After decades of offering lounge access as a perk to credit card holders and members of affiliated loyalty programs and even hawking day passes in airport terminal advertising North American airlines have reversed course in recent months and announced a series of restrictions making it more difficult for non-members to use airline lounges.
Judging strictly by the Flyertalk forums, it would appear the number one complaint about airport lounges is overcrowding. Far more than objections to chintzy food and beverage options, inattentive staff or even enduring other travelers’ loud cellphone conversations, the most common gripe of club members seems to be too many people in too little space.
Recently, airlines have made some steps in the direction of thinning the herd in an effort to appease elite air travelers who have earned club membership through status, miles or a not insubstantial membership fee. In many cases, the efforts to make airport lounges a touch more exclusive again have been slow going. For years now, airlines have used lounge access as a perk for credit card holders and members of affiliated loyalty programs and have at times extensively promoted day pass lounge access as an essential air travel add-on.
Now, the carriers are in the uncomfortable position of curtailing benefits to cardholders, breaking reciprocity agreements and limiting day passes as a revenue stream in the name of making airport lounges less congested. The moves have been mostly lauded by elite flyers, but at times decried as Orwellian by others.
This month, United Airlines added a slew of restrictions aimed at allowing fewer passengers access to its United Clubs. Flyers must now prove a same-day itinerary with the carrier or code share partner to access the lounges. The new rules apply to members and their guests, credit holders and those using a day-pass.
While American Airlines also unveiled similar restrictions at some of its more popular Admiral Club locations, Delta Airlines and Alaska Airlines have taken things a step further, limiting club access to members only – ending nearly all reciprocity agreements. Delta announced this month that it would no longer offer day passes at any of its more than 50 SkyClub locations.
The legacy carrier indicated that the new restrictions were a direct result of overcrowded lounges systemwide. So far, other North American airlines have not rushed to match Delta’s strict new policy.
“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,” the carrier said in a statement announcing the tighter 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, we are making the following changes.”