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Best airport lounges for a layover or delay: How to gain entry, what perks you’ll find

Stuck at the airport. Ugh. Whatever the reason — long layover, bad weather or an unexpected delay — and no matter how nice the terminal, you’re probably bored or tired. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have somewhere to escape the crowds, relax comfortably, charge your cellphone without battling for an electrical outlet and grab a bite that doesn’t take a chomp out of your wallet? Such a place exists: an airport lounge.

You don’t you need a membership, elite status, a first-class ticket or one of those fancy premium credit cards to gain entry. A number of lounges sell single-use day passes that are just the ticket for travelers with time to kill or in need of a quiet respite.

Once Spartan  spaces where harried frequent flyers could get a cup of coffee, make a phone call and read the newspaper, airport lounges have changed dramatically in the past decade, and are now nicely designed, comfortable spaces offering better food and worthwhile amenities.

“Airlines used to focus on the corporate traveler. Now across the industry, we’re seeing them invest in lounges to create a total experience for both the business and leisure traveler,” says Brett Catlin, managing director of alliances and product at Alaska Airlines, which is spending $40 million to build and renovate lounges across the United States. In addition to the U.S. airline-branded lounges, there are some operated independently, such as the Club Airport Lounge and Escape Lounge.

Want to enter the inner sanctum? Expect to pay $40 to $60 per person, typically at the door, for those operated by major U.S. carriers. (As of Nov. 15, Delta Air Lines discontinued the sale of single-visit passes to Delta Sky Clubs, and with the exception of Air Canada, Etihad Airways and Emirates, few international carriers sell day passes.)

You’ll be asked to show a government-issued ID and a boarding pass for same-day travel on the airline or a partner airline. These spaces are capacity-controlled; you may be denied entry if it is crowded with card-carrying members and other passengers entitled to club use.

Once inside, travelers often receive access to complimentary eats, ample workspace with high-speed internet, comfy spots to kick back, oodles of power outlets, private restrooms (where no one looks askance if you brush your teeth or change your clothes) and, in some lounges, a fully staffed travel desk.

That travel desk may be the most important. Airlines assign only their best-of-the-best gate agents to their lounges. So, if you miss a connection or your flight is canceled, you have an experienced airline pro acting as a concierge who knows all the tricks to get you rebooked.

If you know in advance that you’ll have a long layover during your travels, you may want to check out programs such as LoungeBuddy or Lounge Pass, in addition to the airline you are flying. These websites offer access to hundreds of lounges globally. Amenities and pricing vary by lounge — for example, some passes are only good for a few hours, or at limited times — and you may need to book at least 24 hours in advance, so read the fine print and plan accordingly.

Here are some lounge options and the services the airlines list:

ESCAPE LOUNGE

Lounge Escape Lounges offer a $40 day pass
Photo Credit: Eli Gross-Duckfat & Chorizo/Eli Gross-Duckfat & Chorizo

Locations: At airports including Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota; Oakland in California; Bradley in Connecticut; Reno-Tahoe in Nevada; Greenville-Spartanburg in South Carolina, and Ontario in California.

Day pass: $40 if you prepurchase, $45 at the door.

Amenities: Plenty of seating, quiet library area, full bar, business space, high-speed Wi-Fi.

On the menu: Food and beverage menu with complimentary lighter fare including cereals and pastries at breakfast, and sandwiches, salads and soups the rest of the day. You can also order heartier dishes from an extensive menu for an additional charges.

Little extras: Free use of iPads.

UNITED AIRLINES’ UNITED CLUB

A rendering of the United Airlines United Club
Photo Credit: United Airlines

Locations: More than 45 in 31 airports worldwide.

Day pass: $59.

Amenities: Beverages and light snacks, bar service, high-speed Wi-Fi, agent assistance with reservations, seat assignments and electronic ticketing.

On the menu: Pastries, bagels, salad bar, soups, fresh vegetables with dip. Larger lounges offer full breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets.

Little extras: Free use of color printers. Private “phone booths” with speakerphones at some locations.

If you love it: Purchase a membership within 30 days of purchasing a day pass and United will waive the $50 initiation fee.

HAWAIIAN AIRLINES PLUMERIA LOUNGE

Hawaiian Airlines Plumeria Lounge at Honolulu's Daniel K.
Photo Credit: Hawaiian Airlines

Locations: Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye Airport

Day pass: $40.

Amenities: Food and snacks, beverages (including wine and beer), high-speed Wi-Fi, USB charging stations.

On the menu: Limited buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pastries by La Tour Cafe. Craft beer from Maui Brewing Co.

Little extras: Wines selected by a master sommelier.

AMERICAN AIRLINES’ ADMIRALS CLUB

American Airlines Admirals Club Locations: 50+ Day pass:
Photo Credit: American Airlines

Locations: 50 plus worldwide  

Day pass: $59 (not available at airports in Charlotte, North Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Logan in Boston, and Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas because of construction that has limited seating).

Amenities: Lounge-style seating, high-speed Wi-Fi, personal travel assistance, snacks and beverages, shower suites and business centers.

On the menu: Breakfast might include hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal and cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagels. The afternoon finds soups, fresh salads, vegetables, hummus and cheese. Some clubs offer full meals for sale as well as premium cocktails.

Little extras: Fresh-brewed La Colombe coffee. Day-pass holders may be accompanied by up to three children under age 18 for no charge. 

THE CLUB AIRPORT LOUNGE

The Club airport lounges offer a day pass
Photo Credit: Airport Lounge Development/Airport Lounge Development

Locations: In U.S. airports, including Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson; Boston; Baltimore-WashingtonThurgood Marshall; Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky; Dallas-Fort Worth; Las Vegas’s McCarran; Orlando; Phoenix Sky Harbor; Pittsburgh; Seattle; and San Jose. In Britain at London’s Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

Day pass: $40.

Amenities: Snacks, bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, (including beer, wine and liquor), free Wi-Fi, charging ports, TV and workstations with desktop PCs. Some locations offer shower facilities.

Little extras: Unlike other airline lounges, the Club allows guests to get food from an airport restaurant and bring it in.

ALASKA AIRLINES’ ALASKA LOUNGE

Alaska's newest lounge at John F. Kennedy International
Photo Credit: Alaska Airlines

Locations: Seven airports, including Kennedy Airport in New York City, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon; Anchorage, and three in Seattle-Tacoma.

Day pass: $50.

Amenities: Food and snacks, beverages (including wine and beer), TVs, high-speed Wi-Fi, online access to newspapers, concierge service stations to help with last-minute upgrades.

On the menu: Steel-cut oatmeal, scones, bagels, a salad bar with breads, soups, veggies, hummus. Custom-crafted cocktails. Additional menu with fresh-made entrees such as a Korean rice bowl or chicken pesto panini for $8 to $10.

Little extras: Starbucks coffee prepared by professional baristas in some locations (Kennedy now, Seattle soon). Wide selection of local microbrews — 12 on tap in Seattle-Tacoma.

If you love it: Purchase a membership within 30 days of purchasing a day pass and Alaska Airlines will refund the cost of the day pass.

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