Two stunning new airline lounges at SFO (Photos)

Gorgeous white marble and backlit Fabbian glass tiles make for a dramatic entrance at Cathay Pacific's new SFO lounge.

International business and first class travelers departing for Hong Kong, Dubai or beyond can now cool their heels while awaiting flights at two gorgeous new lounges at SFO. These perches are so plush that passengers may want to get to the airport early just to enjoy the surroundings and get a great pre-flight meal.

In December, Cathay Pacific and Emirates opened new lounges at SFO’s international terminal. Both invited me out last month for a look around, and allowed me to take photos to share with readers.

The gorgeous 5,500 sq ft Cathay Pacific lounge is located up an escalator just beyond the security screening area near most other airline lounges on south (A) side of the International Terminal. Prior to the opening of this lounge, Cathay Pacific passengers used facilities offered by Oneworld partner British Airways. Now they have a lounge all to themselves. The lounge’s minimalist design is based on Cathay’s flagship lounges at Hong Kong International- materials such as white italian marble, bamboo paneling and Fabbian crystal are the same. Another similarity: the chef-staffed noodle bar!

The Emirates lounge is located about halfway down SFO’s south side international terminal corridor on the left hand side. First, business and Skywards elite passengers enter and check in, then descend into the enormous 9,500 sq. ft. lounge  located one floor down- with direct access to the waiting B777- there is no need to exit the lounge to board the plane. Again, the design of this club should be familiar to Emirates flyers- the rich contemporary look (wood, leather, brass, earth tones, sprays of fresh flowers and plants) is nearly identical to Emirates’ 25 lounges in Dubai and around the world. Similar to the carrier’s main hub lounges in Dubai, passengers are tempted by a visually stunning, seemingly limitless smorgasbord of dining options designed to appeal to western, Indian, Asian and Arab palates. There’s even a Muslim prayer room- with it’s own foot-washing station.

Let’s go take a look! Cathay first:

The big, bright Cathay lounge is open from 7:45 am until 11:50 am, and then again from 8:05 pm until midnight.

The unique and popular Cathay Solus Chair is a specially built unit offering a private space to eat, work and relax.

Cathay's signature fresh noodle bar turns out the perfect pre-flight comfort food-- made to order. There is also a wide variety of hot and cold Western and Asian dishes at the self-service counter

Plenty of space to spread out and work or chill, bathed in natural light

There are three unusually large shower suites, sheathed in marble and other unusual finishes like this white river stone tile.

A large carrera marble communal table in the dining area.

Cathay offers two flights per day from SFO to Hong Kong-- noon and midnight. SFO-HKG nonstops last about 14 hours.

Now, let’s walk on down to the Emirates lounge….

Emirates passengers check in here, then descend to the lounge. It opens at noon and closes once all passengers have boarded for the 3:45 pm departure to Dubai (15.5 hours away!)

The enormous, light-filled lounge is filled with cozy seating nooks like this. Floor to ceiling windows look out onto the ramp and the waiting Emirates B777.

There are several of Emirates signature Rolex wall clocks throughout the lounge.

A private prayer room.

This is the foot washing station adjacent to the prayer room.

Passengers get restaurant-style service at the largest private dining room at SFO.

Foodies will delight in the array of gorgeous hot and cold options-- all labeled.

Vegetarian options abound to appeal many travelers who travel through Dubai to get to India.

Passengers can even get a steak! There's also a full bar, a fine wine selection, including champagne.

Nice touch: Free wi-fi throughout the lounge. There is also a business center with several internet connected PCs.

Q: What is the longest flight from SFO?

 Seatback screen aboard an Emirates B777 showing the route of our 15.5 hour flight from SFO to>>>

Q: What’s the longest flight from SFO?

A: The longest flight from San Francisco International is Emirates’ nonstop, 15.5-hour flight to Dubai on a Boeing 777.

Q: When flying from San Francisco to Dubai, would your heading be west or east?

A: Neither! The 8,100-mile flight between SFO and Dubai heads due north—right over the North Pole!

Last fall, Emirates invited me to take this monumental, nonstop journey to the other side of the world. Here are some notes and photos from the flights—in both directions. C’mon along for this spectacular ride- and see the North Pole…

Photo: Chris McGinnis

Emirates flies a Boeing 777-300 between SFO and Dubai in a three-class configuration: First, business and economy. Depending on time of year, economy class roundtrip nonstops cost between SFO and DXB are in the $1,000-$1,500 range; business class fares range from $5,000 to $7,000; first class roundtrip fares are $8,000+.

Emirates says its load factors out of SFO are very healthy- around 80% on average. It says that SFO is at the “top of the list” for deployment of one of Emirates 15 giant A380s, however, at this time the double-decker does not have the range to fly SFO-DXB with a full load during the hot summer months, so there are no set plans to switch to the A380 for now.

