Around the World

Miles flown for stories
2015: 41,837
2014: 363,407
Total: 963,437

Visiting Virgin America’s “The Loft” at LAX

A nice big sign welcomes you to the Virgin America Loft

A nice big sign welcomes you to the Virgin America Loft – Photo: Mal Muir /

Virgin America has tried to differentiate themselves from all the others by providing a better product than others, not just in flight but on the ground as well. They have all but taken over Terminal 3 in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). When Alaska Airlines moved out of the terminal over to Terminal 6, it left a big empty space in the upstairs area at T3. This space was at one time the Alaska Airlines Boardroom, but as of early December, this is now Virgin America’s first airline lounge, known as “The Loft

Unlike most airline lounges, there is no memberships for sale; the lounge is open to anyone with a Virgin America ticket and a willingness to pay the entry fee of ($40). Not even the top tiers of Virgin America’s own frequent flier program, Elevate, get unlimited access (they get a few passes). Thankfully they do allow access to passengers who have Virgin Australia Velocity Gold & Platinum members free of charge (of which I am one coincidentally). It is also the lounge for those passengers who are flying Virgin Australia Business Class to Australia.

BONUS: Video tour of Virgin America’s The Loft at LAX

The lounge is located upstairs above the main terminal area, but unless you knew it was there, you would probably walk straight past it. If you did notice the sign directing you up the steps there is still a very non-descript doorway, which with the push of a button, you are allowed into a very modern and fashionable lobby. The dominating feature of this lobby is the glass partition with the engraved Virgin America aircraft (something that would look great on any AvGeeks wall).

Even though T3 was packed full of people, (thanks to the daily arrival of the international flights from the South Pacific and Asia and their connecting passengers) when I was visiting the lounge was nearly empty. This gave it a feeling of an oasis away from the mass.

As you leave the lobby behind the glass partition are the bathrooms (sadly no showers for those wanting a quick freshen up after a long day in the LA sun) and from there the lounge is divided into two main areas. To your left is the “TV room” with some very comfy, albeit unique looking seats in clusters around very low tables. To your right is the main lounge area and bar, with the a buffet connecting the two. As you would expect for an airline lounge in North America your snacks are free.

The TV Room area of the Loft

The TV Room area of the Loft – Photo: Mal Muir /

The spread for breakfast was a wonderful array of small pastries and muffins, cereals, breads for toast (and all the usual adornments such as peanut butter, jelly etc.) and even some cold bites like a smoked salmon bagel or a fruit salad wrap.

The lunch spread was also lovely with cold salads and wraps along with sushi and some cold meats and cheeses for a sandwich (with every condiment you could want). And if you want to plan ahead, you can check out The Loft’s food menu on Virgin America’s website.

Peckish?  Time for some Lunch!

Peckish? Time for some Lunch! – Photo: Mal Muir /

Pair that up with the fully staffed bar serving cocktails, beer on tap and also wines in lovely big stem less glass ware and you have yourself a great experience.

Feel like something on the softer side? There is also Espresso (with a choice of beans), the usual soft drinks and some lovely flavored ice water (lime and a pineapple strawberry combination on offer that day). Even a pair of binoculars adorns the bar to allow you to check out the Hollywood sign (though I know a number of AvGeeks who would use them to check out who is on the downwind leg for landing).

Binoculars provided to check out the Hollywood Sign, or that 747 on Downwind to 24R

Binoculars provided to check out the Hollywood Sign or that 747 on Downwind to 24R – Photo: Mal Muir /

One thing that does remain from the old Alaska Boardroom days is the floor to ceiling windows. In my opinion, they provide some of the best runway views available at LAX. With a straight view out onto the taxiway and the parallel north runways (24L & R), this is a prime location to sit back and enjoy the view with a drink or a snack. You don’t even need a great lens or set up to get good shots. A small point and shoot camera should get some nice close up shots of the heavies as they go past.

The seats in this area are comfortable & relaxing, combined with the free Wi-Fi, this could mean that long layover between flights is spent being as productive or as chilled as you desire.

For someone who has 4 or 5 hours to wait after an international connection or between flights in LAX, the Virgin America Loft seems like good value considering the price and all the inclusions on offer in the lounge. Your entry fee would easily be covered after a number of cocktails and some food at the usual terminal pricing (and of considerably better quality compared to a Burger King or Starbucks probably). For me though, those views are the sell, the rest is just a bonus!

