Britain versus France: A tale of two lounges

by John Walton
August 04, 2019
The staffed bar in the Air France lounge is a lovely focus. Image: Air france.

Clearly, it’s the season where new airport lounges are unveiled, with updated outstation facilities from Air France at Washington Dulles and British Airways at San Francisco providing an excellent counterpoint of lounge design between two full-service airlines.

Both airlines have strong historical brands and both lounges are in bright, airy spaces with large windows — but only one of them feeling like a modern, enticing place to spend some time.

France is in ze air…and in ze lounge

To my mind, Air France’s lounge at IAD is the clear winner. It’s certainly helped by the sense of perspective that the double-height bar can give, but it’s also the modern look and feel that says “now” rather than “some time in the last forty years”.

WATCH thermal video of Boeing 757 landing at Gatwick  

The use of the orange chairs in juxtaposition to the red and blue of the French tricolore is inspired: these really pop. I’m slightly less convinced by the dark wood (is it really wood) panelling behind the buffet, mind.

I very much like the informal arrangement of the Air France seating area. Image: Air France

Note the repeated use of Air France’s ribbon-like “le swoosh” (almost certainly not its official name, but you know the post-name icon I mean) in the dividers: this is a smart branding implementation that reinforces patterns in the onboard hard and soft product within the aircraft.

FUTURE SHOCK: Printed food and slower flights.

Crucially, I like both the range of seating in the lounge and the fact that it’s not a set of serried ranks of immovable furniture. This adds flexibility for passengers travelling in groups of two or more while still allowing single travellers to avoid feeling like they’re plonking themselves down like a spare wheel.

I like the bright yet elegant dining area. Image: Air France

It could be better on my usual lounge triad needs, though: a comfortable seat, with power, and space for a laptop/tablet plus glass/plate, but that’s largely on the power side. I’m not a huge fan of the high-perching chairs by the windows, but at least these have a half-back and a good supply of power sockets.

Overall: stylish, fun, welcoming, comfortable, ooh-la-la.

British Airways’ lounge doesn’t really say anything about British Airways

By contrast, the British Airways lounge could be literally any airline ever. Grey carpet, white walls. Chairs in a collection of grey, beige and black. Splodgy abstract art (from local artists, at least, BA says) and some stock photos that look like they come from a collection also used for inspirational office posters.

Could this not be any more imaginative? Image: British Airways

The bar looks expensive, and I note the useful addition of power sockets underneath — if passengers will ever find them — but nothing says either “British Airways” or “San Francisco”.

I don’t mean that the supports of the bar need to be Tower Bridge on one side and the Golden Gate Bridge on the other, but as BA has shown to such great effect this year the airline has a massive amount of brand history and equity.

Why not a series of photographs with captions along the lines of “British Airways predecessor BOAC started flying to San Francisco in the year X”? No glamour shots of the flagship A380 at SFO? No historical shot of the first BOAC or BA 747 to serve the city? No use of either the legacy Speedbird or Speedwing, or the current Speedmarque, in patterns?

These stools don’t look especially comfortable, but the view is pretty good. Image: British Airways

I also see very few places within the lounge that meet my triad of requirements: varied seating, power, and a table. (Those high-chair perchy things in the airline’s PR snaps don’t really count, same as in the Air France lounge.) The only suitable places I spot are at the business centre desk area, but that is at least a decent spot.

Overall: stuffy, boring, beige, corporate,

Dine on demand is the new black

Both lounges, though, offer preflight dining to allow passengers to head straight to bed after takeoff.

That makes much more sense at Air France’s Washington Dulles outstation (flight time to Paris: a fast 7h30 redeye, when minimising service time and maximising sleep is most important) than it does at British Airways’ San Francisco port (flight time to London: a longer 10h25 overnight, allowing a couple of hours for a meal service and still a good sleep).

Preflight dining is great, but is it really necessary at SFO? Image: British Airways

But it’s still great to offer it for those passengers who appreciate the service — and other lounges (and lounge providers) should take note.




  1. Not that I'll ever visit either one of them, living in Chile, but British is generic as one can get. How hard is it to put up historical photos? I frequently visit American's Flagship Lounge at LAX and they have a fantastic series of huge black & white photos of various movie stars boarding American planes (most all DC piston types) at LAX back in the day. I took photos of each of them.....they're that good. And really connect the airline to LAX. British never seems to really take a leap, so to speak, in their design of things. And then don't tend to refurbish until things become quite passe.