Emirates recently opened a brand new 9,500 square foot business class lounge at SFO’s International Terminal A (the southern side).

Forty-two business class seats are configured 2-3-2 on the B777, with a cocoon-like back shell that provides plenty of privacy. Most surfaces (such as the tray table, and even the toilet seat lid in the lavatory) are covered in a classy burled walnut veneer; there are power outlets for laptops, noise canceling headsets, and oversized inflight amenity bags- one for men, another for women- full of all sorts of goodies. While there is no in-flight internet, passengers can send and receive text messages from their seats at $1 per message. All seat functions (including recline, in-flight entertainment or IFE controls and even massage) are controlled by the hand held unit you see in the armrest pictured above.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After a 3:45 pm departure from SFO, we headed due north on a clear day, right over the top of Mt Shasta, Portland, Seattle, Vancouver and the snow-capped peaks of British Columbia at sunset. What a view! I tried to get some work done on the laptop, but found it difficult not to watch the show unfold out the window.

I was particularly impressed with Emirates’ IFE system, which provided a 3-D, virtual-reality-like experience that (to me) was much more entertaining than the thousands of movies, TV shows and games from which passengers can choose. For those who don’t want to view the scenery out the window, electronic window shades raise or lower at the touch of a button.

Photo: Chris McGinnis

Upon boarding, flight attendants served a round a Veuve Cliquot champagne to business class passengers. After about two hours, flight attendants then proffered scented hot towels and warmed mixed nuts and then poured a nice Stag’s Leap Chardonnay, which was followed by a nice meal, briskly served, since many passengers were readying for sleep. I chose halibut, potatoes, grilled asparagus and tomatoes (my seatmate had the Lamb biryani). Food was on par with other foreign carriers I’ve flown- and head and shoulders above what’s typically found in business class on US carriers. Service was efficient, not obsequious or doting.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

While I was hoping to stay awake long enough to peer out at the North Pole, the two glasses of Chardonnay, the meal, the melatonin and this nice linen covered mini-mattress (see above), full sized pillow  and cozy comforter convinced me otherwise. (I did see The Pole on the return, though! Keep reading…)

Business class seats on Emirates B777 are of the “angled lie-flat” variety (vs true lie-flat) which disappointed me at first. However, the tilt was barely detectable once the seat was fully reclined- and get this: I fell asleep somewhere over the Yukon Territory, and woke up seven hours later somewhere over Iran! By far, the longest, best night’s sleep I’ve ever experienced on a plane.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After our 15.5 hour journey, we landed in Dubai the following day at about 7:45 pm. Dubai International Airport (DXB) is simply stunning. What you see above is baggage claim- which should give you some idea of what the entire airport is like- big, bright and beautiful. It felt like a brand new Las Vegas casino- minus the gambling, which is illegal in Dubai.

Sixty percent of Emirates passengers use Emirate’s giant DXB hub as a connecting point to the carrier’s extensive network of flights- especially to India. As a matter of fact, 50% of all Emirates passengers from SFO end up flying onward from DXB to Indian cities such as Hyderabad, Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi.

India-bound passenger’s other options include flying from SFO via Asia or Europe. At one time, United and Emirates participated in a frequent flyer program partnership where Mileage Plus members could earn United miles when flying Emirates to Dubai. However, Emirates says that United decided to terminate that partnership last May.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

All business and first class passengers get free transportation via a fleet of black Volvo station wagons stationed outside the airport to their hotels in Dubai (most are about 15-30 minutes away). There is also the quick, slick Dubai Metro rail system that connects the airport to the city- however, note that it has limited hours on Fridays, which are holy days in the Arab world.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This photo, taken from the roof of the Shangri-La hotel shows the towering Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world. In the lower right corner is a Dubai metro station. It all looked like something out of a science fiction movie.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

On the day of my return flight, I arrived at the airport early to investigate and enjoy what I’d heard was one of the poshest business class lounges in the world. I was not let down- from the spray of fresh flowers at the entry, to the multiple buffets serving traditional English breakfast, full Indian meals, baked potatoes with all the toppings, salmon with capers, shrimp, endless refrigerated shelves of desserts, juices, tea, and coffee. The selection boggles the mind.

Morning is peak time in the Emirates business class lounge, and the place was packed- almost uncomfortably so. I was told that this enormous lounge could accommodate up to 1,600 travelers, and I think it was running pretty close to capacity that day. Seeing the crowds, and knowing that everyone in the lounge had paid several thousand dollars for their business class tickets made me wonder to myself, “What global financial crisis?” (See additional photos here.)

