As I’m writing this post, it’s 6 am on Bali. I’m sitting on my bungalow porch, watching the palm trees sway in the rhythm of the waves. But that’s a different post. Before departing on my journey to this paradise island, I had four hours to kill at Helsinki Airport. I rushed through the passport control and secured an outlet to charge my electronic devices near a quiet spot to finish my last work tasks before switching to vacation mode.
I travel quite a lot. That means I also work “on the move” a lot. At some point you grow tired of fighting over empty table space with the immense airport crowds, all in a hurry to buy that last beer/water bottle/magazine before their flight. My salvation: airport lounges. They offer a peaceful place for working and facilities for freshening up and showering at longer layovers. Often they are also cheaper than buying two glasses of wine and a sandwich at any bar in the terminal area.
I’m a Priority Pass member, which gives me access to broad network of airport lounges worldwide. I’m also allowed to bring a friend with me for a mere 20 euros. As a Finn, the lounges I use most frequently are located at Helsinki Airport (HEL): Aspire Lounge (Schengen area) and Almost@home lounge (non-Schengen area). My first destination being Qatar, I chose the lounge in the non-Schengen area. It can be hard to spot if you’re just rushing through the tax free store, since it is located almost right away after the passport control, in the middle of the store.
To be frank, I always thought of the name Almost@home to be somewhat dumb. But after a few visits I get it. The atmosphere is very homey. There are bookshelves and couches and TVs organized to resemble a living room. Cutlery and dishes are hidden in shelves and drawers like in any kitchen. There are bowls of fruit on the tables and if you want you can slouch back in a chic armchair and watch sports on TV or play playstation.
Almost@home offers a good selection of red, white and sparkling wines, two or three different brands of each kind. Stronger spirits are also available, however, they are subject to an additional fee, which I think is rather miserly. There is one beer brand available, Finnish Lapin Kulta. Personally I don’t drink beer, but this brand is one of the cheapest available and most of my beer-drinking friends wouldn’t buy it, referring to it as reindeer piss. The salad bar is nice, nothing too upscale but even a fastidious palate like mine finds something to appease its hunger. During my last visit they also served cerise tomato pasta for lunch. I was very impressed with it because the chef had succeeded to both over- and undercook it, and then leave it out to dry just in case. The dessert, however, was very pitsipeppu-approved: raspberry mousse with pistachios and dark chocolate, yum.
Unfortunately there is no toilet in the lounge and lounge guests are asked to use the airport’s public restrooms outside the lounge. Sure, they are located at the entrance, but still. You pay for service and you expect a certain standard also in regards of the restrooms. Also, the view from the lounge is quite depressing. You’d expect to see a busy airport with departing planes but instead you see this:
I was trying to decide which of the two Priority Pass lounges at Helsinki Airport I like better, but I honestly can’t say. It depends. Aspire is bigger, there are more seats, toilets, a broader beer selection and some spirits are included. However, the food is better in Almost@home and they serve dessert, unlike Aspire, even though you shouldn’t expect Ramsay standards. The atmosphere is homier and more intimate in Almost@home, which probably is due to Aspire being somewhat bigger. In my opinion Aspire is ofter more crowded and you’re more easily disturbed by other guests. A big plus for Almost@home is the generous bowl of Fazer chocolates, where as Aspire only offers a minuscule bowl next to the entry counter (not cool).
Overall I had a pleasant stay at the lounge. Sipping white wine, overeating raspberry mousse and finishing some last work-related crises before taking off, in a calm and quiet atmosphere away from crying children and loud charter travelers. In a nutshell:
|+ calm, cosy and homey||– view|
|+ warm meal||– beer selection|
|+ dessert||– spirits at additional fee|
|+ wine selection||– no toilet|
|+ tv and entertainment|