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While I had spent the night at the Hilton attached to Terminal 4, I still went to the airport early, since I wanted to check out a couple of lounges. I left the hotel at 5:15AM, and from there it was just a short five minute walk through the tunnel connector to Terminal 4.
I checked out the departures board, and saw that my Air India flight to Delhi was using check-in zone E.
The deserted check-in area was easy enough to spot, especially thanks to the Air India signage featuring the Maharaja.
The first & business class queue was at the far left of the check-in area, where I was stopped and asked a few security questions before being allowed to proceed with check-in.
The agent who checked me in was friendly. I handed her my passport:
“To Delhi, please.”
“Is Delhi your final destination?”
“No, I am connecting to San Francisco.”
“You are flying on Air India?”
“You are sure you’re not on our Star Alliance codeshare partner today?”
“Nope, I’m going the whole way on Air India.”
She sort of turned her head to the side for a moment and looked up. I think she was about to ask a follow up question, but then caught herself and proceeded with check-in. Hah, can’t say I blame her!
She printed my boarding pass within a couple of minutes, and with a smile informed me that I was the only passenger in first class as of now. While Air India has four flights a day to London, the others are operated by 787s without first class, so I guess that also gave me the distinct honor of being the airline’s only first class passenger out of London for the day. 😉
She invited me to use the Air India Maharaja Lounge, located across from gate six. The lounge opened at 5:30AM, which was just a few minutes after I checked in.
I asked if she could also print my connecting boarding pass. She tried, but after about 10 minutes she said it wasn’t possible, and that I would have to get it in Delhi. No worries!
While not relevant since I was ticketed in first class, it’s worth noting that there was a sign indicating opportunities to buy up to first or business class, which Air India seems to be pretty aggressive about.
I loved the Air India boarding pass, especially how colorful it was. I also loved the first class cabin baggage tag I was given, which I’ll proudly put on my carry-on, as you don’t see too many of those around!
The Fast Track security queue was adjacent to the Air India check-in counter, and there was no queue there. I guess that’s an advantage of traveling at 5:30AM on a Saturday morning in January.
I was through security in a matter of minutes, and once in the terminal turned left to follow the signs towards Gates 1-6.
London Heathrow Terminal 4 airside
As I saw the lounge signage I started to reminisce on all the cool trips I’ve taken out of this terminal over the years, having visited the Etihad Airways Lounge, Malaysia Airlines Lounge, Gulf Air Lounge, and Qatar Airways Lounge (well, very briefly).
After walking for a couple of minutes I did indeed see the entrance to the Air India Lounge, which was shared with the Qatar Airways Lounge as well as the fairly new Plaza Premium Lounge.
The entrance led to a fairly long walkway.
On the ground floor was the Qatar Airways Lounge, while the Air India and Plaza Premium Lounges were located up a level.
The entrance to the Air India Lounge was across from the elevator, and had some festive decorations.
It was just a few minutes after the lounge’s 5:30AM opening time, and the two staff didn’t seem to be totally set up yet. So the agent at reception welcomed me and asked if she could hold onto my boarding pass and bring it to me in a few minutes.
The iconic Maharaja statue was just to the side of the reception desk.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from this lounge, other than the fact that I’ve always been extremely impressed by the lounges in Terminal 4. For example, both the Malaysia Airlines and Gulf Air Lounges are beautiful in this terminal, even if they’re not nearly as nice as their hubs.
This lounge was a bit more traditional and bland, even though it was apparently renovated just a bit over a year ago.
As I entered the lounge there were nine chairs facing a TV, which seemed to be playing a London radio station.
I did like the decorations that had been placed on the wall, at least.
There was a semi-transparent partition between the TV area and the next seating area, which also had a table with some magazines and newspapers.
On the other side of that partition was a section with four seats and a table, which looked quite nice, except for the fact that the carpet was stained-as-could-be.
In the far corner of the lounge was a longer corridor with more seating. That area overlooked the tarmac, though it was dark the entire time I was there, so I didn’t get a good look at the views.
At the far end of the lounge, next to the TV area, was the dining and buffet area. There were five tables along with a booth, presumably intended for those who wanted to eat.
There was also some high-top seating at the food service area itself.
I was just thrilled to see that the lounge had actual filtered coffee. Most lounges in Europe just seem to have espressos or americanos out of self serve machines (which are rarely good), which don’t hit the spot in the same way as filtered coffee for me.
There was also a self serve liquor selection as well as canned soda and bottled water.
Then there was some fresh(ish) fruit, cereal, croissants, etc.
And then also some packaged cookies.
I was thrilled when I saw the lounge attendant put out some proper Indian food. The presentation left a bit to be desired, as a couple of the items were just placed out in aluminum prep trays with foil on top.
The breakfast selection consisted of (I’m going off the labels here) spicy chicken wings, sheesh kabab, lamb shammi kebab, chicken tikka, hommus chat, paneer tikki, aloo chana chaat, and more.
I got some food as soon as it was placed out, and while it was tasty, it was lukewarm at best.
While the lounge doesn’t have shower facilities, it does have toilets, which seems to be a new feature since the renovation (at least according to Google):
There were two bathrooms for men…
…though one of them was inoperable.
After having breakfast I decided to pay a visit to the Plaza Premium Lounge right across the hallway from this lounge, since it’s a Priority Pass Lounge. In the next installment I’ll be writing about it, so stay tuned.
For the first 90 minutes in the Air India Lounge I was the only guest, and even as departure approached there were at most 10 people in the lounge. That’s perhaps a reflection of just how empty the flight was.
The boarding pass indicated that boarding would commence at 7:30AM for our 8:45AM departure, which seemed early. The agent said she would announce boarding, but I decided to leave the lounge at around 7:40AM, since I was getting bored and anxious for my flight.
The Air India flight to Delhi was departing from gate 3, located at the far end of the terminal. As I arrived I saw the crew sitting in the gate area, so assumed we were still a ways from boarding commencing.
I know I’m probably the only person in the world who feels this way, but I sort of love the Air India livery. It’s not the most modern in the world, but it’s distinctive and I love the window “accents.”
Finally at 8AM boarding was called for all passengers at once, which was rather chaotic.
Air India Lounge London bottom line
Terminal 4 at Heathrow Airport is full of great lounges. Unfortunately of the ones I’ve visited, the Air India Lounge is the least impressive. While the food itself was fairly decent, the design was outdated and the lounge didn’t look especially clean, despite having recently been renovated.
As you’ll see in the next installment about the Plaza Premium Lounge, I’d actually much rather spend time there.