From Air to Ground: How Airlines Design for Business Class Luxury

The competitive behavior of international airlines has brought the fight from the air to the ground.

Business travel lounges are becoming the new hotels, whereby luxury designers, chauffeurs, celebrity chefs, and masseuses seek to overcome common associations with airports of discomfort, crowds, stress, and unproductive layovers.

According to data from the World Bank, the number of passengers carried per year was 2.25 billion in 2009. In 2017, the figure almost doubled to 3.97 billion travelers. With this dramatic increase come world-class service and luxuries focusing on providing exclusive ‘away-from-home’ comforts, health and wellness, and authentic cultural experiences.

Home and Comfort

In 2018, the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in the US retained its position as the world’s busiest airport. According to UK-based magazine International Airport Review, the airport managed to keep competition from China and the Middle East at bay, both of which are growing fast in this respect. To its aid, this hotspot is also rated as the most efficient airport by the Air Transport Research Society. It should be no surprise then that the airport is home to one of the world’s most highly regarded business lounges.

Delta Air Lines’ popular Sky Club offers spa treatment for travelers looking to indulge in leg massages or facials using products customized to each guest’s unique skincare needs. Moreover, customary to many Sky Club facilities, the lounge features Sky Decks, which are outdoor mega- patios designed by popular American interior designer Thom Filicia. Describing the patios, Filicia says: “You feel as though you’re on your own patio. The materials add to that sensation. There’s a great mix of man-made and natural elements — wood, rope, ceramic, metal, glass.”

Many airliners follow through on their promise to provide solace and a sense of homeliness in their business lounges. The Cathay Pacific Business Lounge at Hong Kong International Airport, also known as The Wing, boasts “unobstructed views of airport activities, open ceilings, and a minimalist design aesthetic”. Behind this design is London-based architect Ilse Crawford, who’s mostly known for designing the luxury hotel Ett Hem in Stockholm. Crawford notes that she drew inspiration from her quest to redesign what luxury really means to first class travelers today.

The result is a world away from the typical corporate lounge aesthetic to a space more akin to an elegant apartment. The lounge includes favorites such as The Noodle Bar and The Long Bar and also offers a Coffee Loft, where one can replenish on handcrafted drinks and pastries. Beginning operation in March this year, the Hong Kong lounge is the only one at which Cathay Pacific hosts a separate lounge for first-class travelers.

Health and Wellness

Another luxury lounge that has caught the eyes of international jet-setters looking for a breath of fresh air is the VIP Lounge at the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana International Airport. Besides the world-class bar and buffet sections, the area offers an infinity pool looking out onto the runway. This goes well with the airport’s overall tropical and contemporary feel, featuring open-air terminals with palm-covered roofs and modern interiors. Lounge pools are fairly new, although several airport hotels, such as the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport Hotel and the Singapore Changi Airport, offer indoor pools with scenic views. The Grand Hyatt Dallas Fort

Worth Airport Hotel in Texas is even filled with mineral-infused water that is said to have a salinity that is “identical to the human tear”, according to the hotel’s website.

Overall, health and wellness is a growing trend in airport lounges the world over. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London Heathrow Airport is aptly self-titled the “oasis of calm at the UK’s busiest airport”. It features power showers and complementary spa products for travelers passing through this busy UK airport. Guests can also visit the Clubhouse Spa for a haircut and/or manicure and can indulge in the extensive à la carte menu. The Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse was judged World’s Leading Airport Lounge by World Travel Awards two years in a row. In 2017, the Clubhouse at Heathrow even revealed a heated igloo on the building’s roof, which can snugly seat up to eight people looking out onto the runway.

National Homage and Cultural Authenticity

Opened in 2014, Qatar Airways’ flagship international business class lounge in Doha, Qatar, was also built to impress. A total of 1,000 passengers can be accommodated in the Al Mourjan Business Lounge, which is spread out over two levels and is equivalent in size to 10 Olympic-sized pools. Besides the usual dining, shower, and game rooms, the Al Mourjan also has a dedicated business center offering, which includes a conference area and personal internet workstations decked out with printers and scanners.

An airline that prides itself most on its culinary offering is Air France, which, at its lounge at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, offers travelers a restaurant boasting a custom menu by the revered French chef Alain Ducasse. The La Première lounge, as it’s known, also features a private chauffeur who takes guests straight to their planes. Turkish Airlines’ arrival lounge has also gone the extra mile to bring cultural authenticity to travelers passing through the hallmark Istanbul Atatürk Airport. A tourist attraction in itself, last year, the airliner attracted four awards from the Skytrax World Airline Awards — most notably earning the badge for World’s Best Business Class Lounge and Best Business Class Dining Lounge. Among the amenities in the double-story facility, known for its luxurious size, are a movie theatre, pool table, self-playing piano, library, mini-golf, massage service, and a children’s area.

The lounge trades heavily on cultural authenticity, offering Turkish food and culture. Travelers can revel in freshly prepared pita and baklava. Competition for cultural reputation is one of the key drivers for authentic, world-class service and experiences in airliners today.

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