A while ago, we wrote an entry to inform you of the evils of airport lounges. Despite my dire warnings, the lounges are really pretty cool. Not domestic lounges in the U.S., though. You really have to travel internationally to find these Shangri-Las hidden behind non-descript doors.
If you know us at all, you know that we usually travel on the cheap, so we’re not the types to drop 50 bucks apiece just to get in a lounge for a few hours. If you know us at all, you *also* know two very important facts about us: 1) Stephanie, being the miles-and-points junkie that she is, gets us free lounge access as a perk from a credit card with a just a teeny weeny annual fee. (Don’t worry, she gets us waaay more than that fee back in cash benefits.)
2) Elliott will sell his own brother to Bedouin nomads if it means some free food. (Sorry, Erik!)
Our most recent adventure took us from New York to Johannesburg by way of Abu Dhabi. One of my two favorite lounges ever was the one in Dubai, so I was really looking forward to Abu Dhabi. As we were waiting to check in at JFK with over four hours to go, Stephanie said in a quiet voice “Uh, oh. You’re gonna hate me forever!” It turns out she accidentally left our lounge access cards in Philly.
Okay, after I seethed for about two minutes, I remembered that if Stephanie had a nickel for every time *I* forgot something important, we wouldn’t be traveling in coach. I commuted my rage to disappointment, and changed my seething to sulking before I hit on the solution (I’m kind of a genius). Just call the lounge people, and get our membership numbers over the phone. Then they can be run manually. It worked like a charm (as I said, I’m kind of a genius), and before you can say “TSA pat-down,” we were in a lounge in JFK’s international terminal. Being an international lounge, it had everything we needed: food for Elliott, Wi-fi for Stephanie, alcohol for neither of us, and cookies for both of us. Here, take a look…
The time until our flight passed in a flash, until it was time for that ancient battle – do we board immediately with 100,000 other people all jockeying for space in the overhead bins, or do we wait and board last so as not to just sit on the plane for an extra half hour? As often happens, the answer lay somewhere in the middle. We waited until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and then I dragged Stephanie aboard.
We settled in for a great flight on Etihad; an airline that was new to us, but is already our favorite. It’s like they were custom tailored for me: full-coverage, noise-cancelling headphones (in coach!), on-demand entertainment including music by Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, an amenities pack with a toothbrush, socks, eyeshades, etc…, and killer Indian food. Proof that Etihad is way ahead of its time, however, were the eyeshades they provided. One side is red and says “Do Not Disturb.” Flip ‘em over and the green side says “Wake me up to eat.”
A mere 13 hours later, we were disembarking in Abu Dhabi. Only 14 more hours to go until our travels continued, so off we went to the lounge. This was the lounge I had been waiting for! Not just hot and cold dishes, but exotic ones such as chicken biryani and fresh hummus. There’s something about hummus in the Middle East that makes it extra tasty. For Stephanie, the main attraction was definitely the shot glasses filled with chocolate mousse. The Al Dhabi Lounge also had extra comfy chairs fit for sleeping, free showers and even an iPod charging cable we could use. (This was extra-helpful since ours had disappeared between Philly and New York.)
The staff members in these lounges are like private concierges. They even helped us nail down seats for our return home. Our lounge access contract was only good for a four-hour visit, but the good people at the lounge simply found us and had us sign a new receipt every four hours. We watched people come and go all night in between sleeping, cross-stitching, and taking advantage of free Wi-Fi.
About an hour before we had to leave, we used the complimentary showers. Sometimes, we’ll use one shower facility together (it’s all about efficiency, people, get your minds out of the gutter!), but in the conservative Middle East, they simply could not grasp the concept of only using one shower between us. We opted not to rock any boats, and showered separately. The facilities were luxuriously appointed with everything you could need for the task of cleaning yourself – fluffy towels, hair dryers, full length mirrors, shaving mirrors, and little single use packs of razors, combs, toothbrushes, shower caps, Q-tips – the works. There are no photos because there were lots of mirrors, and y’all don’t want none of that.
We got to our flight, and nine hours later, we were in South Africa – a new country for us. Now it was simply a matter of waiting 12 hours for our pickup. Johannesburg also had a lounge we could use. The only problem was that the lounges are (almost) always *after* you clear security (“airside” as us frequent travelers call it), and international airports tend to herd you through customs and out through baggage claim. So this time we resorted to one of our tried-and-true travel methods: sleeping in the airport.
It sounds crazy, but we have done this everywhere from San Francisco to Buenos Aires, Mombasa to Cairns, and we are never the only ones nesting overnight.
Between naps, we walked around and checked out what the airport had to offer. We found sunglasses for Stephanie, which was a godsend considering hers had broken and we were about to explore a country known for its sun. Bonus for me: the airport had a real British Woolworth’s which carried real British Jelly Babies. If you’ve never tried these vast-improvements-over-gummy-bears, well, I ain’t sharing mine!
After our fabulous safari adventure, we were ready to try that lounge in Johannesburg. Nope – stymied again! Apparently in this day of wondrous modern technology, they were unable to enter our numbers manually – only to swipe a card.
Anyway, Abu Dhabi was coming (again), and we knew *they* would take care of us. Not only was our trusty lounge ready and waiting for us, but in Abu Dhabi you can clear U.S. customs and immigration before you even board your flight. This means that when we landed in New York, we landed in a domestic terminal and went straight to baggage claim. Yippee!
So, what have we learned?
Lounges – good.
Free food & Wi-Fi – good.
Pre-clearing customs – good.
Jelly Babies – extra good!
Forgetting your Priority Pass cards – not so bad (unless you’re in Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport).
Wife who gets you all this stuff and all you have to do is show up – PRICELESS.