The Traveling Steve's

Pre-Departure (Horrible) Review of the Air France Lounge: Houston (IAH) Airport!

After a good night’s sleep at the Marriott Houston (IAH) Airport, we slept in a bit before heading down to the buffet breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. This airport hotel Marriott is very soundproof, especially being snack dab in the middle of a busy international airport!

As our international flight to Doha did not leave until 6:50pm, we got a late checkout of 3:00pm before making the walking, elevator(s), hotel underground tram trek over to Terminal D. The tram was well marked, and we were later told it was designed by Disney, and was one of the first of its kind when originally installed.

Intra-Terminal underground tram stopping at the Marriott Airport Hotel and all terminals. This tram system is located outside of security checkpoints.

Waiting to board the tram, which runs every 3 minutes.

DOS contemplates on the tram ride how we’re going to get all this luggage
to the Qatar check-in counter!

After the tram ride, we took an elevator up to D concourse, and walked towards the end of the terminal to Qatar Airways ticket counter. Check-in at the Qatar Airways Business Class counter was quick, easy, friendly and very efficient. We checked 3 bags plus our transit wheelchair, and had 2 carryons each, including my laptop bag which the airline didn’t count as a carryon (they do weigh and tag the carryon bags separately).

After checking in, we went thru the Business Class security line, which also had TSA Pre-Check, and wheelchair access. Although I can walk, it’s still a challenge to walk distances and quickly such as in a busy airport, so we had a wheelchair escort which definitely made it easier navigating the large Houston Airport. Going thru security was fairly quick, although the TSA security process was a partial Pre-Check, meaning you could leave your shoes on, but had to remove your bag of liquids and all electronic devices and place in the bins provided. As it was an international checkpoint, this was understandable, and didn’t seem to slow the line up for mostly business travelers.

Once thru security, I was really glad I had the wheelchair escort, as the walk to the Air France Business Class pre-departure lounge was about as far away from security as you could go. We were given complimentary access to the Air France Lounge courtesy of our Qatar Airlines Business Class ticket.

For those who follow my blog, you know I’m almost always positive about encounters we have during our travels, however I can honestly say the Air France Lounge (part of Delta’s Sky Team) is a total dump and an embarrassing excuse for a premium Business/First Class Airport Lounge! I didn’t start off writing this post about the horrible lounge experience at the Air France Lounge, but decided it should be a warning for anyone unfortunate enough to be assigned this lounge at IAH Airport.

Entrance to Air France Lounge in Houston (IAH) Airport

There is also a KLM Lounge (also Sky Team) we had passed on the way to the Air France Lounge, and I had read on Trip Advisor that Qatar Airways also uses that lounge, but I’m guess depending on availability Qatar may use one lounge or the other. As we don’t have any Sky Team status (unlike One World) we were stuck with the Air France Lounge.

In any event the Air France Lounge in Houston was abysmally tiny for the large number of people that use it, and from the entrance sign it was apparent it was shared by many other airlines and Priority Pass non-guests (more on that in a minute). When we arrived around 4pm, only Air France and Qatar Business Class passengers were admitted access (don’t know how many people from other airlines were there before that cutoff though; it was easily dozens of people n the tiny confines of the lounge.)

List of Airline Business Class passengers permitted to use this Air France (Part of Delta’s Sky Team) Lounge. Qatar Airways (One World Alliance) wasn’t listed, but allowed access at least the day we were there. We were surprised even Delta Airlines passengers were turned away here!

I know this some might think this review sounds picky, but we’ve been to Business/First Class and even regular domestic airline clubs all over the world, and this is definitely the worst Business Class Lounge we’ve ever been to, with Miami Airport’s Turkish Airlines Club (operated by Scandinavian Airlines), a close second. Considering Business Class passengers are paying upwards of $5k on average for a one way flight, and often more for their airline tickets, this lounge access is a legitimate perk many passengers look forward too; that is relax in the lounge with a drink, eat, make phone calls etc before their long flight. Most international airline lounges offer shower facilities, as well as multiple restrooms, a TV viewing area, spacious seating areas often with a nice view of the planes or overlooking the terminals, and full buffet or dining choices; enough for a nice pre-boarding meal; none of which this dreary Air France Lounge provided.

