While the bulk of the travel experience is undoubtedly spent in the air, many airlines from across the world are acutely aware that the journey doesn’t begin at the aircraft door. The truly elite carriers understand that in order to differentiate themselves from the competition and target affluent travellers, they have to offer a complete premiere service from even before boarding of the aircraft begins. And the key to delivering a richer and more fulfilling experience lies with luxury lounges. After all, as everyone knows, first impressions are often the most lasting.
Offering the ‘complete experience’ has been the central focus of British Airways’ recent efforts towards revamping its service. In 2017, the carrier announced the investment of over $6.3bn (GBP 4.5bn) dedicated to enhancing its service offerings over the next five years.
While this substantial investment covered several areas across the airline’s operation, which includes the addition of 72 new aircraft, the introduction of Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as an investment of over $849m (GBP 600m) into enhancing the Club World sleep and catering proposition, improvement of the lounges was also a top priority.
Back in November 2017, BA unveiled the successful revamp of the Concorde Room at Heathrow Airport, a project that saw the refurbishment of the famed lounge exclusive to the airline’s First Class passengers. In addition to the re-upholstering of existing furniture and the introduction of new feature pieces, a number of improvements we were brought to the luxurious space.
This includes the incorporation of ochre silk linings inside the lounge, as well use of hand-blown glass lamps with bone line shades. Additionally, the popular terrace which overlooks the runaway has been updated with luxurious sofas and elegant loungers.
“Modern air travel incorporates so much more than just the time spent at 35,000 feet and as aviation leaders, it is important for us to understand what are the essentials and luxuries that our more discerning customers and business travellers look for as part of their travel experience,” comments a spokesperson from British Airways.
“As our customers fly more frequently today, they look for an efficient, hassle-free travel experience and an enhanced value proposition including more options to relax, dine and shop – all within proximity to each other.”
The spokesperson also shares that following the revamp of Concorde Room at Heathrow, the airline announced a multi-million-pound re-design for Concorde room at New York JFK Terminal 7.
“Drawing on the inspiration from new First Wing, the revamp in JFK will have a modern new check-in concourse with a separate Club World and First area, all designed to offer our customers privacy and an exclusive experience,” adds the spokesperson.
Of course, the airline is not solely dedicating resources towards its Concorde lounges. In fact, BA to date has 60 dedicated departure lounges, as well as an additional 90 partner lounges across the globe. In recent years, the carrier has revamped space in a number of key cities including Edinburgh, Cape Town, and Singapore, to name a few.
“Scheduled for 2018 is a refresh of our lounges in Aberdeen and Rome’s along with an expansion of our lounge in Geneva. Further investment has also been planned across our global network of lounges over the next few years including revamps across San Francisco, Johannesburg and Chicago and our other lounges at Heathrow,” explains BA’s spokesperson.
In the Middle East, one firm active in the fit out of airport luxury lounges is MEP and facilities management contractor Plafond. Incepted back in 2007, the company has since amounted an impressive portfolio that includes a handful of notable airport projects.
Examples include the refurbishment of Etihad Airways’ Terminal 1 First and Business Class Lounges at AUH, and fit out the Marhaba lounge in Concourse D of DXB, to name a few.
Plafond also carried works at the Etihad Airways’ USCBP Premium Lounge, a complex project as the USCBP building is operated by the United States Customs and Border Protection and thus was extremely restrictive.
“The airport is very particular and differs significantly to any other environment. The first main challenge is if the works are carried out whilst the overall airport is ‘airside’ or ‘land side’. Whilst both involve a high level of security, the former is much more complex than the latter particularly with regards to logistics and operations,” explains Dimitri Papakonstantinou, MD at Plafond.
“Accessing the area usually involves passing the taxiways, requires materials and operatives to pass security scanning with specific passes. Therefore, increasing labour requires meticulous planning as it cannot happen immediately.”
The managing director also noted that Gulf airlines are ever attempting to outdo each other in terms of what they offer their First and Business class passengers. As a result, the cost per m2 of space can potentially rise well above $2,700 (AED 10,000) per m2 due to the high-end materials and furniture, as specified by the project’s requirements.
The last few years have also seen an increased drive towards sustainability, and the use of materials that have a low impact on the surrounding environment.
“Both our DXB and AUH projects are LEED and ESTIDAMA compliant. This obviously has a direct consequence on materials that are specified and used, from the plywood used in the joinery to the carpets and wallpaper. As the drive to sustainability is a government directive, airlines, as well as other state-owned entities, are leading by example on this,” explains Papakonstantinou.
“A big focus has been placed on FSC timber, whereby the timber has been harvested sustainably. Further to this, however, other products such as certain gypsum board manufacturers, are leading the way in providing materials that are environmentally friendly.”
Plafond has also had some experience working on private terminal projects. One such project was Gama Aviation’s Sharjah FBO, which the company carried out the full fit out and MEP scope of works for the lounge.
Conducted over a three-month period, Papakonstantinou shares that the design of Gama Aviation’s lounge was quite contemporary and in certain aspects, less complex than the work carried out by the company at DXB and AUH. In particular, the managing director notes that the smaller lounge had a “fairly simpler approval and engineering process to some of the other lounges.”
Diving deeper into design behind Gama Aviation’s Sharjah FBO, AVB reached out to Almax Design, a Dubai-based boutique design studio involved in the creation and realisation of the lounge’s concept.
Following a two-month period for design submission and then another two months for implementation, the short timeframe of the project was certainly a key challenge for the team at Almax Design. Despite this, however, the end result speaks for itself.
“We wanted the lounge to express what Gama Aviation stands for and what they believe in — first class service and exclusivity,” shares a designer from Almax Design.
“Greeting them at the entrance, taking them to the lounge areas by taking the path that mimics the runway, where they can work or relax and allowing them to freshen up in the luxurious facilities, that is why this VIP terminal is equipped with state-of-the-art facilities that will infuse the sense of comfort and luxury.”