In the past, a trip to the airport entailed arriving a few hours early and budgeting enough time to allow for crowded security lines. Nowadays, however, things have drastically changed. With the development of private airport handling and transport services, the experience has significantly improved. Services such as Blacklane, PS and American Express Centurion were explicitly designed to help affluent passengers avoid the hassle of commercial flying.
Since the onset of the pandemic, consumers have been looking for ways to upgrade the airport experience, which is precisely where these new luxurious travel experiences have come into play. Whether safety, privacy or time are the main concerns, passengers are leaning increasingly toward the ease of use, comfort, convenience, and overall experience these services provide. From navigating busy terminals to providing gate-to-gate transfers, all these luxury additions improve passengers’ time spent in the airport.
Luxe Airport Transfers
The new enriched travel experiences begin before passengers arrive at the airport, thanks to luxury chauffeur services like Blacklane. Since arriving at any major gateway is a significant nuisance with plenty of delays, parking fees and traffic, the premium service can be booked in advance through an easy-to-use app in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, London, Paris and Berlin. And with on-demand (or prescheduled) curbside service, passengers who land will be instantly greeted by a chauffeur who will secure their bags and hand them a cold bottle of water.
“The service through Blacklane was impeccable,” says Raman Davies, a public-relations executive. “Not only was the chauffeur early, but he waited for us outside the car and opened our doors. The seats were incredibly comfortable, the journey was smooth, and we arrived at the airport in good time, ready for our onward journey, having started our trip in the best way.”
Blacklane offers three services: intercity rides, chauffeur handlers and airport transfers. Unlike other companies, Blacklane drivers are handpicked in partnerships with local chauffeurs. The brand owns no cars, opting to fill a driver’s downtime instead. And all the brand’s rides are carbon-neutral, an initiative that’s an industry first.
With the development of the brand, Blacklane provides consistency and global availability to travelers, competing with services like Uber Black. Most recently, Blacklane announced a significant expansion with 28 new city-to-city routes within key metropolitan areas. The service plans to explore new markets and diversify its product for customers.
Game-Changing Private Lounges and Terminals
Arrival at the airport is just as seamless an experience with exclusive terminals and private gate-to-gate transfers. PS, a luxury terminal service, offers bespoke experiences that make commercial travel feel private.
“Demand for private travel experiences has skyrocketed since the pandemic, a trend that we have benefited from,” says PS CEO Amina Belouizdad Porter. “After all, PS has been in the business of social distancing before the term was even coined, as PS allows travelers to board or disembark their flight without seeing more than three or four people.”
By using off-site locations away from bustling terminals, arrivals and departures are a much more relaxing experience. And with lounge overcrowding, PS has become a top pick for travelers looking to alleviate the stress of traveling.
“While it might not be at a price point accessible to many travelers, PS at LAX is one of those offerings that tangibly make the travel experience better,” says industry expert Chris Dong. “I loved the incredible convenience—a big win for LAX travelers like me—and the high-end luxury.
“There’s an exclusive TSA security screening and a BMW transfer straight to the boarding door,” he continues. “At The Salon lounge, I could preorder caviar and have the drinks of my choice ready for me before I arrived. This is as bespoke as it gets for airport experiences.”
PS has drawn a crowd of high-profile passengers who want to sit back and relax in complete privacy ahead of commercial flights. The brand does this by purchasing airport terminals and converting them into luxe lounges or suites with amenities such as meals, spa services and more.
“When booking PS, guests can choose from the privacy of Private Suites or the energy of The Salon,” says Porter. “Our Private Suites provide travelers with their own spacious suite, while The Salon offers a sophisticated social space perfect for solo travelers or small groups. Travelers can also look forward to spa services, an extensive menu of cocktails, and a chef-prepared meal.” Passengers can pay a one-time fee per person, $995, or an annual fee of $4,850 for an all-access membership. Depending on Salon or Private Suite usage, additional costs are applied per person for each visit.
Each PS experience makes commercial fliers feel like they are traveling on a private plane, which is why its first location at LAX is so successful. “Guests avoid interaction with thousands of people at the airport, which means more time for preflight relaxation, no lines, no walking and no crowded gate areas. It’s a completely new standard for commercial travel, and we look forward to bringing that unique blend of hospitality, safety and privacy to even more flight hubs,” says Porter.
