The BA Galleries lounge in Heathrow Terminal 5 Arrivals is not your typical airline lounge. Open from 5.00 am to 2.00 pm, and offering a Full English breakfast until 12.30pm, it is essentially designed to set you up for the day ahead, after a long flight.
The lounge is unusually exclusive, being only available to BA First or Club World passengers, or Gold Executive Club Members arriving on a British Airways long-haul flight. Here are my thoughts on it…
The lounge has a bright, clean and modern feel. It’s not overly stylish, but has a friendly accessibility to it that I instantly liked. To use a hotel analogy, think more Hampton by Hilton than Waldorf Astoria.
We made our way to a comfortable-looking seating area. Seating is quite limited, but we were clearly in the lounge during a relatively quiet period, and had no problems finding a chair each.
It’s a well-equipped and functional lounge, with a good range of newspapers and magazines, speedy wifi and plenty of sockets dotted around. For the few business travellers that don’t travel with a laptop (or the gatecrashing leisure traveller), there’s a dedicated “business centre” with a number of PCs and a printer available.
There’s also a bank of TVs, showing various muted news programmes. Beyond the limited info you get from the tickers, I’ve never quite understood the rationale for this, but it looks good.
Overall, the lounge is relatively small, but there’s a good array of seating, including some (in places slightly school dinner-esque) restaurant seating near the food, and then a more relaxed sofa area next to the newspapers, where we based ourselves.
I have talked in other reviews about the “spa experience” in airline lounges sometimes being a touch gimmicky. I’m afraid to say that was entirely my experience in the Elemis Travel Spa at the Galleries Arrivals lounge – 15 minutes sat on a slightly ropey massage chair/machine, while a “therapist” lazily prodded at my shoulders. It’s free, so I can’t really complain, but frankly in hindsight I’d have preferred spending the 15 minutes reading the Economist.
For information, I booked my massage around 7am, and there was no availability before 9am. That was fine for me, but would be an issue for anyone pushed for time: given that the lounge was nowhere near full, it does appear that spa slots are at a premium. If there is no availability, it’s not your greatest loss, I would submit.
The food and drink
Excellent, and exactly what was needed. You won’t find celebrity chefs or fine dining on the menu here, just a good quality range of hearty breakfast options: from a variety of cereals through to the Full English, via the continental breakfast.
There was also a wide range of fresh juices, yogurts and other snacks – including stacks of fresh fruit.
Of course, for a lounge that principally caters for breakfast, there is also a wide range of advanced coffee-making machines, and a good assortment of teas.
This was my big, big disappointment. Given that this is, basically, a morning arrivals lounge, the shower area is very clearly geared for high capacity and quick turnover. The result is a very dreary, almost “factory farm-like” offering, that would not look out of place at a municipal swimming pool. It reminded me almost exactly of the shower in a sleeper carriage I once travelled in on a British Rail overnight journey from London Euston to Fort William, many years ago.
While I do understand that giving people a passable wash is better than repeatedly turning people away from a luxury bathing experience, do not expect anything beyond the very basics from the shower experience here. That said, the old “First World Problem” accusation can easily be leveled here – you will leave showered and suitably refreshed. The valid criticism would be that this is supposedly a premium lounge, but the bathrooms are not a premium product.
In short, we needed to stay in this lounge for around 4 hours before we left Heathrow for a connecting flight from London Gatwick. The time flew by, and there’s not much more of a compliment you can pay to the general offering of a lounge than that. Yes the showers disappointed, but their “industrial” approach is not without reason.
We did appear to be in the lounge when it was particularly quiet. I can see how it might become a less-than-pleasant environment when full, and while you will certainly get a good feed, and probably get a passable shower, I would imagine you are very unlikely to get any spa treatment.