We’re traveling again, especially during the holiday season. But has anything changed in our experience of airports? What are the functions or spaces that can make that experience more personal, conveying a sense of location and welcome? Airport lounges are spaces of transformation, becoming less elitist and increasingly accessible for a wider public. Thanks to annual or day-by-day subscription formulas not depending on the airlines – such as Priority Pass, Lounge Buddy or PPL Pass Americas – they become facilities in which to engage in various activities. The greater accessibility stems from a shift in the typical user, now traveling mostly for pleasure – after the pandemic, in fact, business travel has substantially declined. The airport lounge therefore becomes a place to enjoy, not just a waiting room prior to a flight. This is discussed by travel journalist Elaine Glussac in an article for the New York Times, “The Democratization of Airport Lounges,” in which she interviews frequent flyers like Gary Leff, a blogger on the air travel website “View from the Wing”. The new democratic tone of these spaces is a question of “affordable luxury,” given the fact that 85% of air traffic covers economy class travelers – a decisive market demand that calls for a response. So the many can now enjoy at least a portion of the benefits and services that have usually been offered only to first class and business passengers.
Spaces for waiting and the genius loci
So the accent has shifted to settings with unique interior design, to convey a sense of location and identity. This is the case, for example, for the refurbishing of the departures area of Terminal 2G at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. The Chzon studio has added arches and fountains in reference to the city’s iconic monuments, bringing character to a typically functional airport zone. The rounded seating upholstered in dark blue and green links back to a Seventies aesthetic while offering a sense of privacy and intimacy in a space of 1300 square meters. For a more “domestic” feel, antique lamps and other decorative objects purchased at the flea market of Saint Ouen become parts of the décor.
References to Dutch culture and history can be seen in the VIP Centre of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, updated in a maximalist tone by Marcel Wanders. The lounge provides a sequence of rooms, each with different interior design, including a library, a cocktail bar and a smoking area. Trompe l'oeil and reproductions of famous Dutch paintings on the walls guide visitors to the Rijksmuseum. One of the guest areas, in blue and white, pays tribute to Delft pottery. In the lounge the furnishings have been orchestrated for different activities, from relaxation to business phone calls. “Arriving here is like taking a leap back in time […] in a pleasant escape where every room tells its own story,” Wanders explains.
The business lounge of Platov Airport, designed by Vox Architects, also reflects the particular features of the region. The colors and forms of the interior design set out to suggest the hilly local landscape, the high banks of the Don River and the shallows covered by canebrakes. Undulated partitions, permeable to light, are composed of golden grilles to bring privacy to spaces without breaking up the scenario, filling the whole space with warm light. It is a location that encourages suspension, relaxation, and in spite of the open layout the lounge conveys a sense of quiet welcome.
When services become an added value
Airport lounges enhance the experience of unique, well-designed spaces by offering premium but affordable services, even with special food and beverage selections, often formulated for rediscovery of local delicacies. Lounges become temporary co-working facilities or settings in which to linger, from breakfast to dinner, with access to newspapers, magazines and monitors through which to access personalized programming. Every room is organized to make an impression, not only in terms of style, but also due to its range of services. The Aviapartner StarAlliance Lounge at the Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Rome, designed by Up to You Studio, stimulates the discovery of Made in Italy, also for the furnishings, while offering innovative entertainment features that even include virtual reality devices.