrendous smoke filled places crowded with morons and irritants. So we hoped we could transform the horror into decadence replete with complimentary wine, Wi-Fi, decent food and, most important of all, silence.

When this worked according to plan – as it did today in KL – it worked out very well indeed. Although we didn’t partake in the “free flow of beer” advertised out the front, the food was exceptional, the Wi-Fi fast and the silence golden. Worth every penny compared to counting ones toes seated on cold metal benches in the departure gate, especially during inevitable flight delays. More so when you’re boarding a budget airline with minimal intrinsic comfort.

On the whole, though, it’s difficult to decide whether it’s worth $450. By the time we get home, we’ll have taken 33 flights over the course of the year, and perhaps 60% of the time we’ve been able to make use of a lounge.

Early morning flights often get in the way – where there’s no reason to get the airport sufficiently early to find the lounge. It’s also common in larger airports for our Priority Pass cards to provide access to a number of different lounges, all of which are a long (and unknown) distance from the departure gate, making it a risky and tense affair trying to determine how long to sit in the lounge before heading to the gate.

Some airports won’t have any participating lounges at all, and occasionally (particularly in the USA) the lounges have been rubbish.

The highlights have been high, though. What springs to mind was our Quito → Lima → Sao Paulo leg where the lounges in both Quito and Lima were fantastic. The one in Lima is apparently much awarded, so it should be complete with dedicated cocktail waiter, freshly squeezed orange juice and an outdoor terrace. Both lounges were affiliate with LAN Peru, meaning we were personally escorted when it was time to board our flight at the absolute last minute. No queues, no waiting, perfection.

In Amman the Royal Jordanian “Gold Class” lounge was similarly opulent, spanning a jaw dropping 2200m². The Virgin Blue lounge in Melbourne, with showers and a pool table, also deserves a mention, and was a great way to start our adventure.

To summarize, I think the Priority Pass membership offers the best value to frequent fliers who know that the airports they frequent have high quality lounges, and are familiar with the respective distances to the gates. Otherwise it is something of a gamble.

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