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Restrict, Cut, Repeat: How Airlines Are Dealing With Overcrowded Lounges

In recent months, airlines have been pursuing a simple solution to complaints about overcrowded airport lounges – making the facilities less inviting and available to fewer passengers. The moves reverse a previous trend of encouraging day pass use and making the private clubs available to more and more flyers without membership cards.

Flared tempers, complaints of overcrowding and even reports of minor brawls have led airlines to take a series of increasingly more drastic steps to ease the strain on the once-exclusive airport club lounge. The measures designed to make the terminal oasis just a bit more tranquil have kicked into high gear in recent weeks with several carriers announcing substantial fee hikes and a slew of new access restrictions.

This month, United Airlines quietly alerted United Club members that they would see a big hike in their annual dues. The price increase to $650 or 85,000 miles matches similar moves at rivals American Airlines and Delta Air Lines.

At the same time that memberships are becoming more expensive, the benefits are being curtailed. By the end of this year, policies will be in effect at each of the big three U.S. airlines requiring that even members prove a same day itinerary on the carrier in order to access the lounges.

Frequent flyers with airline club memberships have been among the most vocal in complaining about overcrowded lounges, but have also expressed concern that substantially raising dues and limiting members’ access will do little to solve the problem. In many cases, club members indicate a surge in the number of day pass users and complimentary lounge access extended to branded credit card holders are the culprits behind the too often at capacity lounge areas.

Airlines have also taken steps to tighten the use of clubs by credit card holders and day pass visitors. In most cases, only primary account holders with a same-day travel itinerary are now extended privileges at most airline lounges. Delta has, in nearly all circumstances, stopped offering day passes to it busiest lounges. Even though American still heavily promotes day pass use, the price has jumped in recent months. United quickly matched American’s day pass price hike.

“Each day we’re continuing to invest in the Club to provide an elevated experience, and today access to the Club is in higher demand than ever,” American Airlines officials said in a statement announcing its own tightened lounge access policy. “To ensure we can continue to provide an exceptional Club experience and take care of guests that choose to fly with us or with our partners.

The efforts to make airport clubs more exclusive have certainly helped to drive revenue (through higher fees alone), but the jury is still out on whether or not higher prices and restricted access are helping to control overcrowding. The trend toward limiting access doesn’t show any signs of slowing and is in many cases being copied by carriers in Europe and Asia. American Express may have already taken the effort to the next level imposing a time limit on visitors at some of its most popular airport Centurion Lounges.

[Featured Image: Pixabay]

Comments are Closed.
IanFromHKG September 23, 2019

It might have been better if "U.S." were added at the start of the article's heading since the issues seem to be focused purely on lounges in the USA. As someone based in Asia I can assure you little of this rings true for me - indeed, many airlines in this region are spending heavily on improving and expanding their lounges (thank you, Cathay!).

Flight44 June 28, 2019

Here comes the herd. Just another perk ruined by those who don’t deserve it nor respect it. Tragedy of the commons in a way. Lounges in the USA are typically filthy, staffed by surly people, and generally uncomfortable.

Annandaler June 28, 2019

Earlier this month several changes took place at the United Clubs at IAB: No newspapers (used to have the WSJ and, until a year or so ago, had three newspapers available) ; no more bananas (used to have bananas and apples available all day); only one soup on offer (previously had two soups available).

manstein58 June 28, 2019

As of last week, United no longer offers complementary Wall Street journals and Financial Times at United Clubs.

Spanish June 28, 2019

The restrictions aren't really a bad thing. American is refurbishing many of its lounges, and as an Admirals Club member, I appreciate keeping it more exclusive. Wouldn't mind paying more if it meant better amenities and improved staffing / customer and space / customer ratio. I may be in the minority, but I'd pay a significant 200%-300% premium for a lounge space with increased amenities and luxury. But that's just me, and I doubt there's a market for it at this time. Either way, it sure beats dealing with the terminal, and I've been assisted with flight changes many times by employees going above & beyond (going to the gate with me, for example, to make sure the gate agent understand what I wanted on flights that are only open to gate agents)...