Rio de Janeiro’s airport (GIG) wasn’t always very luxurious. I first visited the airport in the mid-2000s, and I remember that there wasn’t much there but a large departure hall with some fast food restaurants serving pão de queijo (Brazilian cheese bread). However, the 2016 Olympics brought a lot of development to the city and to the airport in order to impress international visitors.
On my most recent trip to Rio de Janeiro in July, I was excited to see that a new Star Alliance Lounge had recently opened in December 2016. Since I was flying Avianca in business class, I had access to the lounge. Mine was a relatively early flight, so when I visited the lounge was fairly empty. It was so nice that I wished I had more time to hang out there.
Entrance to Lounge
The entrance to the lounge features an array of international newspapers and clocks showing the time in New York, Rio, and Paris. The white rocks are a local design feature used as pavers on Rio’s Ipanema Beach sidewalks and boardwalk. The instrument hanging under the clocks is a berimbau, which is used in the traditional music of Brazil.
The bar at the Star Alliance lounge is, like the rest of the lounge, very modern and fresh. There are attendants there to make drinks or coffee, including the local Brazilian style of coffee called cafezinho.
The seating areas are similarly fresh and decorated in a style of Brazilian modernism that never goes out of style. Breeze block walls create privacy and are a beautiful, modern touch. You also see the white paver rocks from the Ipanema boardwalk carried through on the walls of the lounge, with photographs of the beach to make you feel like you haven’t left Rio yet.
The food bar in the Star Alliance Rio lounge is on par for an international business class lounge. There was plenty of salad, some soup, and various freshly made snacks as well as heavier options on display.
While the rest of the lounge is beautiful, whomever designed the Star Alliance lounge in Rio really went to town on the bathroom. There are beautiful mosaic tiles, a huge marble trough sink, and even some greenery growing in the corners.
While I wasn’t expecting to see such a gorgeous lounge at Rio’s GIG airport, I was very impressed by the new Star Alliance lounge. Not only is it beautifully designed, it also makes fantastic use of local Rio de Janeiro design elements. So while no one ever wants to leave Rio, at least you can spend your last hours there in local luxury.
The Dreaded SSSS
If you read travel blogs, you may be aware of the dreaded SSSS designation that can occasionally be applied to the boarding passes of passengers headed to the United States. For example, some bloggers have written about their experiences getting the SSSS on their boarding passes after visiting Istanbul.
For travelers with Pre-Check who value efficiency in travel, the SSSS is terrible because it cancels out Pre-Check and also comes with a variety of other extra, potentially invasive or time-consuming security measures.
Therefore, when I was traveling from Mexico City to LAX recently, I was understandably freaked out when I received my boarding pass with the SSSS on it. I had not done any travel to any places like Istanbul recently, so I wasn’t sure why I received it. Of course, the first thing I did was to go online and search for posts about “SSSS” and Mexico City. Sure enough, it turns out that getting an SSSS on your boarding pass at Mexico City International Airport is not uncommon. And in my case, since I had bought a one-way ticket just days before due to wanting to keep my travel plans flexible, it all started to make sense.
But even though I now understood why I had an SSSS, I still had to go through the process of traveling to the United States with the TSA equivalent of the Scarlet Letter. Here is what having the SSSS on my boarding pass entailed, in case you find yourself in a similar situation.
Going Through Security at MEX
In the security line entering the Mexico City Airport Terminal, there was no difference between having an SSSS on my boarding pass and not having one. This makes sense, because MEX doesn’t have Pre-Check, and the rules that the TSA applies to USA travelers don’t yet apply here. So I entered the Terminal 1, went through security, and went to the Avianca lounge (accessible via Priority Pass) to wait for my flight.
At the Gate in MEX Terminal 1
At the gate, I waited with others in line for boarding. When boarding was announced and I gave the gate attendant my boarding pass, this was when the SSSS kicked in. I was directed to an area to the side of the gate for extra screening. Fortunately, the screening was quite minimal– a very light pat-down and a quick perusal of the contents of my carry on. I was headed onto the plane in minutes. So far not so bad.
At Immigration at LAX
Once you arrive from a foreign country to LAX, you have to go through immigration before you can continue to your connecting flight. I was worried that at immigration the SSSS might kick in again, but since I have Global Entry I simply went through the normal Global Entry process and was ushered through in minutes. I then entered a long hallway that leads out of the immigration area and towards the domestic terminals.
I realized at that point that because of the dreaded SSSS on my MEX-LAX boarding pass, my usual TSA Pre-Check had not shown up on the boarding pass for my flight to my domestic destination. So I stopped at a United desk and told them my situation. “How did this happen to you?” the United agent said sympathetically and with a touch of pity. “I don’t know,” I said, “but now that I’m back in the US can we get my next boarding pass to show Pre-Check again?” She went to the computer and reprinted the boarding pass and presto! It came out with Pre-Check, meaning that I was no longer scarred with the Scarlet Letter SSSS for the remainder of my trip.
A Relatively Happy Ending
All in all, while getting the SSSS on my boarding pass was scary at first, it didn’t turn out to be so bad in this case. It seems much worse if the SSSS shows up repeatedly on your boarding pass and you are unable to return to normal status. But in the case of the Mexico City flight, it seemed like a temporary occurrence.
This blog highlights luxury travel and vacation experiences that you can have around the world, not necessarily for a lot of money. I travel a lot and want to share these experiences and exciting destinations with you. You might be surprised at all the places you can go!