There’s an axiom on the internet that the answer to any question in an article title is always “no.”
And that’s just the case here. The Wall Street Journal thinks otherwise but fails to make the case, though there’s certainly more crowding in some lounges that’s difficult to manage.
The case the Journal makes is that the rise of Priority Pass cards distributed with credit cards, especially Chase, have led to a decline in quality of airport lounges. That’s false. The other major claim is they’ve made lounges more crowded, and that’s true with some lounges.
On the whole airport lounges in the U.S. are better than they used to be, not worse. American, Delta, and United are all investing more in their lounges, foreign airlines are opening lounges, and American Express has entered the lounge game over the last several years.
The idea that “gourmet meals once on offer are now finger foods” isn’t accurate. The big spurt in Priority Pass cards came two years ago. Airline clubs haven’t offered gourmet meals in the past 20 years, and Priority Pass isn’t getting you into United, Delta, or American clubs any longer in any case.
Instead in the U.S. it means Alaska lounges, The Club lounges, Air France KLM and Korean lounges, Minute Suites and some others — not known for having offered gourmet meals previously.
The Turkish lounge at Washington Dulles is lovely, didn’t exist years ago, and does get crowded with Priority Pass guests (and United Golds flying domestically).
Priority Pass is getting you $28 credits in several airport restaurants and no doubt those restaurants are more crowded than they would otherwise be as a result.
The Journal suggests that Priority Pass adds restaurants in order to draw people out of lounges and reduce crowding. That’s absurd. Priority Pass adds restaurants where they do not have lounges to offer.
The only Priority Pass lounge actually specifically called out (and not by name) is the mediocre The Club at DFW for having a wait list to get in. They call out one story at an American Express Centurion Lounge, not accessible via Priority Pass of course,
Bill McGuinness, a 57-year-old real-estate developer, was at a Centurion Lounge, which is open to certain American Express cardholders, in Seattle in April when a woman placed her toddler on a bar table. She stripped him down to his diapers and changed him into his pajamas. Mr. McGuinness said the woman then ordered a cocktail and talked on her phone while her son was “running laps” around the lounge for the next hour.
There’s also some discussion of bad behavior in one of a few possible Priority Pass-accessible lounges in Boston where someone drank 3 glasses of cheap whiskey and “ran to the snack bar and stuffed five granola bars into his jacket.” Of course that happens even in the British Airways Galleries First lounge at London Heathrow:
I’ve written about one reader who brought 35 people into a lounge on a single Priority Pass card and another who brought in 19 guests, the former in Africa and the latter in South America.
To be sure there are lounges that take in too many guests, rather than turning people away when they’re full. And turning people away isn’t good either. Alaska Airlines had a real challenge with everyone eligible to enter, at least before they added two more lounges in Seattle (and even then they can fill up). It’s difficult to get space in airports. That space is expensive. And airports are hard to work with.
The bottom line is more people have lounge access before. There are more and better lounges than before, too. Those who got access before resent that more people do today. And the better the lounge, the more people want to spend time there. That’s why the United Polaris lounge at Chicago and Amex lounges get so crowded. And the more democratic travel becomes, the more all kinds — with all sorts of values and culture norms — come together. That means there’s going to be behavior of some guests to criticize, just as passengers behave badly in the air.
Provide decent food especially and people will come to the airport early. It’s a problem, but it’s a good problem to have.