As air travel returns to, and in some cases exceeds, pre-pandemic levels, airports are getting very crowded. An exclusive poll for The Independent reveals that an increasing number of passengers appear to believe, like Jean-Paul Sartre, that “hell is other people” – and are choosing to pay for a couple of hours in a lounge before their flight.
What is the appeal of spending £30 or £40 – possibly more than the cost of your flight – for the experience? These are the key questions and answers.
How do pay-per-use lounges differ from the departure lounge?
“Departure lounge” is the generic term for the large waiting area close to the boarding gate for your flight. Airport lounges are more exclusive spaces where you typically get complimentary food and drink, more room to relax and a working zone. Some also provide an excellent view over the airfield.
For many travellers, a lounge represents sanctuary from the madding crowd, giving a sense of calm compared with the bustle outside.
In a poll on X (formerly known as Twitter), 27 per cent of the over 13,000 respondents said they paid for a lounge on their last journey through a UK airport. A further 24 per cent said they get free access to lounges.
How do ‘free’ lounges work?
Not all lounges are equal, and indeed the classiest are those run by airlines for their commercially important passengers (CIPs). The first was opened at what is now New York’s La Guardia airport in 1939 by American Airlines. British Airways opened its first Executive Club at London Heathrow in the early 1980s. Concorde passengers were the initial beneficiaries.
You can access them by buying a business or first-class ticket, or by having the right frequent-flyer status after spending a fortune over the years with the airline – or alliance, since status is normally recognised within the Oneworld, Skyteam and Star alliances.
In many parts of the world it is not possible to buy your way into an airline lounge, but in the US I have paid about $60 (£50) to both American Airlines and United to access their lounges during long connections.
What about if I’m flying with a budget airline?
With rare exceptions – such as The Gateway at Gatwick, run by No 1 Lounges for easyJet – low-cost carriers generally don’t provide pay-per-use lounges (though they will happily sell access as ancillaries). Passengers…