In a departure from my customary practice of “each item gets its own review,” I am combining my visits to each lounge into one review. During the course of my journey, I stopped in the Avianca Lounge in Miami Airport, the Primeclass Lounge in Zurich, and the IASS Lounge in Tokyo Narita.
Why do I have access? My Hilton Honors Ascend Amex comes with Priority Pass Select membership at no additional cost, though I did have to opt-in. A select membership grants me ten free lounge visits per calendar year. Additional visits are US$27. The value (both monetary and comfort) of the free lounge visits on this trip has already come quite close to the annual fee.
Lounges have (essentially) four benefits:
- Complimentary refreshments – Do not overlook this, as a bottle of water, coffee, a small sandwich, and a salad/fruit can easily be US$20 or more. Throw in a couple of alcoholic drinks, and your wallet is taking a $40-50 hit.
- Seating, wifi, and power – this is the holy trinity of 21st century civilization, and one or more of these are frequently lacking in the main terminal.
- Peace and quiet – After getting rid of the rental car, dealing with a taxi/uber, getting up ungodly early, being abused by security, and other such joys of travel, having a chill-spot where you can feel the cortisol levels plummet really helps.
- Markedly better bathrooms – The vastly lower traffic versus the main terminal means that I am usually not worrying about what sort of hybridized super-hepatitis I am going to get from touching the faucet.
Avianca Lounge, Miami
After an early check-in, a client call, and mind-numbingly tedious security, I had a choice. At the J gates in MIA, Priority Pass allows members to use either the LATAM (Oneworld) or Avianca (Star Alliance) lounges, which are right next to each other. I opted for Avianca – largely based on the “logic” (loosely used) of “I am flying with Swiss, a Star carrier, so why not try the star lounge?”
This upcoming multi-continental flight wasn’t my first such marathon. By now, I know what to do and what not to do to minimize discomfort. I say “minimize discomfort,” as even up at the pointy end, I’ve been worn down excessively by overindulging in the bacchanalian quantities of champagne and food, which aggravates the effects of air travel (dehydration, air pressure effects on the intestines). So, my plan was to eat something light in the lounge and decline food in the air.
My arrival circa 5:15 pm found the lounge quite busy with Avianca passengers awaiting their flights. I opted against taking pictures, as the crowding made it seem almost like an invasion of the next table’s privacy. Despite being almost at its effective capacity (in terms of occupied seating), the staff deserve commendation for effectively maintaining a supply of food and beverages as well as clearing customers’ plates, glasses, etc.
Food options included a giant bowl of hummus (yaaaaas), fruit salad, mixed veggies, salad, chips, bread, chicken teriyaki, steamed rice, and sandwiches (cut up into bite-sized pieces on toothpicks). I opted for a piece of a turkey sandwich, a small bread roll, hummus, and fruit. Perfect.
Beverages included tea, an espresso/cappuccino/latte machine, various hard liquors (mid-shelf), wine (awful, the pinot noir sported a pronounced acetone flavor), domestic beer, and various soft drinks. I declined to finish the single small glass of wine I had poured in favor of herbal tea and water.
After about 6:15, the lounge cleared out with an Avianca flight. I was able to work on a proposal for the client I had called earlier, enjoy my dinner, and watch Return of the Jedi on a nearby TV. Well done, Avianca.
Summary: Despite the crowding if a flight is going out, it’s not a bad place to kill time. I was happy that there were some reasonably healthy and tasty food offerings. Bonus points for vintage Star Wars.
Primeclass Lounge, Zurich
After arriving at the E gates in ZRH (ie the non-Schengen area), I went straight to the Primeclass lounge. This one is a very new addition to ZRH and the Priority Pass portfolio. Other choices include two Aspire lounges and a Swiss Airlines lounge. After some research, this seemed like the best option.
You see, I really wanted a shower. I find a shower between flights to be very refreshing, and I imagine that my future seatmate on the next sector probably appreciates someone that is freshly washed as opposed to – stale.
When I checked into the lounge, the shower was being cleaned up. No problem. In the meantime, I decamped to the bar area, poured a glass of Evian water, and fixed a healthy breakfast plate of gummy bears. The lounge was immaculate, felt brand new, and was so lightly utilized that the servers/staff outnumbered the patrons.
Plane spotters will appreciate the outdoor seating, a luxury in airports.
I took a cup of Earl Grey out there, watching the planes do their thing, and enjoyed a beautiful Swiss spring day. Suddenly, I could see myself settling in Switzerland after bringing in some ill-gotten gains. (This is a joke)
By now, the cleaners had worked their magic and stocked the shower room with fresh towels. The room was a bit tight, but the cleanliness was irreproachable. As you would expect, I felt SO MUCH BETTER.
Afterwards, my stomach demanded something with a bit more nutrition than a dozen gummy bears, so I helped myself to a fruit cocktail and a piece of rye bread. The buffet also featured eggs, rosti potatoes, yogurt, and croissants. Everything appeared to be of decent quality.
Summary: Possibly the best offering in the E-gates (that isn’t a Swiss First Class lounge). The Swiss business lounge as well as the Aspire lounges have garnered mediocre reviews. If I recall correctly, the Aspire lounges don’t have bathrooms inside. The Primeclass lounge, with showers, restroom, and a nap room (if you have the time), blow the Aspire offerings out of the water on those grounds alone.
IASS Lounge, Narita
Having arrived in Narita and cleared immigration by 9 AM, I decided that there wasn’t much point going to my accommodation so early. Narita does have some lounges “landside” (ie before security) that welcome arriving passengers. Great. A coffee, some water, and somewhere to charge my phone merited burning one of my allotted ten visits.
Or did it? The IASS lounge only had tea, coffee, water, and a soda machine. Food was limited to a jar of (admittedly tasty) Japanese snack mix.
The lounge itself was more of a large living room with seats. With the minimal atmosphere, I was happy to be on my way after an hour of charging the phone, checking up on the news, and rehydrating.
Summary: Profoundly “meh,” but I accomplished what I came to do.