Category Archives: Lounge Reviews

British Airways Galleries Lounge – London Heathrow (LHR)

This post is part of a series reviewing our 2015 Anniversary trip to Europe.  For a full list of the posts in this series, and for an overview of the trip, check out the index page.

After our amazing transatlantic flight we had a 3 hour layover in overcast London before the short flight to our final destination, Basel.  Well, the layover was supposed to be 3 hours.  We ended up getting a slightly longer taste of the Galleries Lounge than we would have liked.  More on that later . . .
British Airways Galleries lounge at London Heathrow
Galleries is the British Airways business class lounge.  I believe we would have had access to the Galleries First lounge as well, but we were a bit groggy this far into our 24+ hour itinerary and we saw the Galleries lounge first, so that’s where we settled in.  A quick check of our boarding passes gained us entry.  Neither Nicoleen nor I were interested in using the showers so we sought out a place to sit and set up shop.

London Heathrow airport houses two Galleries lounges in Terminal 5, and we were at the northern one.  Both were very busy when we arrived around 6:30 local time.  The lounge is located right next to the runway and it was fun to watch planes taking off and landing.  We found a little more free space “outside” on the mezzanine area, overlooking the concourse.  Our stomachs thought it was sometime after midnight, but I had declined breakfast on the long haul flight so I went in search of some food and drink.

There were some Danish type things over here:

But since I was finally in Europe I was looking for something savory for breakfast.  These little warm sandwiches fit the bill:

Some had ham and some had egg and melted cheese; both were delicious.

Some had ham and some had egg and melted cheese; both were delicious.

Because everybody loves drinking at 7:00 AM, they also had tons of booze available:

And in case your body was still on some vastly different time zone, you could dig into the wine and chips:

I always thought it was fish and chips . . .

I always thought it was fish and chips . . .

Besides food and drink, Galleries lounge also provided a wide selection of magazines and newspapers.  Nicoleen and I had some good laughs reading the British tabloids and catching up on the scandalous lives of celebrities we had never heard of.

In Europe, even the magazine racks are futuristic and chic.

In Europe, even the magazine racks are futuristic and chic.

One negative thing I should mention is the bathrooms.  They were hot, small, plain, and their condition was borderline deplorable. Unless I was missing some other, hidden bathroom entrance, the only ones available were all single rooms.  Even the men needed to stand in line to get in!  Sorry ladies, we’re just not used to it 🙂

As our flight’s boarding time drew nearer, we threw an extra mini Diet Coke can and bag of Sweet Chili and Sour Cream kettle chips (they were so good!) into our backpacks* and walked down to the gate.

* Travel Tip: Take full advantage of complimentary snacks and beverages by stashing a spare in your backpack or purse.  Rarely will you get any dirty looks for doing so, and you’ll be glad you have the supplies if you end up stranded on a delayed flight, on a train with no dining car, etc.  Always be prepared.

The gate was actually a bus stop where we were to load a bus that would drive us to the tarmac for outside boarding.  On the board we noticed an unspecified delay was marked on our departure flight.  The gate attendant was unable to give us a time estimate.  Despite Nicoleen’s apprehension about me missing the flight, I decided to walk back up to the Galleries lounge and see if the desk agent therein could get me any better information.

After showing my boarding pass to gain entry, I walked up to the information desk and spoke with the agent about our delay.  As she was making some calls I noticed on the departures board that our flight number had changed, which worried me a little.  The agent was very helpful and discovered the nature of the delay: a mechanical problem.  She didn’t have a time estimate but she told me there was no imminent risk of boarding.  That’s the piece of information I was looking for; I could call Nicoleen and have her come back up to wait in the lounge.

I was unable to reach her on the phone so I walked down to the gate to rescue her from the growing line of people waiting for the bus.  We went back up to the Galleries lounge and I once again showed credentials at the door.  The desk agent told me in her charming London accent to stay close to the desk so she could advise me when I would be needed at the gate.  Nicoleen needed a nap by this time so she went out to the mezzanine and found a quiet(er) spot to snooze.
After I  had enjoyed another bag of Sweet Chili and Sour Cream chips and a couple very weakly mixed cocktails, the announcement for our boarding came over the PA.  I retrieved Nicoleen from her slumber, and we left the Galleries lounge behind to board our short flight to MLH/BSL/EAP (Euroairport).

