Having arrived at the Perth airport with a few hours to kill before our flight home, we decided to hit the business class lounge and see how it stacked up against the one in Abu Dhabi. To be fair, having never set foot inside any business class lounge prior to this trip, I can hardly claim to be an authority on business class anything. Then again, if America can allow a man with no experience in government, no knowledge or respect for the constitution, and a toddler’s grasp of justice to sign legislation, set foreign policy and have access to the nuclear launch codes, it most certainly can allow this novice traveler to critique an airport lounge.
It didn’t take me or my more experienced travel companion long to declare a winner in what the folks at Hanna-Barbera would call the business class lounge-o-lympics. By many miles and nearly every possible dimension of comparison Abu Dhabi was the winner hands down. Size. Comfort. Amenities. Ambience. Cuisine. You name it. Without a doubt, the Abu Dhabi facility reigns supreme over its Aussie counterpart.
The most obvious difference was in the food, which was neither as abundant nor as varied or fresh as that in Abu Dhabi. Whereas the lounge Abu Dhabi offered an array of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian main dishes and accompaniments—plus soups, salads, pastries, fruits, vegetables, and beverages—arranged like fine fabrics or gems on stone-topped islands at each end of the room, the lounge in Perth offered just one entrée and two or three side dishes that sat in metal crocks and which were crammed (along with a couple plates of sweets that were so lacking in personality that you wondered if their signature ingredient was Zoloft) onto an 8-foot section of countertop that looked like a hand-me-down from a minimum security prison or a maximum security middle school cafeteria.
Second, whereas the décor in the business class lounge in Abu Dhabi was elegant, modern and stylish, the décor at the lounge in Perth was a sterile, dated, and stale. To put it another way, if the lounge in Abu Dhabi was a set piece from a modern-day remake of the sci-fi suspense thriller “Gattaca”, then the lounge in Perth was a set piece from the 1976 sci-fi hallucination “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” I kept expecting David Bowie to wander by and say something dramatic and cryptic. (Yes. I know the man is dead, but I prefer to believe he’s simply gone to another realm and can come back again whenever he wants. Like, say, Inauguration Day 2021.)
Unfortunately, what the Perth lounge lacked in style, it failed to make up for in comfort. The chairs were so narrow they cut into the sides of your legs, which makes it difficult to sit for any length of time and sort of defeats the purpose of a lounge if you ask me. But what do I know. As I may have mentioned, I’m not exactly a seasoned traveler.
One area in which the Perth lounge prevailed over Abu Dhabi was the restroom. Like other aspects of the lounge itself, the restroom at Perth was fairly ho-hum. Old, plain, outdated, etc. In short, it was aesthetically unspectacular, especially compared to the restroom in Abu Dhabi, which, again, was sleek, shiny, and ultramodern. It was also huge, and featured multiple stalls, multiple basins, and real cloth towels. None of this paper towel business. It was quite wonderful—provided you don’t like privacy. Provided you’re not freaked out by the attendant who wanders up and down the row of stalls and sweeping, wiping, and/or scrubbing every square inch of marble and porcelain after each squat, flush and wash and who continues to sweep, wipe and/or scrub those same surfaces at thirty second intervals in between.
No thanks. The restroom in the lounge at Perth may not be sleek, shiny, or modern, but it is clean and, more importantly, small. As in single. Solo. Solitary. As in one sink, one toilet, one mirror. And the person who maintains that little room with one sink, one toilet, and one mirror does not stand or pace around outside the door waiting to clean up after you. Call me old fashioned but I prefer to do my business alone, thank you, and will choose the older, tired, and outdated fixtures over an audience armed with ammonia any day of the week.
Another area in which Perth excelled was in the availability of wine. (Even if you are not an oenophile yourself, you had to expect that to be a category. Unless you’re new to this column, in which case, you’d do well to check out the archive and bring yourself up to speed.) Although its food menu may have been limited and boring, the wine in Perth’s business class lounge was not only free but also abundant and accessible. As in right there out in the open, just sitting in these cool little buckets that were built right into the counter. All a body had to do was walk over, choose a glass—clean or dirty, your choice—and pour.
This was not the case in Abu Dhabi. They may have had gourmet level cuisine laying all about the place but good luck getting some wine to go with it. Because I saw not one bottle of wine near the food, nor any near the beverage bar. What I did see was a sleek, shiny ultramodern bar stocked with sleek, shiny, ultramodern bottles and staffed by a handful of crisply dressed and well-coifed attendants who moved and spoke with such intensity that I found them intimidating. We may call them bartenders where I come from, but these people didn’t seem to be tending the bar as much as guarding it.
Which prompted many questions: Why are these people so serious? Are they armed? Dangerous? If I ask for wine, will they even give it to me? And if I ask them to let me see the bottle, will they demand to know why? What if they don’t like my answer? Will they judge me? What if they’re not really bartenders but trained assassins posing as bartenders as part of some ultra-secret undercover operation? What if they realize I’ve figured it out? Will they erase me?
So having wine in Abu Dhabi was clearly way more hassle than it was worth. Score one for Perth!
Anyway, by the time I had completed my assessment—the balance of which I will spare you, a least for now—the Jarhead had already exited vacation mode and was tapping maniacally away on the buttons of his work phone. I amused myself by working my way through the equivalent of an entire bottle of shiraz. I may not have drunk that much if there had been more than one glass left in the bottle when I poured my first, but by the time I got back to my seat someone had already replaced the empty bottle with a full one, so I felt somewhat obliged to keep drinking.
And from there I basically drank my way home. Even subtracting the four-hour alcohol-free layover in Abu Dhabi, it was the longest, highest, fastest, and most expensive booze cruise of our lives, and best of all, we lived to tell the tale!