Carriers around the world, including the three largest U.S. ones, have been developing and opening new air- port lounges, including specialized products for the highest level of premium travelers. It’s a move that is
long overdue, said Samuel Engel, SVP of consulting ;rm ICF’s
aviation group. Airlines would not deny now that their lounges
needed an upgrade to meet the premium traveler’s needs, he said.
“Airlines have been slow to recognize that the lounge is part of
the seamless experience for the customer.”
While premium class seats are major passenger revenue drivers
for airlines, lounges are more of a cost center, tools to attract pre-
mium travelers. Increasingly, airlines are realizing the importance
of a consistent experience from the airport to the plane, he said.
American Airlines, for example, has opened four of its new
Flagship Lounges—in Miami, Los Angeles, Chicago and New
York’s John F. Kennedy International—and more are on the
way in Dallas, Philadelphia and London. The lounges include
expanded seating, shower suites and such food and beverage
amenities as a specialty cocktail bar and premium wines. Most
of the lounges also provide a sit-down dining area for Flagship
Over the past 18 months, Delta has opened ;agship clubs in
Atlanta and Seattle and Asanda Spa Lounges in Seattle, JFK and
Atlanta; the latter one opened Feb. 2. The carrier also has renovated its clubs in Newark and Minneapolis and expanded its club
at Raleigh-Durham International. Across many of its lounges,
Delta has been expanding food and beverage options, including
bars with craft beers, seasonal cocktails and sommelier-selected
wines at about 20 locations.
United Airlines last year opened lounges in San Francisco and
;nished renovation and expansion of two in its Houston hub. The
carrier has delayed the openings of some of its Polaris lounges—
only Chicago is open—but expects to open them in San Francisco,
Newark, Houston and Los Angeles this year. Washington Dulles,
London Heathrow, Tokyo Narita and Hong Kong will follow.
As the Polaris delays indicate, premium lounge rollouts are
complex undertakings and can take years even once they are
conceived, Engel said. In the interim, airline-agnostic lounges,
for which passengers can pay to enter or can gain entry through
such avenues as credit card programs rather than airline class
or status, have proliferated. “United’s Polaris is very attractive,
and the new [American Airlines] Admirals Club is a tremendous
upgrade, but you’ve had a 10-year gap that has created an opportunity for some smart entrepreneurs,” Engel said.
Among those is Airport Lounge Development, which runs
17 lounges with “aggressive plans for expansion,” SVP Nancy
Knipp said. They have proven particularly popular to travelers
who are unable to get credentials to get into carrier lounges, she
said. “In the last few years, the ability to get to higher tiers is
becoming more challenging, and the cost of ;ying in a premium
cabin can be dif;cult,” Knipp said. “Travelers don’t have the
ability to get into them.”
Most of ALD’s lounge traf;c comes from global membership
programs like Priority Pass or Lounge Key, and most of the trav-
elers opt for those programs on their own rather than as part
of an organized effort by their corporate travel programs to get
membership, she said.
Both the airlines and private lounge developers are looking to
address crowding issues at peak times. It presents a challenge, as
airports have limited real estate, and airlines often have to spread
out into several smaller lounges, which can get packed, Engel said.
Some of those solutions have been size based. In December,
United added 60 seats and a secondary buffet area to its Polaris lounge in Chicago, increasing its space by about 25 percent,
a spokesperson said. When opening its new terminal in Seoul,
Korean Air made sure its combined lounges could seat 600 to
handle the massive amounts of passengers that can build up with
its A380 traf;c. It also built exclusive lounges for top-tier travelers (see page 17).
Airlines also can make entry more restrictive. Delta, for example,
next year plans to limit Sky Club members’ access to travelers with
same-day boarding passes for Delta or one of its partner airlines.
Lounge design also can maximize space, such as using ban-
quette seating or communal tables rather than four-seat tables,
Knipp said. In Atlanta, ALD implemented a hostess program to
help visitors ;nd seats during peak hours, she said.
Whatever the approach, a consistent experience for travelers
ultimately proves more important than the ;nest amenities, Engel
said. “The hard product is important, but a lounge for a customer
should offer peace of mind,” he said. “It should be a safe space to
walk in, put down their bag without worrying about it, get coffee
or a drink without hunting, ;nd Wi-Fi and have the best reserva-
tions agents there to help them with any changes.”
BY MICHAEL B. BAKER
Korean Air’s lounge for top-tier
travelers in the new Terminal 2
in Incheon International Airport
in Seoul features prone seating.