airlinesHospitality suites play an essential part in a carrier's ground services for the weary business traveller BASED IN HANGZHOU, Gregory Gilligan travels by air five to 10 times a month. Considering the mainland's often stressful travelling environment, the American general manager for McDonald's Southeast China finds airline lounges a real godsend. 'I'm often pressed for time before reaching the airport, so if I can take care of some work and a meal while waiting for the flight that is a great help,' Mr Gilligan said. 'The Dragonair lounge in Hong Kong is an example. I can get a bowl of hot noodles and do some reading or e-mails before the flight. When the airline lounges don't provide these amenities, I'll sometimes get restless and wander the airport kiosks in search of sustenance, chocolate or a good book.' Mr Gilligan believes airline lounges are important - especially on the mainland - because public waiting areas are often crowded and uncomfortable. 'Staying in the airline lounge until the plane is almost fully boarded is a good way to avoid the typical crush of people trying to get on the plane first,' he said. 'Airline passengers on the mainland seem to wind up with many bags - including exotic fruits and gifts for friends back home - and have an aversion to checking in luggage. 'I often see people rushing onto the aircraft with four or five bags and then jamming them into the first overhead compartment available before finding their seat. I can do without that kind of competition and will often linger in the lounge to avoid the hassle. 'According to David Yao Du-sheng, general manager of China Airlines in Hong Kong, lounges are a vital part of a passenger's travel experience. 'The lounge provides a nice and comfortable environment for passengers to relax,' he said. 'Their travel experience ... starts right after they come to China Airlines.' Goh Khean Hooi, general manager for Singapore Airlines in Hong Kong, agrees that lounges are important for passengers and says they should provide the same standards of service as those offered in the air. A United Airlines spokesman said most of the carrier's customers were frequent business travellers who expected 'enjoyable and comfortable services before, during and after their flights'. A spokesman for Air France said it liked to maintain a level of consistency in its lounges. The same decor, colour scheme, fittings and fixtures are used in all 133 Air France airport lounges around the world. 'They are all important as they are meant to provide a moment of well-being prior to passengers' departure, during transit and on arrival,' he said. 'This is particularly appreciated by frequent flyers.' Virgin Atlantic opened a new 5,000 sqft Clubhouse at Hong Kong International Airport in December. 'The centrepiece of the lounge is the new bar positioned within the enclosed area,' a spokesman said. 'It is comforting and intimate with warm glowing tones. The combination of using local material detailed with a contemporary twist reinforces the regional theme.' The lounge has a range of seating, a television, games and internet browsing area. Cathay Pacific sees lounges as a significant part of its overall product and services concept. 'Nowadays, the definition of a passenger journey experience has changed,' said Sarah Blomfield, manager product for the airline. 'It has expanded from purely in-flight to include all ground experience, and being in the lounge is definitely a big part of it. 'Access to the lounge does not only provide passengers an opportunity to relax and prepare for their journey, it also gives us, the carrier, an opportunity to get in touch and catch up with our passengers. Some of our frequent travellers are like old friends and it's good to see them before they leave town. We hope they feel the same way about us.' While airlines spend a considerable sum outfitting and maintaining their lounges, just how much is a well-kept secret. 'Operating a lounge can be costly but we believe the added value it provides to our premium customers outweighs the costs,' said Dragonair product manager Irene Tan. According to Peter Miller, director of marketing at Skytrax, which provides the travel industry with extensive product and service research capabilities, passenger expectations of airline lounges are becoming more demanding. 'A good airline lounge is somewhere you feel relaxed, genuinely welcome,' he said.