Mile High Bars

16 Sep 2017 by Neha Gupta Kapoor
Emirates A380 Onboard Lounge

Floor space in aircraft is precious. Affixing anything to the vessel other than seats, galleys and lavatories is a luxury. Perhaps this is why airlines have been taking their time to introduce mile high bars or lounges, in the real sense. In fact, Air France and Japan Airlines once boasted of “on-board bars”, but these were nothing to write home about, especially when compared to the existing six open bars we have today. They’re manned by a crew member at all times, are exclusive to high-paying passengers flying upwards of business class, and make for interesting spaces to network or work in solitude. Each one has its own charm when compared with layout, alcohol lists, service, seating and the capaciousness of standing space. Here is a look at what they offer.


Swanky is the first word that comes to mind when we talk about Emirates’ bar aboard its A380. Located at the back of the upper deck, it is accessible to business and first class passengers.

The bar is shaped as a horseshoe, and the lights above it, arranged in a similar pattern, remind me of nails hammered into the horseshoe. The yellow backlit counter is crowded with nuts, cheese and bread sticks, cut fruit and small bites. Opposite it is another buffet with more finger food. Hot snacks can be ordered from an a la carte menu. Bottles packed on two shelves are an indication of the alcohol served here. A 55-inch flat screen displays live updates of our flight.

With interiors in glossy dark wood trim, and cream and golden hues, the lounge bar feels more or less like a living room. Fresh flowers are placed in a wall-mounted vase, and tall floor lamps are positioned beside both window seating options. It is brightly lit, even when the window shades are pulled down at sunset. A crew member is always available to greet us here, even in the middle of the night, should we need a night cap or fancy a cocktail. The space is large enough to accommodate 26 passengers at a time, with seating options for eight. A padded bench flanks one side of the bar, and on the other side is a booth-style seating with a table between two seats.

Soundproof curtains partition the lounge from the rest of the aircraft, not allowing chatter from the lounge to fill the other cabins. The back end of the bar opens into the galley, which means the crew walk through here frequently, sometimes making it feel more crowded than it is. There are no power sockets, but that’s a problem only if we plan on working out of here for long. emirates.com

Etihad Lobby

Etihad Airways

This A380 doesn’t have a bar, but has a self-service lounge instead. It is situated between the first and business class cabins and is accessible to passengers of Etihad’s Residence, first and business class. Typical Emirati patterns show in the decorative light shades and panels, tabletop, cushions, framed paintings and on the bar. Called The Lobby, the Lounge looks a lot like a living room dressed in dark wood, mood lighting and a big screen on which one can watch a live sports telecast. Windows are missing here, which means, for a dose of natural light, we must head back to our seats. Designed more like a sit-down space, standing by the bar can be awkward if the sofas are occupied; unless mingling with strangers comes easily.

The Lobby has a circular seating area that fits six people on two Poltrona Frau leather sofas placed around a circular coffee table. Foldable armrests (two per semicircular sofa) are placed between the individual seats, each with power outlets, including a USB port to charge your device.

Bottles are neatly arranged in a cabinet fitted with a cooler and equipped with glasses, bottle openers, napkins and cutlery. We can help ourselves to the premium collection of champagne, wines, whiskies, beers, spirits and liqueurs. In fact, the Etihad Airways cellar is known for its extensive choice of fine wines, and a tasting can be arranged by the crew. For snacks, just ask the attentive crew who appear as soon as you enter the lounge. There is a delicious assortment of bakery items — sweet and savoury — as well as small plates, traditional bites, tea and coffee. etihadairways.com

Korean Air Celestial Bar

Korean Air

Located at the back of the A380’s upper deck, it is called Celestial Bar and is the result of a partnership between the airline and Absolut vodka. Hence, the only drinks available here are vodka-based cocktails. This airline bar doesn’t stock other alcohol varieties, however, we can still request for them, which the crew will bring to us from the adjoining galley: luckily no restrictions on what can be consumed at Celestial Bar.

Celestial Bar that is exclusive to first and business class passengers, has a spaceship feel to it. In the evenings, it is dressed in blue light. Tiny lights on the grey patterned wallpaper twinkle brightly in the dimly lit lounge bar, like stars in the sky. During the day, natural light from the three windows behind the sofa floods the bar. White lighting here gives the almost all-white interiors a pristine appearance when the sun is out.

There is a sofa for three people accompanied by a single seat without backrest. Diagonally opposite this is a padded L-shaped divider — the two makeshift seats on it aren’t very comfortable to sit on, unless you’re using them for support when standing. Additionally, there is enough room for passengers to stand by the bar (manned throughout the duration of the flight) or around the lounge. A flat screen displays live flight details. Below it are books on various subjects to flip through.

The bar counter is crowded with savoury snacks and bite-sized desserts. These include the likes of nuts, beef jerky, tomato mozzarella, chocolate cake, fresh fruit, cheese sticks and canapés to name a few — the selection varies for each flight.

