Airport lounge access maximises your productivity and relaxation opportunities at the airport. Here are our top tips to get the most from the experience.
Picture by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
If you only fly once a year, then lounge access isn't really going to make much difference, and you could buy yourself a drink and a paper at the airport for less than the cost of admission. If you're travelling regularly for work, however, an airport lounge can make travel much more productive.
Lounge facilities vary widely depending on airline and location. We're quite spoiled in Australia; the facilities on offer in domestic lounges from both Qantas and Virgin are much better than what you'll find in other parts of the world in terms of space, power outlets and snacks. I've been in US airport lounges which look like badly damaged staff common rooms and everyone squabbles over disconnecting a lamp so you can get access to power, but even those have advantages. Here are 10 tactics to make your time in the lounge more valuable.
10. Take a shower
This is an often-neglected option in domestic lounges. A quick shower refreshes you for the flight ahead, and can be a more efficient use of your time if you're boarding an early morning flight than showering at home. The majority of domestic and international lounges offer shower options, though it always pays to check online if you're relying on the facility. (And even then there are no absolute guarantees: I once had to forego using the shower in Virgin's Melbourne lounge because the laundry delivery had failed to supply any towels.)
A related note: when in transit on international flights with a short turnaround time, you need to get to the lounge quickly if you want the chance to have a mid-flight shower, since it's a very popular choice. Remember to pack your deodorant, since that won't be supplied, and make sure you have it stowed in a clear sealable plastic bag so you can get it through security on international flights. For flight purposes, a stick is invariably a wiser choice than an aerosol, which may be too large for international flights and needs to be removed from your carry-on luggage on domestic legs.
9. Sample a new wine
At the end of an exhausting day, a refreshing (and free) drink can be just the thing. Most lounges offer drinks from around lunchtime onwards, though the exact circumstances vary. Overseas lounges can be less generous, with some US airlines offering a voucher for a single drink and then asking you to pay for subsequent ones. You shouldn't be downing endless schooners before boarding a flight, but that seems a little mean.
If drinks are on offer, don't automatically dive for your favourite beer; sample a new or different wine. It's a rare (and cost-free) opportunity to broaden your palate, discovering new grape varieties or wineries. Picture by Ed Clayton
8. Let someone else worry about boarding times
One of the less obvious luxuries of being in a lounge is that you won't be called until your flight is actually boarding. With delayed take-offs common, it's much nicer to wait in the lounge rather than lurk at a crowded gate where everyone is seeking updates.
I'm a hopelessly paranoid flier, and for a long time I would want to leave the lounge as soon as the listed boarding time passed. I've learned over the years that it's better to wait, and that 90 per cent of the time you won't get called until there's actually a plane ready to board.
This tactic can also be useful in overseas airports, though you need to adjust depending on the location. Many larger airports don't make airport-wide boarding announcements for every flight, since in practice those announcements would be virtually non-stop. However, what happens in the lounge varies.
Lounges that aren't overly busy (such as the One World lounges in Singapore) will announce their flights, which gives you a definite advantage in the lounge compared to general passengers. However, that won't always happen in the lounge if it's a major hub (such as Singapore Airlines in Singapore or British Airways at Heathrow), so you'll need to watch the time in those cases.
7. Get coffee quickly
Queues for coffee are often extensive in airports. That doesn't necessarily stop in the lounge: the line at the barista is usually long on early-morning flights. But at least the process is speedier because no-one is paying for their fix.
As a long black drinker, I usually head for the automated coffee machine rather than waiting in line. There's not an obvious difference with that particular drink, I get my caffeine quicker, and I don't make the queue longer for others.
6. Use the printer
Larger lounges offer access to computers and printers. Chances are if you're a regular traveller you'll have your own computer anyway (I often see kids using the ones in lounges I visit), but the ability to quickly print a document can be handy. I've used it for everything from airport bus tickets for my destination to long reports in PDF form to read on the plane to printing a quick killer sudoku to fill in the time before the seatbelt sign is turned off and I can fire up my gadgets. Picture by Kevin Cortopassi
5. Eat better food
Airport lounge food varies, but it's invariably better than what's going to get offered on the plane. You'll have a wider range of choices, and foodstuffs which are invariably inedible on the plane will become possible to contemplate (I'm thinking toast).
If you're travelling on a domestic airline which charges for meals (which is most of them these days), eating in the lounge also saves money and hassle on the flight. If you're looking for a particularly efficient approach, consider eating a quick meal in the lounge and then using your time on the plane to work.
4. Get a specific task done
Airline lounges are bustling locations, but they have one big advantage over your office: no-one knows who you are. If you hit the airport half-an-hour earlier than planned and switch your phone to silent, you can often power through a specific task which would take much longer in the office, where interruptions from colleagues are the norm and there's an expectation that you'll be available to help.
If you're booked on a mid-morning flight, skip going to the office altogether and head straight for the lounge. It gives you an opportunity to put time on your calendar for tasks that might otherwise get neglected.
3. Use the Wi-Fi
The performance of airport Wi-Fi differs dramatically. I sometimes feel like I've tested connection speeds in every airport in Australia, and the results really can vary dramatically. But even at the lowest speeds, connectivity makes it possible to get stuff done very effectively.
While this can be useful in domestic airports (especially in conjunction with tip #4), it really comes into its own when travelling overseas, where you're less likely to have a handy mobile broadband option as an alternative and don't want to pay high roaming fees. Make sure you ask at the check-in desk what the arrangements for Wi-Fi are. The majority of international airports I've been in recently use a password system to stop casual travellers from latching onto their broadband.
2. Chill out
Having highlighted all these possibilities for getting more done, it's worth making this point: you can't work every hour of the day. Relaxation time is just as important to your overall productivity. If you're exhausted or stressed out, spending time in the lounge not working can be a simple way to help recharge your batteries, even if you only take 15 minutes for it.
Grab a magazine you wouldn't normally read and relax over it. Take advantage of any spa options on offer. Follow tip #9 and try out a new wine. Plan for the leisure activities you're going to fit in at your destination, not the work tasks. Or just sit and stare into space. That's much easier in a quiet lounge than at a bustling departure gate, and your body will thank you for it. Picture by J Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images
1. Charge up your gadgets
The growth in use of mobile phones and notebook PCs means that getting the ability to recharge (literally) has become one of the principle attractions of an airport lounge. Newer lounges have power outlets liberally sprinkled around, and some also have dedicated mobile phone charging banks (useful if you've forgotten your charger). If you're in an overseas lounge and don't have a suitable adaptor, check at the desk: many will be happy to lend you one.
A few tips to make the most of airport recharging:
- In older lounges, especially overseas, power outlets can be at a premium. This is where travelling with a powerboard can still be handy, especially in destinations where other Aussies travel regularly. I've often found this helpful in Qantas' LAX lounges, which despite being built recently have nowhere near enough power recharging options. Being able to share a board with other power-craving types makes life easier for everyone.
- If that's not an option but there's only limited power, don't be greedy -- give others a chance to use the outlet as well, especially if there's an extensive delay.
- Check that the outlet is actually delivering power. If you're hoping to use your laptop on board and relying on lounge power to maximise what's on offer, it's a real pain to suddenly realise 10 minutes before your flight that you haven't actually been charging.
How do you use airport lounges to full advantage? Share your tips in the comments.
Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is a lounge lizard and he can't deny it. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.