This story written by…Malcolm Muir, Lead Correspondent. Mal is an Australian Avgeek now living and working in Seattle. With a passion for aircraft photography, traveling and the fun that combining the two can bring. Insights into the aviation world with a bit of a perspective thanks to working in the travel industry.@BigMalX | BigMal’s World | Photos

Tour of Air New Zealand’s Koru Club at LAX

The Koru Club at LAX offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

The Koru Club at LAX offers a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

First of all, I have to be honest and say that I have become a bit of a spoiled traveler. Before starting this blog, I rarely got to see the inside of an airline’s lounge. I thought they were just for the uber elite (either wealthy or status earners). Now, I realize that lounges aren’t this magical land that a rare few can access, they are something that almost anyone can get into (with a fee, of course).

On my recent flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to London’s Heathrow (LHR) (for Farnborough), my ticket did not give me club access. The problem was I had almost a six hour lay over at LAX (after flying in from Seattle) and I didn’t want to do it in Terminal 2 at LAX.

This became my temoporary office for a few hours in the Koru Lounge.

This became my temporary office for a few hours in the Koru Lounge.

Taking a look at what the Koru Club offered and knowing how great lounges can be, I was ready to pay the $55 for a day pass. Don’t get me wrong, I surely don’t have much money to throw around, but the idea of being able to spend a good chunk of my lay over (I arrived at LAX at 10:30am, but the lounge doesn’t open until 1pm), the $55 seemed like a good deal.

When you break down what it might cost to access internet at an airport, buying a meal or drinks, the $55 becomes a good deal quite quickly.

Luckily for my wallet, Air New Zealand reached out and asked if I would like access to check it out and prepare before my flight. Um…yes please.

There is a nice selection of food and drink options at Air New Zealand's LAX lounge.

There is a nice selection of food and drink options at Air New Zealand’s LAX lounge.

Access to the lounge is on the second floor of Terminal 2, past security. It is a lounge operated by Air New Zealand, but Virgin Australia customers are able to get access too.

Some lounges seem too fancy and I feel a bit out of place. Others feel pretty cheap and I would be embarrassed if I was the airline. The Koru Club is a lounge that is just right for my taste. It is not too large, has plenty of seating options, free Wi-Fi, showers, a decent selection of food and drinks.

The lounge offers a sandwich bar. Good thing -- I love sandwiches.

The lounge offers a sandwich bar. Good thing — I love sandwiches.

Another important quality I look for is great views of the airport. During my wait, I was able to spot so many different types of aircraft — MD-11, A380, Boeing 747 — it was eye candy for sure.

As with most places around an airport, I wish they had more power outlets. The four place table, where I spent the majority of my time, only had two outlets and I used both of them the entire time (luckily no one else came to sit down).



Touring ANA’s Three Lounges at Haneda Airport in Tokyo

The sitting area of ANA's Business Class Lounge at Haneda International Terminal. Click for larger.

The sitting area of ANA's Business Class Lounge at Haneda International Terminal. Click for larger.

Having one airline lounge is pretty sweet. However why only have one when you can have three all located in one terminal? All Nippon Airways (ANA) has three different lounges in the new International Terminal at Haneda Airport (HND) and each one is a bit different.

The first lounge I explored was their Business Class Lounge located after security. The lounge was quite large, very clean and futuristic looking and great views of planes.

Next door to the Business Class Lounge you will find the First Class Lounge. While walking over I joked with the ANA folks that the Business Class Lounge would be hard to beat, but I think they did it. The first class lounge feels a bit darker with a lot of black being used, but makes up for it with having a lot of personal space. The lounge is quite a bit smaller, but has cooler seating. You have the ability to sit in some futuristic looking chairs or in your own little cubical-like space (photo).

ANA's First Class Lounge at the Haneda International Terminal is very impressive with their fancy seating.

ANA's First Class Lounge at the Haneda International Terminal is very impressive with their fancy seating.

The third lounge is the smallest and has the smallest “wow” factor. It is located outside of security and is the arrival lounge (photo). It is a good place to take a quick shower, check your email or even charge your phone with their nifty free phone charging machine (photo). Actually all three lounges have access to showers (photo), which can be very helpful if you had a long day of travel and you are heading right to your meeting.

Since international flights will only be allowed to arrive at HND between midnight and 5am, the arrival lounge is also handy if you won’t get access to your hotel until later in the day.

Unlike some other airline lounges you need a Business or First Class ticket to get access; you can’t buy a day pass. But you don’t need just an ANA ticket, any Star Alliance premium ticket can get you access.

If you don’t have a premium ticket, you still can get access to the international terminal’s public lounge which is not connected to any airline (photo). You are able to buy a pass for only about $12. It is not nearly as fancy as ANA’s lounges, but for $12, you can’t go wrong!


