There are more ways than ever to gain access to an airport lounge, especially in the United States these days. From credit card benefits to elite status and day passes to flight add-ons, lounges are no longer exclusively for first and business class passengers traveling.
While this has allowed many travelers to escape the chaos and amenity lacking areas of terminal gates, it has often created lounges that reach capacity during peak flight times and dampened the experience.
In the United States, both American Airlines (AA) and United Airlines (UA) have each launched their own lounges exclusively for specific premium passengers. These select few are most notably their international and first class passengers, but exact entry rules differ with each airline.
The American Airlines Flagship Lounges are currently located in Los Angeles (LAX), Chicago (ORD), New York (JFK), and Miami (MIA) with 3 new lounges planned for Dallas (DFW), Philadelphia (PHL), and London (LHR).
Access to AA Flagship lounges is limited to First or Business passengers on an international or transcontinental flight operated by American or a oneworld partner. Additionally AAdvantage Executive Platinum, Platinum Pro and Platinum traveling on an economy international ticket have access. Concierge Key, and non AAdvantage oneworld Emerald, and Sapphire have access to the Flagship lounge for travel regardless of cabin as long as they have a same day ticket for an American Airlines or oneworld partner.
Inside Flagship lounges, passengers find well designed space to spend time before departing. There is buffet style food and snacks to enjoy that change for each meal time. For drinks, a self-service bar with may top shelf liquors as well as the Coca Cola Freestyle machine serving all Coke products. Other amenities include showers, assistance desks, business center, and quite rooms. Passengers traveling on international First Class tickets are invited to Flagship First dining which includes sit down service, hand crafted cocktails, and a selection of fine wines and regionally inspired food dishes.
United Airlines, which has previous operated Global First lounges exclusively for First Class international passengers (some of these are still operating today in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and London). However, United has opened three Polaris Lounges in the United States at Chicago (ORD), San Francisco (SFO), and Newark (EWR) with planned lounges for Houston (IAH), Los Angeles (LAX), Washington, DC (IAD), Tokyo (NRT), and Hong Kong (HKG), and London (LHR).
Lounge access is restricted to passengers in first and business class on long-haul intercontinental travel with United Airlines or a Star Alliance partner tickets. If flying between the United States and Canada, Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, or flying in business class on a transcontinental flight, passengers can only visit a United Club. Economy passengers with elite status including global service do not have access the lounge.
Inside Polaris Lounges, passengers are provided ample space to relax, work, or dine before travel. The lounges are quite spacious and well designed to fit all variety of travelers with essential amenities like shower suites and sleeping rooms. The dining includes two options; buffet with hot and cold options as well as sit down a la carte with carefully prepared meal choices paired with wine. Drinks are served from a full-service bar with top shelf alcohol and the lounge offers curated cocktails as well.
Noticeable absent from the list of United States airlines with large international presence and a lounge for premium passengers exclusively is Delta who only operates a business class cabin on international routes. While Delta does operate SkyClubs at airports all across the United States, the product more compares to United Clubs and Admiral Lounges which have limited food options and only select beverages complimentary.
The emergence of these exclusive lounges for premium passengers is a fantastic way to help address many issues travelers have faced with existing lounges including overcrowding, limited amenities, and little food and drink options. This elevated level of service and offering should have a positive impact on luring premium passengers. It’s important to note the differences between the Polaris and Flagship lounge access as well as offerings as they have several differences that depending on travel may make one more ideal for a specific trip.