Southend’s Skylife Lounge has been ranked the lowest out of 21 pay-as-you-go airport lounges for the second consecutive year by Which? Travel.
Which? inspectors found barely-there facilities, no runway view, no hot food or sparkling wine – earning the lounge just one star out of five.
Undercover reviewers said the lounge had “stained carpets” which were “dusted with crumbs,” “uncomfortable lurid yellow, low-slung sofas” and a “sad-looking buffet” of “unripe bananas” and “pastries cut into halves” in the place of hot food options.
The airport itself, however, is rated one of the best in Which? Travel’s annual airport survey – leaving the inspector wondering if their money would have been better spent in the main airport terminal.
Edinburgh’s Aspire lounge was also found to be lacking – earning a dire one and a half stars. While this lounge did include a hot food menu, the inspector described a salad that had “a past-its-best tang”, pasta that “looked like cat food” and a glass that was “worryingly sticky”.
To make matters worse, the toilet is outside the lounge and halfway across the airport terminal.
Joint third worst was the Luton Aspire which offered “congealed eggs” and “stale bread rolls”. Whether better options are available in the airport itself – voted the UK’s worst by passengers for the last three years – will depend on the success of Luton’s multi-million-pound refurbishment.
Aspire, which runs 20 pay-as-you-go airport lounges in the UK, has shown some improvement since Which? last visited, but its rival No 1 is still delivering a better experience according to undercover inspectors.
Complimentary sparkling wines and à la carte dishes gave these lounges the edge, helping Heathrow’s Terminal 3 No1 lounge to come out joint top of Which?’s rankings.
The London airport lounge was described as the best-equipped location Which? inspected. It boasts a cinema, free showers, private sleep pods and hot food options made to order.
The only downside is that in common with all No1 lounges, guests are now limited to only one made-to-order dish per person, knocking down what might have been a five-star review to four.
Sharing first place is the Manchester T3 1903 which comes dotted with model planes and aviator goggles as well as a pick and mix sweet station.
Reviewers noted the “floor to ceiling runway” view, cheese plates and an “immaculate” self-service bar that was found to be “well-stocked”.
Made to order hot food was available here too but limited to just one choice – pork belly on the day Which? visited – earning the lounge another four out of the five-star rating.
Which? also went undercover to review two high-end airline lounges for the first time; the British Airways galleries club lounge at Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Singapore Airlines Silverkris at Heathrow Terminal 2.
The BA lounge was rated three stars out of five, with food described by Which? inspectors as ‘basic canteen fare’ of penne and tomato sauce and white rice and chilli.
PC and printing facilities, PlayStation and complimentary spa treatments did redeem the lounge somewhat but reviewers mentioned it was not the ‘nirvana’ they were expecting and was comparable to its pay-as-you-go counterparts.
The Singapore Airlines lounge, on the other hand, was described as “a giant step up” from the average airport lounge experience.
The cocktail bar, “fancy layered desserts” and rainfall showers made this lounge “feel exclusive” and it earned a coveted four and a half stars – losing a half point because although the food was of restaurant quality, there was no à la carte menu.
Which? Travel editor Rory Boland said:
“Battling through security queues and the maze that has become duty-free can be such an ordeal – it’s no wonder that the promise of an oasis of calm in a pay-to-enter lounge is so appealing.
“But with lounges charging up to £50 for what might amount to little more than a seat on a stained sofa and a soggy pastry, passengers might be better off saving their cash to treat themselves once they reach their destination.”
Notes to Editors:
Between September and December 2018, we reviewed 21 pay-as-go lounges at nine UK airports. Each lounge was visited by a member of the Which? Team.
Full table of results available on request