Delta, United give airport lounge wines an upgrade

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If you’re a traveler with regular access to airport lounges, you may have noticed a major change in the wines served at Delta Air Lines’ Sky Clubs and United Airlines’ United Clubs.

At Delta, a wine selection curated by Andrea Robinson

About a year and a half ago, Delta embarked on a significant passenger experience investment that touched on a lot of areas, with food and beverage being a big one, said Andrea Robinson, one of 32 female master sommeliers in the world and who has curated Delta’s wines since 2008. “Part of that was a focus on wines as part of the new Delta experience,” she said.

Andrea Robinson. Courtesy of Delta

Andrea Robinson. Courtesy of Delta

Travelers now have a greater awareness of wines, said Robinson. “Delta is a U.S.-based global carrier with hub cities like Los Angeles and Seattle, which are near wine capitals,” she said. “Seattle is close to the Pacific Northwest wineries, while Los Angeles is a gateway to Santa Barbara’s wine regions.”

“So I try and focus on wines that connect to our hubs and cities served,” said Robinson. “I’ve been doing a lot with Argentine and Chilean wines. The challenge is to find ones that are big enough” to supply the clubs.

Robinson also tries to balance up-and-coming wines with classic ones, so there’s enough choice for everyone. She gets a mix of wineries that reach out to her and ones she’s worked with before.

“We get lot of inquiries from wineries from all over the world. I see lot of content creation and promotion of wines in regions that are creative and engaging.  Passengers appreciate that because they feel smarter and more educated about wine,” said Robinson.  “We want to surprise and delight. Our wines are more than just pouring a glass and say ‘here you go.’”

Robinson is always combing the back roads and studying trends to stay ahead on Delta’s wine program. “For example, we served summertime roses on our flights because it’s a hugely popular category,” she said. “And we’ve been serving boatloads of prosecco in our clubs because it’s become so popular.”

Delta offers a diverse wine menu featuring the now-popular wine wall in the Sky Clubs, said Robinson. “They range from crisp and refreshing white wines to subtle-to-bold red wines,” she said. “That approach is what we use and we train our people to suggest what a customer might be in the mood for, depending on what they like.”

Bar and wine wall at the Delta Sky Club - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Bar and wine wall at the Delta Sky Club – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

The complimentary wines currently available in Sky Clubs include Doña Paula Malbec from Argentina and California’s Trinity Oaks Chardonnay. Paid offerings include: Italy’s Mionetto Prosecco; Pinot Grigio Banfi Le Rime, Italy; California’s Mer Soleil Silver unoaked Chardonnay; and Bodegas Ramon Bilbao Rioja Crianza from Spain, with prices ranging from $7 to $12 a glass.

Core wine selections in the Sky Club are changed twice a year, said Robinson. “And every two months, we feature special tastings or a limited-edition wine. We also do flights to let travelers taste a few wines side by side so they can learn about new ones,” she said. “This spring in our flagship international Sky Club, we’ll be doing high-end wine pours.”

The current schedule allows Delta to rotate and have a good variety of wines, said Robinson. “This allows us to keep things changed up for regulars who are there all the time as their home away from home,” she said. “We want them to be confident that they have favorite wines, but also have the chance to try something new.”

Reaction to Delta’s wine selection ranges from awesome to “may I have another glass,” said Robinson. “[Customers] are also amazed at the price. We wanted to make our wine prices attractive so it’s a member benefit. They can have a nice experience while on the road and have a great wine experience for not a lot of money,” she said. “Airports can be expensive, but we’re not goughing customers.  I can have wine or champagne at a good price.”

Bar at the Delta Sky Club - San Diego, CA (SFO)

Bar at the Delta Sky Club – San Diego, CA (SFO)

United raises the bar with United Polaris

Kallan Miller, manager of product and experience strategy for United Club. Courtesy of United

Kallan Miller, manager of product and experience strategy for United Club. Courtesy of United

Kallan Miller is a manager of product and experience strategy for United Club and the new premium Polaris Lounge. “With United Polaris, we want to provide an industry-leading lounge product, with guest satisfaction being our primary goal,” she said. “In addition to an industry-leading cocktail program created in partnership with mixologist Adam Seger, we focused our wine program on known premium wine brands, preferred varietals and improved complimentary wines.”

United always has a few tried-and-true brands on hand that are consistently top of class, said Miller. “While our customers are familiar with global brands like Kim Crawford and Joel Gott, we have focused on offering a well-balanced blend of old- and new-world varietals, [along with] classic and emerging wine making techniques, all combined with well-respected and notable winemakers.”

Miller’s team often have winemakers reach out directly. “Winemakers have such passion for their product and when talking with them, you truly get a sense of how this brand will pair with our customers,” she said.

Chilled wine selection at the United Global First Lounge - London Heathrow (LHR)

Chilled wine selection at the United Global First Lounge – London Heathrow (LHR)

Club guests always have certain varietals on hand, including example sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, said Miller. “We also like to provide that unexpected blend or perhaps a forgotten varietal that was once popular and is always a crowd pleaser. For example, in the coming months we will offer Erath Pinot Gris, an organic Zinfandel from Bonterra and a summer Sangria from Beso Del Sol,” she said. “We like to offer consistency for our customers – those road warriors who can visit a location twice a week, but It’s also important to continually evolve our offerings.”

United Clubs rotate wines quarterly, said Miller. “However, we may rotate some of our offerings more frequently based on customer feedback. This ensures that customers have options, plus it gives them an opportunity to find something new that they enjoy,” she said. “We also always keep some of the more popular wines on the menu.”

United Polaris glassware | Courtesy of United

United Polaris glassware | Courtesy of United

United strives to give customers interesting options for different wines, said Miller. “We have had a terrific reaction to our beverage selection. We always love it when customers tell us they fell in love with a wine that they tried in a United Club,” she said. “Many of the United Club visitors have tried wines from around the world, and we want them to expect those great flavors when they spend time in our clubs.”

United Polaris Lounge bar - Chicago O'Hare (ORD)

United Polaris Lounge bar – Chicago O’Hare (ORD)

Featured photo: United Global First Lounge – London Heathrow (LHR), courtesy of United

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