Disclaimer: ANA gave me and other invited guests free access to all three lounges to check them out.

Taking a Look at an Airline Lounge PART 3: Working as an Alaska Airlines Concierge

I am ready to rock and roll out side of Alaska Airlines Board Room at SEA.

I am ready to rock and roll out side of Alaska Airlines Board Room at SEA.

In Part 1 I looked at airline lounges as a whole and what they can provide passengers. Then in Part 2 I explored what it is like to be a passenger at Alaska Airline’s Board Room. Today we will see what it takes to provide that high level of service to passengers in an airline’s lounge. What better way to do this then roll up my sleeves, put on a suit and work as a concierge at Alaska’s Board Room at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).

It starts with an early arrival. Luckily they let me sleep in and I didn’t have to be at SEA until 6:30am. The Alaska Airlines Board Room opens at 5:00am, meaning employees will start arriving at 4:30am… yikes!

There aren’t too many jobs where you have to take off your shoes and go through a TSA scanner, but many airline and airport employees get the privilege of doing this daily. By the time I arrived, the security line was already long, but since I was being escorted by an Alaska employee, we got to go to the front of the line… booya, I need to do that more often! Then it is just a short walk to Alaska Airline’s boardroom which is located between the C and D concourses.

Mmmmm...automatic pancake maker. I want one.

Mmmmm...automatic pancake maker. I want one.

I was assigned to follow concierge veteran Gina who was to show me the ropes. I was excited to see what it takes to do her job and learn a bit more about Alaska’s Board Room. In the passenger areas, the Board Room is pretty quiet that early in the morning, but behind the scenes things are very much in motion.  Around 7-8am the Board Room sees a huge rush and when I arrived it was all about getting things ready  for the rush, while taking care of the customers that were already there. There was no relaxing; wine tasting or good food for me, like in my previous visit, because this time it was all about business.

A big part of the job involves connecting with customers. Many times the concierge will know the names and stories of regular customers. This morning there was a regular customer of Gina’s in the lounge of the Board Room with his family. Even though Gina had never met his family before (it is normally just him flying), she knew about his sons and wife from stories the passenger has told her, which was quite impressive. The family was supposed to be leaving on a flight to San Francisco, but due to fog there, it was delayed. Now, it was our job to help make their delay as easy to deal with as possible.

It was early, but there were a lot of requests for bloody marys!

It was early, but there were a lot of requests for bloody marys!

The first thing to help out was getting the pancake maker up and running. This is probably one of the coolest things I have seen in an airline lounge. Press a button and the machine makes a nice, hot double stack for you. The only bad thing was I was working, so no pancakes for me, however the passengers (especially the kids) love it.

The concierge job is multi-faceted and to be successful, you have to be able to multi-task. These are just some of the duties they must perform on a daily basis: passenger relations, greeter, food prep,  bartender, cleaner, dishwasher, ticket agent, hospitality, cashier, stocker, sales person, and of course pancake machine setter-upper. One of the nice things for the employees is they are constantly rotating positions. A person might do a few hours down at the front desk checking people in, selling memberships and assisting with flight/seat changes, then they will do a few hours in the upstairs bar serving drinks and preparing for the next round of food service. This helps employees from getting bored and knowing all aspects of the board room. One of their biggest duties involves being a problem solver. Whether a passenger needs a package shipped or a hot drink, a concierge are going to help get it done.

The front desk is where you get to welcome new passengers and wish others a good flight.

The front desk is where you get to welcome new passengers and wish others a good flight.

The job is not easy, but sure is a lot of fun. Everyone I talked to there (on and off record) absolutely loves their jobs. They get to work with people, see airplanes out the windows (not sure if that part is a benefit to most of them) and get awesome job perks, like free flights. I have talked to a lot of flight attendants who say they have the best job in the world, but I wonder if airline lounge workers might have a leg up. Unlike flight attendants, they aren’t stuck in an airplane with a customer. If one gets too rowdy, they are able to call security or maybe take a walk to calm down. However, it is rare for passengers to misbehave in the Board Room.

Alaska sees about 40,000 passengers per month go through their SEA Board Room… that is a lot of people, but the employees there are always up for the challenge. If you have the extra funds, the cost of admission to Alaska Airlines or other airline lounges become very worth it. Even if you don’t have the funds, spoil yourself sometime and splurge $40 for a day pass next time your flight is delayed, I am guessing it will be worth it!

A Day In The Life Of…A Board Room Concierge

A special thanks to Gina and all the Alaska Airlines Board Room Staff for showing me your world and letting me slow you down a bit :).