With the opening of Bmi’s new international lounge at Heathrow’s T1 earlier this week, Business Traveller takes a tour of the new facility to see how it lives up to the hype.
After checking in at the carrier’s new premium check-in area in Zone A of Heathrow Terminal 1, passengers turn left after clearing security and follow the signs to the international business lounge, dubbed “No 1 Heathrow”, which is above Gate 5. (The old lounge was on the right-hand side near Gates 16-30.)
The new lounge is located on the site of the old BA domestic lounge, and is available for use by international business class passengers, silver and gold members of Bmi’s loyalty scheme Diamond Club, and gold members of Star Alliance who are flying with the carrier.
On arrival there is no formal reception, instead there is a curved lounge area with chunky armchairs, blue mood lighting in the ceiling above like a large halo, and staff on hand to welcome you. First impressions are of how slick, contemporary and relaxed it feels. And with lots of clean, white surfaces, smoked glass and black flock wallpaper, it has quite a hard, masculine look.
The lounge is split into a number of “home-from-home” zones. Dominic Paul, director of airport and cabin services, ground operations and cargo, explained the thinking behind this: “We have been working on the project for the last two years and we did some research into how customers use lounges, and found the best way of helping them get the most out of their time in them is to create zones. This allows them to make a journey through the different areas and find the place that suits them best.”
Walking through the welcome lounge brings you to a spacious kitchen area known as “the Café”. Here there are a couple of big espresso machines, a jet-black Aga on the left warming trays of crusty rolls and a two containers of soup, and in the middle, a circular bar with high seating around the outside sections, and food counters and fridges inside.
When I visited at lunchtime there were several platters of salads laid out (pasta, tomato, chicken and lettuce, vegetables in vinaigrette), mini bottles of dressing, packets of cheese and biscuits, and three small trays of fish/meat/vegetarian sandwiches. Given the lounge has a capacity for about 280 people, I thought that a bit more food might be in order, especially if it got busy, but the staff seemed to be on-the-ball and replaced anything that ran out within five minutes or so.
There were plenty of bags of Kettle Chips and Wing Nuts, bowls of apples and bananas, a good stock of mini cans of soft drinks, and jugs of juice. (Alcoholic drinks are served in the English pub-style area.) From July 1, Bmi will be serving hot meals in the evening in-line with its new onboard menu designed by British chef Mark Hix. The lounge is also said to stock pots of Hix’s very own ice cream concoction called “Credit Crunch”, made with caramel, honeycomb and chocolate. (Although I didn’t come across any of this.)
Continuing on through the lounge will take you past a long wooden dining table (seating up to 12), and a carpeted “living room” with a large sofa and fake roaring log fire. A central zone beyond this is fitted with banks of cube-shaped armchairs with privacy dividers and individual British and international plug sockets.
At the far end of the facility are floor-to-ceiling windows facing the runway. While these are the only source of natural light, and in spite of the fact that the facility is rather long, thanks to a clever use of lighting and materials the lounge is well illuminated.
In the far right-hand corner is a sleep zone with three beds and gauzy curtains for privacy. However, some people might find it difficult to sleep, as the beds face the windows and you can’t block out much light unless you have an eye mask with you. Saying that, it is quite peaceful as there are no flight announcements.
On the opposite side of the lounge is “the Local”, a section fitted out like an English pub, with cream leather banquette seating, smoked mirrors, framed images of greyhound dogs on the walls, and a horseshoe-shaped bar with wine glasses hanging from the top.
Passengers can help themselves to pints of Carlsberg Export on tap, bottles of London Pride, or cans of Guinness and Tetley’s. There were a few bottles of spirits including Johnnie Walker Red Label and the Glenlivet 18-Year-Old, and four bottles of champagne on ice (Dalcaves Brut).
While there is free wifi throughout provided by Cloud, the lounge also has a “Study” with four AG Neovo computer terminals with complimentary internet access. For those travelling with a laptop there are six work stations with individual power points and desk lamps and, beyond, a boardroom-style area with seating for ten. There are plenty of magazines and newspaper racks around and strategically placed TVs (with the sound off).
While No 1 Heathrow does not have a spa, it does have three unisex showers with generous-sized bathrooms for changing. (Reserve a time slot on arrival.) When asked why Bmi chose not to include a spa, managing director Peter Spencer said: “It was mainly a space issue – but even if we had more space, we may have chosen to use it for something else anyway, as I don’t think passengers use spas very much. Most business travellers, especially those long-haul connecting passengers, consider the chance to shower and freshen up the most important thing.”
Following the launch of the carrier’s new international lounge, Spencer added that Bmi will start looking into revamping its domestic lounge within the next few months.
For more information visit flybmi.com. We hope to receive photographs of the new lounge later today, and will publish them here.
Report by Jenny Southan