The brand plans to open in Atlanta in 2023, Dallas Fort Worth in 2024, and Miami in 2025. Notably, the Miami location will be housed in the former Pan Am headquarters on the north side of the airfield. The brand intends to use the historic building to create a modern, beautiful space without sacrificing the rich heritage of the establishment. “We are putting the finishing touches on the design—which includes preserving and highlighting the building’s original artistry and architecture—and intend to break ground at the end of 2023 to start welcoming guests in early 2025,” says Porter.
Other than PS and its private terminals, those with an American Express Centurion Card can reap exclusive in-airport services, too. Centurion’s departure and arrival services allow you to skip lines, make quick transfers and receive a private escort.
“American Express arranges VIP transfers, so when you travel internationally in business or first class and pay with your card, they meet you at the plane and escort you through immigration,” says Brian Kelly, founder of The Points Guy. “The service is the key reason why I keep my Centurion Card, which costs $5,000 a year. Especially traveling with a baby, after a long international flight, getting through immigration speedily is one of the biggest luxuries out there, since airports are packed and lines are really long.”
Centurion members also receive a free membership to PS. However, you must pay an entrance fee for each visit after the first. “The experience itself is top-notch. We always get a private room since we tend to travel with our four-year-old,” says Christopher M. Naghibi, COO of First Foundation Bank. “There are extra chargers, snacks, drinks, a TV, a private restroom, all the toiletries you can imagine, and so much more. My favorite part of the experience is the back wall of the room. It’s made entirely of glass and has a view of the tarmac. It’s the only reminder that you are even close to one of the busiest airports in the world.”
Airline VIP Services
Airlines such as Delta, United, American Airlines and Lufthansa have similar private transfer services for passengers. There are few things more exciting than landing at an airport with a driver waiting on the ramp to escort you to a connecting flight in a luxury vehicle, and this is precisely what the airlines offer.
After launching in 2012, Delta’s VIP Select service is available at most of the airline’s major hubs, including New York-JFK, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The service can be booked by VIPs or used to surprise Delta Diamond or other high-ranking frequent fliers. It can be purchased for $350 for the first person and $100 for each additional person. At participating airports, the service uses top-of-the-line Porsche vehicles. However, this is only guaranteed at some airports and is subject to availability.
“The Delta VIP Select was an amazing experience,” says frequent flier Joe Watkins. “When we arrived at our gate in Atlanta, the VIP representative stood on the jet bridge waiting to greet us. We exited down the stairs onto the ramp, which was an amazing experience in and of itself, and got into a Porsche SUV to drive to our departure gate.”
Adds Watkins, “The driver was very accommodating and allowed us to take as many photos as we wanted. The airline will take you directly to the Sky Club through a special entrance for longer connections, but since we had a tight connection, we went directly to the departure jet bridge. One of the best things about this was that we never entered the airport. It felt very exclusive and private, truly an unforgettable experience.” Elsewhere, members with select status can enjoy the convenience of being driven to and from the airport with Emirates chauffeur service, Virgin Atlantic chauffeur-driven transfers and Lufthansa Frankfurt VIP-Services.
Emirates provides complimentary chauffeur-driven transfers for most First or Business Class passengers, while Virgin Atlantic offers the service for purchase to all passengers in most cities. Virgin used to provide this service for free to all Upper-Class passengers, but it stopped doing so in 2020 due to low passenger participation.
Lufthansa and Frankfurt Airport VIP-Services offer travelers exclusive benefits, including a personal assistant, security escort and baggage drop. A VIP representative will escort you to or from your flight in a limousine. Prices start at $391 per person, and additional guests can join for an extra fee.
United and American Airlines both offer luxury transfer services for select customers, with United using the all-electric Jaguar I-Pace SUV for tight connections. As of now, the vehicles are in service at United hubs in Denver, Houston, Newark, Washington-Dulles, San Francisco and Los Angeles. “The new United-Jaguar transfer program offers travelers a moment of luxury and ease while also raising sustainability standards for the airline industry,” says Luc Bondar, United’s vice president of marketing and loyalty.
On the other hand, American Airlines’ Five Star Service allows passengers with a ticket in First or Business to purchase the exclusive service. For $350 or 35,000 miles, the service offers passengers lounge access and priority check-in upon arrival at the airport.
Passengers can bring additional adults for $100 and children for $50. They can enjoy car-service coordination, early boarding and personalized service at 16 U.S. and six international airports. Premium Services on the Rise It remains to be seen how these services will evolve, but there are no indications of them slowing down. More luxurious options may emerge, such as private electric flying car services and environmentally sustainable luxury transfer services. We can expect such advancements soon.
As offerings like these become increasingly common, passengers will take advantage of them. They allow fliers to truly enjoy their time at the airport, which is something they are looking for more and more.