Thanks to the benefits of living the “Travel Hacking” lifestyle I have had access to airport lounges and the highly variable services they offer for many years. However, other than waiting in the merely adequate and uninspired Maple Leaf Lounges in Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal for outbound flights, I did not much indulge in the airport lounge scene.
I try and spend as little time as possible in airports and while in transit I am usually briskly walking from one end to the other in an attempt catch my next flight. If I have a few minutes I contemplate the luxury goods in the high end boutiques (yes I am that travel diva) such as Hermes and Cartier, as I rarely have time when at home.
I never really understood the necessity of airport lounges until the blustery Christmas of 2010, when I got stranded at the Frankfurt airport during a massive winter storm that caused chaos throughout Europe. The Love of My Life (LOML) and I were on our way from Ottawa, Ontario to Nice, France (my home away from home) where we were going to meet up with some friends for a few days, then take the train to Savona, Italy to catch a western Mediterranean Christmas cruise on the not yet ill-fated Costa Concordia.
Along with thousands of other passengers, we were stranded at the Frankfurt airport. Total pandemonium. The airline wickets were empty, except for one lone agent who looked like she was shell-shocked. The queue for her wicket was about the length of a couple of city blocks and it was moving nowhere. At a snail’s pace. The people at the back of the line were going to be there all night; the airport was even setting up camp cots for stranded passengers.
LOML had Star Alliance Elite, due to a few trans-Pacific work trips the previous year, so we went to the business class lounge. Though abnormally crowded and low on supplies, the lounge was nevertheless an oasis of calm in comparison to what was going on in the trenches. After waiting about two hours in a very amicable line served by two agents, we were provided tickets for a flight to Nice the next day, a room in a high-end hotel, transportation, and a lovely late dinner.
When we returned to the airport the next day we found out that the planes were still not moving. Nothing was moving. Not the planes, the trains, and not even very many automobiles. The attendants in the lounge rebooked our tickets about half a dozen times that day, a service that was simply not available to those outside the lounge. We drank café lattes with added liquors and as the day passed, we indulged in wine and food in comfortable stuffed lounge chairs with our fellow business classers, and toasted the small pleasures that we were being afforded. We finally reached our destination, albeit a day late, our pockets stuffed with the money we were given because there was no way our luggage would be accompanying us. We later found out that 1/3 of the people on the cruise did not make it due to the storm. When they heard our luggage was lost, Costa gave us free T-shirts, amenity kits, and a cabin up-grade. Including paper underwear…
After this experience, I gained a great appreciation for airport lounges and have always made sure that I have lounge access. Within Canada there are few lounge products available. These can be broken down into four categories: 1) single entry options (e.g., Plaza Premium); 2) third party lounge access programs (e.g., Priority Pass); 3) credit cards with lounge access (American Express Platinum Card); and, 4) airline lounge access programs (e.g., Air Canada Maple Leaf Club). The foibles of each these lounge products will be described in further detail in the next post in this thread.