Airline lounges provide a sanctuary for premium and high-yield passengers travelling around the world. It can be used as a marketing and branding tool for airlines to differentiate themselves against competitors. Access can be limited and amenities may vary across domestic and international operations. In this part of the series, the focus will be on airline lounges of the past and present.
First Airline Lounge
The first reported airline lounge was opened by American Airlines (AA) on December 2, 1939 at New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA). Back then, AA Chairman C. R. Smith thought it would be a good idea to open a dedicated lounge to cater to airline supporters called “Admirals” and VIPs. The lounge was designed for relaxation before and after the flight. It was first called the “Flagship Club” to avoid legal complications and passenger confusions with the Navy. Today, Flagship is still use to indicate AA’s first class lounge and on board service). The first lounge included a bar and food service for passengers and was connected to the office of then Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
For many years, airport lounges did not play a big role in passengers’ travel experience as there was relatively little space in airport terminals. Additionally, check in and security procedures were not as intricate which did not create as much waiting time in the terminal.
Many lounges of yesterday and today feature food offering, bar service, connectivity service, airline support and a relaxing atmosphere. Over the last 75 years, there have been some innovative lounge ideas created by airlines. The following is a list of them:
British Airways’ Concorde Room
One of the first big change to lounges occurred in the 1970s with the introduction of The Concorde. To heighten the experience, British Airways introduced The Concorde Room(R) where passengers were able to have direct access to the plane through a door from a the lounge.
Additionally, British Airways introduced the spa serviced by Molten Brown.
Lufthansa German Group (LH)’s First Class Terminal
In 2004, Lufthansa German Group (LH) opened the first dedicated terminal catered to First Class passengers and selected elite Miles and More members at Frankfurt International Airport. The facility has about 200 staff that caters to approximately 300 passengers daily. It features a full-service restaurant, full bar, cigar lounge, relaxation rooms, and offices, bath facilities and its own security, passport control and duty-free area. Passengers are driven directly to their departing flight by Mercedes-Benz or Porsche cars or vans.
This innovation sets the standard for many first class airline lounges around the world today.
Flying across multiple timezones can be a taunting experience for the body. This is especially the case for Transatlantic passengers going from North/South America to Europe as most flights leave at night and arrive in the morning with at least a 5 hour time difference forward. To alleviate some of the stress from these flights, airlines started to build facilities after customs and immigration for selective passengers to enjoy a shower, pressing services, and light refreshment before their onwards journey into the cities.
Of note, United Airlines also offers passengers the use of some hotel facilities attached or near the airport after arrivals (Refer to this link for the updated list). Refer to the following infographic for the airlines which have access to arrival lounges and their locations (note that some are shared between airlines such as AC in FRA and LHR with LH and UA respectively):
Up to the mid-1990s, lounge access was specific to one airline’s passengers and its limited number of partners. This changed when Star Alliance was formed on May 14, 1997. Founded by United Airlines (UA), Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), Thai Airways International (TG), Air Canada (AC) and Lufthansa German Group (LH), these airlines formed a big partnership which included lounge access across the network for selective passengers. This development was expanded when three other alliances were formed (One World (1999), SkyTeam (2000) and Etihad Equity Alliance (2015)). Refer to the infographic below for key notes on the alliances.
As the biggest airline partnership currently, Star Alliance elite members and premium passengers can have access to upwards of 1,000 airline lounges across 193 countries around the world.
Competition from Third Party Lounges
Plaza Premium and American Express have been working hard to create competition for the traditional airport lounge by creating new spaces that offer the new experiences for travellers (refer to an Experience The Skies news article on their joint partnership in Sydney, Australia).
Both have designs using updated modern decor and offer items such as local food selections, free spa treatments, meeting rooms, and shower facilities. Since their footprints are smaller, they are able to provide a consistent look, feel and service that some of the traditional full-service airlines cannot replicate very quickly. Travellers who also have an American Express Credit Card can use their card through the year and build up points. Those points can then be cashed in and turned into rewards. Rewards that can be used against holidays, including the use of these luxury lounges.
The following are pictures from the Plaza Premium Lounge in Hong Kong (South Hall):
AMEX Centurion Lounge in San Francisco:
In a future post, we will discuss the current passenger expectations of business and first class lounges and what future innovations are in store.