Jet-Set Bohemian: Airport Lounge Lowdown

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Every so often I have a travel epiphany that is so simple, I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it sooner … like finally signing up for global entry and skipping those endless immigration lines or investing in Bose noise-canceling headphones. I recently had one of these aha! moments that felt like winning the golden ticket into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. It hit me as I stepped inside the Turkish Airlines CIP Lounge in Istanbul Ataturk Airport. In three hours, I had a gourmet Turkish lunch, caught part of an Eric Clapton concert in the cinema and read a few newspapers over a glass of whiskey, self-poured from the complimentary full-service bar cart in the corner—but I could’ve easily spent 12 hours here. That’s when I realized I could never sit gateside in this airport again after experiencing a taste of what’s lurking behind luxury airline lounges.

Open to

Turkish Airlines business-class passengers, Miles&Smiles Elite, Elite Plus cardholders and Star Alliance Gold members, the 32,000-square-foot CIP lounge – BusinessClass is just as exclusive as the guests who get in. Tucked away in the departures terminal, the two-level lounge (connected by spiral staircase) can serve up to 1,030 people at once and still not feel crowded. Chefs whip up Turkish and international fare next to a buffet spread with dishes like tabouli salad and Turkish ravioli. Once you’re in, you have carte blanche. This extends from the food to the bar carts filled with complimentary wine, beer and top-shelf spirits. If a midday whiskey isn’t your speed, you can always opt for traditional Turkish tea or coffee. After fueling up at one of the many dining spaces in atrium-like settings and under chandeliers, you can pass the time pre-flight with a round of virtual golf, have a massage, catch a flick in the reclining leather seats in the cinema (popcorn included) or play pool in the billiard room with bookshelf-lined walls looking straight out of an Assouline bookshop. The bathrooms were nicer than most of the ladies’ lounges at luxury hotels I’ve stayed, and there’s even an option to book a suite if you’d like to doze off in the privacy of your own room for a few hours.

Another great

spot to cozy up while you wait for the next leg of your trip is at the new Centurion Lounge at Miami International Airport (MIA) in Concourse D. If you have an American Express Platinum Card or if you’re a Centurion member, you hold the key to the club here and can bring along family members or two friends, while other AmEx cardholders can pay $50 for a one-day pass. American Express opened the 8,000-square-foot lounge in June, and it lives and breathes Miami culture from the wave-like design on the textural wall at the entrance to the Rock Paper Photo artwork in the lounge showing off images of Miami’s entertainment scene. One of the city’s culinary darlings, James Beard Award-wining Chef Michelle Bernstein (a.k.a. the mastermind behind Seagrape, CENA by Michy and Crumb on Parchment), crafted the local and seasonally themed menus that mix light bites like watermelon salad with her comfort food classics like fried chicken (which will make fans of her former spot, Michy’s, very happy). Another James Beard Award-winner is behind the bar program, mixologist Jim Meehan, who has options to kick off cocktail hour from 10:30 a.m. (it’s never too early to drink in Miami, or while waiting for a flight, right?) with city-inspired drinks like the Collins Avenue Collins, a blend of Hayman’s Old Tom Gin, Senior’s Curaçao of Curaçao, lemon juice and club soda, named after the famous South Beach street. As if a lounge could top quality cocktails and cuisine, the Centurion Lounge also offers manis and massages from exhale spa, the same spa nestled inside some of Miami’s top hotels like the EPIC and Loews Miami Beach Hotel.


JFK Clubhouse Photo: David Jones, CC-BY

While Miami

is a major gateway to the Caribbean and Latin America, JFK is a common connection for U.S. travelers en route to Europe, and not the most exciting spot to be stuck on a multiple-hour layover. Enter Virgin Atlantic’s solution: the JFK Clubhouse in Concourse A. Open to Virgin America First Class and Main Cabin passengers, as well as Elevate Gold members, a day pass is $75 for the lounge that looks just as 1970s chic as you’d expect from Virgin (gold lights on the ceiling, pod-shaped chairs, red bubble couches). The zigzagging bar winds through the lounge and serves up classic (complimentary) cocktails like Manhattans, and guests can order from the à la carte brasserie-style menu of salads, soups, pastas and burgers anywhere in the lounge. Sleeping spots take the shape of nooks carved out of the wool-lined walls with low lighting overhead, and while this is one aspect that is equal parts cool and extremely convenient, what’s even more impressive for beauty product junkies is the salon collab with luxe haircare line Bumble & Bumble.

Though some airline lounges require a first- or business-class ticket or elite membership status, others sell day passes that pretty much pay themselves with free Wi-Fi and food, such as American Admirals Club and Delta Sky Club.

I don’t lap in luxury at the lounge every time I travel, but during a long layover I’ve learned just how handy this can be and I’d much rather buy my way into one (or find a cardholder with lounge access to be my friend for the day) than worry about finding free Wi-Fi by the gate.

Top photo: Alan Cordova, CC-BY

Lane Nieset is Paste’s Jet-Set Bohemian columnist and a freelance writer covering all things travel from her home base in Nice, France.