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.”

Add Comment »

Tiffany glass exhibit at SFO Airport Museum

Here’s another reason to plan a long layover at San Francisco International Airport: there’s an new exhibit featuring the work of Louis C. Tiffany, courtesy of the SFO Museum.

SFO TIFFANY PEACOCK

Peacock panel c. 1910–15. Tiffany Studios New York. Courtesy SFO Museum

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848–1933) pioneered new forms of stained glass and his studios created leaded glass windows, lamps and many other items that featured ornamental glass elements.

The SFO Museum exhibit at SFO International Airport includes an exquisite cobweb table lamp, one of only seven known to exist, a one-of-a-kind Zinnia table lamp, a Peacock window panel, oil paintings, glass vases, ceramics and more.

Look for “A Radiant Light: The Artistry of Louis C. Tiffany” pre-security in the International Terminal Main Hall Departures Lobby at San Francisco International Airport through January 23, 2015.

Here are some more items from the show:

SFO TIFFANY BUG

Scarab mosaic stamp box c. 1910 Tiffany Studios. Courtesy SFO Museum

Presented by SFO Museum

Zinnia table lamp c. 1910 Tiffany Studios New York – Courtesy SFO Museum

Add Comment »

You kill it, these hotels will cook it

If you sometimes wonder where the food served at a hotel restaurant comes from, you might want to check out one of the programs I profiled for CNBC Road Warrior where the on-site chef will cook up what guests catch, shoot or forage.

Me? I think I’m going to try the forage option.

MarlinWatkinswithTurkey_courtesyTurkeyTrotAcresLodge

Courtesy Turkey Trot Acres

Farm-to-table meals have become so popular that hotels are now getting in the game with an even closer-to-the-source experience by offering chef-prepared meals using food hooked, foraged or shot by their guests.

You might visit Turkey Trot Acres in Candor, New York, for a wedding reception, reunion, barbecue or zombie-fest, but wild turkey hunting in the spring and fall is what this upstate lodge is best known for.

Turkey Trot specializes in three-day guided hunting packages that start at $1,200 and include single-bed rooms, meals and guides. And while not everyone bags a turkey, those who do usually pose proudly with their bird before it goes into the cooler.

“Turkey Trot will clean the turkey for you, package it and tell you how to cook it. And if you want it prepared for dinner, they’ll do that too,” said Marlin Watkins, a well-known turkey call maker from southeast Ohio who’s been a regular at the lodge for the past 25 years.

“But when you harvest a wild turkey it’s such an event that most people would rather take it home to show off to their friends and family. I’ve seen a lot of turkeys go home in the back of a Cadillac,” Watkins said.

Next winter, Viceroy Snowmass, near Aspen, Colorado, will be adding a “you kill/we cook” option to its menu of hotel activities. From Nov. 8 to Jan. 18, guests will be able to hunt for pheasant, duck and goose—but not turkey—with guides from the Aspen Outfitting Company. The hotel’s executive chef, Will Nolan, will show guests how he breaks down the game and then prepares it for a meal. The cost: $2,200, not including accommodations.

“Guests are constantly looking for ways to get closer to their food, and I can’t think of a more intimate experience,” said Nolan. “The most memorable meals are those that you actually have a part in creating, so this fits the bill in a number of exciting ways.”

Michigan’s Catch & Cook program, a joint project of a half dozen public agencies and commercial associations, connects charter fishing clients and charter boat operators in the state’s Great Lakes region with about 50 restaurants, many of them linked to hotels and inns, which will cook and serve the day’s catch.

The program began in 2012 and has reeled in a net full of economic benefits.

“Distinctive experiences like Catch & Cook are likely to be told and retold,” said Jordan Burroughs, a wildlife outreach specialist at Michigan State University. Charter boat businesses benefit through positive word-of-mouth, restaurants get added business during the early afternoon—a traditionally slower and less profitable part of the day—”and communities benefit when visitors extend their stay, supporting local restaurants and presumably, other local businesses,” Burroughs said.

In Florida, the Hyatt Regency Sarasota has a “You Catch ‘Em, We’ll Cook ‘Em” offer for visiting anglers, including those who dock at the hotel’s 32-slip marina. For $40 per person, the chef at the Hyatt’s Currents Restaurant will grill, blacken, sear or pan fry a fisherman’s cleaned and filleted catch and serve it up with soup or salad, sides of fresh vegetables, other accompaniments and dessert.

A similar program, called “Hook N’ Cook,” is offered at the Westin Cape Coral Resort at Marina Village in Cape Coral, Florida. There, chefs at two onsite dining venues will prepare a guest’s freshly-caught and cleaned fillet for a typical plate fee of $15, with other menu items included with the meal at an additional cost, said Stefanie Eakin, the Westin resort’s marketing manager.

Nita Lake Lodge_foraging

Courtesy Nita Lake Lodge

Each Wednesday morning during September and October, guests may go foraging for wild and edible plants, shoots, lichens and mushrooms with the executive chef of Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia.

Wednesday evenings, those same guests can dine with their fellow foragers on a five-course meal using the ingredients plucked that morning in the Whistler Valley. Tickets are $70 per person, plus tax, for the foraging foray and the dinner.

The class spends a great deal of time talking about and studying false or deadly look-a-likes. “All amateur foragers learn a key rule,” said Paul Moran, the executive chef at the lodge’s Aura Restaurant, “When trying to identify wild plants and mushrooms, even if you are 99 percent sure something is edible, if you still have 1 percent of doubt, it’s not worth eating.”

Add Comment »

45th anniversary of first moon walk

Buzz Aldrin on the moon

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the moon. Photo courtesy NASA

It’s the 45h anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the first time human beings walked on the moon.

In case you weren’t around on July 20, 1969 and weren’t on Twitter, NASA is “live tweeting” the event today at @reliveApollo11.

Neil Armstrong on the moon

Neil Armstrong on the moon. Courtesy NASA

Add Comment »

Snack Saturday: JFK’s new Central Diner

Diners (and luncheonettes) are part of the iconic New York City scenery, and now JFK International Airport has a diner of its own.

PRESS, STUDIO, EVENTS PHOTOGRAPHY BY email@jefferyduran.com

Located pre-security in Terminal 4, the 1930s-inspired Central Diner has the classic service counter, with banquette, booth and patio seating as well as a take-out window.

Like all great diners, the Central Diner is open 24 hours a day, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a menu offering everything from omelets to milkshakes and martinis.

Go ahead, order all three for dinner.

PRESS, STUDIO, EVENTS PHOTOGRAPHY BY email@jefferyduran.com

CENTRAL DINER MENU SELECTION

Add Comment »

Recent Tweets

  • Subscribe to Posts Via Email or RSS

    Subscribe Via Email
    Subscribe Via RSS
  • My USAToday Airport Guides


    • See all airport guides »

  • Posts by Category

  • Browse posts on the site by category:

  • See all categories »

  • Advertisers