Posts in the category "Lounges":

Airlines woo travelers with swanky airport lounges

Airlines looking to woo profitable premium-class passengers have been creating an ever-better luxury experience in the sky — and now also on the ground.

My story on airport lounges first appeared on NBC News Travel, in a slightly different form.

2_United Airlines club at Heathrow T2_Harriet Baskas

The United Airlines club lounge at Heathrow T2.

Over the past year and a half, more than a dozen airlines have opened, upgraded or revamped their lounges. The list includes new lounges for the major alliances (Star Alliance, oneworld and SkyTeam) in the new international terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, 22,000 square-feet of lounge space for United Airlines’ premium passengers at Heathrow Airport’s new Terminal 2, and a 5,000-square-foot Lufthansa lounge at Newark International Airport.

“Airlines have been improving their business class in terms of seats and service and, as part of these upgrade programs, also investing in their lounges in order to offer their most valuable passengers a premium end-to-end experience,” said Raymond Kollau, founder of airlinetrends.com.

At many of these lounges, the focus is on amenities. Perks at Lufthansa’s first-class terminal in Frankfurt, Germany, for example, include a cigar lounge, personal assistants, day beds and a bathroom soaking tub that comes with champagne — and a rubber ducky.

“In my opinion, it’s the world’s greatest lounge,” said Houston-based software support specialist Joshua MacDonald, who’s willing to cash in extra frequent-flier miles to gain access.

In 2013, Delta Air Lines opened new lounges with outdoor decks at New York’s JFK airport and at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. At Hong Kong International Airport, Cathay Pacific opened its sixth lounge — The Bridge, which offers shower suites and freshly baked bread and pizzas.

Image: Delta Air Lines lounge with outdoor deck in Terminal 4 at New York's JFK airport. Courtesy Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines lounge with outdoor deck in Terminal 4 at New York’s JFK airport.

The level of luxury in a lounge also influences Lelde Muehlenbach’s choice of carriers and seat class. The painter and writer from Edmonton, Alberta, is a frequent domestic and international traveler who has been to Istanbul eight times.

“I would purchase a business ticket just to insure access to the Turkish Airlines lounge at the Istanbul airport,” she said.

At 60,000 square feet, the airline’s flagship lounge was updated and expanded earlier this year and is one of the largest in the world. The lounge includes a library, billiard hall and golf simulator. Travelers can also find massages, made-to-order meals, a cinema and a kids’ play room.

Airport improvements are among several factors fueling the one-upmanship in airline lounges, experts say, because wine bars, massage kiosks, white-tablecloth restaurants, powered work spaces, free Wi-Fi and museum-quality art are no longer uncommon airport amenities.

“That means if you have a lounge, it better be better than the airport terminal itself,” said Tyler Dikman, CEO of LoungeBuddy.com, an app that lists and reviews airport lounges. “The bar has been raised for these lounges to deliver a premium experience.”

During the recent global financial crisis, fewer passengers were traveling for business. But with the improvement in the economy, spending on business travel, especially international travel, is on the rise. The Global Business Travel Association predicted U.S. spending on international outbound travel would jump 12.5 percent in 2014 to $36.7 billion, after just 1.8 percent growth in 2013 and what it called an “anemic” 0.8 percent expansion in 2012.

“Intense competition for the global business traveler has upped the ante,” said Chris McGinnis, editor of the TravelSkills blog.

“Given what elite travelers pay for tickets now, good lounges — and constantly improving lounges — are the cost of entry if you want to keep their business,” said Joe Brancatelli, publisher of business travel website JoeSentMe.com.

Another factor is competition from shared-use airline lounges, where access is offered to those willing to pay a per-use fee — from $20 to $50, and sometimes more — or to those with certain membership or credit cards.

Common in many international airports, “the concept entered the U.S. market in recent years and has been widely accepted by passengers and airports as an excellent complement to the traditional airline lounge product,” said Nancy Knipp, senior vice president of Airport Lounge Development, which operates “The Club” lounges at five U.S. airports. A sister company, Priority Pass, provides access for card holders to lounges in 400 cities worldwide.

Some other shared-use lounges travelers may spot in airports are operated by Swissport-owned Servisair and Airspace Lounge, by Plaza Premium Lounge and by American Express, which operates Centurion lounges in the Las Vegas and Dallas/Fort Worth airports.

Price and access criteria for both airline and independent lounges can vary widely, but overall “competition is good,” said Brancatelli, “and that mean the lounges will get better.”

