Transcending the transit lounge

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 July, 2011, 12:00am


It's a real setback when your flight is delayed and you realise that you will have to stick it out at the airport for a lot longer than you expected. What do you do with this unasked-for spare time?

Do you open your laptop and try to finish that document? Do you spend more money in the duty-free shops, on cologne and perfume that you will have to pass on as gifts at Christmas? Or do you head to the airport bar, order a drink, and strike up conversation with similarly bored and frustrated people about how it's all a conspiracy to make you shop and drink more?

Despite the free Wi-fi and ready access to alcohol, these lost hours in airports can be excruciating. For those of sufficient means (and little patience) the airport lounge is the first port of call to kill a few hours.

The best lounges, like the British Airways Concorde Room at Heathrow Terminal 5 or Cathay Pacific's The Wing at Hong Kong International Airport, are luxury personified with furniture and decor that wouldn't look out of place at a Mayfair hotel. En suite rooms to nap in, as well as state-of-the-art business centres that convert to boardrooms if required, are becoming more common.

The very best lounges also provide ways to pamper oneself with luxury day spas or indulge in cigar rooms and classy restaurants that have world-class chefs.

With spas and high-end restaurants almost de rigueur now, a new breed of first-class airport lounge has emerged. These use innovative technology to stand out and provide a more memorable experience for passengers.

Lufthansa recently opened its largest lounge at Frankfurt airport's Terminal 1. Along with the expected luxury features, it also contains the City Lights Bar - an 1,800-square-metre bar that can seat 300 guests. But the crowning glory is the innovative and unique lighting effect created by more than 30,000 light-emitting diodes.

Technology is now the key to creating an unforgettable ambience. The idea is to make luxury travel stimulating. At Amsterdam's Schipol airport, a new mixed-reality lounge called Airport Park has been built. This attempts the lofty task of bringing the outside inside.

The 'park' features an indoor area with places to rest and relax as well as shops and restaurants, and an outdoor area with a terrace and plants.

Where the Airport Park really shines is its use of so-called mixed reality. It uses video projections of birds and animals, as well as famous parks from around the world, to enhance the park-like feeling and insulate the area from the bustle of a busy airport. Energy-efficient lighting is used and passengers may recharge their mobiles with energy-generating bicycles.

Then there's the augmented reality app created by the Copenhagen airport. Smartphones are already being tested as replacements for digital boarding passes with some airlines using bar codes and other QR codes, but it's with such mobile apps that smartphones can make spending time at the airport more interesting.

The CPH Airport app is available for the iPhone and can be downloaded for free. It gives the user a completely new insight into airports. It utilises the iPhone camera to scan the airport to provide real-time information on your surroundings, helping you to better navigate around the airport to shopping and eating areas. It also provides live information about flights direct to your phone.

The CPH Airport app claims to be the first augmented-reality app to work indoors. Standard augmented-reality apps use GPS to locate mobile devices, and GPS doesn't work too well inside. This one, however, utilises the many Wi-fi hot spots found in the Copenhagen airport to triangulate the passenger's exact position.

In the future, new technology will speed up the whole mundane and time-consuming effort of going through airport security. Electronic sniffers and scanners that can detect explosives without passengers having to remove their shoes or coats have been tested successfully at the Glasgow airport.

The machine scanners can scan one passenger per second with almost immediate results. This cuts down queuing times. Iris scanners sort passengers into high-risk and low-risk categories.

Iris scanning technology may also be able to link passengers with their boarding passes in a matter of seconds.

According to the International Air Transport Association, the average passenger spends 35 minutes going through airport security. With the rapid development of machine-scanning technology and iris recognition software, that could be just a few minutes.

That leaves plenty of time to rant about how airports are just speeding things up so you can drink more, and buy more duty-free stuff that you don't need.