Rock-Star Treatment: A Review of the First Class Lounge, Private Jet Centre, London City Airport
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To The Point
The little-known First Class Lounge at London City Airport offers a unique experience for any passengers willing to pay for it. Pros: Professional and personalized service, plenty of amenities and an unforgettable tarmac transfer. Cons: High compulsory entry price, unglamorous entrance and no privacy.
London City (LCY) is one of the five airports serving the city of London (or one of six, if you count London Southend). It’s a unique airport amongst these five for several reasons. It is, by far, the closest geographically to the centre of London. Its short runway means it can’t handle any aircraft larger than Airbus A318 or Embraer aircraft. It’s designed for business travelers, and so maintains check-in deadlines of only 20 minutes (actually possible for an airport this small). And, finally, it doesn’t have any normal airport lounges, both because it’s designed to be an airport passengers spend as little time in as possible and because it doesn’t really have the terminal space. Plus, it receives so many premium and status-holding business passengers that any lounge would be absolutely packed.
So how is this a lounge review for an airport without normal lounges?
Well, there are actually two special lounges at London City airport that most travelers are unaware of, and I recently had the opportunity to visit one of them.
These two special lounges, the Business Class Lounge and First Class Lounge are at the Private Jet Centre Terminal, which also serves the airport primarily for the numerous private jets that use the airport. London City Airport is close to Canary Wharf, which, if you are unfamiliar with the area, is London’s version of Wall Street.
The only way to access the First Class Lounge is to buy a single-entry ticket. No matter who you are flying with on a commercial flight or what elite status you have, you will not have access based on your ticket or status alone.
Single-access passes cost £95 per person and can be booked online from the Lounge Buddy platform. You must have a same-day flight arriving into or departing from London City Airport, and these flight details are required when booking. I’d love to tell you I was boarding a private jet, but this lounge review was prior to boarding a regular to Berlin Tegel Airport (TXL) on British Airways in economy.
While this entry price is certainly steep, this is not a normal airport lounge, and it has some unique experiences that truly make it a first-class experience.
Note that this lounge is not available for passengers departing on BA1 to New York because of the additional security checks that accompany that flight.
After paying the £95 online, I was directed to complete an online form with my travel details. This made the experience pretty seamless — I did not need to tell staff my flight details on the day at all. Lounge Buddy then emailed me a voucher with the date of entry and instructed me to print it to gain entry on the day. This is understandable for Priority Pass type lounges but felt decidedly un-first class. I’m happy to report the voucher was not physically needed, as the lounge staff were completely on top of my visit.
This personalised service started with an email from the lounge manager confirming the booking and providing additional arrival instructions. I could either make my own way to the Private Jet Centre or they would happily collect me from the main airport terminal following checking in with British Airways and drive me to the PJC. Both were before security, so would involve briefly leaving the airport precinct. If you have any luggage to check in you will need to check this in yourself with your operating airline in the main terminal before meeting your driver.
I explained, via email, that I would be arriving at the airport by Docklands Light Rail and would like a transfer to the PJC. They quickly replied asking me to call them when I was ready to be picked up.
Approximately five minutes before my arrival, I called for a terminal pick-up and was impressed that the person who answered knew exactly who I was and was already waiting for me in the terminal car park. I had heard reports that the lounge staff would even greet you at the terminal entrance with your name on a sign, chauffeur style, but I never saw any way to sign up for that.
I quickly found the PJC-branded Mercedes van in the carpark only a few metres from the terminal.
The driver, Ramon, knew who I was immediately and greeted me warmly. He loaded my bags into the van and whisked me away to the PJC, apologizing that the journey took more than a few minutes because of the traffic.
Legroom in the van was great.
Despite luxury sports cars parked outside, the entrance to the PJC could not have looked less first class or welcoming. A huge steel gate blocked the entrance, which Ramon quickly opened with his access pass. It felt a lot more like a prison complex entrance than a luxury lounge. I understand the need for tight security at any airport, but the entrance could have done with a serious refurbishment to reflect its premium aspirations.
