There are some really special, amazing airport lounges in the world — places that are more ‘top end private club’ than ‘somewhat more quiet waiting room’.
Spa treatment room in the Qantas first class lounge, Sydney
They have top notch dining, perhaps a spa, glorious shower rooms and maybe even video games and personal escort to the aircraft at the appointed time (so that it’s someone else’s job to worry about when you should leave and where you’re going).
Most of the time though lounges are far more pedestrian. Certainly lounges in the U.S. are. But that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. And it doesn’t mean there aren’t some that are much better than the rest.
A lounge should, at a minimum:
- Provide personal assistance with flight disruptions
- Have plenty of seating, and not get too crowded, with different kinds of spaces for relaxing and working
- Have plenty of power outlets available
- Offer clean restrooms
If it does these things, then it’s worthwhile.
The first airport lounge opened 75 years ago. It was an American Airlines lounge at New York LaGuardia, and ironically its creation was the result of (not cause of!) populist outrage.
US airlines offer paid memberships today because of a 1974 Civil Aeronautics Board ruling that said there had to be a mechanism by which anyone could join, in order to avoid charges of discrimination.
My two favorite airline lounges operated by US airlines in the United States are the American Airlines Admirals Clubs at Washington National and Austin.
The people are the best. A few months ago an agent in the lounge in DC actually called me in my office when a flight delay was going to cause me to misconnect, to let me know that in case I could get to the airport about 15 minutes earlier she had protected me on a different set of flights (including a confirmed upgrade) to get me home that night still. I had been looking for inventory myself and hand’t found any. I’m not even a Concierge Key member (just a 100,000 mile Executive Platinum).
The complimentary food in American’s lounges is a little bit behind what United just announced they’re rolling out (no hard boiled eggs in the American lounges – hah), and what Delta recently started offering. Their pay options vary in quality from club to club. I’ve never been turned away from bringing outside food into an American lounge (at Chicago O’Hare, Tortas Frontera baby!).
I thought it would be useful to share what the current Admirals Club breakfast offering looks like:
Of course, American has pay food choices as well (click to expand):
Here’s the rest of the Admirals Club in Austin … nothing special about the space, just the people, and it’s directly above gate 13, the first American gate nearest security.