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The Sad Reality of "Premium" Airport Lounges

As part of the benefits of a fancy new credit card I got recently, I now have access to hundreds of lounges at airports throughout the world. When I got my airport lounge access card in the mail, I thought to myself, "now I've arrived!"

I've been flying for most of my life, always the cheapest class and never with any of the frills. In my imagination, particularly after a particularly brutal series of flights, I would fantasize what it would be like to fly business class and to have access to all the perks. I dreamed of fancy airport lounges with comfy lounge chairs, delicious food and drinks, fast wifi access, even a spa or a massage thrown in. It seemed like a totally different kind of travel, far beyond the rough-and-tumble experience of flying coach.

Now that I've got access to airport lounges, I've realized something unexpected -- they are kind of terrible. 

A Buffet of Sadness

Airport lounge food

The free food and drinks varies from mediocre to terrible. If I had thought about it for a few seconds that would be obvious. It's a buffet spread that sits out for hours waiting for passengers to swoop in on it. It just can't be that good by its nature.

There's typically a pathetic salad bar featuring pasta salad, a bean salad, perhaps some broccoli and celery. Some hard rolls and doughy pastries sit in a basket. Sandwiches with suspect looking meat and cheese are piled on trays. A couple of hot entrees sit in buffet warmers -- beef stew, generic pasta, chewy slices of roast beef in gravy. It's just a festival of sadness.

The urge to over-eat is nearly irresistible, at least for me. I can abstain from getting a sad airport pastry if you charge me $5 for it. But if it's free, it's nearly impossible for me to say no. 

Luckily, I hardly drink alcohol at all, or the free wine and beer would be a problem. As it is, I always get a crappy espresso from the coffee machine all the lounges have installed.

The Upsell

Many of the lounges I saw have some kind of upsell. You might have free food and drink, but if you want to access the spa, it will cost you $20. A shower will cost you $15. Mixed drinks or freshly prepared food might also cost you.

Or you might have access to the "regular" airport lounge, but there's an even fancier one that only the truly special people have access to. You might be better than the plebes sitting in plastic chairs, but you still feel unsatisfied knowing that there's someplace better just beyond a set of doors.

The fanciness you feel sitting in the airport lounges evaporates a bit when you realize there's something better.

The People

Crowded lounge

But honestly the worst part of being in airport lounges is the people. Business dudes talking too loudly on their cell phones. Families with their spoiled brat children making a mess. Sad solo travelers drinking too much free wine and spirits, while they flip through their phones. 

Everyone is just a slob. They grab huge plates of food and only eat a few bites of everything, then leave a mess for the staff to clean up. The floor is littered with chip bags, cookie crumbs, and other detritus.

The staff who have to work in these lounges look tired and beat down. I have a hard time imagining a service job dealing with a more entitled clientele. 

I'm not saying that the people who are in airport lounges are terrible people. I'm saying that being in an airport lounge brings out the more negative tendencies in people -- greed, selfishness, gluttony, sloppiness.

At the end of the day, I am grateful that I have access to this tiny bit of luxury. Flying is often terribly uncomfortable and annoying. Having a few extra perks makes it much more bearable. I will gladly take a comfy couch, free wifi, a macchiato, and a cheese sandwich before my long flight.  

But along with it comes a dispiriting view of humanity that I had not expected. It makes my espresso taste a bit more bitter.

Then again, I've only been to a handful of airport lounges. Am I missing something? Are there better ones out there that you love?

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