For years, I was like 99% of the world's flying population, dreading the hours wasted between passing through security and boarding a plane. That dread fossilized into hatred in May, when I decided that a 19-hour layover at the Johannesburg airport was a trifling hardship compared to saving $100 on a ticket.
It was a decision I deeply regretted ten hours later, after I had piled on every piece of clothing in my backpack and sprinted around the terminal like a deranged racehorse on the last leg of the Kentucky Derby. Hell is cold, and probably resembles an airport at 3 o'clock in the morning.
Then I got a lounge membership, for free, through my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card (this is not an ad, by the way).
I grew up in a family that stayed exclusively at motels with numbers in their name, with a father who suffered unimaginable deprivation during China's Great Leap Forward. I believed in the old saw that suffering built character, and part of suffering involved flying as economically as possible while still getting to your final destination (also that Spam is a perfectly acceptable picnic food, but that's a story for another time).
I'm not sorry to say that those principles melted in the first hour of my very first visit to a lounge inside Terminal 2 of the Cairo International Airport.
Friends, that hour was a warm embrace into a secret club. The kind that serves you piles of ham sandwiches, a pyramid of croissants, and occasionally comes by to offer a juice pack of orange or apple, take your pick. Travelers lounged on comfy, garishly colored leather chairs, silently wolfing down free pastries and fruit. I was one of them.
Since then, waiting to fly out has turned into pure joy. I downloaded the app that accompanies my membership, and eagerly plot out the best lounges to hit in the limited amount of time I have. I will even rush to the airport hours early, just to kick back and enjoy the over-salted soup. In Beijing, I snacked on shrimp shumai. In Beirut, I silently cheered a delayed flight, which allowed me to go back to the lounge and indulge in unlimited beers.
In September, I had another long layover, this time about 11 hours at the Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow. Instead of curling up on a skeletal bench, I pushed together two squishy armchairs and drifted off to sleep, awakening occasionally to enjoy a frothy cappuccino and smoked salmon sandwiches.
My membership expires next April. I would actually consider plunking down money to renew it, when the dreaded day comes.