Long queues. New restrictions on guest access. New access time restrictions.
Welcome to the 2022 Airport Lounge Experience.
“It’s not one airline in particular. United, Delta, Alaska, they’re all crowded,” said Matthew Clint, a frequent flyer who authored the blog Live and Let’s Fly. “It’s also the credit card lounges. And abroad too. Turkish, Lufthansa, BA.”
Clint, who said he’s been to more than 30 domestic and international airport lounges since May, describes exiting the American Express Centurion lounge in Dallas because he couldn’t get a seat.
He endured crowded conditions at Delta’s new Sky Club at Terminal 3 at the Los Angeles International in August. He said crowds also haunt him at LAX’s Star Alliance Lounge at Bradley International Terminal, where the normally quiet patio was full for a late summer visit.
During his recent visit to the new United Club lounge in Newark, which is one of the carrier’s largest, Clint said United had posted a sign saying they did not allow passport holders to visit one. He says those same signs have been the norm all summer long at Denver United.
Fantasy or reality?
There is little public data to confirm that Clint feels that overcrowding in the lounge is worse than ever. Visits in July remained 7% lower than July 2019 and Priority Pass added more than a dozen US lounges and restaurants during that time, according to Jeremy Dalkoff, the company whose Priority Pass network has more than 100 US lounges and restaurants, said Collinson. Collinson, Vice President of Partnerships for the Americas.
A sign at the United Club in Terminal C at Newark Airport in early August. Image source: Rebecca Tobin
Among the many Priority Pass partners are British Airways and Air France as well as Airport Dimensions, which has 21 independent American lounges.
Collinson isn’t the only lounge operator to report manageable attendance in recent months.
Although it did not provide data, American Airlines said crowding was not an issue at the Admirals Club and Flagship Lounge locations.
“We were in great shape over the summer, with multiple clubs in places like ours; it was helpful,” spokeswoman Lea Robertino said.
United said the main congestion challenges are related to club closures. The carrier cited as an example the Newark United Club site at Terminal C3 while the Terminal C1 building club was closed. In Denver, United also has two lounges under construction.
Delta has not commented on attendance at its lounges.
However, new policies put in place by some large lounge operators are indicative of this. In June, Delta began restricting Sky Club entry to three hours before a scheduled flight while making clubs off-limits to travelers arriving at their final destination.
Meanwhile, American Express will start charging platinum cardholders $50 per guest in Centurion lounges starting in February, ending the current policy of allowing two free guests. Guests will still be allowed free for cardholders who spend $75,000 in a calendar year.
The construction of lounges is also a sign of increasing demand. Dalkoff said Collinson expects about 15 new lounges to join its US network by 2024.
Two credit card issuers also entered the lounge. Capital One opened its first lounge last fall in Dallas/Fort Worth and has lounges in the near future in Denver and Washington Dallas. Chase will soon launch a network of Chase Sapphire lounges, with locations in Boston Logan, New York LaGuardia, Hong Kong, San Diego, Phoenix and Las Vegas.
Why the crowds, why now?
“I would say the lounges are incredibly crowded,” said Sally French, who analyzes loyalty programs for personal finance site NerdWallet.
One reason, she said, was the airport chaos last summer.
“Gone are the days of going through the airport in 10 minutes, due to unexpected lines in airport security, even with TSA PreCheck,” French said. “Many travelers find it’s better to get to the airport early and hang out in the lounge than worry about it getting cut off too soon and possibly missing their flight.”
Another major reason for lounge congestion is easy access to lounge access, which in many cases can be purchased as a one-time pass. It’s also a feature of many premium credit cards and co-branded airlines. American, Delta, and United all reported record acquisitions of co-branded credit cards in the second quarter.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Clint said. “They keep paying with credit cards, and one of the benefits is the promised lounges.”
He said that the only solution to the overcrowding of halls is to build more halls.
“It’s either that or it limits access even more,” Clint said, referring to policies that Delta and American Express are adding.