In this journal:
- a horse that is a lamp;
- 7 dinners in one day;
- 4 lounges hopping because why not.
[15 MIN/SHORT READ]
This is a part of a round-trip between Barcelona and Shanghai, for more information, please infer to the inroducion section of my last part.
My flight from Barcelona landed in Terminal 3, where most of the British Airways short haul flights depart. My flight to Shanghai would leave from Terminal 5, which schedules their long haul flights mostly. Yet, since I had more than 8 hours to waste in Heathrow for my transfer, I decided to stay in Terminal 3. Transit security told me I was at the wrong terminal, but he gladly let me through the transit check when I explained my purpose to remain here.
Qantas Business Lounge Heathrow T3
What is the purpose, you may ask. Well, for someone who had never experienced the premium side of Heathrow, I vowed to fill in the void, all in once. I would pay visits to as many OneWorld lounges as I possibly could here by hopping through every single lounge I had access to with my business class ticket to Shanghai, and that began with Qantas’s business class lounge.
I walked into the deserted lounge, after being welcomed by the agent. It was not the time for Qantas flights yet, so I was one of the very few guests in this gorgeous 2-story lounge. What welcomed me first upon entry is a long, well-illuminated bar area. This is one of the most beautiful decors I had seen in any business class lounge, and honestly it seemed better than the first class lounge Qantas had in Los Angeles.
The bottom floor is completely occupied by dining tables laid out in a restaurant fashion, complete with table cloth and wine glasses. I took a quick look at the menu, which seems to feature some of the good ol’favorites from Qantas, such as their world-famous salt and pepper squid. There was also a complete selection of alcoholic beverages and some carbonated drinks. Yet I had no time to dwell, and headed up the simple yet elegant stairs for the second floor: I learned from previous lounge hopping experiences that my stomach actually has a capacity limit. Shocking, right?
The scenery on the second floor is just great. For a business class lounge, it was perfect. A large round bar sits right at the access point, manned by a sleekly dressed bartender. He is the person you go for if you want some freshly whipped up coffee, or a nice glass of gin and tonic. Right behind him sat a row of windows, facing a few parking spots of Terminal 3.
There is also a few shower rooms with 1 attendant, who diligently cleans every single corner of the space with laser-focused precision. Sadly I had just finished a shower before my flight from Barcelona, so I declined her invitation.
Yes, the view is not exactly the best as the lounge faces a rather uninteresting side of the airport, but at least that beats out the unimaginative view of duty free shops in a lot of lounges. (looking at you, Qantas first class lounge in Los Angeles) Two individual sofa-working pods faced the windows, and that was about it. On the other side of the staircase sat a few different options, such as work stations and dining tables.
This is also where the buffet sits. Honestly, the spread is not impressive at all. A few options for cold dishes, a lamb curry, and a few hot carbs, that was about it. Nothing exceptional and it gave more of a Sunday golf club meetup buffet vibe than actually business class style. The display was not bad, actually, and the presentation is at least elegant. Yet for someone who grew up in the battlefields of Chinese buffets, the variety is woefully underwhelming.
There is a fancy selection of flavored water, topped off with a few options for fruits. But other than that, the lounge has run out of dazzling points worth mentioning. I believe this is a sufficient business class lounge with great dining, good design, average seating, and mediocre view. I guess it would not be a proper experience without sitting down and enjoying a la carte options, but honestly I was not ready for that kind of committment yet. It was time for me to move on to the next lounge and check out how I can abuse my priviledges, more.
British Airways Galleries Lounge Heathrow T3
Just a few steps down the Qantas lounge is the British Airways Galleries Lounge. It is the main lounge of this terminal, able to accommodate nearly 400 guests at the same time. Yet its flaws are obvious from this statistics: crowding.
The entrance is a dull grey carpeted tunnel resembling Toys’R Us headquarter 2 days before it went belly-up, where left leads to first class lounge and straight means business class bougeouisie area. The agent checked my ticket and informed me I could go to the lounge in Terminal 5:”it is better there.” He said.
“I know.” I winked.
Of course, being a first timer lounge hopping in Heathrow, how could I even know? But just like a lot of things in 21st century, I needed to lie about my knowledge in order to actually learn: I will see the difference when I can experience first-hand myself.
Yeah, no sugar coating: it is not very good. The ceiling is claustrophobically low, and there seemed to always have a crowd, so finding a good seat for me to drop my bag was rather difficult. It is quite deep, with large connection areas leading from one section to the next, each greyer than the previous one. Passing the entrance was the above dining area, which features a buffet with a handful of options, including the famous BA lounge “chilli con carne”.