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Flying back to SFO took us over the North Pole once again, and this time I stayed up for the action. In the photo above, you can see our routing over the top displayed on the IFE system.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

That’s it! The money shot! In this photo, I’m looking out the window straight down on the North Pole. (See the big striped candy cane? ;) )

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

After the excitement of seeing the North Pole, it was time for a snooze. Note how Emirates has cleverly installed thousands of tiny fiber-optic white lights (that actually twinkle) into the ceiling of the aircraft to let you know that it’s time to sleep. Nice touch.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

For Muslims, who must face east for their daily prayers, Emirates in-flight system displays this icon several times throughout the flight in the IFE system- the arrow points east toward Mecca, no matter which direction the plane is pointed in.

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Almost home!

(Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Forward facing cameras on the B777 broadcast the view as we approach SFO and touch down at about 1 pm pacific time.


(Chris McGinnis publishes The BAT and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers. He was a guest of Emirates Airline on this roundtrip flight. Do you have comments or questions about this post? Email Chris.)

SFO to get posh new biz/first class lounge

Entry at the Emirates Lounge in New Delhi-- expect similar touches like marble, polished wood and gold letters at SFO (Photo: C. McGinnis)

Dubai-based Emirates Airline has announced that it will open a new business and first class lounge on the A side of the international terminal at SFO later this year.

It will be Emirates’ only lounge on the West Coast…not even LAX gets one of these posh perches.

(Want to see what’s in store for SFO? Scroll down for my slideshow of photos inside Emirates lounges in Dubai and Delhi.)

Emirates currently operates a single daily Boeing 777 SFO-Dubai flight from the G (left) side of the international terminal where it provides business and first class passengers with access to United’s lounges.

The new 9,502 square foot club will be located on the A (right) side between gates 3 and 5 (on the left as you walk from security) and directly across the terminal walkway from the British Airways lounge.

As in other Emirates facilities around the world, cost does not seem to be much of an object with the SFO lounge—expect marble floors, gold Rolex Clocks, fresh flowers, HD televisions, exclusive restrooms and showers, a business center, workstations and free wi-fi. (See slideshow below for a peek of what’s in store.)

Crowding should not be an issue since the lounge will be exclusive to Emirates first, business and elite frequent flyers. (Emirates says that it will not share loung access with any other carriers.)  An Emirates 777 holds only 50 first and business class passengers, but the lounge is designed to accommodate a maximum of 265, including a dining area for 77.

Chefs will prepare and present a wide array of hot and cold dishes from an on-site kitchen. There will also be a full bar (flights depart SFO at 4:45 pm…conveniently close to cocktail hour).

Unusual: Business and first class passengers will be able to board the flight from a jetway door located in the lounge leading directly to the plane.

On a recent trip through Dubai to India, Emirates invited me into its massive lounge at its hub there.  Since the look and feel of its lounges are pretty standard around the world,  what you see in these photos should match up pretty closely with what we’ll soon see at SFO:

Entry point at Emirates flagship business class lounge at Dubai-DXB which can accommodate 1,800 passengers-- and still gets quite crowded at peak times. There's a separate first class lounge I was unable to get into. (Photo: C. McGinnis)


One of four dining areas at the Dubai lounge which can accommodate 1,800 passengers (Photo: C. McGinnis)


Check out this lox and bagel spread (Photo: C. McGinnis)


Loungers for naps (photo: C. McGinnis)



Shrimp (Prawn) sandos (Photo: C. McGinnis)


One of a wide selection of desserts and pastries (Photo: C. McGinnis)


Full bar stocked with premium brands (Photo: C. McGinnis)


Rolex wall clocks at Dubai Int'l-- a standard in all Emirates lounges (Photo: C. McGinnis)


(Chris McGinnis publishes The BAT and The TICKET blogs for frequent travelers.)


New name, but few changes at “United Club”

United Club lounge at Chicago O'Hare (Photo: Joevare / Flickr)

This week United and Continental celebrated the one year anniversary of their merger by christening their combined lounges with a new name: United Club. However, your Red Carpet club credentials will still get you in the door. So far, no significant changes have been announced, but United says, “In time, remodeled clubs will provide additional business-friendly features…including more workstations…” What could United do to make the clubs better?

Some details:

>United Club members now have access to 50 lounges in 39 airports worldwide, including two here at SFO.

>Memberships start at $475, but day passes are available for $39 online or $50 at the door.

>Clubs offer free wi-fi, beer, wine and liquor, breakfast and afternoon snacks.

>United Club members now have access to 25 more lounges that were once Continental Presidents Clubs.

>Due to its tight affiliation with Chase, United Clubs will no longer offer free access to American Express Platinum Cardmembers.

>United Club already has its own Wikipedia page.

>Starting later this year, Emirates passengers will get their own lounge at SFO, and no longer share facilities with United.

What’s your favorite United Club location? Why? What do you think of the new name?