United’s new lounges at Heathrow Terminal 2

I’ve been wanting to get a look inside the new Terminal 2 – The Queen’s Terminal –  which is due to open on June 4, 2014 at London’s Heathrow Airport.  So I was pleased to be invited by United Airlines to come by for a preview of their two Terminal 2 Lounges.

Heathrow T2

25 airlines – all the Star Alliance carriers, as well as Aer Lingus, Germanwings and Virgin Atlantic Little Red – will operate out of Terminal 2, which has a main building and a satellite terminal (Terminal 2B).

But to try to make sure the move-in goes smoother than the notoriously glitchy opening of Heathrow Terminal 5, there will be a phased move-in of carriers, with United as the kick-off tenant on June 4th.

On move-in day United will move its 17 daily flights from Terminals 1 and 4 over to Terminal 2 and will have two lounges available for premium customers: A United Global First Lounge for first class passengers and the United Club for those with United Club memberships and those traveling on business class tickets.

Here are some of the photos I snapped during the preview tour:

United Global First Lounge

United Global First Lounge Heathrow Terminal 2

Egg chairs, couches and vintage photos from the airline’s archives create comfortable work and chat spaces throughout the lounge.

Big Ben-style close at United T2 lounge

A Big Ben-inspired clock in the tea lounge section is one of the “you’re in London” touches.

This lounge also has a quiet zone with couches and privacy drapes (no snoring, please), private phone booths and a wine room where a la carte meals can be served.

The United Club

Next door, the United Club also offers floor-to-ceiling windows and complimentary food and beverages.

There’s seating here for up to 280 guests, private phone booths and eight shower suites that include a handy valet service that will freshen up and press your outfit while you wash up.

The United Club at Heathrow Terminal 2

The United Club at Heathrow Terminal 2

pop up power at United Club

A nice feature of the tables in this work area are the pop-up power ports in the tables.

Of course, these lounges aren’t the only cool things in Heathrow’s Terminal 2. Stay tuned for a few more posts and more photos of the shops, restaurants, art and amenities – and notes on some features that are missing.

PHX gets a “pay -per-use” club lounge

Here’s another reason to not worry so much about reaching “special person” status with any one airline: the proliferation of pay-per-use lounges at airports, along with the ability to purchase day passes to airline lounges.

Club-at-PHX

This week Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport joins the list of “The Club” locations, offering travelers complimentary snacks, soft drinks and alcoholic drinks as well as comfy chairs, work stations and a view of the airfield for a per use fee of $35. This lounge is located airside in Terminal 4 and open daily from 8 a.m. to 3:30 pm.

The Club Airport Lounges are also located in Atlanta, DFW, Las Vegas and San Jose airports and welcome Priority Pass and Diners Club International program members as well.

See hours, prices, $5 discount coupons and additional information here.

This isn’t the only company offering pay-per-use lounges at airports.

You can find a Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow, Hong Kong, Vancouver and many other international airports and Airspace Lounges can be found at BWI, JFK and CLE.

The best airport amenities of 2013

In the sky, hassles abound as airlines squeeze in more seats on their planes and tack on more fees for checking baggage, changing flight plans and using other services.

On the ground, it’s a rosier story.

Airports are steadily upgrading their facilities and adding amenities that offer passengers more enjoyable experiences that can make the time spent waiting for a flight the best part of the trip.

As we close out 2013, here are some of the best of airport amenities rolled out this past year.

Automated passport kiosks

Automate passport kiosk at ORD

You can’t really enjoy your time at an airport unless you can get into the airport, and this year we’ve seen wait times at customs significantly reduced at a handful of North American airports that have installed automated passport kiosks.

U.S. citizens can use these machines – for free – to scan their passports, answer customs declarations questions and cut short the time they need to spend in conversation with a customs officer.

The first machines were installed in May at Vancouver International Airport. In August, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport became the first U.S. airport to roll out the kiosks. Since then, the wait-reducing machines have been introduced at New York JFK International Airport (Terminal 4), Miami International Airport, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Montreal-Trudeau International Airport and, on Dec. 4, at Toronto Pearson International Airport.

TSA Pre-check expands

TSA PreCheck Enrollment Center at IND Airport - courtesy TSA

At the end of 2012, the Transportation Security Administration’s Pre-check program offering expedited airport security screening was available at 35 airports for eligible passengers on five airlines (Alaska, American, Delta, United and U.S. Airways) and members of a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Trusted Traveler program.

Today, the Pre-check program is available at 102 airports and the number of participating airlines has expanded to nine: Alaska, American, Delta, Hawaiian, JetBlue, Southwest, United, US Airways and Virgin America.

Beginning Dec. 20, active members of the U.S. Armed Forces (including the Coast Guard, Reserves and National Guard) who use their Department of Defense ID number when making a reservation may use the Pre-check lanes as well.

