Cathay Pacific's SFO Lounge Expansion: An Inside Look

If you're taking off from SFO on Cathay Pacific Airways soon, here's some tremendous news that just might make your day. As of October 19th, 2015, the highly anticipated expansion of San Francisco International Airport's Cathay Pacific Lounge is finally complete! This lounge has now been transformed into a whopping 9,220 square foot oasis, almost double the size of the original 5,500. In addition, there is now enough room to cater to 175 guests.

Newly expanded seating area.

Background

Before we whisk off further, let's take a brief glance over at the lounge space that existed before the expansion. This original den of comfort and relaxation continues to make up a little over half the lounge area today. Since November of 2011, the Cathay Pacific Lounge in San Francisco has been the five-star oneworld carrier's first and only flagship lounge in the United States. The design inspiration for this lounge? None other than Cathay Pacific's award-winning oases at their primary worldwide hub, Hong Kong International Airport. This comfortable expanse features Carrara white marble tables, China Black granite walls, warm bamboo wood finishes, and panoramic windows that yield to a marvelous profusion of natural light.

Carrara white marble tables, China Black granite walls, and sunlight penetrating the panoramic windows. Another bright, sunny day at the Cathay Pacific Lounge.

Upon first contact with the front reception desk, take a moment to feast your eyes upon the special wall made of Venetian glass tiles by Fabbian of Italy. This bright white wall of light is backlit to create a sparkling abstract impression of bamboo stalks.

One of the primary, "can't miss" highlights, of course, is Cathay Pacific's trademark Noodle Bar, which serves up signature dishes like the Wonton Noodle Soup and Dan Dan Noodles. In addition, hot and cold Western and Asian dishes are also available at the self-service counter.

Fruit tarts, custard buns, and sandwiches at the self-serve counter.

Another highlight is the signature Cathay Pacific Solus Chair. These special seats, which are individually enclosed within a semi-circular barrier, offer guests a degree of solace, a private zone to savor a delicious noodle soup dish, work on a presentation for a business pitch, or wander off into whimsical thoughts. The chairs are handcrafted in Italy by Poltrona Frau, which you may recognize as the firm that supplies Ferrari with their leather interiors.

Three cozy Solus chairs hugging the granite wall.

If you're looking for a convenient way to connect with good friends, there are seven workstations with desktop computers, not to mention fast, complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the entirety of the lounge space.

iMac stations with glass partitions between each seat to provide a sense of privacy.

Another look at a station up close.

At the moment, Cathay Pacific provides 17 flights a week out of San Francisco. This lounge serves guests on all of these flights, along with select passengers on Etihad and Alaska Airlines flights. Other eligible lounge guests include first and business class passengers on other oneworld carriers, as well as oneworld Sapphire and Emerald guests flying on a oneworld carrier. The lounge opens four hours prior to flight departure, and is located on Level 4 of the International Terminal Building, Concourse A.

The Expansion

This newly expanded area features a familiar design concept and continuity in furniture, materials, and most importantly, overall character and feel. Highlights include an ancillary dining area, a new food preparation pantry, and a self-serve deli counter with an attendant on hand for special requests and espresso. Additionally, this new space comes with three additional private shower rooms, bringing the overall lounge count up to six showers. Brand new shared restrooms, one for each gender, are also available.

The expanded space induces comfort and provides an enhanced experience for lounge guests. In contrast to the original lounge space, televisions and electronic monitors have been removed in an effort to provide a quieter, calmer, and less visually distracting atmosphere. This scenario is especially ideal for those who are seeking a setting to work or relax in peace. Each lounge seat comes with adjacent AC power and USB-power outlets for ease of device powering and recharging. Wi-Fi service will be extended to make sure that there is enough bandwidth to go around for all guests.

New And Improved Menu

As an added bonus, Cathay Pacific has upgraded and fine-tuned the lounge's menu. Here is the new, improved, and updated list of offerings, effective October 14th, 2015:

  • Tomato Bisque Soup (CX 879 Lunch)
  • Curry Chicken (CX 879 Lunch)
  • Chicken Broccoli and Mushroom Stir Fry (CX 879 Lunch, CX 873 Dinner)
  • Stir Fried Rice Noodle w/ BBQ Pork (CX 879 Lunch, CX 873 Dinner)
  • Chicken Gumbo Soup (CX 873 Dinner)
  • Szechuan Chicken (CX 873 Dinner)
  • Cod w/ Black Bean Sauce (Etihad Airways)
  • Jasmine Rice (CX 879 Lunch, CX 873 Dinner, Etihad Airways)
  • Greek Salad w/ Basil Oregano Dressing (CX 879 Lunch, CX 873 Dinner, Etihad Airways, British Airways)
  • Egg, Tomatoes, and Lettuce Sandwich (Etihad Airways)
  • French Toast (Etihad Airways)

