Thoughts  |  30 January 2015

More Democratisation in Airports

The modern airport lounge

Think of an airport lounge… Now the usual image that would come into your mind is: A mid-40’s couple sat in a plush dark leather sofa, a book in hand, sipping on champagne with a faint sound of ‘elevator’ music playing in the background. These two passengers are enjoying a service they have paid for, either because of their loyalty to the airline or because of the class they are flying in.

Our usual and most immediate assumption is that airport lounges are a destination for lucky airline membership holders to use and enjoy, leaving the ‘fly economy once a year’ passengers to fight their way through the less glamorous part of the airport experience. Well, think again! A new crop of lounges has started to pop up into the airport landscape for a few years now.

These lounges are open for all. Any passenger, from any airline, any travel class, any size, shape and form, can have access to these private spaces. This budding generation of lounges allows a typical economy passenger to experience the full VIP treatment at a major touchpoint of their journey. A number of these lounges aren’t free however, once they have paid for entry, passengers will get a lounge experience on par with some of the top rated airline lounges.

A good example is the British game changer, No.1 Traveller’s Heathrow T3 lounge opened in 2012. This lounge was one of the first to offer a range of services matching a typical business lounge. From spa treatments, sleep cabins, and a full food offer, the No.1 Traveller lounge gives economy passengers access to a swish experience. Because of the company’s strong identity and exciting lounge facilities, the brand has quickly expanded in five other UK airports, adding seven lounges to their books. No.1 Traveller’s latest venture has been the development of My Lounge at Gatwick North. This burgeoning brand offers an even more accessible product. With an entry price of only £16, My Lounge aims to attract a wider customer base.

Elsewhere in Europe, the almost@home lounge in Helsinki airport pushes the quality of service further by offering woolen socks to customers to get them warmed up whilst waiting for their flight. The typical and uncomfortable tub chair is a distant memory in this space. All furniture pieces in the lounge are for sale and therefore chosen to be appealing. A mix of second hand Artec furniture and more contemporary pieces give the space a very homely feel, not to mention a game of FIFA on one of the playstations available to use!

Pushing the trend even further, Swedish furniture giant IKEA opened it’s own airport lounge at Paris CDG in the summer of 2012. Passengers were encouraged to relax, hide away and even sleep in the 220 sqm space. Parents could feel at ease leaving their offspring to play with qualified childcare staff. And all of that was provided for free! Of course, we recognise this lounge was constructed as a temporary promotional exercise, but why say no!

With the proliferation of many other paid on entry lounges such as Premium Plaza and Aspire, this new generation of lounges have created an opportunity for all passengers to enjoy the airport as a premium destination. Economy passengers now have an array of choices when arriving at the airport or in transit. Leaving the uncomfortable metal airport benches behind, these destinations are embracing the need for people to feel special and catered for in the airport environment; Ultimately creating accessible luxury.

Over the past few years at Honour, we have been particularly interested in this demand for accessible luxury. Studying and researching how this phenomenon affects passenger expectations, vision and experience at every touch point of their journey.

Last year we worked on a new arrivals lounge concept for Regus. The first Regus lounge opened in Gatwick’s South terminal in November 2014. This paid on entry lounge not only serves Regus members but is accessible to any travellers arriving in Gatwick and needing a space to do business as well as relax and refresh. Honour’s proposition revolved around helping passengers minimize the effects of jet lag. This meant maximising natural sunlight within the main space, offering showers to refresh and creating a comfortable and bright lounge environment. Its big brother will open this year in Copenhagen.

Our creative team is currently developing another paid on entry lounge concept for one of our many special clients. From Brand strategy, to the final fabric specification, we have made every effort to produce an exciting lounge experience that is hassle free and customer centric. We feel very lucky to play a role in this shift in airport lounges.

So we at Honour, say (with our thumb in the air) a big ‘YES’ to the democratisation of lounges. Let’s enable Economy passengers to have more memorable experiences at the airport!

Celine Hayman – Senior Interior Architect