SAS: “Come as you are, leave in perfect condition.”
Prior to arriving at Chicago O’Hare International Terminal 5 for my Turkish Airlines flight 006 from Chicago to Istanbul, I checked the Star Alliance lounge finder (and of course consulted with Rocky, my blog colleague slash lounge guru slash good pal) to check my lounge eligibility.
The web page displayed accessibility to the standard United Clubs, located in the domestic Terminals 1 and 2, but also the SAS Business Lounge as well as the SWISS Business lounge in T5. However, at check-in at the Turkish Airlines counter for my flight, the agent handed me an invitation to the SWISSPORT contracted lounge at Terminal Five, near gate M13. This lounge is shared with Virgin Atlantic, COPA Airlines, Alitalia, LOT Polish, Cathay Pacific and Turkish.
So, technically speaking, if you’re flying out on Turkish Airlines out of Chicago O’Hare, you have access to THREE international lounges at ORD T5 (SAS Business, SWISS International Airlines, and SWISSPORT-Contracted/Shared) if you have Star Alliance Gold status. This might be useful knowledge in case you have a long layover at O’Hare. FlyerTalk has more information on the subject here.
After clearing security and taking a brief stroll through International Terminal Five to check up on the progress of the new terminal enhancements (which obviously are delayed, as only half of the improvements have come through – but this is still above and beyond where it used to be) I decided to explore the non-SWISSPORT lounges to see what was up.
As it turned out, the SWISS lounge was closed, which made sense given the fact that all LX departures are completed by the late evening hour (my TK flight was scheduled to leave at 22:15 that evening and it was well past the 7 pm closure time). Since the Swissport lounge was located near my departure gate at M13, I decided to wander over to M7 to check out the SAS Business Class lounge.
SAS only has two lounges in their US network: Chicago and Newark airports, which is logical these are their only two stations with multiple daily flights to its hubs in Scandanavia. The entrance to the lounge is very sleek with a painted banner, “Come as you are, leave in perfect condition,” which I found touching.
Interestingly, as I handed the agent my boarding pass and Star Alliance Gold card, she informed me that there was another lounge I could use, directing me to the SWISSPORT location. Of course, this I already knew, but I was entitled to the SAS lounge as *G, and obviously I wanted to exercise my benefits. I politely confirmed this with her, and so she gave me the green light and I entered. I’m not sure if her reaction was a formality, in the sense that SAS prefers to re-direct Turkish passengers to the other lounge to prevent overcrowding? Whatever the case, she allowed me in without further hassle so I wasn’t perturbed.
Upon entering, passengers can turn to the left, which is the food/dine and work zone, or to the right, which is the socialize/read/relax zone. The layout and design of the layout is absolutely stunning upon first glance, even if it is very IKEA-esque. It’s a comfortable and cozy environment to avoid the hustle and bustle of T5 before a transatlantic journey.
Near the food stations, there are several large round-tables with moveable wooden barstools that come replete with nice looking plant decor and, best of all, tons of charging stations (one of the best perks in lounges these days). Not to mention, excellent views of the tarmac (even though it was night-time at this juncture). The area was quiet, but had a few individuals scattered around working away silently on their laptops, so my guess was that it was the more “low-key” area.
WiFi was complimentary and passengers were given paper slips with the codes upon entry.
The food and drink selection is a little more on the “contained” side, but certainly has a plethora of selections to appeal to people in need of a small snack to hold them over for a few hours. There is a salad bar with a simple selection of vegetables and olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressings or packeted condiment options. There is also a make-your-own sandwich bar with pretzel bread (yum!) along with sliced turkey, cubed cheese, kalamata olives and various spreads, like Spinach dip.
As far as libations are concerned, twist-off red and white wine bottles are available, although I couldn’t recognize the labels, along with a self-service liquor cabinet stored in a stainless steel compartment. Virtually all major brands were represented (although not top-shelf, certainly above wells quality) and a small assortment of cognacs and aperitifs. Since Scandanavians love Vodka, there is also a small Bloody Mary prep area for the willing. Well done, SAS!
The cooler in the fridge had a plethora of beers, ranging from Heineken to Samuel Adams Oktoberfest (score!) and all sorts of juices, tonics, sodas, soft drinks and milk. Coffee and tea were also in abundance with an Espresso machine.
Since I was starving, I made myself a medley of snacks and had a glass of Cabernet. Unfortuantely, the wine was pretty terrible, so I did not drink too much of it and opted instead to enjoy the cocktails at the other lounge. The snacks were otherwise fairly good, and yummy. Certainly, beyond the level of what United offers at their domestic United Clubs, but slightly less than what Air Canada, Lufthansa, All Nippon Airways and Thai Airways offer in their respective worldwide lounges.
