We're kicking off this week with a little daydreaming: When money is no object, the airport experience can actually be pretty sweet. Every large carrier offers rather luxurious perks to top-tier passengers, ranging from private check-in to car service to your plane on the tarmac, most often found at the airline's hub or home airports. Here, seven of the ultimate airport VIP experiences to add to your bucket list of dream travel experiences.
Virgin Atlantic at London’s Heathrow Airport
The legendary Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) is famous for its amenities, provided to travelers who book Upper Class for their international flights. The massive lounge features a spa -- with many free services including facials, beard trims, hair conditioning, and more -- in addition to other amenities like a convivial bar area and private showers. But perhaps lesser known is the complimentary Upper Class Wing service, also available to Upper Class fliers, which begins with a chauffeur-driven car that brings you to a private entrance in Terminal 3 at Heathrow. Check-in takes place in the car, meaning your credentials are checked, boarding pass issued, and bags hustled away, all before you even step inside the terminal. Once that's settled, you're escorted into Virgin’s “Private Security Channel” and taken to the Clubhouse to relax until your flight boards.
Not flying Virgin Atlantic but heading to or from Heathrow in first or business class? You can still use Heathrow VIP, a service that costs £2,000 (approximately $3,125) for up to three people that everyone from Arabian sheikhs to soccer stars like David Beckham have opted for. Departing passengers arrive in a special private forecourt and are taken to an exclusive lounge within the Windsor Suite in Terminal 5. All checked baggage is processed and taken to the airline as the concierge handles check-in, and guests pass through a private security line before being driven right onto the tarmac to the plane. Arriving passengers are picked up on the tarmac and taken to the Windsor Suite, where all customs and immigration checks are quickly dealt with, including baggage pickup.
Emirates at Dubai International Airport
Emirates, the flagship carrier of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), is consistently rated the number one airline in the world -- a fact that's reflected in Dubai, where the corporate headquarters are located. First class fliers are driven to Dubai International Airport (DXB) from anywhere in the UAE and taken to the award-winning First Class Lounge. Prepare for your journey at the Timeless Spa, where free treatments include back massages, manicures, hair blow outs, and more. There’s also a cigar bar, world-class restaurant, a massive wine cellar with dedicated sommeliers, and even a duty-free boutique inside the lounge. Traveling with family? There’s also a children’s play area and special food buffet just for kids. And everyone loves the easy boarding -- you step right from the lounge onto the plane.
Lufthansa at Frankfurt Airport
Lufthansa, Europe’s largest airline, makes Frankfurt Airport (FRA) its home base. So it makes sense that one of the carrier’s most luxurious VIP experiences happens there, in their ultra-exclusive First Class Terminal. It's located in a completely separate building, with a secluded entrance that features a valet service to park your car or to return rentals, in addition to handling all baggage check in. Once you're inside the nearly 20,000-square-foot facility, a personal assistant facilitates check in and passage through security. Wait for the flight in a lounge where you can enjoy fine dining and top-shelf drinks, take a Jacuzzi bath, smoke a stogie, or simply relax in one of the quiet rooms equipped with comfortable day beds. Once it's time to board, you'll of course be treated to car service.
Etihad Airways at Abu Dhabi Airport
Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways took luxury travel to new heights when it debuted The Residence by Etihad earlier this year. Available on A380s that fly between Abu Dhabi and London or Abu Dhabi and Sydney, the three-room suite costs of approximately $20,000 for a flight for two -- and of course comes with a number of perks out of Abu Dhabi Airport (AUH). Yes, you're treated to the "typical" chauffeur ride and personal check-in service, but things truly ramp up when you're escorted to the gate. That's where you're introduced to your personal butler, who will assist you through the flight as well as who takes care of your every need throughout the flight and upon landing. On the plane, there’s even an inflight personal chef to whip up your favorite dishes. (All of these services are also available for The Residence travelers in Sydney and London as well.)
SWISS at Zurich Airport
At its Zurich Airport (ZRH) hub, SWISS, the national airline of Switzerland, offers first class VIPs special treatment starting with priority check in at the exclusive First Class Lounge. Within the lounge in Terminal E, all the expected amenities are presented, from shower suites stocked with Bulgari toiletries, to the lovely restaurant with waiter service. But the real perk of this VIP lounge are the private rooms complete with comfy beds and an en-suite shower, available on request. But, don’t worry, you won’t sleep through your flight’s departure -- the attentive staff is there to not only remind you that it is time to board, but to also escort you to your Mercedes-Benz car service to your plane on the tarmac.