Airport lounges, the flyer’s respite for food, drink and unlimited Wi-Fi, closed when COVID-19 struck, one of the first victims of the pandemic. Now they’re reopening in the US, but experiences vary – many have returned to full capacity while others remain closed or lack full service.

Who is open?

There are about 250 lounges at U.S. airports, according to Zach Griff, who is researching the industry for The Points Guy travel website. Some are operated by airlines and others are independently owned and managed. American Express has its own set of clubs for premium credit card holders, and its competitors, Chase and Capital One, are entering the market with their own offerings.

A range of entry options greets travelers, depending on the lounge. Guests can pay a daily or annual fee to be admitted, or enter as a purchaser of a first class ticket, or receive access as a benefit provided with specific credit cards. Lounges vary from basic windowless spaces with Wi-Fi and snacks, like the Swissport Lounge at Chicago O’Hare International Airport, to beautifully decorated clubs showcasing work by local artists, area-inspired cuisine rotating and offering runway views, such as the Alaska Airlines Lounge at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Those aimed specifically at international travelers, such as the United Polaris and British Airways lounges, are more likely to be equipped with showers, nap cabins and other amenities to help travelers prepare or recover. long flights.

Lounges at US airports for mainly domestic routes began to reopen in the spring and summer. American Airlines reopened 27 of its Admirals Clubs over Memorial Day weekend. All Delta Air Lines Sky Clubs reopened in early July. Thirty-two United Airlines clubs were due to be open by Labor Day, with the final six opening later this month. About 40 of the 52 independently owned and operated lounges of the US Priority Pass network have reopened. Hours of operation can be found on the company’s websites.

The majority of lounges serving international passengers remain closed due to ongoing travel restrictions and still sluggish cross-border demand.

How’s the food?

The meal situation varies, from prepackaged items to hot meal buffets with staff or self-service. Alaska lounges have reopened self-service buffets, with hourly serving utensil changes and hand sanitizing stations. Delta recently brought back hot and cold multi-course offerings such as Thai chicken dishes with rice and baked desserts. United Airlines currently offers individually wrapped items, including sausages and egg croissants in the morning.

The differences can seem glaring. Steve Newton, 32, sales manager for TripKit software, which helps manage business travel expenses, lives in Dallas and travels about three or four times a month. He has visited seven salons across the country since they began to reopen. Recently at the Centurion Lounge at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, Newton said he was excited to discover egg frittata, bacon and blueberry pancakes, especially because the American Airlines Admirals Club qu ‘he had visited nearby “seemed to serve mostly yogurt and cheese cubes.”

What is the

virus changed?

All of the reopened lounges have announced operational changes due to the coronavirus, adding health and safety precautions such as hand sanitizing stations and more robust cleaning.

In its lounges, Alaska has stopped using biometric fingerprint scanners for entry, to reduce physical contact points. It has also suspended the acceptance of Priority Pass holders in most of its lounges to avoid overcrowding.

Escape Lounges, a company that operates facilities at 11 U.S. airports including Reno, Nevada, and Sacramento, Calif., Sells day passes for $ 45. Access is also available as a credit card benefit. To reduce contact between customers, salons replaced physical newspapers and magazines with digital publications accessible through a mobile app. Staff members now escort guests to specific seats in the lounge, as well as take and deliver food and drink orders. The menus are accessible via a QR code.

Can I get a refund for the length of the trade shows closed?

Passengers who paid several hundred dollars in advance to an airline for a year of lounge access, or to a credit card company that offered lounge access as a perk, were more likely to opt out. be granted an extension of lounge access, or a replacement benefit, rather than a refund.

Credit card companies offered temporary alternative perks like catering or streaming service credits, but sometimes it was up to the cardholder to sign up for them.

Airlines have generally extended lounge access, but not for all the time wasted.

Priority Pass, which provides access to a global network of more than 1,300 lounge, restaurant and retail offerings, said it offered no refunds to compensate annual pass holders who purchased directly through the company, but extended the membership for three months.

I travel. Are the lounges crowded?

As states have lifted domestic capacity restrictions, lounges have followed suit and customers are returning. Passenger volumes at clubs in Alaska, Delta and United are close to or equal to pre-COVID figures, according to these airlines.

This leads in some cases to the return of a pre-pandemic salon problem: overcrowding. Jenn Taylor, 58, an executive at Nexus, a software company, traveled once a week before the pandemic and found lounges to be “an absolute oasis”. Departing for a recent business trip from her hometown of Atlanta, she stopped at the Delta Sky Club before her flight. After a peek inside, she decided to grab a cookie and wait in the boarding area. “When every seat is full, there is no social distancing,” she said of the show.

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What do I need to know for the long term?

The popularity of salons has spurred construction. American Express recently opened clubs at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York and at Denver International Airport. Delta opened one at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in June and will open more at Los Angeles International and New York LaGuardia in 2022. Alaska is opening a lounge at San Francisco International Airport.

New companies are entering the market. Capital One, whose owners had not yet benefited from lounge access as an advantage, is creating its own lounges equipped with breastfeeding rooms, showers and Peloton bicycles. By the end of 2022, its clubs will be open at airports in Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver and DC Dulles. Chase is building his very first Sapphire by The Club lounges, in Boston’s Logan, LaGuardia and Hong Kong International, but has not disclosed any details of what will be inside.

I’m flying soon. Anything else i need to know?

Travelers should look online before heading to the airport to see if their local lounge is open and bring extra snacks just in case, as company websites don’t list what they serve.

Many flyers are just happy to be back, no matter what is on the menu. Nathan Love, 38, a Seattle-based business development manager at T-Mobile who has already racked up 60,000 airline miles since being vaccinated five months ago, recently spent time in the Alaska, Delta lounges. and Centurion. He said his favorite aspect was reconnecting with the bartenders, check-in staff and other crew members he recognized before closing, and chatting with other travelers. “It’s great to breathe, relax and share stories,” he said.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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