While airlines are doing all they can to squeeze more seats into economy class planes, in many cases airlines are allocating more and more space to first class and business class.
For the most part, this comes in the form of more comfortable and spacious seats, although a handful of airlines go one step further by offering special onboard amenities, such as in-flight bars and lounges. After all, when you’re on an ultra-long-haul flight, there’s something really nice about being able to stretch your legs, and maybe even mingle with some of your fellow travelers.
In all honesty, in many cases these bars and lounges are quite efficient, in the sense that they don’t take up a lot of usable space. That is, they are often installed in areas where there might not otherwise be seating.
Below, I’ll cover the bars and lounges you’ll currently find on commercial aircraft. Unfortunately, the number of such aircraft available has drastically decreased as Etihad retired its Airbus A380s and Virgin Australia halted long-haul flights.
With that out of the way, let’s get straight to it.
Emirates is the airline best known for its bars, as the airline has more than 100 Airbus A380s that have a bar at the rear of the upper deck, for both first class and business class passengers. It’s something that Emirates has marketed extensively, and for good reason.
The bar is busy throughout the flight and you can either have a drink at the bar or take one back to your seat. There’s a huge list of cocktails to choose from, and there’s also a variety of self-serve snacks available.
There is a lot of foot traffic at the bar, as business class flight attendants constantly walk through the bar to get between the galley and the cabin. That being said, it’s also one of the liveliest bars on board, and if you have a fun stewardess, you’re sure to have a great time.
Note that some of Emirates’ newer A380s have a new styling bar. So while the idea is the same, the design is a bit different, with a “cabin” of seats facing each other, rather than a single bench on either side of the fuselage.
Virgin Atlantic is well known for its social spaces on planes, although it’s something the airline has evolved a lot on. Historically, Virgin Atlantic has had a bar on board, and it’s something you’ll still find on the Boeing 787 and Airbus A330. It’s a fairly small place with only a few seats, and you’ll only find a “bartender” there at certain times during the flight.
However, Virgin Atlantic has updated a social lounge on its Airbus A350s, known as “The Loft”. The standard A350s have a lounge just behind the business class, with a few sofas, as well as an entertainment screen. Crews will usually check if you want to order drinks or snacks here, although the area is not officially staffed.
Virgin Atlantic’s new leisure A350s have a much smaller upper-class cabin and a new lounge concept, known as “The Booth”. As the name suggests, it’s basically a stand. During your stay, you can enjoy a private dinner for two, cognac tasting, wine tasting or game time.
While Qatar Airways has a much smaller A380 fleet than Emirates, I would say the carrier’s onboard bar is even nicer. The bar is available for first and business class passengers and is located behind the business class cabin (in front of the small economy cabin on the upper deck). The bar is beautiful, spacious and has plenty of seating.
Plus, there’s virtually no foot traffic, since flight attendants don’t have to walk past the bar to provide service. At the bar, you can order a wide selection of drinks, from wine to cocktails to mocktails. Light snacks are also available throughout the flight.
Korean Air has a lounge at the rear of the A380 upper deck behind business class, called the Celestial Bar. It is an inviting space with a good amount of seating. It’s tapped in conjunction with Absolut vodka, and there’s a list of specialty aviation-themed cocktails.
What is a bit strange is that Korean Air only serves the signature cocktails at the bar, and no other drinks. So if you want something else to drink, you have to explicitly ask the crew to get it from the galley. Still, space itself is pretty, and who doesn’t love an aviation-themed vodka-based libation?
Korean Air has grounded its A380s for much of the pandemic, but planes will return to long-haul routes from this summer.
At the front of the upper deck of the Airbus A380, Qantas has a lounge area consisting of two sets of cabins, intended for business class passengers. It’s in the same area where Emirates has its A380 showers, so it’s just using up space that couldn’t otherwise be used. There’s not much formal service here, but the crews are happy to bring you snacks and drinks.
At the end of the line
It’s amazing how far airlines have come with bars and lounges on board. Emirates and Virgin Atlantic are most famous for this concept, but you’ll also find it on Qatar Airways, Korean Air and Qantas. Unfortunately, the number of airlines offering these products has decreased over time, and this is likely to only continue as the number of A380s flying decreases.
Which airline has your favorite bar or lounge on board?