The use of airline lounges as a marketing tool: history and innovation

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Airline lounges provide a sanctuary for elite and high-yield passengers travelling around the world. They can be used as a marketing and branding tool for airlines to differentiate themselves against competitors. Access is limited, and amenities may vary across domestic and international operations. This post focuses on airline lounges of the past and present.

The first airline lounge

The first reported airline lounge was opened by American Airlines (AA) on December 2, 1939 at New York LaGuardia Airport (LGA). Back then, AA Chairman C. R. Smith thought it would be a good idea to open a dedicated lounge to cater to airline supporters called “Admirals” and VIPs. The lounge was designed for relaxation before and after a flight. It was first called the “Flagship Club” to avoid legal complications and passenger confusions with the Navy. Today, “flagship” is still use to indicate AA’s First Class lounges and on-board service.

The first lounge included a bar and food service for passengers and was connected to the office of then Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

Admirals Club 1939
Admirals Club 1939 (First recorded airport lounge in the world) – Image from Jet Set Times. All rights reserved.

Innovations

For many years, airport lounges did not play a big role in passengers’ travel experience, as there was relatively little space in airport terminals. Additionally, check in and security procedures were not as intricate as they are now, so customers did not spend much waiting time in the terminal.

Over the last 75 years, airlines have innovated beyond the idea of a seating area with food and drinks. The following is a list of major innovations.

SEE ALSO:  In Memoriam: LHR Terminal 1 and The Great British Lounge

British Airways’ Concorde Room

One of the first big change to lounges occurred in the 1970s with the introduction of the Concorde. To heighten the experience, British Airways introduced The Concorde Room®, where passengers were able to board the plane directly from the lounge.

Additionally, British Airways introduced a spa operated by Molton Brown. The spa is still in operation today, although the facilities have changed and services are provided by Elemis.

This post on travelscholar.com from 2003 describes the experience as it used to be. Read our review of the current Concorde Room, in the post-Concorde days.

British Airways Elemis Travel Spa – London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5

British Airways Elemis Travel Spa – London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5

Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal

In 2004, the German Lufthansa Group (LH) opened the first dedicated terminal catering to First Class passengers and top-elite Miles and More members (HONs) at Frankfurt International Airport. The facility has about 200 staff members and caters to approximately 300 passengers daily. It features a full-service restaurant, a full bar, a cigar lounge, relaxation rooms, individual offices, bath facilities and its own security, passport control and duty-free areas. Passengers are driven directly to their departing flight by Mercedes-Benz or Porsche cars or vans.

Lufthansa First Class Terminal - Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)

Lufthansa First Class Terminal – Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)

Lufthansa First Class Terminal - Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)

Lufthansa First Class Terminal – Frankfurt, Germany (FRA)

This innovation set the standard for many first class airline lounges around the world today.

Arrival lounges

Flying across multiple time zones can be a daunting experience for the body. This is especially the case for transatlantic passengers going from North America to Europe, as most flights leave at night and arrive in the morning with at least a 5 hour time difference. To alleviate some of the stress from these flights, airlines started to build facilities after customs and immigration for premium passengers to enjoy a shower, pressing services, and breakfast before their work day.

British Airways Arrivals Lounge - London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5

British Airways Arrivals Lounge – London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5

Here are some of the arrivals lounges currently available worldwide:

SEE ALSO:  New United Club and United Global First Lounge to open at London Heathrow

Airline alliances

Up to the mid-1990s, lounge access was specific to one airline’s passengers and its limited number of partners. This changed when Star Alliance was formed on May 14, 1997. Founded by United Airlines (UA), Scandinavian Airlines System (SAS), Thai Airways International (TG), Air Canada (AC) and Lufthansa German Group (LH), the Star Alliance is a major partnership which included lounge access across the network for select passengers. Other alliances (oneworld (1999), SkyTeam (2000) and Etihad Equity Alliance (2015)) then followed into Star Alliance’s footsteps.

Airline lounges. Infographic created by Experience The Skies – March 23, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Airline lounges. Infographic created by Experience The Skies – March 23, 2015. All Rights Reserved.

As the largest airline partnership currently, Star Alliance elite members and premium passengers have access to over 1,000 airline lounges across 193 countries around the world.

Competition from third-party lounges

Plaza Premium, American Express and other third party operators have been working hard to create competition for traditional airport lounges by creating new spaces that offer new experiences for travelers (see this Experience The Skies news article on the partnership between American Express and Plaza Premium in Sydney, Australia)

American Express The Centurion Lounge - San Francisco, CA (SFO)

American Express The Centurion Lounge – San Francisco, CA (SFO)

Third party pay-in lounges typically boast an updated modern décor and offer amenities such as enhanced food, free spa treatments, meeting rooms and shower facilities. With a smaller footprint, they are able to provide a consistent look, feel and service that some of the traditional full service airlines cannot replicate very quickly.

Plaza Premium Lounge West Hall – Hong Kong (HKG)

Plaza Premium Lounge West Hall – Hong Kong (HKG)

Follow Experience The Skies for the latest on the aviation industry with a focus on route management, passenger experience and information technology.

SEE ALSO:  New United Club to open in Boston (BOS)

Featured image: British Airways Concorde Room – London Heathrow (LHR) Terminal 5

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