Unfortunately in some clubs such as Houston’s Air France Club, this lounge access has become a ‘watered down perk’ as airlines try to make-do with an old and tiny club, and add in all of the airline’s alliance partners as well as Priority Pass members; a separate paid program which supposedly provides lounge access to many lounges globally, and massive over crowding along with food and drink cutbacks make for a much cheapened experience. Honestly we’d rather pay for a decent meal and drinks at the airport restaurant and bar next door, but we were being picked back up at the club by the airport wheelchair assistance agent at 5:45pm so we braved it out for a couple hours in this dump.

Steve (DOS) and I were fortunate to get the last two seats in the tiny Air France Lounge., as we were dropped off by the airline wheelchair assistance agent. We thought the lounge would clear out a bit as flights left, but no one was leaving and it only got busier even though there were no seats left. The two seats we got just happened to be the worst two seats located right by the busy front door entrance.

There were perhaps three or four other small sections of the narrow lounge each seating perhaps a maximum of a dozen people (who mostly spread out with their luggage decreasing the very cramped seating capacity), a small food area at one end of the lounge with some tables and chairs, and a small cubby hole at the other end of the lounge for alcoholic beverages. The cubby hole was not a traditional bar; perhaps the size of a small pantry and nowhere to, stand, sit, or just hang out. The beer, wine and spirits, while complimentary, were served by an attendant who must have been instructed not to pour more than a half glass of vino into a cheap and tiny wine glass.

The “bar” area at the Air France Lounge; more like a service pantry that was staffed by an attendant, not self service where you could help yourself to the portion size you liked.

The food options at the Air France Lounge were minuscule; some beef stew, crackers and cheese; nothing like the full food and drink buffet spreads in United’s gigantic SFO International Club or American’s Flagship Clubs in Chicago, DFW, Miami and others. I guess we have gotten spoiled with some of the best? Compare this to Miami’s American Airlines Lounge with Flagship Dining for First Class passengers and huge buffet for Business Class.

American Airlines Flagship Lounge in Miami. Pic 1 of 5

Charcuterie course in AA’s Miami Flagship Lounge. (Pic 2 of 5)

Filet Mignon and nice red wine at Miami’s AA Flagship Lounge. (Pic 3 of 5)

American Airline’s Flagship Lounge in Miami, offering waiter service dining for First Class passengers and huge buffet spread for Business Class. Pic 4 of 5

Complimentary Bar area in American Airline’s Miami Flagship Lounge. Pic 5 of 5

As we were sitting in our “lobby like” front door seats in the Air France IAH lounge, we were provided “free entertainment” by many of the soon to be irate and prospective lounge passengers who walked thru the door, only to be briskly turned away by the lady lounge gatekeeper. I must say, she had a difficult job of telling most of the passengers (especially ALL of the Priority Pass guests) to come back at 5:45pm, (nearly 2 hours later) or other passengers who weren’t legible to come in even though their airline listed this as a valid club location. This gate-keeper lady was firm, stern, and obviously did this every day and knew how to handle passengers swiftly.

Our busy ‘front row ringside” seats by the entrance in the Air France Lounge where we watched many unhappy passengers being denied entrance using Priority Pass or other airline alliances due to capacity issues.
Watching the free entertainment from our seats less than 10 feet from the busy lounge entrance.

In fact the only people she allowed in were Air France and Qatar Airways Business passengers, although the respective airline alliances and front door plaque showed multiple airlines and “Priority Pass” guests are welcome. So much for that, as literally dozens of passengers were denied entry into this dumpy lounge, although I felt like telling them the public restaurant and bar just outside the Air France Club looked much nicer and was much less busy, although the drinks were not complimentary, not that that meant a while lot compared to the measly food and drink options in this club.

A sign on the door of the Air France Lounge, welcoming (not really) Priority Pass Guests; not too proud to be a Priority Pass member at this Club!

But of all the factors in this miserable Air France club, we were astounded that this lounge did not have any restrooms! Nada, zero, zilch! For an international club, or domestic club for that matters, this is a first for us. The restrooms were outside the Air France Club, and were public restrooms in the terminal, located down the hall past a nice public restaurant, not very close at all.

