Arguably the best airport lounge in the United States is the Qantas first class lounge at LAX. Other good airline lounges include the Lufthansa’s and Virgin Atlantic’s at New York JFK.
American Express lounges are generally gorgeous and have much better food and drink (along with complimentary spas in Dallas and Miami). At peak times they can get quite crowded.
American Express Centurion Lounge San Francisco
I’m a big fan of the Star Alliance business class lounge at LAX, largely for the outdoor deck with fire pit. I pretty much give a miss to all of the food there, though.
Star Alliance Business Class Lounge LAX
Delta has made great strides with their new lounges. Judged against US airlines they’re introducing nicer, better lounges. At New York JFK they have an outdoor deck. United is going to have one in Los Angeles as well.
Rendering of Future United Club LAX
What US airline lounges may have that other lounges don’t is staff who will be able to provide real help during irregular operations. That’s probably the single best thing about them, although it varies by airline and staff. I’ve never seen better than the agents in American’s Austin club, followed by American’s club at Washington National. Both clubs can get very busy at peak times, and though I much like American’s soups you’re not going there for the food. The Washington National club is even more crowded since they closed down the US Airways club next door rather than expanding into it. But the agents make it worthwhile for those times that flights wind up delayed and you’re getting help on rebooking.
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If I want food more substantive than what American’s lounges are offering (if soup won’t cut it, or it’s outside of soup hours) I bring in food that I purchase inside the terminal. In my experience American doesn’t give you a hard time about outside food in their lounges.
They offer food for sale, the particulars vary by lounge (international lounges have more extensive free food offerings). In general though the menus aren’t particularly extensive and most of the paid food offerings aren’t very good. I’ll do much better than reheated sandwiches or grocery store-like sushi packages by buying food on my way to the lounge.
So I’m very impressed by what Delta has done with their brand new San Francisco Sky Club that opened this past week. It’s aesthetically gorgeous. And while complimentary food items remain limited (no matter how they trumpet the improvements there) they have a strong paid menu with a celebrity chef.
SFO Sky Club Bar Area.
Sky Club ‘free’ food. Professional photos, mundane offerings.
ne of my great disappointments about US airline and lounge food is how ordinary and lowest common denominator the offerings are. I get why they do this. When I write about airline food, blog readers often comment on anything the least bit adventurous — even offering fish as an entree — with incredulity. In trying to offer things that everyone will like, they usually find themselves offering things that no one will like but that few will be offended by.
I’d far prefer an airline try to do something interesting, even if a little adventurous, reach for the occasional peak even if it sometimes falls flat. After all, that’s what choices are for.
Delta’s Sky Club celebrity chef is Mai Pham who has two restaurants in Northern California and a Food Network show on Vietnamese food.
As a result, in addition to options like caesar salad, four cheese flatbread, California avocado club, and a cheese board, the paid food menu includes:
- Five Spice Chicken Banh Mi ($10)
- Beef or chicken Pho ($9)
- Thai chicken flatbread ($9)
- Asian chicken salad ($11)
- Potstickers ($8)
- Chicken spring roll lettuce wraps ($8)
Here’s the full menu (.pdf).
Now, I haven’t been to the lounge yet and I haven’t actually tasted the food. The pot stickers may well just be prepackaged and reheated. And I’ve never actually had really good Pho anywhere that doesn’t just just Pho.
Still, I really applaud what Delta is trying to do here. I don’t mind paying a premium for food in a lounge if it’s interesting and good food. I do think it’s pretty terrible when you’re paying a premium for food in a premium lounge and getting a product that’s inferior to even the median offering inside the terminal. Execution is key here. But it’s an interesting enough approach that I may have to take a flight on Delta out of San Francisco (or buy a day pass on my next pass through the airport; my American Express Platinum card will only get me access when I’m flying the airline same day) in order to check out the lounge and its paid menu.