The “social” area of the SAS lounge, located to the right side of the area, has a wide variety of Scandanavian and Danish newspapers and magazines on display, except STILL no copy of the in-flight magazine! Seriously, what is with this travesty I am witnessing at so many Star Alliance lounges!? Intuitively, yes, they are offered on-board the aircraft, but I think that it wouldn’t require too much additional effort to stock the lounges with the contents of the seat pocket just to add some variety to the mix.
I loved the model Airbus A340-300 on display as well 🙂
The social area also featured a television in the rear corner. I predominately heard most of the passengers speaking in Danish and/or other languages, which made me happy. Always nice to see this at ORD! Just as I was exiting the lounge, an Air One Airbus A330 pulled into the gate, subbing in for a very-delayed Alitalia flight that day.
If you’re a Star Alliance Gold member departing T5 at O’Hare during the working hours of this lounge, I highly recommend visiting it. I think it represents SAS’ personality quite well, simple yet elegant, and has everything one needs, without being too crowded, to allow some relaxation, pampering or productivity time before an international journey. Food and beverage options are sufficient and it’s a perfectly laid back place to work or play.
After I finished my snack, I headed down to the SWISSPORT lounge n ear M13. As mentioned, this is a contracted/shared lounge used by Virgin Atlantic, COPA Airlines, Alitalia, LOT Polish, Cathay Pacific and Turkish.
First impressions were not good. At check-in, for starters, the agent at the desk seemed far more interested in checking her Instagram account on her iPhone rather than greeting me at the front and validating my credentials. Without barely so much as a “hello” or “welcome,” she glanced up once after stamping my pass and returned to pawing through her phone. At this time, I did notice another agent come sit next to her, who did smile at me and reminded her coworker to re-stock the bar area.
The main area of the lounge is stuffy, awkwardly laid out and truthfully, reminiscent of the waiting area in a doctor or dentists’ office. There is a random assortment of tables and chairs scattered around, and being shared by several airlines, the area was exceptionally crowded at that moment. There is a storage space for luggage, but I did not trust this concept in the slightest.
The food station was a complete joke: there was a foil tray stuffed with iceberg lettuce salad, a couple of cheese wedges and crackers, and then bags of Lays Brand potato chips. The only “hot” item available was a couldron of tomato soup brought around every so often, but there weren’t even spoons available for customers until someone reminded the lounge agent to provide them out. There is an espresso machine located adjacent to the dish rack where customers are expected to place their dirty/used items after consumation. This I found somewhat tacky.
Fortunately, there were a few bottles of liquor available, so I helped myself to a Gin and Tonic in the interim. The only wine available were those individual Woodbridge brand miniture bottles, and the cooler had Miller Light, Bud Light, Heineken, Budweiser heavy, and some Polish Beer for the hoppy drinkers. There were also some yoplait yogurts and some dole fruit cups, which looked exceptionally random and out of place at this joint.
I had to get some work done, so I proceeded over to the work “carrels” where passengers could charge their devices. Since this was basically an area adjacent to the rest of the lounge, there wasn’t any sort of separation from the noise level, but oh well. It was like being in a loud public library, which I guess made me feel less guilty about making some phone calls before I powered down.
I continued to work until boarding time for TK 006 was called (Alitalia was also called around 20 mins prior) which was appreciated, and by the time I made my way to the gate, the boarding area was fairly empty. One major redeeming factor of the lounge was indeed its proximity to the TK departure gate.
At any rate, the lounge served very basic purposes, although it was somewhat of a letdown. I was sincerely thankful that I had chosen to eat at the SAS lounge prior to coming here, upon realizing how low the standards were. From a design, catering and professional statement, this lounge very much screams minimalism. I’m pretty shocked that premium carriers serving O’Hare such as Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific are content with sending their First, Business and other Elite status tier passengers to use this lounge. It’s in major need of a makeover.
That rounds up my Star Alliance lounge count to seven: I have so far visited the following airline clubs in the Star system, and you can click on the links to access prior posts which discuss those lounge experiences. I suppose this is somewhat cool to say that I have now visited all the lounges offered by the five founding members of Star: Lufthansa, SAS, Thai, Air Canada and United.
Scandinavian Air System
- Chicago O’Hare
- Tokyo Narita
- Seattle Tacoma
- San Francisco
- Denver (East and West)
- Dallas/Ft. Worth
- Minneapolis/St. Paul
- Chicago O’Hare (T2, T1 B/C)
- New York LaGuardia
- Washington Dulles
- Washington National
- Fort Lauderdale
All Nippon Airways