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As air travel slowly begins to pick up, airport lounges – those oases of sanity – are reborn

September 29, 2020

Bountiful buffets? Gone. Pitchers of lemonade, iced tea, and cucumber water? Nope. Stacks of newspapers and magazines? Missing.

Welcome to the COVID-19-era airport lounge. In those that are open, expected amenities have vanished (forget about taking a shower).

Yet, the key attribute of the lounge experience remains: Peace and quiet. Once you step through the door, the tumult of the terminal vanishes. Comfortable seating, fast WiFi and plenty of electrical outlets await.

Then there’s the staff. Do you want to change your seat assignment for an upcoming flight or have another question about your reservation? The clerks at the front desk can handle it. Need to track down a missing suitcase? They can help. And, unlike in the terminal, there’s no long line – and no crowd.

Lounge operators are going to great lengths to protect staff and passengers from the risk of the novel coronavirus, knowing that safety is of primary importance to rebuilding trust, and traffic.

Collinson, which operates its own airport lounges under The Club and Club Aspire brands plus those in the Priority Pass network, created a new set of global health and safety standards last summer. These were developed with input from the company’s in-house global medical director, Dr. Simon Worrell, a specialist expert in virus management, immunology, and communicable diseases, with more than 20 years of experience in the delivery of international medical assistance and emergency care. The standards will be implemented soon in all Collinson-owned lounges and recommended for use in all partner lounges across the Collinson network, which comprises over 1,200 airport lounges.

Andy Besant, director of travel experiences at Collinson, notes, “COVID-19 has radically altered what travelers’ need and expect from the airport journey. We at Collinson are dedicated to developing new initiatives that ensure travelers feel safe and comfortable at the airport. We are now putting our unique passion and experience in travel towards developing robust solutions for airport wellbeing, which we believe is the best way to help drive a safe and effective recovery for the travel sector,” Besant explains.

Keep It Clean, Keep It Simple

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our employees and guests,” said Claude Roussel, managing director of Delta Sky Club. “Our Delta CareStandard extends to every step of the travel journey – including Delta Sky Clubs. From seating capacity to cleaning procedures to individually packaged food options and a modified bar experience, we’ve thought through and improved every touch point to ensure you feel safe and at ease during your Club visit.”

Delta Sky Clubs continue to add layers of protection to keep customers safe and at ease. For example, food buffets have been modified to “grab & go” style, with individually packaged fresh food options such as yogurt, fruit, muffins, pastries, salads, hummus and pita chips, and sandwiches. Plexiglas partitions are being added at check-in, at the bar and between café tables. Hand sanitizer dispensers have been added near high-traffic and high-touch areas.

The club capacity is limited, with some seats blocked to achieve “social distance” standards, but designated seating areas have been reserved for families traveling together. Of course, Delta’s mask-wearing requirements for customers and employees extend to Delta Sky Clubs.

Behind the scenes, Sky Clubs are sanitized nightly with a high-grade electrostatic spray, high-touch locations (such as food and bar areas) are wiped down throughout the day, and all glassware is sanitized with high-temperature industrial dishwashers.

Over at American Airlines, complimentary hot food items and signature food-for-sale favorites are returning to select Admirals Club lounges, 15 of which are part of the airline’s phased reopening strategy. Think: scrambled eggs and oatmeal at breakfast time, and macaroni and cheese for lunch.

“When Admirals Club lounges began reopening in June, we made robust enhancements to reinforce the well-being of guests and team members who work in the lounges as part of our multi-tiered Clean Commitment strategy,” says Janelle Anderson, American’s vice president of global marketing and digital. “Our guests tell us they’ve been eager for their menu favorites to return, and we are excited to bring those items back, all while following CDC guidelines and maintaining our commitment to providing a safe and clean service with care.”

Two of the seven Minute Suites locations in US airports are open. The company offers small rooms for working or napping in private. Minute Suites was founded by doctors, physicians and surgeons, so they’ve used hospital disinfection products from their “first business day in 2009.” Having one’s own sleeping pod is, of course, the ultimate in social distancing.

Alas, many lounges remain closed due to the COVID-19-induced drop in air travel demand. At press time, this includes all of the American Express Centurion Lounge locations; two of the four Plaza Premium lounges at Vancouver International Airport; five of the seven Minute Suite at US airports; only a handful of the Australian domestic Qantas operated lounges have reopened …. Well, you get the idea. If you have your heart set on using a particular lounge, go online and be sure it’s open before you set out on your journey.

First-hand Experiences 

Business Traveler USA informally surveyed frequent flyers for their lounge impressions since the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. Many, of course, reported that they located no lounges open at any of the airports they visited. But others report a more positive experience.

Peter Shankman, New York-based marketing and advertising guru, notes that he found the United lounge at LAX “open but empty” last July. “I felt totally safe, and masks were required, thankfully.” He points out that there was a “very limited” selection of edibles, but lots of bottled water and soft drinks. “Hey, I’m not complaining,” he reports. “It was better than I expected, considering. I was just happy it was open.”

Līga Spoģe, a single mother traveling back to the United States from Latvia with her two kids, stopped into the IAD United Club in late August. There she found a “soda machine, packaged brownies, cookies, small cans of Pringles, and individually wrapped Lifesavers. And small bottles of water. That was about it.”

Ryan Phillips, a frequent flyer on Delta, has been in Sky lounges in six airports over the summer. “Overall, I feel safe in the Delta Sky Club,” he comments, “and I actually feel more welcomed than before the pandemic. The front desk attendants really make you feel special, and thank you for your status and continued loyalty. Lounges are a luxury and I definitely would understand if they were all closed, so I’m grateful that some are still open. I’m especially thankful that they are open in my primary airport hubs, DTW and MSP.”

Carol Rowland, principal and director of tour operations of Recess 4 Grownups, has noticed the evolution of service from June through early September at her favorite Delta Sky Club in Atlanta. “They have added partitions between the tables to promote social distancing, which they didn’t have in June. Back then they had very limited bar offerings, around five or six spirits. Now they’re back to mostly full bar offerings,” she says.

“In June they had only paper cups for coffee, and today [at the beginning of September] I was delighted that they have real coffee cups again. For the food area, they are still offering just packaged foods that are individually wrapped, such as small bagels, muffins, little boxes of cereal. Since June they have added instant oatmeal packs with hot water; they have also added a refrigerated unit with individually packed fruits such as berries or pineapple, individually packed yogurt with oats or fruit on top,” she says.