Galleries Lounge Access

For the official word on access rules, see the Oneworld Alliance lounge access page.  In a nutshell, any passenger connecting through or departing from LHR in a business or first class booking can use Galleries lounges.  The lounge access at this airport gets a bit more complicated because of the number of lounges (see this Lounge Buddy overview) and the special rules for the British Airways Concorde Room.  In fact, the latter has such a confusing set of conditions for access, there is a multipage thread on Flyertalk just for discussing the nuances.


Although Galleries is British Airways’ business class lounge, the food and beverage choices, amenities, and decor were on par with the first class Flagship Lounge we had visited in Chicago.  Reading other reviews, it seems like the packed house we experienced is pretty common at this lounge.  Despite the bathrooms and the crowd, we definitely relaxed more than we would have in the public areas of the terminal, so the lounge served its purpose.  The dedicated agent for lounge visitors also turned out to be quite helpful.

American Airlines 777-300ER First Class JFK – LHR

This post is part of a series reviewing our 2015 Anniversary trip to Europe.  For a full list of the posts in this series, and for an overview of the trip, check out the index page.

300erstripOur entire itinerary was planned around this flight, the showpiece of the whole “surprise Nicoleen” plan.  I had actually wanted to book us business class seats (50k miles one-way) on the same flight but none were available at the saver award level for the entire summer.  First class saver seats were only 12.5k miles more however, and I wanted access to the 777-300ER’s premium class stand-up snack bar, so I searched for first class saver seats.  There were only a few saver level first class seats available, and only one date had a pair of seats.  Luckily that date worked within our other constraints, so I booked them (62k miles one-way, each).

But before I get to the flight…

Having been delayed on our ORD-JFK flight, we only had an hour to spare at JFK before boarding began for our transatlantic flight to London-Heathrow (LHF).  While Nicoleen would have been happy to stop by the Admiral’s Club for a beverage, I was determined to see both lounges we had access to, American’s Flagship Lounge and Admiral’s Club.

At JFK both American Airlines lounges share a lobby area in Terminal 8.  An elevator takes you from the concourse up to the lobby where the staff at the desk check your privilege and point you toward whichever lounge you have access to.  (Click here to go to American Airlines’ page on lounge access requirements.)  We were waived through to the Flagship lounge and politely reminded that we didn’t have much time before boarding would begin.

The JFK Flagship Lounge struck me as long and narrow.  It has a nice big window along one entire side, looking out over the tarmacs and runway.  My visit was brief so I didn’t get to explore every nook and cranny, nor take advantage of all the amenities.  The JFK Flagship Lounge was much more crowded than our experience at the Chicago O’Hare Flagship Lounge, but this very well could have been due to the time of day more than anything.  The food seemed more picked over and old as well, but not deplorable by any means.  I made a small snack of chicken, cheese, and olives, grabbed a beer, and scarfed it down while Nicoleen watched.  She was worried about making the flight, so she went ahead of me to board.

After my quick snack I took a walk through the Admiral’s club and found it to be even more crowded than the Flagship Lounge.  During my quick walk-through I saw no noticeable differences from the Admiral’s Club we walked through at ORD.

On to the flight…

After my brief snack at the Flagship Lounge I had to scurry down to the gate for boarding.  By the time I got there nearly everyone had boarded.  I don’t personally put much value in early boarding; I have a back issue that makes sitting painful so for me the more time spent upright, the better.  I was warmly welcomed by the attendant and shown to my seat, 1A, where I found Nicoleen settling in across from me in 1D.

Seconds after sitting down I was handed a bottle of water and offered champagne, which I accepted.

The purser offered us a choice of several newspapers and quickly moved onto getting our meal orders.  As I have previously stated, I’m not much of a wine connoisseur but I do enjoy good wine (in much the same way as a dog “appreciates” a good steak – he doesn’t quite understand why it’s good, but he still likes it).  With some guidance I chose one of the whites and was not disappointed.

Another little bonus for flying in a premium cabin is the amenity kits often offered.  Although not in the cool iPad case bag I had expected from previous reports, the kit had all of the goodies I was expecting:

The meal service
After knowing about this trip for months and having the meal choices available online for over 30 days, you’d think I should have been able to order quickly.  As it happened, I think I was still debating the food options after Nicoleen had ordered.  I settled on the Thai chicken starter, creamy carrot soup, the salad of mixed greens with artichokes and feta, the seared halibut with gremolata, and the royale chocolate mousse cake for dessert.