In addition, the following items are available all day:

All Day Sandwich Selection (BA & CX only)

  • Hummus, Cucumber, and Tomato Pita
  • Cheese Burger Slider
  • Spicy Tuna
  • Turkey & Cranberry Cream Cheese

Deli Counter (Cycle 1)

Special Offer Items

  • Caesar Salad w/ Grilled Ciabatta Toast
  • Air Dried Tiroler Ham w/ Pickles
  • Fusilli Pasta Salad w/ Salami
  • Selection of Artisan Cheese (Brie or Gruyere Cheese w/ Crackers)
  • Seasonal Fruit Salad

Grilled marinated vegetables, cold cuts, and artisan cheese selection. Turkey and cranberry cream cheese sandwich is on display in the middle.

Seasonal fruit salad, Caesar salad with ciabatta toast, and grilled marinated vegetables.

Selection of Italian Antipasto

Grilled Marinated Vegetables

Selection of Breads

Brioche Roll, Hard Roll, Crackers & French Baguette

Hot Sandwich

Turkey & Cheese Sandwich w/ Cranberry Sauce

A delectable turkey and cranberry cream cheese sandwich, along with a bottle of Mumm Napa Brut Prestige make for an excellent pairing.

Note: menu items change on a seasonal basis.

Getting Ready For Showtime

From a guest's perspective, new and renovated lounge openings may appear effortless, and Cathay Pacific's exceptional presentation provides little to challenge this impression. Behind the bright lights, fanfare, and grand spectacle of an opening, however, you'll discover that a lot of hard work, dedication, and effort is required to make sure that everything is ready to go in time for the big premiere. In fact, the SFO lounge expansion project was an entire year in the making.

Right around the time of the lounge's opening, we made two visits, one during the final stages of the construction process, and the other soon after the lounge's grand opening. Below, we'll present a series of before and after shots to illustrate the way things looked on each visit for contrast.

BEFORE: Ancillary dining section under construction.

AFTER: Ancillary dining section, complete.

BEFORE: Plastic wrapped Solus chairs waiting to be deployed in the new seating area.

AFTER: All unwrapped and ready for guests. The future is bright - just consult the sunlight coming in through the windows.

Take a moment to think about the difficulty of managing and coordinating all the activities of your average construction project. If your head hurts just thinking about it, you're on the right track. Now, crank it up a notch, and you'll begin to approach the complexity level of such a project in an airport environment. In this scenario, you'll discover tougher regulations and mountains of paperwork in abundance. The cast of involved parties grows even bigger: lounge operator, lawyers, architects, designers, construction team, lounge staff, airport authority, and that's just the beginning.

Over the course of the extended project, the expansion team had the unenviable task of keeping up with a mind-boggling array of responsibilities, developments, and considerations. Especially crucial was making sure to delegate responsibilities and communicating with all parties to provide a clear understanding of how to play their part with minimal friction. On the legal side of things, they had to obtain numerous permits and licenses, sign leases, and ensure compliance with all criteria specified in complex local building codes and ordinances. If that wasn't enough to keep them up at night, they were on the hook for making sure that all inspections passed with flying colors. Materials were handcrafted and shipped in to San Francisco from all around the world.

Once all the raw materials, furniture, and equipment were in place, it was the construction team's job to put the pieces together, with help from the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineers, as well as the lighting and millwork teams. The design team took the lead on planning and execution, poring over technical details to come up with the most optimal and effective solutions. As you can see, the byzantine feat of completing this lounge expansion could not have been possible without the synergistic cooperation and amazing efforts from all these distinct parties.

Diagrams for flooring installation.

Floor Plan, Cathay Pacific First and Business Class Lounge, SFO.

Interview With Gensler

The lead architect for this expansion project was Gensler, the global architecture and design firm headquartered in San Francisco. To find out more about the expansion process and the lounge in general, we spoke with Gensler's Ken Irelan, lead designer for both the original lounge and the expansion project. The following is a Q&A summary of our conversation:

Q: To start off, can you tell us about your team at Gensler?

A: We have a small team, consisting of myself (Ken Irelan) acting as architect of record. The project manager is Daniel Pamperin. Rebecca Ruggles is a designer, and her role at the original lounge involved LEED documentation and design oversight. Christine Lehto, the job captain, was involved with construction documentation. Most of the dialogue took place between myself and Cathay Pacific, and I would share the information from these talks with my team.

Q: How did your relationship with Cathay Pacific Airways begin?

