Air travel can be hell. But there’s a way to ease your pain. If you don’t mind spending £30 or so, you can relax pre-flight at a private airport lounge and enjoy unlimited food and drink as part of the deal.
There’s free wi-fi, charging stations and sometimes showers. In most cases, you can take newspapers and magazines with you on the plane.
Think how much you would spend on food and drink in the airport in any case. It might not be quite £30, but it wouldn’t be far off.
GATWICK NORTH, MY LOUNGE
The My Lounge at Gatwick’s North Terminal, where for £30 on the door, customers get three hours of wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines and a games room
PRICE: £24 in advance, £30 on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Three hours, wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines, games room, view of another part of the airport.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: If you’ve always longed to pour yourself a pint, the self-service bar lets you fulfil your dream. The food is excellent, the music judicious (eg Positively 4th Street by Bob Dylan) and the staff are helpful. I didn’t play on the vintage table football, but it was a nice touch. Loft-style decor.
VERDICT: One of the cheapest and one of the best. 5/5.
STANSTED, ESCAPE LOUNGE
PRICE: £25 in advance, £30 on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Two hours, wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines, scanning and printing, view of shuttle.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: Hideous. Lime green chairs and linoleum flooring. The cooked breakfast came without eggs. You can’t take the magazines with you when you leave.
VERDICT: The lounge is well-named. Soon after entering, you’ll want to escape. 1/5.
MANCHESTER, 1903 LOUNGE
The 1903 lounge at Manchester Airport, pictured, gives passengers a fast-track through security for £40 on the door
PRICE: £30 in advance, £40 on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Two hours, fast-track through security, wi-fi, food and drink, table service, newspapers and magazines, showers, printing, view of runway.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: Nicely designed (albeit in purple and mint) and the food is better than average. The receptionist helped me scan some documents. When I asked to take a shower, she mistakenly handed me two bath mats instead of a towel, but no harm done.
VERDICT: Well worth the cost. 4/5.
DUBLIN, T1 LOUNGE
The T1 lounge at Dublin Airport. Customers get three hours in the lounge where there is wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines, a business centre and showers
PRICE: £22 in advance, £25 on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Three hours, wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines, business centre and showers.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: The view of rooftops and utility buildings is wisely screened behind frosted glass. The showers are excellent. Couscous salad was unremarkable, but the service was top-notch.
VERDICT: Any lounge with a shower is worth a visit. 3/5.
HEATHROW TERMINAL 3, PLAZA PREMIUM
PRICE: £30 in advance or on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: One hour, wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines, showers, no view.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: My only experience of an ‘arrivals lounge’, meaning it’s on the land-side of security. In theory, it’s for people who have arrived, rather than those departing. Despite the promise on the website of a ‘broad range of beverages’, there were no alcoholic drinks. The red and white decor was like an orthodontist’s clinic.
VERDICT: Expensive. 1/5.
EDINBURGH, No1 LOUNGE
The No1 Lounge at Edinburgh Airport, pictured, scored an excellent 4/5. It costs £35 to enter on the door
PRICE: £28 in advance, £35 on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Three hours, fast-track through security (extra £2), food and drink, newspapers and magazines, view of runway.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: The barmaid couldn’t tell me why beer was only available in half-pint glasses. But the selection of beers was fine and the food up to scratch. Good range of magazines and newspapers. Coffee table books, too.
VERDICT: Excellent. 4/5.
BELFAST INTERNATIONAL, THE CAUSEWAY LOUNGE
PRICE: £27.50 in advance or on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Two hours, wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines, view of runway.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: The food is mainly cold meats and cheeses. You’re limited to three alcoholic drinks. The curved window overlooks the runway, just like a control tower.
VERDICT: Not much to write home about. 2/5.
GATWICK SOUTH, CLUBROOMS LOUNGE
The seating area at the Clubrooms Lounge in Gatwick’s South Terminal. It scored 3/5
PRICE: £38 in advance, £50 on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Three hours, wi-fi, food and drink, table service, newspapers and magazines, view of roof.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: My Eggs Benedict was excellent. Unlike most lounges, it has no flight monitors except at reception. The effect is soothing. I snaffled some sparkling water for the flight.
VERDICT: Classy. 3/5.
BRISTOL, ASPIRE LOUNGE
PRICE: £21.99 in advance or £25 on the door.
WHAT YOU GET: Three hours, wi-fi, food and drink, newspapers and magazines, quiet zone, family booths with smart TV, view of car park.
WHAT IT’S LIKE: There was no music. I ate my apologetic pasta in a room decked out in soulless purple and grey. Aspire is a Swiss chain that has 34 lounges worldwide. Judging by this one, they need to be more aspirational.
VERDICT: Nothing special. 2/5.