I should have probably skipped the snack at the Flagship Lounge because I was fairly well full by the time the fish came, but oh well; I’m a sucker for free food!  Overall the food was pretty good.  The Thai chicken and salad were excellent, and the soup was interesting (unexpectedly spicy!), but the fish was a bit dry and rubbery and the seasoning was nothing to write home about.  The presentation was good but I found a piece of dried on food stuck to a piece of silverware…not something you’d expect to find in a first class service.

A cool feature of this first class cabin is that the footrest doubles as a jump seat, complete with seat belt, so that you can dine across from your traveling companion.  The tray table is deep enough for two place settings.  We weren’t planning on doing this however, due to Nicoleen’s baby belly.  She was plenty happy to enjoy all the room her own seat afforded her!  The purser never mentioned this as a possibility though, which was the start of a series of not being shown or offered many of the amenities this flight had available.

After dinner
According to other reviews I had read on this first class cabin, we were supposed to be offered pajamas and slippers (yes- to keep), an amenity kit in a cool bag that doubles as an iPad carrying case, and turn down service.  Nicoleen started watching a movie and I purchased the in-flight wi-fi so I could send a few e-mails saying “I’m sending this from an airplane!”

Side note: One of the biggest “problems” about flying in these cool lie-flat first and business cabins is properly splitting your time between sleeping, which is actually possible with these seats; and enjoying all the other entertainment, eating, and drinking options.  I would have loved to have milled around at the stand-up snack bar or ordered some beers and watched a movie (in comfort, for once!).  On the other hand, I had a rare opportunity to get some real, quality sleep on a flight due to the lie-flat seat.  It was tough to divide the time.  This conundrum brings to mind some valuetactics wisdom: The value of paying extra (miles or dollars) for premium cabins, especially with lie-flat seats, vastly increases as the length of the flight increases.

After a while I started wondering about the stand-up stack bar I was enamored with, and was part of the reason I wanted to fly on this aircraft.  It is located between the first and business class cabins, and when I went to check if it was operational I found the flight attendants assembling the snacks.  I was told that it was almost ready but that I didn’t have to use the lowly business class area; I could go to the first class galley for the first-class only version (which I had not read anything about).  So I went up in front of first class and found the purser and another attendant putting the finishing touches on the snacks there.
777-300ERsnack1This would have been great had I not been completely stuffed after eating about 5 meals’ worth of food in the past 12 hours!  I wanted to see the “real” stand-up snack bar though, so I deigned to walk among the plebeian masses and stepped between first and business class to that area, which had mostly the same snacks as the first class gallery but looks waaaay cooler:
777-300ERsnack2777-300ERsnack3After checking out the snack bars I decided I’d better get a few hours sleep on this overnight flight.  I was surprised we hadn’t been offered pajamas or slippers yet and I was worried that maybe American Airlines had dis-included them as part of the first class service.  I asked the purser about them and he reacted as if his memory had just been jogged.  He quickly produced a set of jammies for me and asked what size Nicoleen would prefer.  She was already dozing off so I told him I wasn’t sure, and he gave me two sets in different sizes and told me to just give her both to keep!

At this time the purser seemed to remember that turn down service was supposed to be included too, and offered to do so as I changed into the pajamas in the bathroom.  None of the other 6 passengers in first class received pajamas or slippers to my knowledge.

Yes, it's totally staged. I had just crawled into bed and was not sleeping.

Yes, it’s totally staged. I had just crawled into bed and was not sleeping.

Upon waking we were offered a small breakfast, which we both declined.  It was a rude awakening after only 3 hours of sleep or so, and the remainder of my flight was spent gathering up all my strewn-about belongings to prepare for landing at EuroAirport (MLH).

In the end we had an amazing time on this flight.  But I was a bit confused that I had to specifically request some of the amenities, and I was not as impressed as I should have been by the meal service.  Let’s look at all the things we weren’t told about or offered without asking:

  • Seat operation
  • Pajamas and slippers
  • Turn down service
  • Companion dining configuration
  • Stand-up snack bar

I don’t know if it was just this particular purser, crew, or just an off day for American’s service, but I finally understood why many other bloggers and reviewers talk about how American carriers are just not up to par on service in their premium cabins.

Overall first class experience
Among all the stages in our first class itinerary (the American Flagship Lounge at ORD, the Flagship Lounge at JFK, both domestic first class flights, the 1st class JFK-LHR flight, the Galleries Lounge at LHR, and the BA flight to MLH), we felt like the lowest experience to expectations ratio was on this transatlantic long-haul flight.   The service was by no means horrible, but neither was it exceptional…which it should be on an international first class flight.  I’ll never complain about flying first class for virtually no cost, but had I paid the full retail $9,821 for this booking, I would have justifiably felt a bit ripped off.  As they say the hard product delivered, but the soft product fell short.