Unfortunately for me, as I approached the public men’s room (which was no short walk for me), I noticed the men’s restroom is barricaded up and out of order! You’ve got to be kidding me I thought, and probably said out loud too! ???? I waited, and waited, and waited for the men’s room to open up, while simultaneously looking at the nearby single “Inter-Gender/Family” restroom to open, which was locked. Finally I shouted into the men’s room and a not so nice lady (maybe witch-like would be more descriptive) told me the restroom was flooded and I couldn’t come in. I said I didn’t mind (as I was about dribbling by this point) and she actually said, well if you pee on the floor we’ll then have to call Hazmat for clean up! Now you’ll just have to wait for the single family room restroom to open, as she walks away! I’ve been waiting there for a long time as well I yelled back at the restroom barricade for what it’s worth. And this is in a huge international public airport terminal, right next to a public bar, many seat gate area gates, two Business Class Lounges, and no available men’s room!????

After what seemed like an eternity I waited in shame outside the inter-gender/family restroom, and eventually knocked as it had been so long. Then I’m thinking I don’t really want to go inside wondering what’s going on in there seeing it’s been so long since it was available! ???? A man’s voice mumbles something in another language and a few minutes later an Asian looking 20’s something man came out with a mask on his face. ???? I carefully didn’t touch anything without a towel, and quickly headed out after peeing, with a line of men starting to form behind me outside the restroom, all equally upset and ready to us the “loo”.

I was going to file a complaint and call the Houston Airport Administration from a house phone to get maintenance or someone else out there, but as I went to use the courtesy phone by the Air France gate with all of the “helpful’ assistance numbers, I quickly realized the courtesy phone was not so courteous, and was in fact dead as a door nail. Not working. Zilch, Nada, Ka-put! What a comedy of errors this pre-departure experience was!

Not so helpful courtesy phone next to Air France Lounge entrance and near gate D18. I guess the blue duct tape didn’t help much.

Anyway, comparing this experience to DFW, AA, SFO, ATL and other international gateways in the US, and virtually all of the international gateway lounges abroad, this Air France club in Houston IAH in my opinion, should be shut down and completely rebuilt, perhaps 5 times the size it is if they are going to code-share it with all of these other airlines for international departures. Also, adding in the non-“Priority Pass” guests, (which is a paid access to many clubs around the globe), who weren’t even allowed in until nearly 2 hours later, is at best an annoyance, and at worst (most likely) is fraudulent advertising on who an when they accept other passengers.

All I can say for any Air France and Qatar passengers that are planning on trying the Air France Lounge (as well as all of the other potential entitled by not admitted passengers due to the minuscule lounge capacity and food and drink offerings), I would instead head to the public restaurant and lounge down near the D18 gates (near the Air France Club), and enjoy a leisurely meal and drink there (at their own expense) overlooking out to the large international concourse.

Fortunately we only had less than two hours misery in the lounge (oh by the way they didn’t even have free wifi!, we had to use our hotspot or the Houston Airports free wifi after filling out a contact form with name, email etc for wifi access), my “ride” was there to pick us up at 5:45 for our 6pm boarding time.

We had the same lady skycap as before, Latina, who was lovely, and graciously escorted DOS and myself all the way to the opposite end of the terminal, and placed us at the front of a priority queue for our long flight to Doha. We thanked her so much and even took a selfie with her. We were then handed off to the airline’s gate side wheelchair for the short access to the plane, and would soon be boarded for Doha.

I’ll end this (sorry) negative-sounding post, with a very positive look at what’s ahead next: an Outstanding Flight on Qatar Airways in the next post! While this review of the Air France Lounge sounds bad, it’s an honest review of the Business Class experience that most any regular Business Class passenger would think is a joke. I hope for Houston, Air France, Qatar and other Airlines (plus the poor neglected Priority Pass non-guests), this Air France Club is closed, rebuilt, and operates as a real International Business Class Club; not a tiny cramped seating area with cheap and weathered-looking food and drink options, adds restrooms, wifi, and perhaps some magazines, newspapers, and a more cheerful looking atmosphere (think painting it in) etc for a better experience.

Anyway, so long for Houston, and our last impressions of the airport. At least the Marriott hotel was awesome! Next stop Doha, Qatar!

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