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Change at Athens – part three – Lounging About

Ever wondered what goes on in those areas of airports called Lounges? Not the main departures area after boarding pass control which is often called the Departure Lounge, everyone who has a boarding pass goes there to get to the gate their plane leaves from, but the more discreet partitioned off areas.

There are VIP (Very Important Passengers) lounges and CIP (Commercially Important Passengers) lounges. I can’t tell you about the VIP ones because I’ve never been able to make my way into one – obviously I’m less important than I thought I was. CIP lounges are available in one way or another to everyone, though.

The most obvious is if you are travelling in First Class/Business Class/Club Class part of the benefit you get from the higher fare is the right to use a CIP lounge to wait in. If you are a very frequent traveller with one airline, or its alliance partners, and belong to its frequent flyers scheme, your membership is upgraded from the basic level (which just gives you points you can exchange for flights) to one of several higher levels which include amongst the privileges the right to use CIP lounges even if travelling in the cheapest seats at the back of the plane. Finally there are ways to buy your way in (legally, that is, bribing the staff might also work in some countries but I don’t suggest you try it in case you end up in the airport police station instead)

So why bother? Well the lounges offer at a minimum free good quality self-service hot and cold drinks, and nibbles such as crisps and biscuits, comfortable seating, a quiet environment to relax or work in, power points for laptops, often free wifi, or computers with internet access. There’s usually television, and magazines and newspapers to read. Lounges in Europe will also provide free alcoholic drinks, these may not be available in Moslem countries, and the US tends to charge extra for them. Some have showers you can use, and some also provide more substantial food at appropriate times of the day, though this is less common than it used to be. If you have two or three hours to kill they are a pleasant way of avoiding the rush and bustle of the main terminal areas.

At Athens there are CIP lounges in both Zone A and Zone B. Some are run by, or on behalf of, individual airlines, who may also accept passengers from other airlines by agreement (for example British Airways have a lounge in Zone A which is also used by passengers flying with Royal Jordanian). There are also lounges run by ground handling companies (these are the companies that contract with airlines to provide all sorts of services from baggage handling to checkin) which smaller airlines tend to use.

In Zone B there are airline lounges operated by Aegean, Alitalia, Lufthansa, and Olympic, and Goldair Handling also have a CIP lounge.

In Zone A British Airways and Olympic have airline lounges, and Swissport Handling also operate a CIP lounge.

The lounges are at the outer end of each zone, furthest from the boarding pass control points.

If you are a higher-grade member of a frequent flyer scheme, you’ll already know all about lounges and which ones you are entitled to use. If you are flying in business class to Rhodes you will be able to use the Aegean or Olympic lounges in Zone B, depending on which of the two you are flying with. On your return home in the same class, you should be told at checkin which lounge is available for you to use, or you should be able to look it up on the airline website.

So for the rest of us who can’t afford business class, what options are there? Well, you can buy access to some of the lounges in advance – the Olympic lounges in both zones, the Goldair lounge in Zone B, and the Swissport lounge in Zone A. If you look on the Internet you will find quite a few companies who will sell this to you, but they all seem to route through to a service called LoungePass (www.loungepass.com).

The fee entitles you to use the lounge you select (at the time you book) for up to 3 hours on the date you booked it for. They all provide snacks, tea, coffee, soft drinks, beers, wine, spirits, comfortable chairs, internet access (though not always wifi), decent airconditioning, televison, magazines or newspapers, and a relaxing atmosphere. The Olympic lounge in Zone B is reputed to have showers as well, but I’ve never checked this out personally.

If your wait at Athens is really long, there is an airport hotel, the Sofitel, literally opposite the terminal. It isn’t cheap, but is of a high standard. You could also get the KTEL bus from the bus stops on the arrivals level to Rafina, which is Athens’ second ferry port, much smaller and quieter than Piraeus, which has some less expensive hotels and what I’m told are very nice fish restaurants on the waterfront. Finally you could go into the city, but make sure you have enough time, and watch out for the heat in high summer.

Incidentally you could also look for pay-as-you-use CIP lounges at your departure airport, many have them. Rhodes, however does not, so you’re stuck with sitting in the main terminal area with the rest of us.