American Airlines Flagship Lounge – Chicago (ORD)


After revealing to Nicoleen that we had first class tickets by skipping the huge check-in and security lines at MSP (major wife points scored!), we had an unremarkable flight on an American Eagle regional jet to Chicago O’Hare (ORD).  Our itinerary had been readjusted a month prior to traveling, and we were now arriving in Chicago at 6:00 AM for a 6 hour layover.

Fortunately for us, our first class award booking granted us access to American’s Flagship lounge in Terminal 3.  The lounge opens at 6:00 and we arrived at 6:10, the day’s first customers.  This was especially nice for me because I was able to get a few pictures of the empty lounge with all the day’s consumables untouched.

The main hallway, complimentary newspapers

The main hallway, complimentary newspapers

One of the seating areas

One of the seating areas

The beverage buffet, opposite the food buffet

The beverage buffet, opposite the food buffet

The Flagship Lounge is the first class version of AA’s Admiral’s Club, which we visited and briefly walked through before departing ORD.  While the Admiral’s Club would have been a nicer place to spend a layover than the general terminal seating, from what we saw the Flagship Lounge is a very definite step up from the Admiral’s Club.

flagship_ord_breakfastBreakfast in the Flagship lounge was an assortment of fruit cups and yogurt parfaits, hot pan quiche Florentine, and a scrambled egg/bacon/potato dish.  There was also the regular assortment of whole fruit, instant oatmeal, and cold cereal.  The coffee machine makes virtually anything you could want, and the full bar of juice, soft drinks, wine, beer, champagne, and hard alcohol is open the entire day, including breakfast time.

Eventually a few more travelers made their way into the lounge.  Nicoleen moved to a seat nearer an electrical outlet (somewhat hard to find) and I went to the business center to write a ValueTactics post.  The business center features private computer desks with granite counter tops and ethernet ports.  Several desks have computers available for use.  There is also a free printer available.
computer-station redo
Shortly before noon the breakfast became gradually replaced with lunch.  The lunch consisted of a variety of pre-made sandwiches, several appetizers, and sushi rolls.  The shrimp cocktail and the hummus and pita appetizer were especially tasty, but the sandwiches were so-so.  All the lunch food was made better when washed down with a refreshing Amstel Light!  (They even had non-alcoholic O’Doules, although Nicoleen wasn’t in the mood for NA beer that early in the day).
I can’t comment on the wine and champagne selection because my opinion would be pretty worthless.  I can tell the difference between an $8 bottle of wine and an $80 bottle; but I probably couldn’t tell the difference between a $40 and $80 bottle.  I’m just not that fancy.  I know beer a little bit better, and I was happy with the selection.  Besides the aforementioned Amstel Light, there was also Corona, Heineken, Samuel Adams, Sapporo, Guinness and several others.

The hard alcohol selection at American Airlines Flagship lounge in Chicago O'Hare

The hard alcohol selection at American Airlines Flagship lounge in Chicago O’Hare

The lounge eventually filled up, primarily with Asian travelers awaiting a flight to Beijing.  Even at the peak of the attendance while we were there the Flagship Lounge was never crowded.  The bathrooms were clean and tastefully decorated.  Besides the food, drink, and comfortable chairs, the lounge also provided major newspapers and had several TV viewing areas.

To access American’s Flagship Lounge you’ll need to be traveling on a first class international flight with American or a oneworld partner airline, be a oneworld Emerald member, or have American Airlines AAdvantage platinum status and flying internationally.  It’s complicated and confusing, but it’s worth it to know the access rules well.  We were almost denied access because our last leg was in business class, until I pointed out to the desk lady that out long-haul flight was first class.  Here’s the link to the official American Airlines page outlining access rules.

AA’s Flagship Lounge at ORD was a great way to spend our 6 hour layover.  If I had to complain about anything it would be the slight dearth of outlets.  The food was fairly good (especially the breakfast), the chairs were comfy, and the layout provided a quiet, intimate atmosphere.  The unlimited beverages, including some decent booze, was definitely a plus (although common to most lounges) and would have been even more valuable has 50% of my party not been pregnant 🙂  Overall this lounge made our long layover enjoyable, started off our long itinerary in comfort, and generally exceeded my expectations.