I went to an airport lounge for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic, and without the buffet it wasn’t worth the money

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  • Some airport lounges have reopened since the pandemic hit, and one of those is No. 1 Traveler Lounge at Gatwick Airport North Terminal in London.
  • I paid £32 ($42) 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 Traveler 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 no sign of any spa action, no buffet, a limited menu, and no free magazines or newspapers, although the whole experience cost the usual price of £32 ($42).

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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 travelers, couples, and small groups. People wore masks when walking around.

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).

Tea and coffee was also self-service.

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

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

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.

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

Half the restaurant was completely closed off.

The lounge had different areas with very different vibes.

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

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

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

There was plenty of work space …

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

I'd enjoyed my time in the No. 1 Traveler Lounge, but without the buffet, and with only four dishes on offer, for me, the lounge wasn't worth £32 ($42). 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.


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