I’ve been through many lounges, and a big “red flag” for me is whether I’m about to step foot into a contracted lounge instead of one run by an airline itself. Being a oneworld alliance guy at a non-hub outstation like Hamburg, it could have been like being stranded in a desert, parched and wanting of nourishment. On top of that, I was flying Air Berlin, which isn’t usually among the first three or four airlines one thinks of in terms of quality oneworld lounging. Was I going to have to kill some time [like a savage – too much snark?] or [perusing duty-free items] in the main terminal area, or would I be pleasantly surprised…
While Lufthansa and Emirates have lounges for their customers, HAM operates its own premium lounge, which contracts with most of the other carriers across alliances, as well as being the lounge for a few membership services. I was granted entry by virtue of flying Air Berlin, a oneworld member, as a mid-tier Platinum flyer with American Airlines, the equivalent to oneworld Sapphire status. It’s worth noting that Air Berlin also maintains an “Exclusive Waiting Area” for its own elites and that of Etihad Airways Partners. Though admission is more restrictive, the area itself is really just a glorified waiting room with some beverages and reading material.
Simply called the Airport Lounge, HAM’s lounge space is located on the upper level in the central Airport Plaza, and is open from 5:15 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. everyday. Check-in was relatively easy, with the agents having reference charts to determine access eligibility for all the airlines. Though third-party contract lounges are many times excluded from access based on alliance status, I had no problems entering, neither did the British Airways passengers ahead of me also entering on their American status.
The Airport Lounge has an “open-air” terrace design that puts you right up near the rafters of the high terminal ceiling. Plenty of seating throughout the space, which was adeptly sectioned by strategically-placed dividers and furnishings, so that you did not feel like you were in one big room. The lighting was muted which created a more relaxed ambiance, definitely appreciated for my early morning departure. As the lounge was for all sorts of passengers of many different airlines, there were definitely some interesting “cultural clashes” but the lounge was large enough so that everyone could spread out into their own semi-private areas. One of my “must-haves” for a proper lounge is dedicated restroom facilities, and HAM delivers, along with two showers available for patrons.
A very decent continental breakfast spread was available early in the morning. Various breakfast pastries, breads, cold-cuts, fresh fruit, yogurt, and cereals were available, along with an automatic espresso machine, juices, and soda fountain. Also, the beer was free-flowing for those waiting to partake.
The star of the show, however, was the automatic soup machine (disclosure: this author has a great affinity for soup). Place a bowl under the dispenser, push the button for your selection (cream of mushroom, cream of asparagus, and tomato bisque were the options that morning), and a hot, steaming bowl of soup was ready in just a few seconds.
Now, the soup very likely was just powder mixed with hot water, and it wasn’t amazing, but still was good, tasting like a soup served in any given airport lounge. The soup was 3.5 out of 5 stars, but the novelty factor was at a full 5 stars. I had two bowls (for science, of course), and the mushroom soup was the winner over asparagus.
With so many different airline departures, flight announcements were not made over the PA system, which I appreciated, since there was already a little bit of ambient noise coming from the terminal area below. On the flip side of the coin, you do have to be aware of your own departure time; there are flight info screens throughout the lounge to check the status of your flight.
Overall, I was impressed with how Hamburg Airport executed its lounge and made my travels that day so much more pleasant, especially because a change in plans had me leaving nine hours earlier than originally planned. So many airports and contractors manage to ruin their lounges, and HAM was able to pull off an impressive space that’s on par to what’s offered at airlines’ home hubs… a solid enhancement to the passenger experience quotient.
It could have been much worse…