Airport Lounges Increasingly Key in Asia

Above: Cathay Pacific’s Cabin lounge in Hong Kong.

Airlines would do well to coddle their premium passengers on ground as well as in the air.

By Gabriel Leigh

Asia is home to some of the world’s best airport lounges, and Cathay Pacific is one airline that continues to invest in this with good results. At its Hong Kong base, where the carrier previously had two lounges–The Wing and The Pier–it now has a third, The Cabin. One of the best of its kind anywhere, this lounge is great for getting away from the airport hassle, sitting in a comfortable chair overlooking the tarmac, and having a fresh fruit juice before takeoff. Elsewhere, there are similar great options: Singapore Airlines’ lounges at Changi; both Japanese carriers’ lounges at the new Haneda International Terminal in Tokyo; and so on. The problem if you’re a premium passenger, though, is the time spent in the crowds getting to those lounges.

Thai Airways has been attempting to address that problem since it opened its new First Class lounge at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi in 2007. For a premium passenger, the experience begins curbside outside the airport doors. Porters greet you and take you to a secluded space where you’re shown to a seat while agents check you in. Then, it’s on to a dedicated immigration and security channel, at the end of which a motorized buggy awaits to whisk you past the business-class lounge to the first-class section. There, a one-hour massage is available free of charge at the adjoining spa. Alternatively, first-class passengers arriving in Bangkok are met by Thai representatives off the jetway, who escort you through immigration. It’s a matter of making their highest-paying passengers feel special and well looked after.

Other Asian airlines beat Thai on first-class seat comfort, and on nearly every amenity aboard, but for those booking a first-class seat, this might make them think twice about booking with anyone else. And, at a time when these high-revenue passengers are so important to airlines, it’s increasingly crucial for an airline to distinguish itself by its ground services. The airport experience is often the most stressful part of travel, so if an airline can diminish that stress, that’s potentially more valuable than having the latest model of seat. It’s surprising that more airlines in Asia don’t excel at this. After all, they’re supposed to be setting the global benchmark for levels of service–and on board they certainly do, but at the moment it’s only a handful of pioneers that offer real benefits to travelers from the beginning to the end of a journey. As more travelers take to the skies in Asia, expect more airlines to discover ways to steal premium traffic with on-the-ground facilities, rather than just in the air.

Originally appeared in the August/September 2011 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Lounge Acts”)

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