Next to the hot foods were the uninspired cold option section. A few varieties of sandwiches and a salad mix seemed to be the solution to everyone’s calorie demand. To think that the phrase “business class” can still conjure up the sense of luxury in a lot of commonfolk is almost laughably sad, yet British Airways just made it even funnier.
Next large room is divided into the sofas to one side, and a business section on the other. Yet the high bar chairs were the least popular option, since who wanted to relax in a chair that would cause back pain? The computer seats also lacked privacy significantly, (elbow war in a business class lounge? no thanks.) so even though there was a bit of crowding in other areas, this place was rather deserted.
Finally, past all the rooms was the bar room, which features a few nice options for resting in this lounge so that it would not become a complete failure. The stunner is the central piece of decoration that drools down from the semi-circular lighting fixture, over the chilled alcohol selections. Inexplicably, there was a row of chairs on the bar itself, which would make anyone sitting on it completely exposed for absolutely no reason other than being a nuisance. There are some divider barriers set up around the seating area, which made it a perfect place for a handful of passengers to grab three sofa chairs and make a bed out of it.
Cathay Pacific Business Class Lounge Heathrow T3
I left the British Airways lounge without looking back, as it did not look like a place where I wanted to stay, and headed straight for Cathay Pacific’s lounge nearby. I have loved the new designs of their lounges everywhere, so I was excited to see how Cathay Pacific’s new lounge concept was implemented it here in Heathrow. The lounge is divided into a first class and a business class section, and sadly I only had access to the business area, which is still a nice treat.
Surely it did not disappoint. The color of the lighting, darker seats, and all wooden trimmings made the lounge feel like home, a complete contrast with the dying-corporate ambiance just a few doors down in the British Airways lounge. A large bar complete with beers on tap, and a full collection of drinks, were complemented by the row of cozy sofa pods helping solitude-seekers peek outside the window while enjoying luxury.
Sadly, the tarmac view is not exactly fancy, but it would do given the myriad of attractive conveniences featured on this side of the window. At the very end of the lounge hid the well-barricated technology room, with workstations and a printer, offering maximum privacy for people wishing to browse the internet without getting their search history exposed.
A bit closer to the entrance was the dining area, which is divided into 4-person sofa seatings for half of the space, and 2-people restaurant seatings for the other half. It is practical, cozy and luxurious, just the way I like it.
Right opposite of the seats is the beautiful dim sum bar, a Cathay Pacific signature. Here, the options are not as varied as the Deck in Hong Kong, but still impressive. You have a few options of noodles to choose from, such as the classic wonton-noodle, a Malaysian laksa, and the strangely out-of-place fried rice. Additionally, the dim sums cannot be ordered individually here, so you have to go for a basket for one person.
Next to the dining section is what I believe to be the most beautiful part of the lounge, and partially it is because the place is surrounded by food. A long table creates the feeling of a community, and a full spread of cold and hot food is available as a buffet. If you do not mind the coffee machine and the selection of fresh fruits, then the curry, cold cuts, Chinese stir fries, iridescent salad bar, and a basket full of peri peri chicken wings should have you hooked completely.
This is also just a small part of the beauty. Given its classy yet minimalistic design, this lounge benefitted greatly from not having too much light painting broad strokes of white everywhere, but giving spotlights to the features that truly deserve attention. A large fridge is one of such highlights, as it has not only the standard drinks, but a fresh collection of cheese slices, juices and even more prepared healthy foods, as well as a small assortment of desserts. Honestly they did not have to do that, as just this section already has more food than the entirity of the British Airways lounge, and they have a full dim sum bar to go on top of that, but this is the way we Asians overachieve, and that is why I will keep coming back.
I grabbed myself some nice cold cuts, salad, and a ton of chicken wings, before settling down in the dining area with my freshly made dim sum and wonton-noodle. Food wise, this is absolutely unbeatable in business class setting, as I think even the Qantas menu cannot top the variety Cathay Pacific offers. Additionally, I am just a sucker for Chinese food, the only soothing tone for my Chinese stomach. I spent most of my time just looking around the lounge, and simply enjoying the vibes of this modern yet timeless space. Honestly, amongst all the lounge designs out there, I think Cathay Pacific’s is the best.
I took one last round of looks in the lounge, and checked out the bathroom. It was absolutely spotless, showing great care put into the lounge by staff who were clearly passionate about their jobs. Sadly the clock was ticking, and I had to go. Terminal 5 is practically a planetary system away on European standards, so I gotta hurry.
