There are premium airport departure, connection and arrival services that you can buy all over the world. Some are offered by airlines, others by airports, and some by third party services. In fact it isn’t even always clear which is which.
- On arrival this can mean meeting you curbside, escorting you through security and it may include lounge access. You’ll be dropped off at the lounge and collected and escorted to your gate.
- For connections you can be met on the jetway or at the gate and escorted to your connecting flight. With a long connection this may include lounge access, a shower, and then escort to your connecting gate.
- On arrival this generally involves being collected at your arriving gate and escorted to immigration where you’ll often skip queues. In the most premium versions of this service it may even mean being met at the aircraft and taken by electric cart through the terminal — or even by car across the tarmac.
Jetquay Terminal, Singapore
American Airlines offers “5 Star Service” in 16 airports. Delta has VIP Select. United Airlines puts its branding on the third party Global Airport Concierge service. Bear in mind it may be cheaper to book Global Airport Concierge with a Mastercard for 15% off.
Pricing ranges tremendously, with tarmac transfers in Europe costing as much as $2000 while a simple meet and greet on arrival in Southeast Asia may be $20. What’s new is that services especially in Europe have gotten cheaper.
I’m familiar with Blacklane as a company which connects drivers with travelers via mobile app. These are pre-scheduled rides that can make sense on arrival in lieu of a hotel car, I don’t like to preschedule departures because when I notionally think I ought to leave for the airport when making a booking may vary a lot from the time I actually decide to walk out the door on the day of departure. For departures I prefer Uber or Lyft.
You can also earn miles for your spend with Blacklane.
What I didn’t know is that they also offer an airport concierge program and pricing at many airports is surprisingly good. For instance, being met at your gate and escorted through expedited customs and immigration costs $100 per person at Paris Charles de Gaulle. (Of course you’re likely getting Fast Track immigration if you arrive in business class.)
It’s the same price at London Heathrow and Frankfurt.
Bear in mind though that the U.S. isn’t nearly as easy to work with on a paid, reasonably priced basis. So the $100 they charge doesn’t get you much with international arrivals, though some still may wish to use the service for domestic arrivals and connections.
For international arrivals they note that they meet you after you get through customs so they’re not meeting you at the gate and they aren’t expediting immigration formalities.
I’m not going to want to use them in Bangkok. There I can do a premium arrival service for $21 or $44 where I’m met with an electric cart at current exchange rates.
Blacklane wants $100 per person and doesn’t mention anything about golf cart. So it pays to compare, especially where local options are known to be cheap.
And bear in mind that special services aren’t perfect. Delta VIP Select once left John Legend’s luggage unattendant and it was stolen, so these services aren’t perfect. Of course The Points Guy paid to fly Etihad’s The Residence from New York JFK to Abu Dhabi and the airline forgot to board his carry on which he realized when he went to use his private onboard shower.
Back in 2002 when US Airways filed bankruptcy (for the first time in the previous decade) their management layoffs included the two ‘special services’ VIP staff at Washington’s National airport. The late Senator Ted Kennedy, then a frequent beneficiary of the service (for the DC-Boston Shuttle), intervened by ringing up the President of the airline to make sure they kept the special accommodation. Kennedy at the time claimed his intervention wasn’t about his own personal benefit, but was to “save jobs” — the two jobs, of course, that provided him personal assistance at the airport.
I’m a fan of these offerings, but I like to see them affordable. I think that a meet and greet buggy service at under $50 for 2 people in Bangkok, including assistance from plane through immigration and with baggage claim (with handover to your transportation into the city) is a real value that more travelers would take advantage of if they were aware of the service.
At first world prices though it’s strategically useful to be aware of the option but not something most readers will take advantage of. Still it’s nice to see this option at a lower price than many vendors offer in Europe, and for less than the airlines are offering in the U.S. as well.