LONDON – One of the truly great benefits of being a top tier traveller is having access to airport lounges. These can range from modest spaces to luxurious oases awash with fine wines, showers, and restaurant-quality dining.

My travels frequently take me to Southern Africa and, as a oneworld member, this invariably involves either connecting through Doha (Qatar Airways remains my airline of choice and their Al Mourjan Business Class lounge is fantastic) or Heathrow, where the AA/BA partnership offers plenty of choice.

Being able to relax with a meal and good Wi-Fi is important, but the ability to grab a shower and a spot to nap during a lengthy layover makes lounge access an important part of my trip planning.

At Heathrow, oneworld travelers have plenty of choice when it comes to lounges.

In T5, BA’s Galleries (for Club World customers) and First (oneworld Emerald or BA Gold Card holders) lounges are good, though always extremely busy.

The Concorde Room, only for those actually traveling in first class, sets a very high bar.

In T3, which I usually connect through on my way to and from DFW, three lounges await the road warrior:

American Airlines Admirals Club and International First Class lounge, Qantas’ combined First/Business Class lounge, and Cathay Pacific’s First and Business Class lounges.

All three are within 100 yards of each other. On my most recent trip, I decided to visit and review all three as I had a six-hour layover.

Cathay Pacific

I started in the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge as it was the first to open at 5:30 AM and I had only just touched down from Johannesburg.

After checking in at the front desk, I headed straight down the long hallway to the shower facility that is adjacent to the Business Class lounge.

The shower is excellent, spotlessly clean, and filled with a range of first-rate amenities. Nothing quite refreshes the body like a waterfall shower.

Entry to the First Class lounge is immediately to the right of the front desk, and I was instantly transported back to my visit to Cathay’s First Class lounge at HKG, The Pier, which I reviewed here.

The London version is a smaller, yet still terrific, lounge with three inter-connected spaces exuding warmth and class.

Like The Pier in HKG, this lounge is finished in natural materials with soft lighting throughout and has the feel of a high-end residential apartment rather than a cookie-cutter airport lounge.

There are see-through partitions that separate out the various spaces but still keep an open-plan feel to the lounge.

The entryway walls to the first class lounge are adorned in light green onyx and open on the right to a pantry, essentially a coffee and snack bar with an espresso machine and a wide selection of teas and pastries.

There is also a fridge with a selection of cold cuts, yogurts, sandwiches, and juices.

Next is the ‘living room’ with two cherry wood coffee tables and a mixture of leather and suede couches and chairs. It is an intimate space that welcomes the wary to sit and…relax.

At the end of the lounge is a second living area that opens onto a self-service bar that is well stocked with wines and champagnes and a good selection of spirits.

I had a glass of Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut and caught up on email and the news.

Along the entire length of the lounge, and open to the seating areas and snack bar described above is a row of super-comfy recliners with ottomans in prime plane-spotting position.

This is AvGeek nirvana as you have an unobstructed view of the apron below as well as runway 09R/27L where most aircraft begin their rotation.

The final space in the lounge is a full à la carte restaurant with green leather seating, reminiscent of an English club.

The menu had a reasonable selection of eats and I opted for a glass of orange juice, a vanilla latte, the viennoiserie and fruit, and the apple cinnamon crepes.

Breakfast was delicious and the service was swift, though there were only three of us in the restaurant at the time.

I did pop into the business class lounge to try out their fresh noodle bar, but the restaurant here in the First Class lounge is top-notch.

Cathay’s lounge is a haven and they have done a stunning job bringing many of the elements of The Pier at HKG to Heathrow.

This is truly bespoke airport seating. I could have spent all day here, but after an hour-and-a-half, it was time to walk the (quite literally) 25 paces to the Qantas lounge to see what our friends from down under had to offer.


The Qantas lounge is a combined First Class/Business Class lounge so I realize I am not quite comparing apples to apples here.

Nevertheless, a rather exuberant check-in agent invited me to make myself at home and explore both levels of the lounge.