British Airways Galleries Lounge Heathrow T5
Unbeknownst to me, it is actually possible to exit the secured area of the terminal again before boarding the transit-passenger-only bus to Terminal 5, even though not a single person I have read online had attempted to do so. The security persons at T3 just checked my boarding pass and let me out of a secret door without asking too much, and I was joining the crowd just disembarked from a flight and transferring to another terminal. It took a solid 10 minutes for me to ride to T5 on the bus, but I was approaching the gigantic T5 south British Airways Lounge quickly.
This will be the last lounge I could visit, so I better make it worth my money. Heathrow T5 is known to be ridiculous, with three zones connected by a train system. All lounges are located on the main section T5A, which is further divided into north and south. The main lounges are located in one single set of floors in the south section. Above the escalator, you will first see the first class lounge and the Concorde Room, which I would have access to once I return with my first class ticket in the ensuing part. This time, however, I only had the business class lounge on the top floor.
On the hallways between the escalator rides, sat a gigantic A380 chocolate model, which was absolutely fabulous. This was a collaboration between a chocolate artisan shop and British Airways, so this entire edible bird was handcrafed using hand and pure chocolate. Screw my flight, I want this one!
Then I entered the lounge, which was about the time that things started to take a rather bleak turn. The lounge here is not too much better than the one in T3, and honestly I could not care less about the slight improvements given the crowding issue. Most of the places were rather crowded, and I could not find one single seat that would allow me to work on my lap top without elbowing a crying baby, if you do not count the large communal dining tables I ended up sitting at.
The decor is slightly better, but the openess of the lounge greatly diminished its luxury feelings. Huge corridors were always bustling with caterers, lost children, frantic moms, old folks rolling down in wheelchairs, cleaning staff, and people hauling literally 7 plates of food that they surely would never be able to finish. There was no privacy partitions, or cubicles, so whatever you do, you better be ready to share it with people from all 6 inhabited continents that British Airways flies to. Large walls of wines also decorate this place, just like the one in T3, but this one is much bigger, almost like a tasteless billionaire’s gym where he engages in unprotected coitus with his 4th French maid every Thursday.
One nice thing about this lounge is that there is a specific office dedicated for customer service inside the lounge, given the humungous size of this area, probably full of BA’s most precious customers. I can imagine it being a very useful tool when there are irregular operations or when you wish to get help from more senior staff. I think more airlines should have it at their flagship lounges, otherwise I would get pretty frustrated with the lack of attention I can obtain in the case of emergencies.
Let’s take a look at the food offerings. Honestly there is little to nothing to brag about. Large jugs of juices, sodas, and flavored waters make up the majority of non-alcoholic offers. I have always wondered why British Airways never came up with their own non-alcoholic signature drink, or offer something like a classic ice-tea in the lounges. But hey, as an ice-tea lover, I may be severely biased.
Honestly, most things are just…fine. The items are okay quality, but the presentation just exudes the sense of trashiness to me, as if someone raided a Walmart in western Detroit and profiteered the stolen goods by selling them to BA. Look at those jars of juices sitting like urine and stool samples freshly harvested from a patient whose liver had just ceased functioning. Look at the giant pots of food made by a homeless grandma whose Parkinson’s kicked in a bit too early. Yeah, I appreciate the halfhearted attempt and souless attention poured into the design and execution, but it is just naturally unappealing, like my face. Look at Cathay Pacific’s presentation, and now look at this, you can see the difference between an actual care put into the airline and a fleshless corporation walking while absorbing gold telekinetically. BA lacks a spirit, a moral compass, since it is a publicly traded company, because everyone deemed it so, ranging from its shareholders, to its CEO, to the cleaning staff, and us the passengers.
Business class, to British Airways, is just economy with a higher profit margin and a basic list of amenities to check off. This is just disheartening. Many take business class in order to not be treated as cattle, but honestly you are just one of millions the airlines transport every day, instead of billions the airlines move in economy, so honestly it does not make much of a difference.
However, I will give it to BA for those awesome old posters dotted everywhere in the lounge. This is probably my favorite part of the lounge as it pays attention to the long history of the airline, even though just a few meters away a grown man was brawling with an 8-year-old boy about the meatballs covered in cheap sauce sourced from the nearest dumpster. Kinda ruins the long history of the “Airline of the empire”, doesn’t it?
Finally, it was boarding time. I hurried down the escalators without looking back: there ain’t much worth doing so. I boarded the train that was jam packed with people, and made it to the boarding gate just as it was closing. I truly maximized my time in Heathrow with a 4-lounge hopping experience, so I was not disappointed at all. Qantas lounge was visually stunning, and Cathay Pacific was as excellent as ever. British Airways…uhhh, it is maybe too corporate, expanded, and inhuman for its own good. With its constant downward spiral in lackluster business class seats and service, lounge offering, customer care, and mileage program, what can I even say except through my only expressive chanel: memes?