And last week, TSA launched a program offering eligible travelers five years of Pre-check membership for $85. Applications may be started online, but must be completed in person at the enrollment center now open at Indianapolis International Airport, at one of the centers TSA will open in New York, Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles by the end of 2013, or at one of the more than 300 centers planned for the future.

Lounge-like checkpoints

 

DFW CALMING CHECKPOINT - courtesy Security Point Media

Thanks to a three-month pilot program that began in October, Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth Airport each have a security checkpoint that could (almost) double for a relaxing hotel lobby.

A joint project between Security Point Media and Marriott’s SpringHill Suites, the checkpoints have stylish décor, soothing wall art, colored lights and relaxing music as well as “re-composure” areas with comfortable leather couches and – a brilliant touch – mirrors.

Response to what’s been dubbed “The Next Level Experience” has been so positive that talks are underway to continue these installations at these two airports and possibly expand the concept to other airports in 2014.

Improved airport transportation

BWI MARC TRAIN - courtesy BWI

Getting to and from the airport can be part of the hassle of any trip, but during 2013 a few airports smoothed out some transit options.

Boston Logan International Airport says there is now “no scheduled end date” for a pilot program introduced in 2012 offering free Silver Line bus rides between the airport and the city center.

San Francisco International Airport, which took legal action last summer against car and ride-sharing programs it claimed were operating illegally at the airport, now has an agreement with the car-sharing company Relay Rides. This should pave the way for other non-traditional transportation companies to negotiate deals at SFO and other airports grappling with this issue.

And, just in time for holiday travel, the Maryland Transit Administration added weekend MARC commuter rail service between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, with stops at Baltimore/Washington Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Airport service plazas

Denver Airprt_Dunkin Donuts

Facilities offering a wide variety of truly helpful services for passengers – and for those picking folks up – popped up this year outside two airports.

In September, Denver International Airport opened its a super-sized, 253-space cellphone lot called “Final Approach” adjacent to a fueling station. The lot’s building has a children’s play area with iPads built into tabletops, lounge seating, indoor restrooms, free Wi-Fi (which reaches the parking lot), flight display boards and four restaurants, including a Dunkin’ Donuts with a 24-hour drive-through which, airport officials report, is selling about 7,200 donuts each day.

In October, the Service Plaza opened near Indianapolis International Airport. In additional to a fueling station, automated green car wash, automobile detailing and quick lube services, there are two restaurants, a Circle K convenience store, flight display monitors and restrooms.

Great food and drink

IHOP

Interesting places to eat and drink continue to show up at airports and this year fresh additions ranged from the Shake Shack at JFK’s T4 and the first airport IHOP – which opened at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport – to Root Down at Denver International Airport, which operates with a decidedly “field to fork” flair.

The food-trucks-at-airports concept also expanded this year, with San Francisco, Sacramento, Tucson, Austin and Long Beach airports following the lead of Tampa International, which first invited food trucks to visit that airport around this time last year.

Great ideas

And then there are some interesting one-off ideas that we may see adopted by other airports during the next year.

Since February, Denver International Airport has had collection containers at four security checkpoints seeking donations of loose change for Denver’s Road Home, an organization that helps the homeless. Parking meter-style collection stations are inside the airport and so far this year, more than $69,000 has been raised.

In August, Vermont’s Burlington International installed a free-standing, pod-shaped Mamava Lactation Station to offer nursing and breastfeeding mothers a clean, comfortable and private space, post-security, to take care of business.

Burlington_MAMAVA ON SITE

And this year, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport not only made room for an automated kiosk that taught air travelers a simplified, life-saving CPR method called Hands-Only, this holiday season DFW is offering what could be a face-saving service for last-minute shoppers: free shipping for last-minute gifts purchased in the terminals.

(My round-up of the Best Airport Amenities in 2013 first appeared as my December 2013 At the Airport column on USA Today Travel.)

 

Have you encountered any great airport amenities this year? Please share your favorites below.

More images of Star Alliance Lounge at LAX TBIT

There’s lots to ooh and aah about at the new Star Alliance lounge at the just-opened Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) at Los Angeles International Airport and you can read some of the highlights in the story I wrote about the lounge for the CNBC Road Warrior.

Star Alliance 1

One thing I didn’t get to mention in that story was the fact that there are some intriguing quotes on the walls, including this one attributed to Bette Davis:

Star Aliiance - more good acting

And this one, from Frank Lloyd Wright:

Star alliance tip the world

In case you can’t make out the words, this one says: Tip the world over and everything loose will land in Los Angeles.

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