London's Gatwick Airport has long been the butt of jokes, the red-headed stepchild of the UK capital's airports -- an unloved zoo crammed with clueless, milling holidaymakers that you have to dodge while pelting your way through its long corridors (and across the world's highest airport bridge) to make your flight. Mostly, that's been a fair cop.
While most business travellers will head for Heathrow, a sizeable proportion of British Airways' European flights depart from Gatwick. That means that if you're connecting in London from Australia and want to earn Qantas points and benefit from your Qantas frequent flyer status, you may well end up at LGW instead of LHR -- or even both in one journey.
Or if you (or your corporate travel agents) aren't very vigilant, you might even find yourself flying into Gatwick on a "London" booking.
So with Gatwick's reputation, I wasn't expecting much from British Airways' Terraces Lounge, the business class offering that oneworld partner frequent flyers with Qantas Gold or other oneworld Sapphire status can enter. But I was very pleasantly surprised.
Location & Impressions
The new lounge is part of BA's Gatwick upgrades, which also include a fantastic spacious new check-in/bag-drop area.
(BA should, however, include fast-track security on departure for business class passengers. Gatwick's is a nightmare, since it's still primarily a holiday airport and vacationers don't really understand how to pack a carry-on bag.)
After waiting your turn through security, dodge the dreadful duty-free maze and head for the gates. You'll also have to wend your way around a scrum of people right in the main thoroughfare by the escalators: some bright spark at the airport decided that the only gate display boards in the terminal should be hung bang in the middle of the main walking route.
Follow the yellow-and-black signs to the lounge and head up the hilariously named "CIP Staircase 1". (There's a lift if you're mobility impaired, but it's a slow one -- time to drop the handle on your wheelie bag and lug it upstairs.)
As you enter, the bathrooms and showers are off to your left, with a large, welcoming area containing desks for lounge check-in and re-ticketing straight ahead of you.
(There were a few delays when I flew through, which naturally meant British people in queues to rebook onto other flights. Keep an eye out for the desk that you need so that you don't inadvertently politely queue for the wrong one.)
The lounge itself is essentially a large upside-down L, wide and long, with numerous spots to find yourself either a quiet area down the far end by the bar. With its top-floor perch and windows all around, it's one of the lightest and brightest lounges I know.
British Airways, oneworld and BA partner airilne business class passengers flying from Gatwick are allowed in.
So are frequent flyers in economy if they have the equivalent of Qantas Gold status: oneworld Sapphire, BA Silver, and so on.
Qantas Club members without frequent flyer status are only allowed in if they're on an itinerary on the way to or from Australia.
I arrived in the late morning, just in time for the last bit of breakfast to be served. The spread was excellent, with pastries galore, toast, cereal, fruit, yoghurt and machines making decent coffee.
No hot brekky though, so grab one at the arrivals lounge in Heathrow or when you're in London.
Lunch was brought out just before my flight left, with a very well thought through salad and sandwich bar with all the trimmings you'd need to make a decent bite to eat. (If you're connecting on BA's Europe flights, you'll need it -- the food doesn't hold a candle to Qantas' or Virgin Australia's domestic Australian catering.)
There's a fold-out cabinet for crisps, biscuits, cakes and so on too, which are also ripe for pilfering before your flight.
Wine, too, was a real pleasure. I'm admittedly something of a wine fan, and there were several top drops to be had, with five selections of red and four of white.
Champagne lovers, rejoice: BA's old Ayala swill has been replaced in its London business lounges by the very moreish Taittinger, which you might know from its placement in Qantas' First Class Lounges in Sydney and Melbourne.
Don't forget, though, that the bubbles aren't out on display -- you'll need to flag down a passing staffer for it. Fortunately, unlike the Terminal 3 lounge last time I was there, the lounge staffers aren't practically invisible at Gatwick.
All too often, the spirits rack is neglected -- and while pure spirits don't go off, liqueurs do. It's pleasing to see an airline improving the quality of its business class spirits selection.
A great spirits rack, cabinets of mixers (which I suppose some people call "soft drinks") and excellent coffee machines make this one of the better served business lounges I've been to in terms of beverages.
BA's Gatwick lounge gets full marks for the seating options, whether you want to cluster around a sofa with colleagues or sit down in a comfortable chair with your laptop.
Extra points for multiple power points right next to excellent laptop-working chairs at the far end. (Qantas might want to borrow some of these chairs for its own lounges, in fact -- they're really very good.)
The wifi was unimpressive, though -- during a relatively quiet period, it hit just 1Mbps down and 0.38Mbps up. Not good enough. If you need to use it, don't forget to note down the current password displayed at the welcome desks or on the departures screens.
With an impressive range of seating and a decent amount of quiet areas around, there's ample room for relaxation.
Freshening up after a long inbound trip, I was very impressed by the brilliant shower rooms, which are the equal of their Heathrow Terminal 5 counterparts, with a rain head, handheld wand and side jets to wake you up and wash off the grime of London or the rest of your journey. Elemis toiletries round out the shower room offerings.
"I can't believe this is Gatwick," I said on Twitter after visiting the lounge, and several AusBT readers agreed with me. This is a seriously good, seriously convenient business lounge.
Improvements? Better wifi, hot food -- but that's really it. This is a welcome escape from the chaos of the rest of Gatwick, and a top-notch offering for business travellers.