A: We originally started working with Cathay Pacific in 2010 for the original lounge, which opened in November of 2011. We opened the lounge with great fanfare, and everyone was happy with the result. Eventually, as the number of Cathay Pacific's flights out of SFO increased, the lounge began to reach capacity. After the Air France Lounge next door closed and moved downstairs, there was now some additional free space available. Cathay Pacific saw that as an opportunity to expand their lounge, and they decided to bring Gensler back on board in late 2014. Because of our project history, they were confident in our ability to execute the same design.

Spacious dining area in the original lounge.

Q: What are some of the benefits that Gensler brings to clients?

A: Gensler is a very cooperative type of architecture group. We take ideas from our clients' specified needs and desires, and we work with pragmatic issues, as well, to give our clients the best product that makes sense. Rather than making an overall architectural statement, we cater to our clients' needs.

Q: Tell me about the design of the SFO Cathay Pacific Lounge.

A: The design of the lounge was an evolving Cathay Pacific design that they have utilized in their Hong Kong International Airport lounges. They had the concept design, which included their desired layout, specific materials to be utilized, and where furniture and divider walls would be placed. Our role was figuring out how to make all of this work on the technical side.

Q: Can you give an example of this?

A: When you walk into the reception area, there is a large, decorative blacklit glass wall behind the front desk. This concept came from one of their lounges in Hong Kong, and we needed to figure out how to make this glass wall accessible for maintenance. It's basically a glass crystal tile that is suspended from ceiling to floor, and there is LED lighting from the bottom going up, as well as from the top down, to give it a really nice illuminance. One problem that they've experienced in the past in their Hong Kong lounge is having one of their lights go out. In this situation, there was no way for them to open up the cavity to replace the lighting. Therefore, we had to come up with a strategy for doing just that. In the end, I think we did a really good job. If you go into the lounge today, you wouldn't notice that there is an operable door to gain access into that glass showcase.

Venetian glass tiled wall by Fabbian of Italy behind the reception desk.

Q: How does this lounge represent the Cathay Pacific brand?

A: Cathay Pacific has a sense of understated sophistication, and that's reflected in their lounge product. Their materials are luxurious and quiet, the details are finely tuned, and there aren't a whole lot of loud design elements, apart from the glass wall in the reception area. Even then, it's a more inviting sort of feature rather than a "hey, look, I'm here" sort of thing.

Q: What are some of the highlights of the new expanded space?

A: One great feature that guests will enjoy is the new deli counter. Here, you'll be able to walk up and select from various types of prepared salads. Additionally, the attendant behind the counter will be available to make customized sandwiches. There's also a very nice espresso machine.

BEFORE: Deli counter is all set up and ready for action.

AFTER: Now it's helping to serve up delicacies!

BEFORE: Counter with diagrams on top.

AFTER: The diagrams have been replaced with condiments, nuts, and fresh fruits.

BEFORE: Refrigerators waiting to be filled with drinks.

AFTER: Now, they're packed with bottled water, beer, soft drinks, wine, ahd champagne.

BEFORE: Brand new espresso machine, half covered in plastic to keep it shiny.

AFTER: The plastic has come off, and everything is all plugged in.

Another highlight is the lack of a television or magazine stand in this new expanded area. One trend that we've noticed is that lounges are beginning to take out their televisions in order to create a more comfortable guest experience. Instead of advertisements, noise, and distraction, guests can look forward to a quieter atmosphere where they can repose. With regards to newspapers and magazines, we've noticed that guests these days are gravitating away from print material and more towards electronic tablets, smartphones, and the like.

Putting electrical outlets into the side tables.

BEFORE: One of these chairs seems ready to go, the other is feeling a bit constricted.

AFTER: Seats and side tables are all ready.

This new expanded section also comes with the addition of 13 brand new Solus Chairs, bringing the lounge's grand total to 16. The Solus is a small, semicircular, and partly enclosed chair with a cushion and a small table the size of an airline tray table. There's an electric outlet at the floor, and guests can lounge in one of these spaces for relaxation, privacy, rest, or even work. Although the Solus pod is open to the rest of the lounge, it'll feel like you're in your own little world.

BEFORE: Fresh Solus Chairs covered in bubble wrap.

AFTER: The construction team spent many hours popping all the bubble wrap.

Finally, there are three new shower rooms and an additional set of a men's and women's restroom, doubling the count from the original lounge.

Q: What challenges did your team encounter with the original Cathay Pacific Lounge project back in 2011?

A: There were some challenging parts for sure. One set of issues that we had was with the fire marshal coming in and requesting certain changes. When you walk in the front door, there's a little hallway to your left with a luggage shelf. This was not a part of the original design, but late in the game, the fire marshal required us to put in a fire rated rolling door for the clear glass reception wall. Cathay Pacific was looking for something very minimal and streamlined, and it was not possible to get fire rated assemblies that are really clean looking and allow a door to pivot open. As a result, we had to put in a secondary hallway with an exit door.

