Crossing the Threshold: My First Triumph in the World of Airport Lounges

Elli waits at the gate with her luggage

It happened! For real! I can hardly believe it. I have waited for this moment for years, and it finally happened for me! After so many rejections, discouragements, long waits, and baffling explanations that left me feeling betrayed and robbed, I'm in!

We arrive uneventfully at Zurich airport to take our flight to Nice to see our friend Kelli at 2 pm. Our bags are checked, and I hand John our last Swiss francs and ask him to get me a coffee while I wait with our carry-ons in a nice, comfy chair. I wore my boots today to save some weight in my suitcase because I'm loaded with gifts and art supplies I have picked up on my adventures. I feel a buzz against my leg from my bag.

I pick up my phone to see a message from the airline: "One of your flights has been cancelled, but we have rebooked you for the next flight at 5 pm to Geneva and then Nice arriving at 8 pm!" NO! That's a solid 4.5 hours at the Zurich airport, and I'm missing truffle pizza with Kelli! Not to mention, she has to sit in Nice all day waiting for us! ARGH!

The Weight of Waiting

I grab our stuff and find John in line for a coffee. "Our flight was canceled! We need to go to the gate and see what's up." We walk five minutes to our gate to find no one there—not one Swiss agent to greet and direct the troubled travelers. We find a desolate gate with a handful of passengers staring at their boarding passes. I see a sign for "transfer desk," and we backtrack toward security to find it.

After a few minutes in line, we overhear various people stating their rights to vouchers and refunds. Realizing that our flight is not the only one canceled, we wait to see if there is an earlier flight to Nice. The Swiss Air agent takes our boarding passes and passports and begins clicking away on her computer, only to tell us that there is nothing else today and that this is our only option for a flight. She cordially offers us a QR code for a voucher for 20 Swiss francs each for lunch at McDonald's, Burger King, or a sports lounge.

Disappointed, we find our way to the sports lounge and flop into some chairs. We order some hamburgers with our vouchers and realize our fate is 4.5 hours in the Zurich airport, only to fly for 45 minutes and wait another 2 hours, to then fly for an hour and finally get to Nice. We could have driven in the same amount of time, but this is what happens sometimes when you travel. A nice cold Weiss beer and a hamburger arrive, and our attitudes turn as we try to see what serendipity could occur. I'm thinking nails and a haircut; John is thinking massage.

The Lounge Quest Begins

I start to investigate what all is in the Zurich airport. I'm looking for spas and massage places and see that we have to leave the airport and take a taxi to get there. It doesn't feel right to me, so I start looking at what else is around. I stumble upon an airport lounge directory, which got me thinking about my American Express accounts. I have a personal one and a business account.

Next, I start researching lounges at the Zurich airport and see a bunch of conflicting information about Centurion lounges and LuftHansa lounges. I read almost every bit of small print on the Amex app to see if we have any kind of access to a lounge. I leave the Amex app and google "Zurich Airport lounge for Amex account holders." A search bar appears for American Express, asking me to input the airport. I punch in "Zurich" only to find a response, "There are no lounges in Zurich," followed by a list of "nearby" airports, mostly in Germany.

From Despair to Discovery

Discouraged but not giving up, I return to the Amex app, click the "find a lounge near you" button, and type in Zurich. Finally, I see something pop up called "Aspire Lounge." I click on it and then on the button that says "eligibility." I'm holding my breath as I begin to read all the fine print regarding who can and cannot enter this lounge. As I read, I discover I need a Priority Pass card.

Suddenly, my heart leaps because I vaguely remember seeing my never-before-used Priority Pass card in my weird red wallet, which I only use for foreign money on European trips. I dig around my bag and see—yes—I actually have it! This is the first time I have ever had this card with me while traveling, and it is truly a mystery to me how I have it in my weird red wallet.

"John! Look what I have! I think we can finally go to a lounge! I have no idea where this card came from, but we have it!"

"Oh, yeah, we got that in the mail a year ago, and when we were moving, I put it in your wallet." John casually says.

I'm blown away because I didn't even know I had this card until I saw it mixed in with francs and Euros the other day.

I keep reading the disclosures on my Amex app to see if I qualify. What airline do I have to fly? Do I need a gold card, silver card or purple card? Will it really happen this time?

I am even more amazed when I see that the lounge is located near the B gates! That is exactly where we are. This elusive lounge, the one Google told me didn't exist, is within a two-minute walk, as if it were just waiting for me to find it.