Downstairs has both casual seating and dining, with breakfast snacks and pastries laid out buffet-style.

There is an eye-catching gin bar next to the staircase as you enter that is stocked with more than a dozen varieties of the quintessentially British libation.

There is also an à la carte restaurant offering brunch but with very limited choices. I opted for the smoked salmon from the buffet (which was fresh) and the eggs benedict off the menu (which was awful – cold atop a stale muffin, inedible I am afraid).

To be honest, I think Qantas would do well to forgo the underwhelming menu selection and just opt for a well-stocked buffet.

After a standoff with the eggs benedict, I decided to go upstairs and ascended the rather majestic staircase leading up to the second level that has a circular marble bar as the centerpiece.

A very friendly barman in a starched white dinner jacket and sporting the most remarkable moustache was making speciality cocktails for a couple on their way back to Australia.

Comfortable leather seating is scattered throughout this area of the lounge with another selection of smoked salmon, yogurts, and fresh pastries on offer. There are also showers in the upstairs section.

Overall, I thought Qantas’ lounge was good, definitely a passing grade for a Business Class lounge but lacking as a First Class lounge (again, I acknowledge that this is probably unfair given it serves customers in both cabins).

The food was hit-and-miss, but the space was inviting, the staff very attentive, and the gin and wine selection outstanding.

With about an hour to go before boarding, I headed over to the American Airlines lounge complex, which is just 75 paces from the Qantas lounge.

American Airlines

The AA International First Class lounge adjoins the Admirals Club and is reserved for oneworld Emerald’s and passengers holding a first class ticket.

This is a familiar spot for me and the helpful staff at the front desk always make me feel welcome.

This lounge is busy, and I mean bustling! To be fair, AA has 12 flights headed to the US before 12:00 PM, so it is no surprise that this lounge is well used.

Space is open-plan, essentially one large room, with à la carte restaurant seating to the right as you enter, a breakfast buffet with countertop and individual table seating in the central part of the lounge, and two rows of leather seats in a raised section near the windows.

While functional, the seating is drab and in need of an upgrade. Brown and beige dominate the space but there is plenty of natural light.

Overall, the food here is quite good, especially the full English breakfast buffet.

There is a wide selection of yogurts, pastries, fresh fruits, and drinks, and a small champagne bar near the entry to the lounge.

I did not order off the menu, my waistline would not have survived it, but my previous à la carte dining experiences here have all been very good.

The views from the AA lounge are limited, unless you like looking at jet bridges, but the amenities and staff are very good.

AA is going to upgrade this lounge to a Flagship First lounge sometime in 2019, which is a good thing because, well, it needs it!

The Verdict?

If you are flying out of T3 at Heathrow and have oneworld Emerald status, I would head straight to Cathay Pacific’s outstanding First Class lounge and go no further.

It is a cut above any of the Heathrow lounges, including the Concorde Room.

The Qantas lounge would be my second choice as it offers a wide selection of buffet-style food and excellent beverages with attentive staff. As it currently stands, AA’s lounge comes in a distant third.

Cathay’s lounge in T3 just makes you feel like you are home, one flight earlier than you actually are. There is really no reason to go anywhere else.

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By day, Mike Slattery is Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies and Professor at Texas Christian University, USA. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford, England. Originally from South Africa, Mike is an internationally-trained geographer and environmental scientist who has written more than 85 scientific articles and a book on a range of environmental issues, from human impacts on rivers systems to the socio-economic impacts of large-scale wind farms. But he is also an AvGeek with a particular interest in (and extensive collection of) airline menus. Mike’s work takes him all over the globe to landscapes as diverse as the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the game reserves of Southern Africa. At last count, he had flown more than 1.4 million miles, equivalent to being in the air 118.5 days or 5.8 x the distance to the moon. “I’ll never understand how an airliner gets off the ground, but I sure love being in them!” He lives with his family in Fort Worth.