Delta Air Lines has unveiled a new 24,914 square foot Sky Club in Concourse B near Gate B18 at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport (ATL). The club, which opened on September 23, is suspended over the tarmac, offering great views of the runway and downtown Atlanta.
Claude Roussel is the managing director of Delta’s Sky Clubs. He was hired by the airline in March 2014. “My background is in hotels, restaurants and the hospitality industry. I’m not an airline guy. My mission was to improve the overall customer experience in the Sky Club,” he said.
Since March 2014, Roussel has been working diligently on improving every single aspect of the club experience, from facilities to products to service. “We’re doing a multipronged approach on the facility side. We’ve invested a lot of money on new seating, new carpet and new finishes,” he said. “If you look at the clubs done three or four years ago and compare them with the latest clubs in San Francisco and Atlanta Concourse B, these newer clubs have a very different feel.”
What does that mean? “Eighty percent of seats have power, so customers don’t have to look around for plugs. The furniture was carefully thought out and we work with galleries and curators from around the country on our art program,” he said.
The wine wall, a new amenity at the Delta Sky Club ATL Concourse B
On the product side, there’s been a major overhaul of the club’s food and beverage offerings, said Roussel. “We started with the bar. Before there were only 15-16 selections, and now our Tier 1 bars like JFK get a minimum of 30 different liquors,” he said. “We also upgraded all our complimentary offerings with great liquors selections we didn’t have before.”
The club’s bar has complimentary call brands that also feature four wines — a chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon — and a local craft beer, along with Miller Lite, said Roussel. “This is a big change from prior years.”
Complimentary call brands offered in Sky Clubs are Stolichnaya vodka, Bombay Dry Gin, Bacardi rum, Jack Daniel’s and Cutty Sark whiskies, Jose Cuervo Especial Silver tequila and Bailey’s.
A new feature in the Concourse B Sky Club is a wine wall curated by Andrea Robinson, Delta’s Master Sommelier. “The wine wall was something I did in one of the restaurants I worked at in New York City and I thought it would be an interesting concept to bring it to the club,” he said.
The wall features 24 varieties of wines and customers can try them in one-, three- and six-ounce tastings, said Roussel. “So if you want to try three or four one-ounce servings, you can do that. Each wine on the menu has an explanation,” he said. “And you don’t have to wait at the bar. You can create your own experience.”
Customers can pay for their selections using Delta SkyMiles, said Roussel. “It’s an incredible value when you look at our menu, because a bottle of Cristal is less than 12,000 miles,” he said. “We kept average prices very reasonable. One ounce is between $2-3 dollars, three ounces is $5 and six ounces depends on what wine you choose.”
Wines available on the wall include: Brancott Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough, New Zealand; Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay; Bodegas Faustino Rioja Gran Reserva, Spain; Bodega Catena Malbec Mendoza, Argentina; and Moët et Chandon Brut Imperial NV Champagne.
On food side, Delta is offering a differentiated product from its competition, said Roussel. “We’re offering fresh salads, soups, breads and cheeses. We try and work with local food companies,” he said. “For example, in Atlanta we work with Goldberg’s Deli, which makes a chicken salad that is excellent. The salad type rotates every 30 days.”
Chef Linton Hopkins, who prepares meals for the Delta One business class, is also creating food items for the club, said Roussel. “He’s going to do special soups and salads that will rotate,” he said. “One challenge we have is people who travel often get tired of seeing the same food, so we have to change things regularly.”
A renewed focus on hospitality
Another big difference at Sky Clubs are the people, said Roussel. “We’ve worked carefully with our ambassadors of service. You should see what they do with our guests,” he said. “We get weekly feedback from guests on the club experience. Some things that were pointed out were ambassadors offering drink refills, being helpful and engaging with customers.”
Delta is pushing boundaries to make Sky Clubs be the experience customers are looking for, said Roussel. “So if you’re on the phone or working, our ambassadors tactfully ask if you want a drink refill so you don’t have to get up and do it yourself.”
The airline has been working for a year and a half on building a culture of service, said Roussel. “We are working with a partner I used in my old days in the hospitality industry, Team Global Network,” he said. “They’ve helped us develop service from a guest perspective to see how we can create special moments of service.”
Delta has worked with companies including the Johnson Studio, a firm that develops hospitality-driven spaces. “And the bar in Atlanta’s Concourse B is really driven toward having a hospitality feel. It’s not what you’d expect in Sky Club,” Roussel said. “It’s more hotel and restaurant driven, because we want our bars to be more focal points in our spaces.”
New Delta Sky Club at ATL Concourse B highlights
- THE BAR at Delta Sky Club offers a variety of premium and complimentary options including cocktails, craft beers and freshly brewed Starbucks coffee.
- Customers can pair their favorite beverage with complimentary chef-inspired Southern fare. Acclaimed Atlanta Chef Linton Hopkins dishes up menus on select flights from Atlanta to Europe, and now, he’ll be contributing locally inspired fare, exclusive to this Delta Sky Club.
- Members and guests can also enjoy items like locally sourced bagels, hard boiled eggs and yogurt with toppings for breakfast and soups, salads, veggies, crackers, dips, fruit and snacks throughout the day.
- While customers are relaxing with a drink and a bite to eat, they can take in THE GALLERY, a curated art program showcasing inspiring work from emerging artists and local galleries, including a mural by Cuban-born artist Alexi Torres.
One feature missing from the Concourse B Sky Club is Delta’s popular outdoor Sky Deck lounge. “Since there wasn’t enough space to build on the gate level, we had to build the club over the gate. It basically rests on four big pylons and is suspended above the gate level, so we had space restrictions,” Roussel said. “We wanted to have a minimum of 500 seats, so we had to sacrifice the deck portion. This is by far our busiest concourse.”
The new Delta Sky Club at Atlanta airport, Concourse B by gate 18 opened on September, 23 2016 and will replace the two smaller clubs by gates B10 and B25, which will subsequently close.
New Sky Clubs to open at SEA, EWR, RDU
Looking toward the future, Delta has a schedule for updating the Sky Clubs, said Roussel. In fall 2016, Seattle’s second Sky Club will open between Concourses A and B.
“The Newark and Raleigh-Durham clubs will be ready by December. We have a schedule of what we want to do and by when,” said Roussel.
Delta is looking at what it calls its branding plans for its Tier 1, 2 and three clubs, said Rousell. “We asked what we should invest in, things like bathrooms, furniture and access to power outlets,” he said. “We redid the food bars in most of our clubs this year, which allows us to keep food at the right temperatures.”
But it’s a never-ending process, said Roussel. “When you finish a club, you have to come back three years later for things like new carpets, refreshed bathrooms and other updates, especially when you have 50 clubs,” he said.
As Delta continues to upgrade its Sky Clubs, Roussel and his team will continue to focus on what guests want. “We want them to have ease of access to the club, quick check-in, great food and beverages when they want it and a relaxing atmosphere,” he said. “We want to make sure there’s no fail in any of those areas. We want customers to be surprised and delighted by the space.”
Featured photo: Delta Sky Club – Atlanta, GA (ATL) Concourse B, courtesy of Delta