This article was first published in the summer of 2019 as part of a 100 part series on the history of British Airways and its predecessor airlines, Imperial Airways, BOAC and BEA. You can browse the full series of 100 stories in numerical order, by theme or by decade.
For many passengers, the lounge before a flight is considered an essential part of the travel experience.
High quality decor, furnishings from leading designers, complimentary food and beverage, and often some very interesting people watching all help provide a welcome respite from the departure terminal.
There are many lounges in the world, such as the Qantas First Class lounges in Sydney, that are rightfully known as destinations in their own right.
BA does of course have large lounge complexes at London Gatwick, Heathrow and New York JFK, as well as many lounges around the world.
The 1980s and 1990s
In terms of how lounges first emerged and their form in the early days, there’s not much material of note.
Lounges in the 1980s were known as Executive Club lounges. It was in the 1990s that saw the start of real innovations.
In 1993, BA introduced its first arrivals lounge at London Heathrow. Whilst this is much valued by passengers arriving at Heathrow early in the morning, there are remarkably few arrivals lounges outside of Heathrow.
As part of a focus on the ground experience for Club Europe short-haul passengers in the mid-1990s, BA added a number lounges in Europe. Many such as Copenhagen, Dusseldorf and Munich have since closed.
As BA developed a very close working relationship with Qantas in the mid-1990s, it also opened a number of joint lounges in Asia, including Bangkok, Hong Kong and Singapore. As BA and Qantas have since gone their separate ways, they no longer share lounges, except in Los Angeles.
The “Terraces” Lounge Concept
Towards the late 1990s, BA introduced the “Terraces” concept for its business class lounges.
The idea behind these lounges was a number of designated zones that passengers could choose to use according to personal needs such as the Larder, World Wine Bar, Combiz Centre and the Sanctuary. Lounges also included garden furniture, water features and piped bird song with the aim of creating an open an airy feel, to the extent this can be achieved inside an airport. Although this format is now redundant you’ll still see traces of it at many airports, such as Newcastle.
First Class passengers and Executive Club Gold cardholders benefited from separate FIRST lounges.
BA also recruited Sir Terence Conran to design new Concorde rooms for passengers at London Heathrow Terminal 4 and New York JFK. These lounges featured many 20th century design classics such as Hoffmann Villa Gallia sofas, Eileen Grey Bibendum, Matthew Hilton Orwell and Balzac chairs and the Charles & Ray Eames lounge chair and office chair.
In 2001, BA also opened its Molton Brown Travel Spa (now operated by Elemis) at London Heathrow. As BA introduced its Club World “Sleeper Service”, pre-flight dining facilities were added to many US East Coast lounges.
The “Galleries” Lounge Concept
Ahead of BA’s move to Terminal 5 in 2008 came the “Galleries” concept. It made its debut in Brussels and Philadelphia.
The opening of Terminal 5 saw the introduction of a 8 new Galleries lounges across Terminals 3 and 5. Created by Davies Baron, the lounges include a Concorde Room for First Class passengers, 2 Galleries First lounges, 4 Galleries Club lounges, and an arrivals lounge. A promised lounge in Terminal 5C never materialised.
The lounges feature bespoke patterns designed by Osborne & Little and Swarovski chandeliers. BA also worked with Artwise to introduce many bespoke art works including Troika’s “Cloud” mechanical installation and “All The Time In The World” digital clock. Sadly, neither of these two installations are currently operational.
The fact that Heathrow lounges opened not even a year before the iPhone celebrated its first birthday certainly does show. Visit the lounges today and you’ll see banks of PCs that are now barely touched.
The Galleries lounge concept was later evolved by the design agency Graven.
At a time when brands were placing a much greater focus on provenance, lounges adopted a more bespoke design with art work and materials to reflect their location, such Edinburgh, Glasgow and Singapore (pictured below).
The “Futures” Lounge Concept
To today, BA is currently following out its new “Futures” lounge concept.
This features a more minimalist style, but with an emphasis on experiences and theatre such as tendered bars, brasseries, and craft beer and wine rooms.
BA is also expected to start refurbishing its Heathrow lounge complex in the coming years, where it has to be said it faces very strong competition from many airlines, including its own alliance partners Cathay Pacific and Qantas. Other lounges due to be refurbished in the coming years include Chicago and Manchester. The Oneworld alliance also due to open Oneworld branded lounges at airports where members do not have a sufficient presence to justify a lounge.