The Moment of Truth

As we collect our things and head over, I think back to the numerous times I have not been permitted into the lounge over the years. When I signed up for an Amex card, weighed out the fees, and saw the benefits of lounges while traveling, I jumped. Amex says as a card member, I have access to 1,400 lounges worldwide, with lux accommodations: free food, high-speed wifi, drinks, and comfortable chairs.

But to this day, I have never been let in. Either I wasn't flying the right airline, didn't fly first class, didn't have the priority card, or it was the wrong lounge. Many agents have tried to explain to me why I didn't qualify and what I needed, but I have never understood. I have been turned away in Istanbul, New York, Atlanta, Paris, Athens, Berlin, and Miami. This lounge has been elusive to me, a luxurious enigma taunting me as I sit in hard, dirty seats eating overpriced dry sandwiches with no flavor and suffering through terrible wifi, dropping Zoom meetings.

We arrive at the check-in desk, and I'm feeling cynical, wondering what fine print I missed that won't allow me to get in. I hand the agent my boarding pass and Priority Pass card. I have both my Amex cards ready and all my arguments organized in my mind. She punches something into her computer and says, "Only one guest?"

"Ugh, yes! yes!" I can hardly believe it. I have never gotten this far. "One guest." I stupidly point to John to identify my guest.

"OK, sign here. Here is your wifi pass. Enjoy!" she smiles.

We open the frosted glass door to a calm, half-filled lounge with relaxed travelers enjoying wine, tea, coffee, pasta, salads, and fast wifi. John and I find some clean lounge chairs in a quiet corner, and suddenly, four hours of waiting doesn't seem so terrible. I begin thinking, "I can write. I can catch up on work. I can try out my new watercolors. I can read. I can draw…Four hours of uninterrupted blissful lounging with fast wifi. Heaven!"

I'm not sure why, after millions of points and five years of being an Amex member, traveling many times each year, I have only now seen the other side of the frosted glass door of an airport lounge; but here I am.

Breakthrough Awaits

I have crossed over. I have joined the insiders' airport club, where travelers are rested, fed, and properly lounged. I have an endless supply of tiny sandwiches, a coffee machine with 15 choices of coffee drinks, fruit platters, three types of water, a friendly staff who keep picking up after me, a full bar, clean bathrooms, work desks, outlet plugs as far as you can see, pasta with porcini mushrooms, and little desserts.

This is the moment I realized that, no matter how many obstacles attempt to stand in your way or how far off it seems, breakthrough is only ever a moment away. The promised land that lives in your heart also lives in reality, and it waits for you even now. It doesn't matter how many times you've been turned away or who has told you it's impossible. Whether you see a way in or not, you are always one slight shift away from crossing the frontier and claiming a new identity.

Share your story in the comments below!


  • June Lizotte

    Felt the agony and victory unfolding in this story and really appreciate the
    descriptions of
    tenacity and of your
    willingness to put in the
    diligence it might take in
    many cases to see the
    “breakthrough” in the end.
    It also was not lost on me
    that John had a hand in
    the breakthrough (John is
    also the name of the disciple, self-described as “the one Jesus loved” in
    the Bible)- instrumental
    in the breakthrough) Isn’t
    that the way breakthrough
    happens in most cases?!
    Through diligence, faith
    and love… Not giving up,
    looking for the keys to
    unlock those blockages and then pressing toward
    the “prize” (the thing that
    was actually yours all
    along.) Breakthrough rarely comes easy; it’s like a treasure for which you must dig. I saw this deeper meaning in your story, than what was described on the
    surface and thought I would share. Times when I’ve had break-through have been marking moments in my life.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Love this! And everything you wrote! I’m amazed how much truth about how God works you squeezed from this!

  • Sonia

    What a lovely story Eli! Xx

  • Philippa Gillett

    Haha, oh I feel your pain and frustration!! I love travel and all the ups and downs. How cool you were finally allowed in a lounge!! I’ve never been! ;)

  • David "Buzz" Baldwin

    Leaving tomorrow for two weeks in Greece. Your trials and travails in getting to Nice gives me a little trepidation, but I’ve been praying for a smooth trip for weeks. Leaving Austin with only two legs with a 3 hour layover in Newark. WIsh us luck!
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Traveling is so worth any inconvenience. 👍🏼

  • Bronwen

    This is such a beautiful story. Thank you for inspiring me in a time when I really need it!!

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