6 ways airport lounges are improving — and one way they definitely aren’t
To promote safety and well-being, airlines are making numerous changes to the travel experience.
Planes are getting cleaned more regularly, seats are being blocked and boarding procedures are being modified to avoid crowding. But there's one element of the ground experience that's going to look quite different, and that's airport lounges.
We spoke with Sodexo, one of the world's largest operators of airport lounges, for a behind-the-scenes look at how these exclusive enclaves are going to change due to the pandemic.
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The buffet is still there...
It's just not self-serve. Though some lounges are closing the buffet in favor of single-serve, pre-packaged items, many lounges operated by Sodexo will continue to serve prepared foods.
At The Club lounges, there's a dedicated buffet attendant who takes your order, plates the food and delivers it to your seat. The bar is also open as normal, though the server stands behind a plexiglass protective shield.
The Club operates 19 lounges across the U.S., many of which will be reopened by the end of July. You can access them by purchasing a day pass, though all accept Priority Pass memberships too. Priority Pass memberships are a benefit of many of our top credit cards.
Related: Everything you need to know about the Priority Pass program
Masks aren't necessarily required
This comes down to the club you're visiting, as well as local government restrictions.
For instance, all travelers entering Delta Sky Clubs are required to wear a face mask, regardless of the club location. The same can't be said about The Club locations.
Masks are highly encouraged when you're not eating or drinking. But unless there's a government or airport restriction requiring them, mask-wearing won't be enforced.
Related: TPG face masks available for a limited time
Overcrowding could be a thing of the past
Airport lounges suffered from overcrowding in the years leading up to the pandemic. There just wasn't enough space for lounges in airports and demand far outpaced supply.
Now, overcrowding could become a thing of the past. Travelers haven't yet come back in pre-COVID numbers (we're a far way off), so you don't need to worry about crowding just yet.
Time will tell what'll happen when a vaccine is available, but social distancing is here to stay in the meantime. You'll find decals around the reopened lounges to help guests practice social distancing.
Related: Why I skip the lounge and head straight to the gate
Entering is a breeze
This one was a long time coming, but it's getting accelerated due to the coronavirus. In Europe and Asia, you can enter many airport lounges simply by scanning your eligible boarding pass next to an automatic gate.
I have yet to see that in the U.S. But now, we're seeing touchless registration systems pop up across the country. All The Club locations now operate with such a model, and I've got to imagine that it's going to expand to other lounge networks.
American Express and Delta were both at the forefront of the digital lounge entrance revolution. Amex acquired Lounge Buddy and already started deploying a faster check-in experience, while Delta now allows you to pair your eligible credit card in your digital wallet for speedier entry.
I'm sure we're going to see lots more innovation on this front in the coming months.
Related: Best credit cards for airport lounge access in 2020
Upgraded air purifiers
There's lots of talk about HEPA air filters on planes. But did you know that some airport lounges also have a similar air filtration system?
According to Sodexo, most airports have high-quality air handlers that process the return air through a three-stage pleated, HEPA and charcoal filtration system. In locations where The Club has access to the air handling unit, they are upgrading existing air filters to MERV-13 — the highest achievable filter that removes most bacteria and viruses from the air.
Expect it to be squeaky clean
The entire end-to-end travel experience will look a lot different in the pandemic world. And that's not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, as airlines across the globe double down on their cleaning efforts before and after flights, customers have noticed how clean their planes have been.
The same applies to airport lounges. Expect the kitchen and other high-touch areas to be sanitized throughout the day. Likewise, seating and table areas will be wiped down regularly.
Finally, you'll find lots of hand sanitizing stations available in every corner.
Related: How to thoroughly disinfect your airplane seat
Shower at home
As much as I love the Lufthansa rubber ducks, I likely won't be collecting any in the near future.
That's because they are given out to first-class flyers who use the shower facilities in the lounges. And showers are, unfortunately, going to closed for quite some time.
Across the board, we're seeing airport lounges reopen without their shower facilities. In most cases, these closures include other high-touch amenities, like spas, family rooms and phone booths.
It'll be interesting to see what happens with Amex reopens the Centurion Lounge network, since many of these lounges differentiate themselves by their top-notch amenities.
Related: The 8 do’s and don’ts in an airport lounge
Airport lounges are going to look a lot different when you're ready to travel again.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, either. Expect them to be a lot cleaner, and much less crowded than before. Unfortunately, some of the amenities will be closed, but that's a small price to pay for a safer visit.