Towards the aircraft’s nose is a self-help lounge of sorts, smaller in comparison to Celestial Bar. The narrow, windowless space has a sofa for four people that faces a screen through which you can access the in-flight entertainment. Coffee-table books are placed below the television. There are cup holders between the second and third seats, with enough counter space behind the backrests with pinkish red backlight. We can help ourselves to the soft drinks, vodka, coffee, tea and nibbles arranged in a corner here. koreanair.com

Qatar Airways A380 Onboard Bar

Qatar Airways

Follow the purple mood lighting on the upper deck of Qatar Airways’ A380, towards the back. It leads to a cosy, yet spacious set-up that is the airline’s on-board bar. A chandelier-like light fitting brightens up the otherwise dim cabin dressed in a palette of caramel and burgundy. The bar counter is shaped as a question mark with an opening at the hook. Bottles — beer, champagne, gin, liqueur, whisky, wine and vodka — are arranged on two backlit shelves with mirror work. This, and the ceiling light with matching woodwork are what exude an Arabic feel here.

Leather lounge sofas — each large enough for four people to sprawl on — flank the bar. Lamps are placed on the end tables. Those sitting towards the middle of the sofa also have access to a tabletop placed between the second and third seats. There is one more sofa for two people fitted into the bar’s tail end. Though the on-board lounge bar is situated between the business class and the upper economy class cabin, it is available exclusively to business and first class passengers.

A fruit basket, cheese platter, amuse bouche, bite-sized desserts, chocolate pods and nuts are placed on the counter, to which we can help ourselves. The bar is usually more quiet in the nights and if we’re flying across time zones, it’s a nice place to buckle up on the sofa and get some work done. Charging sockets are available at the ends of both lounge sofas. Alternatively, this is also where we can network with other guests when most people are awake. qatarairways.com

Virgin Atlantic onboard Bar

Virgin Atlantic

The bars on-board all Virgin Atlantic aircraft (B747-400, B787-9, A340-600 and A330-300) are restricted to the airline’s upper class passengers. This is the highest of the three-class configuration — economy and premium economy are the other two cabin classes offered by the airline. The compact bar is situated at the back of the upper class across the airline’s fleet. Entrances have a clear view of the first few upper class rows, due to the lack of curtains. When the bar is crowded, don’t expect a quiet moment as the sounds of intoxicated chatter are audible all the way to the front of the cabin.

During the day, it looks like an ordinary bar. High stools line one side of the counter that is crowded with bottles — top brands of wines, champagne, spirits, beers, liqueurs and whiskies. Fruits, nuts and pre-packaged snacks — nothing fancy — are placed in bowls on the counter.

The overall vibe of the bar is casual. In the evenings, mood lighting in the carrier’s signature colours, red and purple add some character to the otherwise plain looking set-up. The chrome finished interiors sparkle, adding a small element of glam. If it isn’t too crowded, we have the option of eating our dinner here too.

Luxurious is not how one would describe Virgin Atlantic’s on-board bars. With roughly four bar stools and little space to stand, this wouldn’t be a place to relax as a change from your seat on long-haul flights. There is a high probability of jostling for space when the bar is crowded. During the day it can easily reach its full capacity, forcing the crew to turn people away. And unlike other airlines, when the seat belt sign is switched on, our only choice is to buckle up back in our own seats, rather than at the bar. virginatlantic.com

Virgin Australia The Bar

Virgin Australia

Simply named The Bar aboard its B777-300, the offering is exclusive to and is situated within the business class cabin — between rows seven and eight. It is as wide as the middle row of the cabin, and can accommodate up to ten guests. There are four bar stools and a banquette for two people, upholstered in black leather, leaving enough room for four more to stand around comfortably. A well sized table is available to those using the banquette. Above it is a backlit Flying Maiden, the airline’s logo. The ceiling has a leaf pattern that is typical to Virgin Australia’s domestic lounges.

Charging outlets are missing here, and should the seat belt signs come on, we’re expected to walk back to our seats until it is safe to crowd The Bar again. Visitors can enjoy wines, spirits, whiskies, Australian beers and cocktails, as well as finger food here during the flight. The counter has a bright white backlight, and bottles arranged across two shelves display brands of what’s available. When it gets dark, the cabin lights are dimmed, making The Bar look strikingly attractive with only the basics lit up — counter, logo, shelves and outline of the pattern on the ceiling. In the mornings, The Bar turns into a nice, bright place to enjoy breakfast with freshly brewed Nespresso coffee. Just inform the crew to serve you there.

Built right in the middle of the cabin means it can get noisy for the rest of the passengers who would much rather enjoy a quiet time in their seats. Facilitating this are thick curtains; they don’t altogether obliterate the sound from The Bar, but they do a good job of dimming down most of it. virginaustralia.com

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