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#100 Airport Lounges

October 17, 2011

Whether they’re en route to the site of a recent mega disaster, slipping out for a few days of R&R, or heading home to find themselves, today’s well-traveled veteran Expat Aid Worker loves and, yes, even looks forward to Airport Lounges.

Within minutes of the news of a new crisis breaking on BBC or Al Jazeera, EAWs the world over will begin planning air travel, based at least in part on the best progression of decent airport lounge options from their points of origin to destination. Headed from Europe to southern Africa? Make sure your layover is in Johannesburg (the lounges in Addis or Windhoek or even Nairobi are best avoided ). Stuck someplace that ends in “stan”, but headed to a life-saving conference in Europe or the USA? Avoid Karachi and Mumbai. Bangkok and Istanbul will do just fine. Dubai and Singapore are solid gold.

Savvy EAWs who have been around a little longer will know, for example, that they need to fly into/out of Heathrow, rather than Gatwick. Or that if they arrive into Frankfurt’s Terminal A, it’s really just better to just use the Senator Lounge, then to mess around with security and passport control getting to the Red Carpet Club in Terminal C. Anyone unlucky enough to layover for more than a few hours in Los Angeles or Newark needs to come prepared to fight for a power outlet, and probably a seat, too.

Yes, airport lounges are the home away from home away from home for the itinerant EAW. Whether they’re just heading out for “the field”, or beginning the process of decompressing prior to re-entry into the land of mammoth SUVs and over-priced lattes (and no, I’m not talking about Port-au-Prince or Kabul). They are places where you can simultaneously slum it, thereby accruing more airport horror stories, and build field cred (especially if you find that one corner in the Jakarta departure concourse were you can pick up free WiFi). They are office, home, dining room, and pub, all rolled into one. Few things are more comforting after a hard deployment of coordination meetings in some godforsaken place than finally making it through check-in and security and sitting down in the familiar strangeness of an airport lounge. Dingy or luxurious, it doesn’t matter. Airport lounges are the EAW’s oasis between the idiocy of where they’ve just been and the lunacy of the place they’re going next. Airport lounges are the EAW’s Zen gardens where things make sense.

ahhhh, the airport lounge

Of course the really savvy EAWs will have accrued enough frequent flyer miles on the right airlines that they can get business class lounge access for free. The awesomeness of this is hard to overstate: you can get more work done than you could sitting out amongst the swirling hordes; you can eat for free (hello, stewardship – lowers overhead…); and the possibilities for feeling ironic are practically endless (snack sandwiches in an overstuffed lounge chair while contemplating the latest FEWS data, anyone? Care for a gin & tonic while thinking deep thoughts about the inherent benefits of disaster mitigation?).

Yes, we know – the comments thread below will very quickly fill up with paragraphs of righteous indignation coming from those keen to make the point the they are not that kind of Expat Aid Worker because they are hardcore nomads who endure hardship living and only ever travel to or from places notoriously bereft of modern conveniences through places also bereft of modern conveniences. Well, you go on with your bad selves, then. Book travel so that you overlay in Urmqui or Naxcivan or Bamako, if that makes you feel better.

And when you come around, I’ll buy you a round… maybe in Narita. Or Tegucigalpa…

7 Comments leave one →
  1. Harold Richards permalink
    October 17, 2011 10:16 am

    What about those EAW divas who love to publicly express their discontent with specific airlines over multiple tweets? Where would those fit?

  2. Marianne permalink
    October 17, 2011 3:45 pm

    In TEGUS? The fact that the facilities are often shut and the airport tax payment system Not Helpful, have you ever LANDED in Tegus? We call it “atterorizar” for a reason.

    There are better places to be if you are buying each other a drink and in this region, I would recommend San Salvador. Or Panama. NOT Tegus.

  3. October 17, 2011 5:23 pm

    ok, I totally fit the bill, but didn’t realize that was an SEAWL thing, just thought I was weird. ( I also like hotels, so I probably am weird), but THERE ARE SOME AIRLINES THAT ARE SHIT. actually, we should start a movement, “travellers of the world unite” (or something) their deeds should not go unpunished!

  4. October 19, 2011 2:52 pm

    OK: the bar on the second – find it if you can! – floor of SVG airport is something to be experienced… Also, departure ‘lounge’ may be one of the most depressing airport departure ‘lounge’ ever, but it surprisingly offers free wifi.

    Only VIP aspect is you might catch a glimpse of a rock star or some crowned head passing through on his/her way to Mustique.

  5. Lounge Lizard permalink
    October 20, 2011 3:30 am

    This totally hits the mark!

    It’s not just about getting into the lounge, it’s also about knowing which lounge to go to… E.g., in BKK, the TG lounges have showers, but the SQ lounge has ice cream and fresh cocounts. And a long layover allows one to lounge-hop.

    For those NGO workers who get into lounges because they have (strategically?) accrued enough miles on the right carriers and thus achieved elite status, it also offers the opportunity to feel righteously indignant (and yet secretly envious) when running into acquaintances who work for the Bank or the UN, and who therefore fly business. (“Our NGO flies economy so we can lower overhead, and ensure that more money goes to programs…”)

    [And for those who don’t know it, there’s a great source of information about lounges and all things frequent flyer: It would be great to see more EAWs there….]

  6. alex permalink
    October 21, 2011 10:06 am

    The wonderful lounge staff in Nairobi used to let you smoke in the loo for a few extra notes. But alas, transparency and accountability have taken hold and corruption has been stamped out of the lounge. Is there no bastion safe from our cursed gospel?

  7. October 21, 2011 3:56 pm

    I enjoy Airports and Hotels (Outbound RR or Home leave), the latter more so; its the sheets, crisp, clean, slightly chilled – or you know you can get that ‘bath’ (Wrinkled toes and all that), then the robe and cheap paper or cotton ill fitting slippers and – the room service; overpriced, but worth double, its that feeling of downtime…

    What I do not like, rather irks’ me – is the look at my badge, cap, pen, t-shirt type. The one with UN or other written on any clothing or item feasible, one hand clutching visibly their blue, or if VIP- red passport defensively hiding the true National passport underneath. They seem to loiter in the less comfortable/sensible locations, screaming attention, always with excess luggage – just trying too hard.

    I find myself playing escape and evasion – nothing worse than getting a quick caffeine injection, and he/she spots you, the table where they are seated is the only one with free seats, and the he/she has documents spread, Laptop, one or more phones, basically made a full office, pretending to read, the header is relating to ‘saving the World’ or some current disaster is strategically visible to however seems to be looking. They spot you as you spot them -You give the nod, a smile, point upstairs as if you are needed, and make your escape. The only hope is they are not on ‘your’ plane, moreover the seat next to you, only Murphy’s Law will dictate.

    Alex, agree! Sierra Leone, the same, it moved from the loo, to behinds the curtains (In the lounge) head out the window – the cost, $1 for that 5 min of solace… I have since quit, (Smoking) and will miss the effort(s) for a sneaky smoke.

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