Is It Worth Paying for the VIP Arrival and Departure Service at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel?
Before I embarked on my first trip to Israel, I'd heard horror stories about the security questioning and long lines at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, the principal gateway to the country. But the airport offers a VIP arrival-and-departure service that allows you to bypass most of this process, so I had to give it a try.
My trip coincided with the closing of the older Masada Lounge and the opening of the new Fattal Lounge at TLV. When I arrived, I got to try the older Masada, but when I departed I could experience the brand-new Fattal, which had opened just in time for Eurovision, which was taking place in Tel Aviv.
Arrival at the Masada Lounge
I won't explain too much about my arrival to the Masada Lounge because any VIP arrivals will now go through the Fattal Lounge. But the procedure will be similar: I disembarked from the plane and was immediately greeted by a man holding a sign with my name. I was whisked away from the jet bridge to a private security screening.
Someone picked up my bags, and I was taken in a black car to the Masada Lounge (now, of course, you'd be taken to the newer Fattal Lounge). Once I got out and entered the lounge, I was met with coffee, tea, snacks, magazines and newspapers to enjoy as I filled out immigration forms.
A superfriendly customs agent popped in to ask a few questions. Meanwhile, a staff member picked up my luggage, then I headed outside.
The procedure was a breeze, taking just 20 minutes or so. It was such a great way to bypass those long security and customs lines, which can take up to two hours (as reported by TPG readers), followed by a long wait for your luggage.
While the service itself was amazing, I wasn't very impressed by the old, windowless Masada lounge. Luckily, though, that lounge is history. As I found on my way out of the country, the Fattal Lounge is a great space -- it's surely going to be the only way I enter and exit Tel Aviv from now on.
New Era of VIP at TLV: The Fattal Lounge
The tour company I booked through in Israel arranged the VIP arrival and departure and didn't mention that the newer lounge had opened, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was ushered into Fattal's brand-new VIP lounge instead of the old Masada, which I was expecting.
The lounge itself was a breath of fresh air compared to the old space -- it felt like you were pulling up to a luxury hotel, not an airport.
The interior was large and filled with light. There were six private rooms, all of which were equipped with showers. Booking one of these private rooms was the way to go, especially if you had a small group and preferred your own space. The staff met us at our car to take our luggage. After that, they took us to our private room, but would've taken us to the public lounge if we hadn't booked our own room.
The furniture was brand-new, modern and elegant.
The food was delicious. I enjoyed a spinach-and-feta tart followed by coffee. Alcohol was also available, though Champagne wasn't an option.
The shower passed the TPG shower test -- I was able to fit all of my 6-foot, 7-inch frame.
While I enjoyed a shower, snacks and drinks in my private room, my luggage and check-in was taken care of. After some time in the lounge, I was taken through security and a duty-free shop and then right to the plane in a black van.
It is worth noting that they wouldn't let me leave the Fattal Lounge to visit the El Al Lounge (I was flying El Al and wanted to test out the first-class section of their King David lounge). Granted, the staff was genuinely confused as to why I'd even want to leave, since I was already getting the VIP treatment. And they had a point. I was going to be taken directly to the plane, so making a stop to go back into the terminal didn't really make sense.
Being able to shower, relax, have a coffee and start my 11-hour trip home in a stress-free environment was well worth the money (I'll detail the fees below). I wish I'd had the opportunity to arrive at the Fattal Lounge, but starting my trip at Masada helped me realize how good a space the new Fattal Lounge really is. Plus, now I have a reason to return to Tel Avis sooner rather than later.
While anyone (you can even be flying Ryanair!) can access the VIP arrival and departure service, pricing for this service is a bit confusing. The Israeli Welcome website has a whole collection of rates for different levels of VIP services ranging from express security to private lounge rooms. If you book through a tour company, they'll likely have their own set of rates, too. But we snapped a pic of the pricing sheet inside the lounge to get exact pricing for the experience:
- Lounge: $395 for one person person, $250 per person for a group of two, $220 person for groups of three or four and $209 per person for groups of five or more.
- Private room with a shower: $475 for one person, $330 per person for two, $300 per person for groups of three or four and $290 per person for groups of five or more.
This service was invaluable for me -- this was a stress-free end to an amazing trip. It really was the opposite of everything you hear about trying to leave Ben Gurion Airport. I really didn't have time to spend hours queuing up at immigration and didn't want to start off a long flying experience by dealing with extra security questioning and lines.For anyone in a rush or who would prefer a calmer and more luxurious arrival or departure, this VIP experience at the Fattal Lounge is very much worth it. Plus, if you have more than one person, the price goes down, making it more affordable (even if it's a private room) for small groups or couples.