The thing about flying into Kuwait City is that once you are there, there really isn’t much of anywhere else to go; leave the city limits and it is a sweeping expanse of…not-particularly-verdant desert. But why leave? This stable statelet at the top of the Persian Gulf has the world’s fifth largest oil reserves, is the eleventh richest nation on Earth per capita, and in 2007 had the highest human development index in the Arab world. It is the second freest economy in the Middle East, and has the region’s second largest stock exchange. At the center of it all is Kuwait City, so while it may be the only game in town, it is one helluva game.
The official moniker of “State of Kuwait” rings blandly plebian, but have no fear, upon entering the 800 square-meter Pearl Lounge at Kuwait International Airport, guests are instantly swaddled in luxury worthy of the Emir himself (Kuwait is a constitutional monarchy). Unlike other airports, where individual airlines have their own lounges, the Kuwaiti National Aviation Services and the Crown Plaza Kuwait City knocked their heads together, blending stone, wood, and native color schemes to create a space reminiscent of the finest hotel lobbies, with just enough Middle East decadence to make you feel almost, but not quite, guilty.
Available to both First and Business Class Passengers and situated in the departures level of the airport, the Pearl Lounge starts things off right: Hostesses (yes—real, live people) guide travel-weary and/or desert-dazzled visitors through a lavish setting. The buffet, open all day every day, is a multi-cuisine experience whose delicacies drifted directly off the Crown Plaza’s 5-star menu. Aware that the Arabian sun can be more than a little blinding, natural light illuminates the eating area to keep the senses stimulated, while the rest of the lounge is more subtly lit. Perfect for the mood lighting are the large, overfilled chairs whose designs radiate a sit-back-and-relax vibe — but just in case one demands a higher level of zoning-out, a “relaxing room” is tucked discreetly to the side that includes showers, a message chair, and lounges to snooze away the jet lag.
Of course the expected perks are present: Free WiFi, a children’s play room, satellite TV, DVDs, CDs and SACD, but Western travelers may be thrown by the smoking room (we haven’t seen one of those in years…), and Muslim visitors will find a prayer room available for religious services. While the First Class passengers are reveling in fine dining (and finer bar) and plush seating, Business Class workaholics will find the free wireless connection, fax, printers, scanners, and work stations more to their liking.
Like we said: it’s one helluva game.
Time to redecorate: Kuwait’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation announced last year a new terminal will begin construction in 2012, upping Kuwait International Airport’s passenger load from a respectable 13 million to a whopping 25 million. In the shape of a three-pointed star, the facility is set to be complete in 2016.