There was the Business Lounge entrance to the left and the First Class Lounge entrance to the right.
Ramon quickly escorted me through the dark passageway to the First Class Lounge entrance, where the front-desk attendant was waiting for me.
Ramon (who would look after me from curb to plane as personal attendant) asked her where I should be placed. That’s when I realised the biggest issue with this lounge: It was designed for travelers wanting privacy and luxury, but while it delivered on the luxury element (inside at least), it was not actually private at all. There was only one other passenger in the First Class Lounge, but the staff were immediately worried that my arrival would interrupt his private telephone call he was on.
The lounge staff managed to usher me past the other passenger to a fairly dark side room. The other guest and I couldn’t see each other while I was seated, but I could still hear his side of the conversation. This side area did not have a closing door, so it was quite exposed to the rest of the lounge.
The lounge itself could have easily seated 15 or more passengers, although all the seats were in the same big room and one side room with no privacy, with no door or even divider between the two. I couldn’t get my head around why the lounge was designed this way — it would have been far more logical to have the big room separated into a few small rooms with closing doors. That would have provided the privacy the current design sorely lacked.
The other passenger left for his flight (by private jet, I believe) soon after I arrived, and for the next hour I was the only passenger in the lounge. I paced the room, not entirely sure what to do with myself. It felt a bit like I had organised a party and nobody had turned up.
The furnishings were suitably luxurious and far nicer than anything I’d seen in the London City Airport terminal. Style is a matter of personal taste, of course — it did feel a little like the upmarket aged care home my late grandmother spent her twilight years in — but the lounge was very comfortable, nonetheless.
Ramon asked for my passport when I arrived and also offered to take my bags through security himself to save time come boarding. This involved an awkward situation where I had to remove my liquids bag (with my personal toiletries) and he carried this, with my luggage, away to security for me. Ramon did offer me a liquids bag if I needed it.
While I like the idea of having your security clearance go as smoothly as possible, ultimately this only saved me a few seconds of time. It would have been great if there’d been a small table with some security bins (just like at a normal security checkpoint) near the lounge front desk, where passengers could discreetly remove liquids before staff carried filled bins to the security checkpoint while passengers relaxed.
Food and Beverage
In my side room of the lounge, there was a full bar, stocked with more drinks than I could ever get through in a day, let alone a few hours. I liked the Bloody Mary station to pass the time but opened the ice bucket to see that it was completely empty.
I wandered the few steps to the front desk to ask for ice, and the attendant apologized and quickly brought me a full bucket. I got the feeling staff prided themselves on passengers not having to ask for anything and were embarrassed by this minor oversight. A discreet service bell would have been a neat way to ask for assistance without having to wander out to reception.
There was an assortment of crisps and biscuits on the bar, as well as a large industrial-size coffee machine. Given the lounge-pass price point and clientele, it would have been a nicer feature to have a proper Italian espresso machine out of sight in the kitchen, and have staff trained to make proper coffees to order rather than having passengers make their own.
There were plenty of staff on duty and given I was the only passenger for most of my visit, they didn’t appear to be rushed.
Shortly after I sat down, my personal attendant brought in a plate of assorted sandwiches, which were fresh and tasty. There was no a la carte menu, but additional food and services could be provided for an additional charge.
They could have implemented a very limited menu of complimentary cooked-to-order meals the same way some Priority Pass lounges, like the No1 Lounge at Gatwick Airport (LGW), do, although I suspect they receive so few guests each day that it’s not as practical.
Approximately halfway through my visit, Ramon then brought in a plate of macarons and other assorted small desserts. I am an absolute sucker for candied fruit, and the little plum squares were my kryptonite. I’m glad he only brought out three, as I would have devoured plates and plates of them and then felt quite ill for my flight!
