The No1 Traveller lounge in London Heathrow Terminal 3 -- unaffiliated with any airline, yet advertising a quiet yet stylish place to wait for your flight -- opened last month to much anticipation, including from us at Australian Business Traveller.
With a real dearth of decent unaffiliated lounges, I was curious to find out whether it would live up to the hype, so I headed over in the late afternoon last week en route to Singapore. Since I had access via the Priority Pass scheme, I went to investigate.
Once you've made it through the Heathrow Terminal 3 duty free shop gauntlet, head for Airline Lounge Area F. If you're familiar with the location of the British Airways Galleries Lounges that Qantas shares in the terminal, the No1 Traveller lounge is right next door and up the stairs or in the lift.
And depressingly 1980s industrial stairs and lift they are, too. Don't worry, you are in fact going the right way and there's a lounge at the top.
Once inside, my initial impressions of the lounge were that it was chic and buzzing, dark and clubby.
As I wandered around, my impressions were confirmed. While there's a lot of clever lighting design, it's difficult to hide the fact that there are windows on only one side of the lounge, making the inside sections quite dark even on a fairly sunny late summer afternoon.
It's slightly mazelike, too -- there's a central section with computers, a games room, and a cinema, with a bar, spa/hairstylist, and seating area around that.
Unfortunately, the maze doesn't include much soundproofing, and since it's a busy lounge there was a fair bit of noise -- both from other people in the lounge and from the "background" music -- wherever I stopped.
Entry costs £25 (A$38) for every three-hour session if booked online. Members of the Priority Pass, Airport Angel, Diners Club, TTT MoneyCorp (Privilege) and WEXAS lounge access networks are also allowed in.
While there was a fairly large buffet table, snacks were sparse and seemed very picked-over.
The list of included food was tiny -- choice of either soup or sandwich or eggs on toast -- while the dishes available for order were expensive. It feels a little much to pay £25 to get in and then have to pay £14 (A$21) for a bowl of curry.
For those prices, stop off at the seafood bar in the main terminal on the way into the lounge -- but, frankly, you shouldn't need to bring your own food at these lounge access prices.
The bar was also disappointing, with cheap bargain wine (Yellow Tail, Arniston Bay) but a reasonable range of spirits -- although only some of them are included in your entry fee. Champagne and cocktails are extra.
Wifi speeds in the lounge were fine, at a 4Mbps download rate and 2Mbps upload.
Windows PCs and iMacs are available in little nooks in the centre areas, although there's not a lot of sound insulation in those spaces from the busy lounge and background music. There were more people using laptops on their knees than the computers provided.
And the noise was the main problem with working in the lounge.
Despite the lounge's size, there's not an awful lot of private seating areas around, nor anywhere you can really get away from the hubbub to get some work done.
(Experiences of our readers passing through the lounge a week earlier confirmed the noise problem, even during the relatively early afternoon period.)
Seating seems to be arranged more for group of friends off on holidays together than for business travellers looking to get some work done in the lounge. That impression was borne out by the lounge's clientele, very few of whom seemed to be travelling solo on business.
With a cinema (really a large flatscreen TV with some chairs), table football and a bar, the lounge seems to be set up for relaxing. But there's so much noise that it's more suited to gearing up for an energetic holiday than for relaxing before a long flight.
The spa and hair salon (including a gents' barbers with wet shave service) is a nice touch, and prices are reasonable: roughly £1 (A$1.50) per minute for a massage, and £20 (A$31) for a gents' haircut, which is decent for London prices. Manicure-pedicure, gel nails and a viper serum wrinkle-busting treatment are also on offer.
Which all sounds great, but I arrived in the lounge well in advance of the afternoon-evening rush-hour for long-haul flights, and there was only a single massage/nail therapist on duty, who had bookings all the way through the evening. So make sure you check what's available and book in advance if you want to use the spa.
Private bedrooms with showers are available too, at £20 (A$31) for a single or £30 (A$45) for a twin, although I didn't investigate those.
All in all, the No1 Traveller lounge promised a lot but didn't deliver. Stingy dining options, cheap wine, a noisy space and unavailable spa services don't really stand up to business travellers' expectations.
Is it better than the terminal? Yes. Would I spend A$60 for access and a bowl of curry? Probably not.