I have traveled coach on the airlines all my life. I wander up and down the terminal to keep myself entertained during layovers, glancing at headlines in Hudson News. I buy a sandwich for $10.50 that I hope will keep me full. I sit in a chair at my gate, trying to block out the bright lights and CNN narration to get a quick nap. A woman’s voice on the intercom tells me not to leave my baggage unattended. I am often in the last boarding group.
93,074 miles later—thanks to two business class flights to China for a job, a one-way to India for college, and a couple dinky trans-USA flights—everything changed: I became a Star Alliance Gold member.
Now I am entitled to early boarding on every flight I take. My checked bags are given priority stickers so they are the first to arrive at the baggage claim when I reach my final destination. The bags are free to check, of course. I am given free alcohol on domestic flights, and last month I was given a free upgrade to first class from Chicago to Seattle. These benefits are wonderful, but the best perk is opening the frosted glass doors of the airport lounge.
Upon arriving in Frankfurt for a four-hour layover, I immediately proceeded to the Lufthansa lounge, overjoyed to be free from my cramped Seattle to Frankfurt economy class accommodations. I had sat in the aisle seat, a girl about my age at the window and her grandmother who spoke no English between us. The girl had asked the flight attendant for extra bags and proceeded to throw up throughout the flight. I concentrated on the Bourne Identity and tried to ignore the smell.
There were two lounges to choose from in Frankfurt Terminal C: the Senator Lounge and the Business Lounge. Senator sounded nicer.
I pushed the “Press to Open” button and strode in, feigning a relaxed expression that said I was a lounge regular. I was wearing a dark grey crewneck sweatshirt—acquired for free from Northeastern University—black and red tennis shoes with holes worn on top of each pinky toe, calf-length white Champion brand socks, and my favorite pair of jeans, purchased on sale for 9.20 Euro in a Barcelona department store almost three years prior. Many of my compatriots wore sweaters, some suits.
The room was spacious and quiet, the only sounds the clinking of silverware on glass and servers refilling the supply of bottled drinks. I picked up a one-liter glass bottle of artisan water and a kiwi-apple-lime smoothie from the bar. I sat down near a 50-something-year-old man in a grey blazer and jeans, wearing glasses, legs crossed as he perused the morning’s paper. I opened my book, twisted the cap off the water bottle and took a big swig.
In the Senator lounge—I realized a moment too late—the custom is to drink from a glass. Though I caught no one staring, I felt disapproving energy emanating from the servers and the lounge’s few other morning patrons. To walk to the bar now for a glass would be to admit defeat, so I swallowed my embarrassment and kept drinking.
A woman in her early fifties wearing a zipper hoodie and black-and-purple leggings curled up to read in an armchair. Minutes later she was sound asleep. She looked like a lounge regular, probably traveling back home to New York from a business conference. I bet after having her second child, she decided that the unwritten airport lounge dress code was no longer important to her. She comes to the lounge to ward off the ubiquitous overnight flight headache. I contemplated her story as I snacked on a German pretzel and fought off negative chi from the man in the grey suit.
After a luxurious short nap in my cushy armchair, I consummated my time in the lounge with a glass of Franziskaner Weissbier, poured from the tap by yours truly. It was either this or explain to my scrutinizing family why I yet again passed up free beer at the airport. Time zone change was not an acceptable excuse. I drank in quiet contemplation, my gaze fixed on the empty table next to me, trying one last time to show I belonged. The pain from my dull headache became inversely proportional to the amount of beer left in my glass.
I was dreading the final leg of my journey to Mumbai, where despite my Gold status I would once again be packed like a sardine for eight hours, too tired to concentrate on a serious movie shown on a seven-inch screen, yet not tired enough to sleep while enduring turbulence at 30,000 feet. The airport lounge had provided me a brief respite from the rush of travel. It was a temporary oasis before my next grueling economy class flight where the man in front of me would surely lean back his seat for seven hours, just because he can.
The airport lounge is a blissful purgatory of sorts; it is a way point, never a destination. And just as all good things in life, it will end.
So too, eventually, will my Star Alliance Gold membership.
“Lufthansa Flight 756 to Mumbai is now boarding,” the intercom said sweetly, snapping me out of my daydream. Even the announcements are nicer in the Senator Lounge. I sighed.
I filled my silver stainless steel Atlantic 10 Conference water bottle with sparking water from the soda fountain; I no longer cared about the passive-aggressive looks. Leaving my empty artisan glass bottle at my seat, I bid adieu to the Senator Lounge. I strolled onto my plane through the premier boarding lane, cutting ahead of hundreds of weary-looking travelers waiting in line with their boarding groups.
Whenever I again visit an airport lounge, I will smile at the man in the grey blazer. I will take naps and never pass up free beer. I will always wear my tennis shoes and I will never be too sophisticated to eschew using a glass. Unless, of course, there is Franziskaner Weissbier on tap.