In London Heathrow Airport, No. 1 Traveller lounge lets you luxuriate


No. 1 Traveller has a room for every need and whim, such as a game room with a snooker table that overlooks a large den stuffed with couches and tables. (Andrea Sachs/The Washington Post)
November 11, 2011

Please let my flight be delayed. Please let my flight be delayed. I beg you, delay it.

As I nestled into my cubbyhole, sinking deeper into a duvet as white and puffy as a cloud, I silently wished for a mechanical problem, an overbooked flight, an airline strike — anything that would extend my layover at London Heathrow. Perhaps Iceland could release another cloud of volcanic ash.

A longtime member of steerage class, I typically spend airport limbo time slumped in non-ergonomic chairs, pacing the people movers and, at my most desperate, scanning the bottles of liquor in duty-free. By the time I settle into coach, I’m exhausted by all the ennui.

Yet at No. 1 Traveller, a new commoner’s lounge with aristocratic taste, I discovered a mini-paradise in purgatory.

The amenities-rich lounge opened in Terminal 3 in August, the latest outpost in a growing family that includes sites at nearby airports Gatwick and Stansted (two each). Everyone is invited to this party.

Of course, pampering waiting rooms are not novel ideas. At Heathrow, many carriers, such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, swing open their lounge doors to passengers brandishing tickets of a certain distinction. In addition, down the hall from No. 1, Servisair Executive Lounge offers travelers snacks, drinks and WiFi for about $29 per three-hour period. What it doesn’t provide: horizontal-friendly furnishings.

No. 1 Traveller is the only non-VIP, post-security venue with napping and showering facilities. Yotel, the futuristic hotel whose rooms fit guests like girdles, sits outside the cordon. If you oversleep, be prepared for a multi-yard dash to the magnetometers.

“It’s like a little hotel with a bar and a cinema,” said the neatly dressed attendant who showed me around. “And it’s a lot more relaxed environment. There are no flight announcements.” Display screens behind the bar, however, do flash flight data.

For about $48 for three hours, guests gain full access to more rooms than in a traditional home. There’s a capacious living room with large windows overlooking the airplanes; mod-glam couches and sculptural light fixtures; multi-tasking tables; and hanging egg-shaped chairs that softly scramble near a living garden wall. Also: a bar (free drinks, unless champagne or mixology is involved); a sparkling-white dining area with hot and cold dishes that change with the sun’s movements (a la carte items are extra); a movie room with stadium seating and such Anglophile flicks as “Atonement” and “Pride and Prejudice”; a library; a game room; a spa (showers included, but treatments are extra); a colorfully loud kids’ pen; quiet nooks with Mac computers and . . . I’m sure I’m forgetting something. Oh, right, the Snug Room, a cuddly cocoon that looks as if it were decorated by tween moles.

If you feel overwhelmed by the possibilities — you’re here to relax, remember — you can opt for just a room, a dimly lit alcove of peace and privacy.

No. 1 features 12 sleeping chambers that resemble ships’ cabins, including a porthole on the front door and wood floors and trimmings. Singles rent for about $32 an hour, with a two-hour minimum and no access to the main amenities. Exceptions are made, however: A recent traveler had rented a room for 10 hours and was allowed to freely roam the lounge. With that kind of investment (yes, I did the math), he deserved it.

The accommodations — bed with extra pillow, full mini-bar, glass-enclosed bathroom with toilet, sink and shower — are designed for self-sufficiency. If my room had decided to hoist anchor and sail away, I wouldn’t have needed airlifted provisions for days. I could easily have subsisted on the barfly diet of Pringles, nuts and rum and Cokes, and the BBC programming on my flat-screen TV. I might, though, have asked the Coast Guard to float me some conditioner; the shower comes with liquid soap only.

The sleeping quarters resemble a wall unit with a body-size opening. You crawl into it. Then burrow under the duvet. Then hope that your plane is delayed.

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