United announces new clubs at New Orleans and Raleigh-Durham, trials expanded food program

At United’s Polaris Lounge Los Angeles launch event, all eyes were on the airline’s posh new facilities for intercontinental business class passengers. But the management team also touched on some exciting upcoming United Club developments.

The United Club is United’s membership-based lounge product. Premier Gold customers also receive access when traveling internationally. We sat down with Alex Dorow, Director of Premium Services, to discuss how the airline is investing in the United Club experience.

New United Clubs to open at RDU and MSY

Two new locations will join the United Club network later this year. United is building lounges at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY.)

Despite a relatively significant presence at New Orleans airport, United currently does not offer any lounge options. The airport’s only lounge, a Delta Sky Club, is off-limits to United’s customers. The new 650,000 square foot North Terminal, currently under construction, will plug this gap: when the terminal opens late 2019, replacing Concourses A, B, and C, United will find a brand new United Club close to their departure gate.

Delta Sky Club New Orleans (MSY)

Delta Sky Club New Orleans (MSY)

There’s also good news for customers traveling from Raleigh-Durham airport. Capitalizing on the growth of the region—boardings at RDU grew by over 10% in 2018—United is finally building a lounge, which is scheduled to open late summer 2019. The airline is catching up with competitors American Airlines and Delta, who respectively operate an Admirals Club and a Delta Sky Club.

New United Clubs at FLL and LGA

Less dramatic but nevertheless notable improvements are taking place at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International (FLL) and New York’s LaGuardia (LGA) airports.

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

This week, a new United Club opened at Fort Lauderdale airport Terminal 1, replacing the temporary lounge with a new spacious and luminous space.

At LaGuardia, United is putting the final touches on a new United Club in the new Terminal B Eastern Concourse, next to the new Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge which opened in December 2018. United Club members and Star Alliance Gold passengers traveling internationally will have access to both lounges.

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge New York LaGuardia (LGA)

Air Canada Maple Leaf Lounge New York LaGuardia (LGA) – Image courtesy of Air Canada

Unlike the existing United Club, the new lounge will be located post-security, and will sport United’s latest design.

The current pre-security United Club at LaGuardia

The current pre-security United Club at LaGuardia

The blueprints of the club also include a full kitchen; which brings us to planned catering improvements.

United is experimenting with enhanced catering

Carrots and celery sticks—long staples of the United Club experience—bowed out circa 2015, in favor of a more generous spread featuring soups, salads, and the occasional protein. Clubs located at hub airports tend to boast more substantial offerings, with hot entrees at Chicago O’Hare, and full meals at London Heathrow.

Yet, the typical United Club offerings are still no substitute for a meal; and United lags behind Delta, who typically offers a more consistent and higher-quality selection at Sky Clubs.

In response, United has been conducting customer research in order to better understand expectations, and has quietly rolled out improvements at the United Club Los Angeles. The airline is monitoring customer feedback. Should the program be a success, it may be expanded to other clubs network-wide.

United Club Los Angeles

United Club Los Angeles

According to Alex Dorow, United’s Director of Premium Services, there are components of the food service at the United Club that customers want to retain, namely the indulgent brownies. Rest assured, they’re here to stay. But the rest of the menu is going through a complete overhaul according to a few key principles:

  • Local flavors. Dorow noted that travelers enjoy flavors inspired by their destinations. At LAX, this means breakfast tacos in the morning, as well as Asian-inspired spreads in the evenings, for example.
  • Healthier options, including lean protein, and a greater focus on dietary restrictions. Dorow called out egg whites and avocados as two ingredients that meet the criteria.
Avocado whip and salad ingredients at the United Club LAX

Avocado whip and salad ingredients at the United Club LAX

Salad and grains at the United Club LAX

Salad and grains at the United Club LAX

  • Customizable bowls. There’s no one-size-fits-all option, and frequent travelers may want to be able to mix and match to increase variety. At LAX, Dorow’s team has introduced a build-your-own miso soup station, with ingredients such as shredded chicken, tofu, udon noddles, mushrooms, diced jalapeno, and cilantro.
Make-your-own miso soup station at the United Club LAX

Make-your-own miso soup station at the United Club LAX

  • More elaborate flavors. Dorow noted that some passengers wanted a cheese spread with more character. Aged gouda will now be included.
Cheese spread at the United Club LAX

Cheese spread at the United Club LAX

If the program is a success, it will be first expanded to clubs that have kitchen facilities. In addition to LAX, that’s the case of the upcoming United Club LaGuardia—which will be a “really different experience” per Dorow—as well as locations near a Polaris Lounge. Unfortunately, there is no firm plan for other clubs at this stage. Building kitchens is expensive, and real estate is already at a premium at most lounges.

Dessert selection at the United Club LAX

Dessert selection at the United Club LAX

Bottom line

After focusing on the intercontinental business class ground services—over the last two years, United has opened Polaris Lounges in Chicago, San Francisco, Newark, Houston, and Los Angeles—United is turning its attention to the United Club experience for Club members and Premier Gold customers traveling internationally in economy.

SEE ALSO:  Turkish Airlines to open international lounges; first location in Moscow VKO

The airline will plug gaps in the network with two clubs to open at Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport (MSY) by the end of the year. Additionally, a permanent lounge has opened at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), and a new, larger club is under construction and New York’s LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in the new concourse.

Additionally, United is experimenting with catering enhancements, with an ongoing trial program at the United Club Los Angeles. The expanded food selection features local flavors, lean proteins, and build-your-own bowls, and an enhanced cheese spread.

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