Our flight from Rio de Janeiro to Panama City was scheduled to depart in the wee hours of the morning, so we hopped in an Uber and made for Galeão International Airport at around 8:30pm, thinking that we’d spend the intervening hours relaxing in the lounge.
However, that plan of action turned out to be rather misguided when, upon arrival, we realized that there was no way of checking our bags since the check-in desks hadn’t opened yet.
While we could’ve taken our bags as carry-on, we wanted to check them all the way through to Mexico City so that we wouldn’t have to deal with them during our Panama layover. Therefore, we had to wait another hour or so before the Copa Airlines staff finally showed up three hours prior to departure.
As the first passengers in the business class line, our check-in was processed in less than a minute. The security lines were similarly frictionless, and it wasn’t long before we were swiftly on our way to the Star Alliance Lounge Rio de Janeiro.
The Star Alliance Lounge is open to all Star Alliance business class or First Class passengers, as well as Star Alliance Gold Members. These alliance-wide lounges are typically found in airports that are served by multiple carriers within the alliance but dominated by none. Having visited the Star Alliance Lounge Buenos Aires earlier this trip, I was excited to see how the Rio one compared.
The lounge is located on one of the upper concourse floors of the airport, after walking through a duty-free labyrinth that seemed to go on forever. Upon arriving at the lounge, you immediately notice the impressive exterior facade, inspired by the bleached cobblestone of Rio’s streets and its distinctive skyline blending natural beauty with man-made grandeur.
The entrance to the lounge takes you through a small hallway in which various paraphernalia are on display, including a model widebody aircraft in the Star Alliance livery and a berimbau, a traditional Brazilian percussion instrument.
After being granted entry, it didn’t take long for Jessica and I to realize that we were the only souls in the lounge. Indeed, the Copa flight to Panama City is the last Star Alliance departure of the night, and since we had checked in for the flight so early, we didn’t see a fellow passenger for at least another hour. We had the whole place to ourselves!
Even the lounge staff were presumably enjoying some downtime and didn’t emerge from the back until about twenty minutes after we arrived. It was a rather amusing sight to see the first staff member poke his head out, notice that guests had arrived, and usher everyone else out to resume their work.
We took full advantage of our solitude, revelling in the peace and comfort of the lounge. The lounge’s design was tastefully inspired by a variety of Rio-inspired elements, including wooden columns, tropical plants, and cobblestone patterns across the walls. A range of art, photography, and cultural items were incorporated into the decor as well – such as this display of musical instruments.
The lounge’s shape is irregular, with a central foyer near the entrance providing access to two separate wings on opposite sides. On one side was the dining area, where the food spread and a few dining tables are located, plus a kitchen counter with high-top seating.
Over in the back, there's a row of tables positioned underneath a wall-mounted quote by Alberto Santos-Dumont, a Brazilian aviation pioneer. That's a distinctive feature of the six Star Alliance Lounges around the world – each one regales its guests with a series of important musings from notable local people.
The buffet serves up some high-quality Brazilian and international fare. On this evening, there were meatballs with tomato and basil, chicken stroganoff, potato wedges, ravioli, pilaf rice, and a scrumptious chicken soup that I kept going back for.
I was thankful that I could enjoy some delicious pão de queijo one last time before leaving Brazil. The Brazilian cheese bread sat alongside a few other finger foods, which are a great option for guests who aren’t feeling particularly hungry.
You can help yourself to some wine or a machine-brewed espresso at the buffet as well, although there’s a wider selection over at the bar (and you can get beverages hand-crafted for you as well).
There’s a few other seating options in this part of the lounge too; I particularly liked the little alcove of seats by the window with their zebra-print patterns.
The foyer plays host to the lounge’s full-service bar, where you can order alcoholic or caffeinated drinks. Impressively, there are power ports and coat hooks by each seat, which demonstrates the level of thought that went into planning and designing the lounge.
There’s also a set of lockers located here, near the entrance to the lounge, for you to store your belongings while you relax.
Over on the other side of the lounge, a variety of chairs and tables are spread out over a large area. I think that’s what I liked most about the lounge – it’s extremely spacious and there was lots of room to spread out. I don’t think the lounge would feel cramped even if there were enough guests to fill every seat.
Power and USB outlets are available at pretty much every spot, so you can fully charge all your devices before hopping on your flight.
I’m also a fan of the partitions, which were made of stone walls with square and round holes cut out within. Not sure what inspired the design here (maybe Connect 4?), but it was certainly satisfying to look at.
The bathrooms and showers are located on this side as well. Colourful tiles, against a field of grey marble, give this part of the lounge an understated modern look.
There’s normally a shower attendant who manages the shower rooms, although the desk was unstaffed at this late hour. I took this opportunity to have a peak at the shower rooms, even though I had no need to use them.
They looked really nice – definitely better than average among shower rooms in a business class lounge. There are two shower rooms available, and each of them contains a rain shower, a toilet, and a sink and mirror.
After filling up on the buffet, Jessica and I settled into our seats in the opposite corner of the lounge and relaxed, doing our best not to fall asleep. I nursed my "Caipimint" – the featured cocktail of the evening, a mint-heavy caipirinha – to help keep myself awake until the 1:20am boarding time finally came around, at which point we gathered our belongings and sleepwalked our way to Gate 132 on the airport’s lower level.
This is an outstanding lounge, all things considered. The decor is excellent, emphasizing warm tones and cultural elements to create an environment that’s both comfortable and interesting. The spaciousness of the lounge adds further marks. Furthermore, the buffet provides some satisfying nibbles and nosh, and the lounge’s facilities – the tended bar, the shower rooms, etc. – are top-notch as well. Those of you planning a trip to Rio can therefore rest assured that you’ll be well taken care of all the way until you board your departing flight.