Onboard hospitality… on the ground

Lounging around

December 21, 2016

Earlier this year, Onboard Hospitality spotted a trend for airlines emulating hotels rather than other carriers and now we also note the gradual merging of the onboard and on-ground hospitality offer.

Witness Etihad, with its Savoy-trained butlers and Michelin-star chefs – and now Cathay Pacific too, appears to have taken inspiration from a luxury hotel and created a place which is less of an in-between land and more of a place to actually lounge and linger!

Cathay unveiled its First and Business lounges at Heathrow Terminal 3 this December and I went along to inspect the new concept – truly an extension of the carrier’s onboard brand philosophy, ‘life well travelled’. The team has designed as a space to work for business and leisure travellers alike and it does reflect the airline’s onboard passenger experience too.

It’s the only Cathay Pacific lounge outside of Hong Kong with separate First and Business Class areas and echoes the contemporary Asian aesthetics of Cathay’s hub lounge too, although the concept was led by renowned London-based design studio, Studioilse.

At 1,200 square metres the new lounge is 30% larger than its predecessor. The décor deliberately attempts to imitate a “domestic rather than a corporate space,” according to the designers from Studioilse, and is less decidedly masculine than many lounges, making it feel slightly cosier. The team says they also tried to extend Cathay’s Oriental service concept and reflect it in the design of the lounge.

Creating a seamless link between Cathay’s onboard and on-ground passenger experience was the aim of the lounge, says the airline’s general manager product, James Evans: “At Cathay Pacific, we care about our passengers’ experience at every stage of their journey – from the moment they arrive at the airport until they reach their destination. Our product team for onboard and on the ground is fully bonded and we hope our exciting new Heathrow lounge will enable our customers to travel well. Our aim was to provide a tranquil haven.”

High-quality natural material such as leather, wood, marble and stone are a nod to the ‘life well travelled’ mantra and floor-to-ceiling windows give panoramic views of the airport’s apron and northerly runway, although a dull day meant the natural light wasn’t as plentiful as it could have been when I was there.

Colours are all natural browns and greens and complemented by plentiful plants, Asian-style gridded screens to divide the rooms and specially sourced-artwork by Chinese artist Han Feng – all lending the lounges a soft and muted atmosphere.

The First lounge has a full-service restaurant, The Dining Lounge, which I think resembles a traditional club lounge with its green leather seats, wood panelling and touches of brass – albeit with a much lighter aesthetic. The Business Lounge’s Noodle Bar has a casual up-market canteen theme which appeals to me much more and I went to the green tiled counter to order before sliding into a booth to taste the excellent steamed buns and dumplings which Cathy is so famous for. Both lounges also have grab and go food options and food is a mix of Asian and Western.

Privacy seems to be something which both lounges strive to provide, and I particularly liked the large winged armchairs, or ‘solo chairs’ in the Business lounge, which almost completely shield you from other passengers and have a snug, enveloping feel.

First and Business Class passengers also have access to eight marble shower suites with Aesop amenities and The Bureau, a quiet place for those who need to get some work done. The lounge is open to First and Business Class passengers, Silver or above Marco Polo Club members, and Sapphire or above oneworld members.

As the quality of hospitality of on-ground lounges grows it leaves me wondering just how all this might affect the onboard hospitality offer. If more and more passengers value and use the lounge and have most needs met before they even board, just what will they want or expect onboard, other than a comfy seat and speedy journey time?