Why grab-and-go food and drink is the future of the airport lounge experience
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Airport lounges don’t always live up to their intended purpose.
They’re designed to be spaces for relaxation or productivity — but overcrowding, disruptive children (or adults) and tight connections sometimes make that impossible.
However, the ability to enter an airport lounge — and enjoy the space itself — is only part of the overall equation. The needs of the modern traveler, especially one that is traveling for business, are predicated on one thing: time.
That’s the power of having grab-and-go food and drink at airport lounges. And it’s been a hot topic of late thanks to new spaces that have debuted.
In fact, grab-and-go fare can be the ideal antidote for travelers who lack the energy — and time — to find an open lounge table. Let’s take a closer look.
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Solving the problem of space
Space for travelers
With airport lounge access fast becoming a near-ubiquitous feature for many travelers, space inside these lounges is quickly running out.
Take American Express, for instance. The issuer is well aware that its premium Centurion Lounges can become overly congested — so much so that there are, at times, waitlists to even enter.
A new policy beginning on Feb. 1, 2023, is an attempt to address that very problem. All guests that come in with a cardholder — such as those who have The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express — will be charged a rate of $50 each ($30 for children aged 2 through 17). Those that meet or exceed $75,000 in purchases on their card are exempt from this policy.
While Amex typically does not offer a dedicated grab-and-go selection in its lounges, it’s a concept that it may want to consider as a means to satisfy loyal cardmembers paying hundreds of dollars in annual fees — especially ones that are short on time.
Even industry experts say this is likely where we’re headed.
Stephen Freibrun, principal consultant at ICF, a global firm advising airports on commercial strategies, told TPG that grab-and-go is primarily an advent of the pandemic as “customers want to control their lounge experience.”
“I think this is the future for airport lounges, especially as airports and vendors have gotten to understand that providing a curated experience will drive uptake,” Freibrun added.
For lounge operators
Space isn’t simply a concern for travelers, but also for the lounge operators themselves.
Airports only have a finite amount of real estate — and as we’ve seen from recent airport board documents, the competition for lounge space is more fierce than ever before.
In November, Chase’s lounge proposal in San Diego (SAN) beat out other key competitors in the space, including the companies behind Amex Centurion Lounges and Escape, Plaza Premium and Aspire lounges.
“We’re seeing an explosion of lounges with significant footprints, rent revenue for airports and continued opportunities to enhance the customer experience,” Freibrun noted.
What we’re seeing thus far
Capital One Lounges
When Capital One first teased their airport lounges earlier this year, it was notable how much they emphasized their grab-and-go concept.
Capital One described their to-go offering as “thoughtfully designed and industry-leading” with “healthy selections and sustainable packaging that will make ‘sad salads’ a thing of the past.”
After experiencing it firsthand at a lounge preview event this fall, Capital One’s description isn’t far off from reality.
The wall closest to the entrance of the new Capital One Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) lounge includes an entire open fridge of grab-and-go food and drink selections. From salads and grain bowls to sandwiches, mixed fruit and more, there is a comprehensive to-go selection, all individually packed in sealed, eco-friendly containers.
And you can consume these items anywhere, including onboard your flight.
Since reopening during the pandemic, some United Clubs have been offering packaged snacks and sandwiches.
TPG’s Summer Hull experienced the pre-made containers of fruit and cheese, turkey sandwiches and other snacks. She noted that while the offerings weren’t amazing in quality, “they were the sort of dishes that would probably sell for about $10 each out in the airport terminal, and they were easy to eat in the lounge, or carry with you onto your flight.”
In addition, United is trialing an entirely new grab-and-go concept. With an overall footprint of around 1,500 square feet, United’s upcoming Denver lounge will focus on options for the road (or in this case, the flight).
A United representative provided the following statement to TPG: “United plans to open a new club concept at Denver International Airport in early 2022 that will represent a new variation of what a club space can offer customers. We look forward to sharing more details in the coming weeks as we finalize our plans.”
American is offering paid grab-and-go options
American also began offering a selection of grab-and-go items at select Admirals Clubs across the system.
An American Airlines spokesperson told TPG that an array of “assorted sandwiches, salads, snacks and non-alcoholic bottled beverages are available. [It’s] just another option if our customers need something quick and filling if they are limited with time between flights.”
However, the food and drink come at an additional cost, ranging from $3 to $12. These fridges are located at the following clubs:
- Charlotte (CLT) Terminal C.
- Dallas (DFW) Terminal A.
- Dallas (DFW) Terminal C.
- Dallas (DFW) Terminal D.
- Miami (MIA) Terminal D, Gate 30.
- Phoenix (PHX), Gate A6.
The rise of grab-and-go isn’t a novel concept by any means.
For instance, Air Canada has had a small cafe in its Toronto (YYZ) hub with on-the-go dining. And Lufthansa operates a “Delights to Go” service in its Munich (MUN) hub, with a choice of boxed meals for its premium-cabin passengers and elite flyers.
Airport lounges in the U.S. have been slower to adopt this, but the pandemic has accelerated how providers have to address customer concerns. And with competition heating up within this space, operators need to think beyond the status quo and adapt to travelers’ needs in order to stay ahead.
Domestically, Capital One is spearheading the grab-and-go movement and we may be starting to see a shift in what a traditional airport lounge can offer. And for what it’s worth, I think that’s a good thing.
Featured photo by Wyatt Smith/The Points Guy.
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