airport lounges

Orlando Int’l Airport gets The Club lounge

ORLANDO Loungewide

Orlando International Airport has lots to entertain travelers waiting for a flight, but those who want a bit of extra pampering now have The Club at MCO as an option.

The 11th in the string of lounges operated by Airport Lounge Development (ALD), the new 8,000 square-foot open-to-all-travelers lounge at MCO is located on Airside 4 near gate 91 and will be open daily from 6:00am – 9:30pm.

Inside the lounge there are spaces for working or holding meetings, private restrooms with showers, a children’s zone with Xbox games and TV, complimentary snacks and beverages, high-speed WiFi and bar service.

Day passes to The Club at MCO are $35 and entry is also available to Priority Pass, Priority Pass Select, Lounge Club and LoungeKey Members with existing memberships.

ORLANDO KIDS

Centurion Studio lounge opens at SEA

Photo: Harriet Baskas

Photo: Harriet Baskas

American Express opens its newest Centurion lounge today at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Seatac_Lounge

Photos courtesy American Express

Called The Centurion Studio because its smaller (“cozier” in real-estate parlance) than Centurion lounges already operating in LAS, SFO, DFW, LGA, and MIA, this lounge is on Concourse B (by Gate B3) and includes a great view of the airfield and beyond as well as comfortable seating, charging stations, free high-speed Wi-Fi, and a menu of locally-sourced food and beverage items from places such as Macrina Bakery, Theo chocolate, Jones Soda,the Georgetown Brewing Company and Caffe Vita.

centurion wall (2)

Photo: Harriet Baskas 

SEA’s Centurion Studio will be open daily from 5a.m – 10 p.m. and, because of its size, will not be accessible on a one day pass. Instead, access is complimentary and limited only to Platinum Card and Centurion Members, and their immediate family (spouse or domestic partner and children under 18 years of age) or one travel companion. (More details here.)

Photo - Harriet Baskas View out the window at the Centurion Studio

Photo – Harriet Baskas
View out the window at the Centurion Studio

 

“We are delighted to have American Express bring this new airport lounge concept to Sea-Tac”, said Mark Reis, Managing Director of Sea-Tac Airport. “With this opening, there are now seven lounges across the airport to serve and accommodate our airport’s growing passenger levels.”

Those other lounges include The Club – two all-access spaces on Concourse A and in the South Satellite – that you can get into on a day pass for $35.

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 – and cheaper – ways to gain airport lounge access

My At the Airport column for USAToday.com this month is a round-up of more – and cheaper – ways to access airport lounges.

Many travelers have lost or given up their airline club memberships along with their expense accounts, their frequent-flier status and, in many cases, their jobs. And some airline lounges have closed due to airline consolidation and belt-tightening. But airports are still crowded and many travelers still seek quiet spots to plug in and work, make phone calls, catch a nap or just think.

Most airline club rooms will sell day passes to non-members for a fee of between $30 and $50. Some credit cards offer access at a select set of airline club rooms as part of the annual fee. And the Priority Pass program levies both a membership and per-visit fee for access to a menu of about 600 airport club rooms around the world.

Increasingly, though, independent operators and, in some cases, airports themselves are expanding the pay-per-use spaces where passengers can gain access to snacks, business amenities and comfortable seating.

The newest among these is the Airspace Lounge located post-security in Concourse D at Baltimore/Washington International Airport. The lounge offers hip decor, comfortable seating, work areas and complimentary wireless Internet access, snacks, small meals and non-alcoholic beverages.

Airspace Lounge CEO Anthony Tangorra plans to open similar lounges in other airports before the end of the year and says the $17.50 per-day fee at the BWI lounge was set after studying the average airport “spend.”

“We found that most passengers expect to spend about $20 at the airport. So lounge access is a compelling alternative for someone who wanted to go to the food court,” said Tangorra. He’s also noticed that because American Express Platinum and Centurion members get complimentary access to the Airspace Lounge, many cardholders stop at the lounge on their way out of the airport. “They grab a free sandwich to go and a coffee and are on their way,” he said.

 

Amenities at the reLAX Lounge, located on the pre-security, departure level of the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport, include upholstered chairs, workstations, business services and complimentary Wi-Fi, soft drinks, sandwiches and snacks. Admission is $15 for one hour and $30 for three hours. With the $50 day pass, a complimentary glass of wine or beer is included.

Plaza Premium, which has lounges in Vancouver, Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore and more than a dozen other international airports, throws in buffet meals, drinks, business services and, in some locations, showers. Prices vary by location, but in Toronto the fee is about $35 for three hours.

Complimentary amenities at The Lounge in New York JFK’s Terminal 4 ($40 for four hours; $10 each additional hour) include showers, Internet access, drinks, snacks and light meals. At The Club in Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, a 24-hour day pass is $35 and provides travelers with complimentary alcoholic drinks, business facilities, a separate kids’ room, shower facilities and a smoking lounge. Unlike many airline clubs, visitors are welcome to bring in food purchased outside the lounge.

The independent lounges at some of the nation’s smaller airports are some of the best deals.

Entrance to the Executive Club at Alabama’s Mobile Regional Airport is $10 per day and includes work areas and complimentary snacks, beverages and local phone calls. For $24.95, passengers can buy access to The Club at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and at Altitude: A Traveler’s Club at Kentucky’s Louisville International Airport, a day pass is just $5 and includes complimentary soft drinks and snacks, high-speed Internet access, free long-distance and domestic phone calls, and a lovely view of the runway.

 

Airport lounges for smokers and hotel guests

If you smoke (or don’t mind hanging around people who do), look for the specially-ventilated cigar lounges linked to the boutiques opened by Bahamas-based Graycliff Cigars at the Nassau International and Nashville International airports (Gates B9 and C10). Lounge access is $4 in Nashville and $10 in Nassau, where the fee includes a complimentary glass of wine or other beverage.

And in some cities, a hotel reservation will get you airport lounge access.

In February 2011, three Hilton Maldives resorts (Beach House Maldives: A Waldorf Astoria Resort, Hilton Maldives/Iru Fushi Resort & Spa and Conrad Maldives Rangali Island) opened a shared luxury lounge for guests arriving at Male International Airport. While they wait for the seaplane ride to a resort, guests receive complimentary shoulder massages, hot and cold food, Wi-Fi and access to posh indoor and outdoor seating. Guests departing the resorts in the evening can also use the lounge, but on the way home, the fee is $80 per person.

Not to be outdone, the W Maldives also offers a seaplane lounge that includes Internet access, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks.

In March 2010, the W Retreat & Spa -Vieques Island opened a welcome lounge at the tiny, un-air-conditioned Vieques Airport, off the coast of Puerto Rico. Hotel guests are greeted with chilled towels, cocktails and light snacks. “While they’re relaxing, we check them into their rooms, tag and load their luggage into a Jeep, and then whisk them to the retreat, which is five minutes away,” says the hotel’s Nikolai Ursin. Use of the air-conditioned lounge includes free Wi-Fi and is complimentary for hotel guests at both arrival and departure.

And while waiting for their complimentary airport transfers, guests who have booked suites at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on Hawaii’s Big Island have access to a private airport lounge that includes complimentary wireless Internet access, beverages and snacks.