MIAMI — One of the most valued perks of qualifying for elite status with any of the major carriers is access to Business and First Class lounges. Upgrades are, of course, fantastic and what most frequent flyers hunker after. Having priority boarding, extra baggage allowances, or guaranteed seats in economy, especially on oversold flights, is also great. But for me, being able to shower during a long-haul connection, or just simply escape the madding crowd of an airline terminal, is a godsend.
As a Lifetime Platinum with American’s AAdvantage program, I get access to Business Class lounges when travelling internationally. But this year is my first as an Executive Platinum (100,000 miles flown) which ups the ante to First Class lounge access. A trip last month took me through Hong Kong and onto Singapore, and I had four hours to kill at Hong Kong on the return leg.
This gave me an opportunity to experience Cathay Pacific’s flagship lounge, The Pier, opened in June of 2015 and located in terminal 1near gates 61-63. On my outbound flight I only had an hour layover, so I popped into The Wing, Cathay’s second First Class lounge located near gate 2, for a quick snack and a glass of wine. This was a fairly small, cozy space, with a champagne bar and a-la-carte dining room, albeit one with a rather limited menu.
However, I had heard good things about The Pier, so my expectations were high as I descended the escalator and walked toward the welcome desk. So, what can you expect at The Pier where, according to Cathay’s website, “every considered detail evokes a feeling of care and tranquility.”
First, this lounge is intimate, and it is obvious from the moment you step inside that considerable thought has gone into the layout and flow of the space. As a spoiler alert, I’ll say up-front that this nicest lounge I have been to at any airport, with the possible exception of Emirates’ First Class lounge at DXB (more on that later).
The welcome area at The Pier is open plan with a customer service desk off to one side. This whole space evokes an immediate feeling of warmth as it is finished in natural materials with soft lighting, a common touch throughout the lounge.
My eye was immediately drawn to a cherry wood table at the end of the lobby area lit by an intriguing overhead display. This marks the entrance to the main axis of the lounge, called The Hallway. This is a lovely space with green onyx walls adorned with Asian art, and it connects all other spaces in the lounge.
At one end of The Hallway is a beautiful horseshoe-shaped bar with high-top seating aptly named, The Bar! Service is top notch without being intrusive and the selection of beverages is impressive with several unique cocktails, such as the Wanchai Ferry, a mixture of Malibu rum, kiwi juice, and coconut milk, and The Pearl of the City, a concoction of gin, whisky, Yuzu, and tonic water.
The Bar opens up into The Living Room, the main seating area in the lounge with very comfortable couches and chairs cleverly arranged in clusters. If I could design my own living room from scratch, then this would make a wonderful palette. And for the plane-spotting Avgeek like me, The Living Room comes with unobstructed runway views.
At the other end of the lounge is the full-service restaurant which has somewhat of an old, British club feel. Frankly, this is pre-flight dining done right!
I started with a glass of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label N.V. (naturally) followed by the pan-seared Canadian snow crab meat with roasted pepper aioli. This was really good. I then had the wok-fried beef tenderloin, which was tasty, and ended my meal with the artisan cheese board. This was an outstanding meal that set me up for a bit more exploring of the lounge.
Several rooms lead off from the The Hallway, including the washrooms and a number of business cubicles (called The Bureau) fitted with iMacs and reading lamps. There is also a coffee, tea, and juice bar (The Pantry) which is well-stocked with cheeses and a selection of delightful pastries and other delicacies. I felt compelled to try the apple tart…and the flan.
The shower and spa area is called The Retreat and is impressive. The showers are fitted with large, overhead showerheads that give you that tropical downpour experience and a spacious vanity with a range of premium personal care products. There are also eight very private cabanas, called Day Suites, that have wonderful views over the runway.
They each have a daybed and reading lamp and are fitted with blackout, electronic blinds. I didn’t really have time to sleep, but the space is relaxing and quiet and a great spot to work, read, or simply unwind before boarding.
The in-house spa is small and cozy with three private booths. For the weary traveler, there is a choice among several, complimentary 15-minute treatments. I opted for the soothing Signature Gentlemen’s Tonic Foot Massage which left me feeling quite refreshed before my walk to the gate.
Cathay has really done this lounge well. It has an exclusive, yet relaxed, feel and is more akin to a high-end luxury apartment than an airport lounge. There is even the sweet smell of Cathay’s new fragrance throughout The Pier, a blend of lavender, green tea, jasmine, and bamboo. So, if your travels find you in HKG and in need of a dose of “Serenity Now,” then The Pier is undoubtedly the place for you.
To be sure, it’s not on the grandiose scale of Emirate’s lounges at DXB, but then it is not meant to be. Cathay Pacific’s stated goal with The Pier is to instill in the traveler a sense of well-being within a relaxed, residential environment. To that I would say – mission accomplished!