Visiting an airport lounge during the pandemic felt safe to me but it wasn't the same without the buffet

Rachel Hosie/InsiderFarewell buffets, hello social distancing.
  • Some airport lounges have reopened since the pandemic hit, and one of those is No. 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick Airport North Terminal in London.
  • I paid £32 ($US42) to visit the lounge before a flight recently and found it was different to my previous experiences.
  • Understandably, there was no buffet or complimentary newspapers and a smaller menu with four dishes available.
  • Though it wasn’t the lounge experience I know and love, the restrictions made sense to me.
  • And while I still found the lounge to be a relaxing place in the airport terminal, I personally don’t think it’s worth the extra money during this time.
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Understandably, airport lounges aren’t what they were before the pandemic.

While some have reopened since the pandemic knocked the travel industry for six (flight bookings for November are currently down as much as 88% compared to last year) they have, of course, had to return under the new normal.

When flying to Barbados recently, I visited one of the lounges at London’s Gatwick Airport: No. 1 Traveller North.

Usually, there’s a large buffet area as well as various made-to-order dishes on the menu, and sometimes a spa.

However, when I visited there was, of course, no spa, no buffet, a limited menu, and no free magazines or newspapers, although the whole experience cost the usual price of £32 ($US42).

The No. 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick North is very easy to find, as all the lounges are situated together.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe entrance to the lounge area at Gatwick Airport North Terminal.

It has a stylish entrance which immediately made me feel calm.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe entrance to No. 1 Traveller Lounge is all marble.

After showing my boarding card and giving my name to the friendly staff (I’d booked and paid online in advance), I was in.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderPlush sofas set the tone for the lounge.

The focal point of the lounge is the circular bar, which you see as soon as you walk in.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe circular bar in the lounge.

There was self-service juice and water on the counter, as well as pretty floral arrangements.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderLarge flower displays decorate the bar.

I was shown to a table by the window and sat down with a paper I’d picked up outside in the terminal, having read online beforehand that they’re no longer provided in the lounge.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderA window seat in the lounge.

It was a Saturday morning and the lounge was just the right level of busy — not noisy or uncomfortably full, but not super quiet either, with a mix of solo travellers, couples, and small groups. People wore masks when walking around.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe main area in the No. 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick North.

The server recited the menu to me verbally, and I was surprised that there were only four items on offer: Baked eggs on muffins, porridge, a continental breakfast, or a sausage bap (the lounge’s former food offering was more extensive).

Rachel Hosie/InsiderSelf-service tea and coffee.

Tea and coffee was also self-service.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderTea and coffee machines for lounge guests.

The soft drinks machine was out of use, and it was unclear why.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe soft drinks machine was out of order.

There was plenty of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and signs about social distancing, which was good to see.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderDisinfectant wipes were available.

Every table had a sign on to ensure social distancing: About half said they were clean and available, and the other half were out of use.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe lounge has a mix of tables.

The tables in the main dining area were a mix of luxurious marble, industrial metal, wood, and plain white.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderA large marble table can accommodate parties of six.

Half the restaurant was completely closed off.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderA large section of the lounge restaurant was closed.

The lounge had different areas with very different vibes.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderInside Gatwick North Terminal’s No. 1 Traveller Lounge.

If you wanted to sink into a velvet armchair and watch some TV, for example, you could.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderArmchairs and a TV in the lounge.

The area I liked best was the so-called “Library.” It had plush leather sofas and dim lighting, giving it a grown-up feel.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe library.

In fact, the area is for anyone over the age of 12 only, but I didn’t see any children in the whole lounge.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderPlush leather sofas in the library, and more self-service drinks.

There was plenty of work space …

Rachel Hosie/InsiderLarge windows line the Library.

… and lots of sockets, as there were in the whole lounge.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderWork stations in the Library.

There was even a meeting room for conducting important pre-flight business (like Instagramming your passport and a glass of bubbles).

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe meeting room in the Library.

Aware my breakfast would be arriving soon, I ventured back out to the main area and decided to move to a high table that still had a window view, but would be better for eating. I also thought my initial window seat looked a bit dated.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderA long bar table lines the window of the lounge.

Although I’d ordered a mimosa, I was served straight-up bubbles. It wasn’t what I ordered but the Veuve Devienne sparkling wine tasted lovely and came in a pretty tulip glass.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderRachel enjoying some sparkling wine in the lounge.

My eggs swiftly arrived, which were served on sourdough toast rather than muffins, with baked beans on the side. It was nicely presented and the yolks were pleasingly runny.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderBaked eggs on sourdough toast with baked beans.

I demolished the lot but felt like I wanted something sweet — this is where I missed the buffet. Of course, the restrictions are necessary right now, and it was good to see that the lounge was well set up for social distancing.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderThe food was good and arrived quickly.

I got myself a (surprisingly good) coffee from the machine and did some work, but given that there’s only one flight board in the lounge I nearly missed the fact that I was meant to be boarding.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderWi-Fi made it easy to do some work.

I’d enjoyed my time in the No. 1 Traveller Lounge, but without the buffet, and with only four dishes on offer, for me, the lounge wasn’t worth £32 ($US42). I completely understand why the restrictions are in place, but the lounge experience isn’t what it used to be. Will buffet-less lounges be the future? I sure hope not.

Rachel Hosie/InsiderRachel enjoying breakfast in the No. 1 Traveller Lounge at Gatwick North Terminal.

Read more:

I paid $US70 to access Qantas’ lavish lounge at Heathrow airport, and loved it so much that staff had to kick me out

I spent 3 hours in Emirates’ first class Dubai lounge, and despite the showers, spa, and beds, it wasn’t as luxurious as I expected

A hidden speakeasy bar is set to open in New York City’s JFK Airport as part of a luxurious new lounge

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