Reduce stress levels and make your travel more enjoyable by using one of the VIP lounges at the international airport in Lagos, writes Demola Ojo
The formalities associated with international travels can be tiring and are sometimes a deterrent for intending travelers who need to get on a plane for business purposes, pleasure or both. Getting through customs and immigration has become even more grueling at present with the rise of terrorism and the threat of it. Throw in a chaotic check-in process and sometimes hours on a queue to get to the departure hall on the airport’s airside, like at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport Lagos, and you have an ideal recipe for exhaustion.
Remember, there is still a boring and sometimes uncomfortable waiting period at the departure hall in preparation for boarding, and what you get is a back seat if you’re lucky while you also spend valuable time searching for a charging port for the multiple electronic devices most of us are dependent on nowadays.
Considering that travelling should be enjoyed (some people list travelling as a hobby) you sometimes wonder why you have to go through all the hassle just because you’re not flying premium. Yes, the experience is markedly different for those who have stumped up the significantly extra cash or are lucky enough to belong to an organization that foots the bill to fly First or Business class.
For starters, airlines speed up the check-in and immigration processes for their premium passengers. Then there are the lounges. A VIP airport lounge changes the travelling experience completely. Rather than uncomfortable hard back seats in a stuffy departure hall, you get luxurious sofas and a lot more.
An example is the Oasis Lounge at the MMIA. The closest of the lounges to the “E” departure gate, this lounge is open from 11 am to 11 pm and can seat up to 50 people in an environment that is far removed from the bustle of the hall outside. With comfortable seats in leather and animal skin to a well-stocked bar, chilling at a lounge watching Margaret Thatcher’s funeral on CNN or Nigeria’s Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala being interviewed by Amanpour immediately blots the nerve-racking experience of having to remove and put belts and shoes back on.
The lounge caters exclusively to Virgin Atlantic’s Upper class and Gold level passengers on its frequent flyer programme from 6.30 am to 10 am and to Delta Airlines from 5pm till 9pm. At other times though (and sometimes during this period depending on space and your persuasive skills) it is open to other passengers for a fee.
For N6000 0r $40, you get a meal from the menu – ranging from chicken wraps and fries to spaghetti and meatballs (a personal favourite) – as many bottles of water or soft drinks you can consume, and six shots of liquor or 3 cans of your favourite beer. There’s also free wifi internet and a range of the day’s newspapers. Passengers flying economy on Virgin Atlantic have it better as 4000 or $30 grants access. However, if you are a Priority Pass or Airport Angel card holder, access is free.
Another lounge you can take advantage of is the extensive Gabfol Lounge, which has a two-tier setup. There is the restaurant-like setting with basic chairs and tables. Access is free, though one would need to buy a meal or a drink at least. Meals average 3000 and with it come free internet access and the opportunity to chill in a somewhat comfy environment before your flight.
There’s a VIP Lounge too, where premium class passengers of United Airlines and Arik get to relax. Here the glass doors slide open after the doorman inputs a code into the lock, thus heightening the exclusive feel. There are more comfortable chocolate-coloured sofas to recline on and you could actually take a nap on one of them, depending on the number of people around.
For the walk-in passenger, Priority Pass and Airport Angel cards also allow access, as does a fee of N8,250 or $50. Gabfol comes with an extensive view of the tarmac if this catches your fancy. You could also take a quick bath for free in one of the dedicated showers if you feel the need to.
ASL and SDC
Also on the first floor of the departure lounge (airside) is the ASL lounge. The lounge is themed in a racy red and white motif and is the dedicated lounge for premium passengers of a host of airlines, which include Emirates, Qatar, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, Lufthansa and more.
The expansive lounge has two sections; smoking and non-smoking. Expectedly, all the perks including food, drinks and free wi-fi internet are available. Access via Priority Pass and Airport Angel too. And for a non-premium passenger without any of these cards, N8000 or $50 would suffice. On the ground floor, the SDC Lounge replicates these benefits but for N6000.
Dedicated Airline Lounges
A few of the lounges at MMIA are strictly for particular airlines and in some cases, their alliance partners. The British Airways lounge and the South African Airways lounge fall under this category. The SAA lounge at Gabfol is open from 5:30 pm and grants access to First and Business class passengers as well as Gold card-holders of the Voyager frequent flyer programme. Gold card-holders of other Star Alliance members are also welcome, as long as they are flying with an alliance member.
Apart from the usual benefits of snacks, drinks and internet, other valuable services include being able to update tickets, miles and generally get other associated challenges sorted out from the comfort of the lounge. The BA lounge with a capacity for a hundred people was built to the same international standard as the airline’s other Executive Club lounges at other airports across the world. The lounge operates between 6pm and 10:30pm daily.
Facilities include a bar area offering a range of international and local beverages as well as tea and coffee. It also has a business centre that can hold nine desk tops and the option to print documents.
More airlines are working on their dedicated lounges. The Air France/KLM lounge is being refurbished while insiders at Lufthansa reveal that the airline is working on plans for a lounge along with its fellow star alliance members.
Some organisations also have dedicated lounges for either staff or special costumers. Examples of such include MTN and Diamond Bank. The Diamond Bank Lounge, which is next to the SAA lounge at Gabfol, is restricted to members of Diamond Xclusive – a club of account holders that either earn a gross monthly salary of N1 million or a turnover of 10 million over the previous three months. Access to the lounge gets you free snacks and 20% off food and drinks at the next door Gabfol lounge. The same discount applies for a shower too.
This writer asked why these services don’t come free for such account holders. The response from the hostess? The lounge is all about exclusivity and networking opportunities. Anyone who gains access is aware of the fact that every other occupant is a high-net worth individual to a certain degree. ”So many people have made important contacts here,” explained the hostess who apparently is actually a banker. Apparently, the lounge is also a ploy for the bank to pitch more of its services to this class of customers.
As can be gleaned from the pieces of information presented above, you don’t have to fly premium or earn a million naira a month to minimise the hassle of travel via MMIA. Rather, planning your trip in such a way that there’s ample time between passing through immigration and boarding the plane would go a long way in helping you refresh, as long as you can make use of one of the VIP lounges at the airport for a nominal fee.