As a side perk of opening certain credit cards, we have been able to get memberships to a few different airport lounge programs. As long as you go with a buddy airport lounges can be great – a relaxing, perk-filled oasis in the chaotic sea of air travel. But mark my words: If you go into an airport lounge alone you are risking all kinds of travel nightmares. Don’t let them fool you with their free Wi-Fi and free snacks and free drinks. Don’t believe me? Read on…
EXHIBIT A: Cairo, Egypt
Okay, this one we went to together, but it was here that we learned about green sushi. It didn’t start out green, but apparently, they have a technique of aging their sushi by leaving it out at room temperature all day. The room was all linoleum and uncomfortable college-dorm-in-the-70s chairs. I’m trying to ease you gently into the scary underworld of airport lounges, here. Let’s see what else we have…
EXHIBIT B: Istanbul, Turkey
We arrived very early to the airport to find that we couldn’t check our luggage until four hours before our flight. That meant waiting around for a while before we could dump our baggage. Stephanie nobly offered to let me go check out the lounge while she waited outside of security with our luggage. At least, it *sounds* noble. In reality, it was a self-preservation effort on her part since I was getting dangerously hungry. Since we already had our boarding passes, off I went. In this case, “through security” also meant through customs. They stamped my passport without me even thinking that this effectively means I have left the country as far as the government is concerned.
The lounge was nice – modern décor, fast Wi-Fi, yummy food and snacks, and the obligatory free alcohol. After checking my e-mail, and stockpiling some snacks for Stephanie, I headed back to security where I promptly had to explain to three different people why I needed to go back out. That pesky stamp in my passport, however, meant I needed to basically re-enter the country. I was directed through a non-descript hallway to a glass door that could only be opened from the other side. Once I convinced a uniformed security agent to let me through, I joined the 9,000 people who had just stepped off a plane and legitimately wanted to enter Turkey. I had to then explain to the customs agent why I wanted back into a country whose computers said I just left. They ended up sending me to the “special” line where once they understood what I wanted, they voided my departure, and it was as if I never slipped out of Turkey to get down on some free cookies. I eventually had to leave through baggage claim and find my way back to check-in. Total elapsed time – two hours, all of which was totally the fault of the lounge.
EXHIBIT C: San Juan, Puerto Rico
Just our standard run-of-the-mill trip to Ecuador: Southwest Airlines from Philly to Tampa and then from Tampa to San Juan. From there, we were to catch a United code share partner to Panama City where we would relax overnight in the airport. In the morning it would be on to Bogota, Colombia, and finally to Guayaquil, Ecuador where we could take our ol’ familiar 3.5 hour bus ride to Cuenca. But that meddling lounge got in the way as soon as we got to San Juan.
We checked in for our flight to Panama, dropped off our luggage, and decided to kill some time in the lounge. (Yay Wi-Fi!) Stephanie no longer had the credit card that let her into the lounges, but I did, so she convinced me to go in so we could take advantage of the internet (San Juan really doesn’t have Wi-Fi access), and to liberate some snacks on her behalf. Now, for the record, I didn’t want to go bask in all the wondrous glory of airport lounginess without her, but I bravely soldiered on at her urging. (Honest!) I even came out after a while just to be with her, but she sent me back in to wring every drop of juicy internet goodness out of our airport time.
I hadn’t been back inside for ten minutes when she came running up to me to share the news so important that the good folks at the lounge let her in to find me. Puerto Rico does not observe daylight savings (because evidently they’re smarter than us), which meant that unbeknownst to us, we were in fact ahead of Philly by an hour. So it was not 5:20, but 6:20. Bad luck when you have a 6:14 flight. We sprinted to the next terminal, but by the time we got to our gate, the lights were off, the plane was gone, and the whole area was eerily devoid of people.
We checked in with the TSA who radioed out to the ticket area, and were told that all representatives from United and its partners had left for the day since their last flight had just departed. We went back to the lounge where they realized that it was obviously all their fault, and they let us in to call the airline and figure out what’s what. After almost an hour on the phone, we learned that when you miss a leg of your flight, they cancel the rest of your ticket – regardless of where your luggage may be. This meant that not only were all our subsequent legs to Ecuador cancelled, but that our return home in two weeks was also cancelled. We also learned that there were no more mileage award tickets to be had for at least five days. It was getting better by the minute!
When the lounge closed at 8:00pm, and kicked us out laughing its diabolical, airport-lounge laugh, we tried to call the airline and right the wrongs, but we couldn’t find a strong enough Wi-Fi signal. We kept trying just long enough for every store, bar and restaurant in the airport to close, leaving us with no food options. Dinner was a healthy combo of chicken-flavored chips and always-delicious double chocolate coated Tim Tams (see our post from Australia on these babies!).
We did have a tiny glimmer of hope when we found a free Wi-Fi hotspot, ironically right at the gate from which we should have departed. We had another one when around 11:00 pm the supposedly-gone-for-the-day airline rep found us and told us they took our luggage back off the plane when we didn’t show for the flight.
And so now it’s the middle of the night, and rather than sleep, I’m seething and swearing off solo trips to airport lounges forever. We did find a way to Ecuador after all, but it will cost us an extra day of travel, an extra night in an airport, and very possibly my sanity. (Don’t you wish you were Stephanie right now?) A pox on you, airport lounge!