Despite several wines on offer in the minibar, there was no Champagne. I didn’t ask if this was available on request, as I felt guilty about them opening a bottle for me, given I would only have had one glass at most.
The single bathroom was clean, modern and well-stocked with Aesop products which, as an Australian, I’m always happy to see.
The other big issue with the design of the lounge was that the main room appeared to be sandwiched between two staff areas, meaning staff were walking through the lounge past me every two minutes the entire stay. It made it difficult to photograph, as they were constantly apologizing for being in my way. Again, for a lounge that prides itself on offering privacy for a sizable fee, this layout made no sense.
It was really cool being so close to the private jets arriving and departing metres from the lounge windows. I was advised it was OK to take photos of the lounge provided I did not photograph any private-jet registrations.
There is one reason I really wanted to try out this lounge, and that was for the way they transfer you to your flight. London doesn’t have the amazing Lufthansa First Class Terminal in Frankfurt Airport (FRA), where you’re driven across the tarmac to your plane, but believe it or not, this transfer experience came close.
I did not once have to say which flight I was on or when it departed — the staff knew from my booking. I was asked if I could like to board first or last, though they added that sometimes the airline dictates this for them. I asked to board first. When Ramon brought in the dessert plate, he updated me and said that the inbound aircraft had arrived early, so they expected an on-time departure.
Approximately 25 minutes before departure, the rock-star treatment really began. The next five minutes were the best part of my entire day.
The entire lounge staff seemed to mobilize, with lots of radio communication and serious faces for little old me. Ramon walked me a few steps through one door to a security checkpoint. There were three airport security staff waiting just for me — they must have the easiest job at the airport, given how few passengers were there during my visit.
While the security staff were professional, they were very much airport security rather than lounge staff, and were completely by the book in the same way they would have been if I were passing security for a Ryanair flight from London Luton Airport (LTN). I could see my luggage and liquids bags had already gone through the X-ray and were waiting for me post security. There were understandably no photos allowed here.
After I passed through security, I walked a few steps outside onto the tarmac to another waiting van with a number of lounge and security staff escorting me, just a few feet away from the private jets.
It felt totally over the top but was really cool — it’s what I imagine a famous musician goes through to get from the dressing room to the stage for a concert!
Noting the back windows of the van did not open and were heavily tinted, I asked Ramon if I could sit in the front seat and wind down the window to watch everything on the tarmac. Nothing was too much trouble for Ramon, and he encouraged me to sit wherever I liked.
The light was fading quickly as the sun set, and my attendant started driving across the tarmac to my plane. I would have happily had him drive me around for hours, as the views from the van window and the buzz from a fully functioning airport at evening peak hour were heaven.
Ramon parked right next to our plane and then asked for my boarding pass (he still had my passport) and walked quickly inside to the gate area for British Airways staff to board me. I received a number of strange looks from both passengers and ground crew as I sat in the passenger seat of a van, in casual clothes, by myself, on a busy airport tarmac.
Ramon then came back, asked if I wanted to board by the front or rear stairs (LCY does not have aerobridges) and carried my bag all the way to the plane steps. He wished me a pleasant journey, and I boarded my flight to Berlin.
The First Class Lounge at London City Airport was a real treat for me both as an AvGeek and someone who loves traveling (but hates crowds and queues). Being driven across the tarmac to the plane is something almost unheard of in London (unless you have unexpected tight connections at Heathrow), and the faultless service I received from my personal lounge attendant was definitely first class.
Unfortunately, the lounge suffers from serious design flaws, which means there is almost no privacy. My enjoyment was largely due to the fact that I was the only person there late on a Tuesday afternoon for most of my visit. If my visit had been at the same time on a Friday, the lounge probably would have been full of other travelers.
The entrance fee is certainly high, but it’s worth it for the completely stress-free experience from curb to plane. Although London City features mostly business destinations in Western Europe, paying for access for this lounge would make a fantastic and memorable start to a honeymoon, special birthday or anniversary trip.
All photos by the author.
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