Front entrance - the luggage shelf hallway is located towards the left.

Another challenge we encountered was with the door located right before the restrooms at the far right side of the lounge. Originally, it was supposed to be a pocket door that blended in with the wall. As with the previous issue, the fire marshal requested that the door not be hidden like we wanted it to be. He mentioned that it had to remain open in case there was an emergency. If there was a fire alarm emergency, the door would have to automatically open up and block the passage to the restroom area, so that people would be directed to the emergency exit door rather than the shower area.

Looking straight towards the shower and washroom area.

Otherwise, the project was pretty straightforward - working out details, making sure the materials came together well, and thinking through the usability of different features.

Q: What are some of the differences between working on expanding the space as opposed to creating a brand new lounge?

A: Things went much more smoothly when we expanded the space. We learned a lot from working on the original lounge in 2011 and the challenges we came across. We were able to use that knowledge to make the expansion process and communication channels much more seamless.

When we begin projects, we need to go through what is known as a code analysis, to make sure that the standards set by the building code are met. This includes making sure that we have enough fire doors, fire rated assemblies, and toilet fixtures such as water faucets and urinals. All of this is governed by the building code based on the number of people expected in the lounge. To make sure that we had our bases covered, we went through this process both for the original and the expansion. Since we had done this before, things were much more intuitive the second time around.

BEFORE: Water faucets are installed, still to come are the mirrors.

AFTER: Mirrors #7 and #8 are on the wall.

Q: Can you walk us through a summary of the expansion project from your end, starting from the initial designing process?

A: To start off, we received the concept design from Cathay Pacific. Quickly, we laid everything out and did the code analysis, as I mentioned earlier, to make sure that all the building code requirements are being met. We also had to make sure that we allotted the correct amount of space for both exiting and plumbing fixtures.

BEFORE: Hallway where new shower rooms and restrooms are located.

AFTER: Here it is again, nice and clean, with all doors in place.

BEFORE: Wheelchair accessible shower room.

AFTER: X no longer marks the spot. The blue tape has come off.

One issue we encountered with the original lounge was that the amount of space pencilled in for the restrooms was a bit too small. In California and most of the United States, we are required to comply with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) in providing accessible toilet rooms. We have specific requirements for wheelchair clearances throughout the lounge, and this was not originally anticipated. Because more space was required for the toilets and showers, the lounge area ended up being smaller than initially planned. This was not as big of an issue the second time around.

BEFORE: Shower room under construction, with box of hair dryers on the sink.

AFTER: Transformation complete.

From there, it was a matter of working through details and discussing the intentions for different features of the lounge. Cathay Pacific would usually provide some photographs or technical drawings if they have had previous iterations that they have built in Hong Kong or elsewhere, and we would work through everything to make sure that what we put in place was operable. We had to ensure that we got their design aesthetic through, while making sure that everything was functional.

Q: How long did the entire process take?

A: We started working on expansion drawings around a year ago in October of 2014, and finished up construction drawings by the first week of January 2015. There was a stop at one point due to budgetary issues for the project. In addition, there were some issues with the Air France lease of the space. We had to wait until they were totally vacated from the space before we could begin construction, and this took about four months. In total, the design phase was about two and a half months, and the construction time was about 5 months.

Q: What do you like most about this expanded space?

A: It's very highly detailed, very clean, and calming. While the design is a bit subtle and understated, the space is also very sophisticated and luxurious.

Lounge chairs facing the windows contribute to a peaceful and relaxing atmosphere.

Conclusion

The SFO Cathay Pacific Lounge is a luxurious and comfortable oasis for tranquil relaxation before your flight. In the newly expanded area, guests will be able to relax in peace without external distractions. The Solus Chair collection has increased exponentially in number, allowing many more guests to enjoy these semi-private spaces. And of course, with a brand new menu and the introduction of new deli and self-service counters, food offerings have been enhanced, providing even more variety to cater to increasingly diverse tastes. If you enjoyed the original lounge, we would definitely recommend making a visit to experience the newly expanded version.

Be sure to drop your thoughts off and leave a review on your way out, as you would on LoungeBuddy.

Additional Information

Earlier this year, LoungeBuddy partnered with Cathay Pacific Airways to introduce the state-of-the-art iBeacon technology into this space. In doing so, we were able to provide guests at this lounge with special customized information, including a complete food and beverage menu with photos, as well as an overview of lounge amenities. We also gave out a limited number of these adorable Year of the Goat plush toys to a select number of lucky guests!

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