Somewhere between the ticket counter where you pay half your monthly rent to check your suitcase, the quarter mile-long line at security and the desk where they remind you that water is one of the most dangerous substances known to man, you probably stopped enjoying yourself during your last airport visit.
Even if you find a brief respite in an outpost of an acceptable chain of airport bars, you’re unlikely to walk onto your plane ready to write a five star review—unless, of course, you spend your preflight hours in the comfort of the transportation world’s equivalent of a VIP room: the airport lounge.
It’s true that many of the very best lounges in the world are reserved only for those carrying first class tickets. And those first class lounges could pass for five star hotels. They include perks like wood paneled cigar rooms and personal massage therapists. But others allow you to buy a day pass. And with that pass comes food, wifi, the possibility of a shower and often all the drinks you could want.
If you have a long layover, here are the best lounges worth splurging on for the most pleasant airport experience.
Delta Skyclub JFK Airport, New York City
Delta isn’t the flashiest airline—the coolest thing about flying on a Delta plane is probably the Biscoff cookies. But Delta’s lounge at New York’s JFK airport comes with a roof deck, and that just might make flying Delta worth it. The outdoor space is the big draw, but the Skyclub also has a full bar with a number of beers on draft, a wine list curated by Andrea Robinson (one of only 23 women to hold the title of master sommelier) and bartenders mixing up fresh cocktails.
Cost: $59 if you’re traveling on Delta
Alaska Airlines C Concourse, Seattle
Fans of Virgin America’s mood lighting and earworm of a safety video were probably unhappy when Alaska subsumed the hip airline. But the flagship lounge in Alaska Airlines’ home city might change their minds. The lounge is quite new—it opened in 2017—and while the decor and food are standard (except for Alaska’s famous pancake machine), the complimentary drinks are not. Like Alaska flights, the lounge includes drinks local to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest—both beer and liquor. There is also a wine list with full bottles available for $20.
Clubrooms Gatwick Airport, London
Gatwick isn’t as popular a destination as London’s Heathrow airport if you’re traveling from the United States. But if you are passing through Gatwick, the Clubrooms lounge is well worth the price of admission. The design is a step up from the typical Holiday Inn lobby interiors of most airport lounges. Unlike the stale bagel and dry cereal buffets at other lounges, the food, which you actually order from a server, includes items like poached salmon, chicken curry and eggs Benedict, and will make you feel like a real human being. And the drink menu has you covered from brunch cocktails to nightcaps with things like a Breakfast Martini, a Bellini and a wine list that is 16 bottles long.
Cost: £45 in advance, £50 day of ($59, $65)
Air France Business Lounge, Charles De Gaulle Airport, Paris
Air France has perhaps some of the best in-flight perks of any international airline, including well curated French wine lists and menus prepared by Michelin starred chefs. But the airline has done quite a bit on the ground as well. And while it’s not quite as glitzy as the first class La Premiere Lounge (menu by Alain Ducasse, anyone?), Air France’s newly reopened business lounge in Paris has a lot going on. There is a spa, complete with private saunas (if you can book them). The food is prepared in an open kitchen setting and is meant to mimic a French brasserie, and the cocktails are created by the head bartender of Paris’ Hotel Lancaster.
Cost: €45 ($53) if you're on a long haul flight and sign up as a member of Air France’s Flying Blue
SATS Premier Lounge, Changi Airport, Singapore
The late Anthony Bourdain said that the Singapore airport had the best food of any airport in the world and that carries over into the accessible lounges. The SATS lounge doesn’t require you fly any particular airline, which is helpful for easy access. The drinks are standard beer and wine but the food, while it is a self-serve buffet, evokes a Singapore night market with its noodles and steamed dumplings. The booths in the lounge also offer a bit of privacy, which you don’t get in a lot of standard lounges.
Salon VIP Jean Lesage Airport, Quebec City
This Quebec City lounge is a general admission lounge—it’s not affiliated with or sponsored by a specific airline—but it’s a step up from most of the unaffiliated lounges you’ll find around the world. It’s certainly cozier thanks to a large fireplace, but the drinks are better too. Typically it’s just the same two or three macro lagers (not naming names here) and some underwhelming wines. But in QC they stock some local beverages including a couple of Montreal beers and ice cider. The spirits aren’t bad either with bottles like Beefeater gin, Grey Goose vodka and Havana Club rum.
Cost: CA$38.50 ($30)