airline lounges

United Airlines serving up Olympic super heroes & snacks

United Airlines is super excited about the Winter Olympics and, as the official airline of Team USA, is going all out with stateside celebrations.

On Friday, Feb 9, the airline will be giving out super hero action figures of a half dozen Olympic athletes at seven hub airports: Houston (IAH), Dulles, DEN, LAX, SFO, Newark and O’Hare. Details here.

United will also be serving up Olympics-inspired food and beverage at more than 50 club locations through February 24.

On Friday, February 9,  they’ll be serving a Perfect 10 cocktail made with prosecco and cranberry juice, garnished with blueberries and cranberries and a Super Sundae, made with vanilla ice cream,  strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream.

Through February 24, foods served will include a fruit bar with blueberries, pineapple, blackberries, honeydew and strawberries and a mix-and-match candy bar.

And in addition to specialty cocktails ($5 each) such as the The Rings (Vodka, triple sec, white cranberry juice and simple syrup garnished with lifesavers), on February 24 the menu will include a red, white and blue parfait, made with vanilla yogurt, fresh strawberries, blueberries and a sprinkle of granola.

 

New menu, look (and scent) in United Clubs

United Clubs menu

New complimentary menu items in the United Clubs. Photo Harriet Baskas

Good news for travelers who spend time in the United Clubs: United Airlines is upgrading the complimentary menu items in all the clubs, renovating many club rooms and tweaking some of its customer service procedures.

The menu items are a big step up from the packaged cheese, crackers, yik-yak snacks and impossible-to-open hummus packages you may be used to and include an oatmeal station, bagel sticks, Greek yogurt with fruit toppings, hard-boiled eggs, scones, cereal, fresh fruit and Spicy Bloody Mary Trail mix in the morning.

United_Club Menu _ eggs with condiments

photo -Harriet Baskas

The afternoon offerings will include hummus with pretzel crisps and sliced red peppers, Mediterranean salad, vegetable soup, salami and cheddar cheese, Trail Mix, brownie brittle (danger: VERY good!), and breads.

United_new menu items cheese-salami

The new menu items will be available starting this week in Chicago O’Hare, in Houston, Denver, Newark, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington Dulles by the end of summer and everywhere else by the end of the year.

United - chairs in club

During this year, United is also renovating lounges in Chicago O’Hare, Washington Reagan, Hong Kong and Tokyo Narita, building new clubs in Atlanta and San Francisco and starting on changes in Los Angeles. Changes will include improved seating and amenities, design schemes that highlight United aviation history in the various cities, a special signature scent and a classy design for the restrooms where, for example, the mirrors in the women’s room evoke the windows on an airplane.

United - club bathroom

The staff in the United Clubs seems to already be made up of courteous and truly helpful people, but United says it is also re-training United Club agents with a new program that draws on the know-how of the hotel and hospitality industry.

Not all the upgrades are reserved for those with access to the United Clubs: in O’Hare (and hopefully elsewhere) the airline is also updating the seating, power plug availability, boarding lane design and counters in many gate areas.

United - new boarding areas group signs

(All photos by Harriet Baskas)

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.