The End of Airport Club Lounges?

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Keith Alexander suggests that airline club lounges are becoming less relevant:

    Those plush airport clubs began to lose their appeal after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Duffy frequently found herself stuck in long security lines and often had to rush through concourses just to catch her flight, leaving little time to relax in the club. And because of heightened security, Duffy could no longer hold meetings with clients in the clubs as she once did. So she began renting meeting rooms or suites at nearby hotels.

Though it requires a bit more of a cumbersome process in the past, it’s still generally possible to hold meetings in airline clubs even if you aren’t traveling. Renting a club conference room or attending a meeting in one is usually enough to get a pass through security without a ticket. It’s true that the security process makes this more of a pain.

However I disagree with the sentiment that long security lines make clubs less attractive. If anything, the legacy of TSA-run security checkpoints is unpredictable security lines. Travelers get to the airport earlier than before, sometimes getting stuck in long lines and sometimes cruising through. That leaves more time airside with nothing to do, and makes a quiet refuge such as an airline lounge more important than before, not less.

In addition, fewer flights than in the past with many large carriers can often lead to longer connection times and once again a greater need for airline clubs.

While the column cites USAirways and Northwest club closures as evidence that the lounge model no longer works for the airlines, the piece fails to note that airline alliances give each carrier’s frequent flyers access to more clubs than before, not fewer. USAirways club members can choose to obtain access to United Red Carpet Clubs. Northwest club members can access Continental and Delta clubs. That exponentially grows club access.

While maintaining separate clubs at airports with smaller operations may not be viable, the future is likely in the shared club — whether shared within alliances or operated by an airport and funded by a consortium of carriers serving the airport (as is common in parts of Asia, for instance).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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