United Club news: Melbourne and JFK closures; EWR upgrades

United is making waves this month. Shortly after announcing a price hike on United Club memberships, the airline unveiled its plan to consolidate all New York traffic at their Newark Liberty Airport hub (EWR), effectively terminating service to JFK. And, with no announcement besides a sign on the door, the United Club at Melbourne airport, Australia, closed its doors a few days ago.

Melbourne United Club closed permanently

Let’s face it, the United Club at Melbourne airport was an odd ball. United operates a single daily flight to Melbourne, which for years was the continuation of the flight from Los Angeles operated by a Boeing 747, until recently the airline launched a direct Los Angeles (LAX) to Melbourne (MEL) route operated by the new Boeing 787-9, an aircraft better suited to long and thin routes.

Even at Sydney airport, which sees significantly more traffic and premium customers, the United Club closed years ago. The demise of the United Club in Melbourne is therefore hardly a surprise.

That being said, there’s something a tad disconcerting about the timing and the process. The lounge was quietly removed from the list of United Club locations at united.com with no formal announcement whatsoever (besides a sign at the door.) And the closure happens to coincides with the United Club membership price hike — a move intended to support renewed investments in the lounge network. While the decision to close the Melbourne lounge is most certainly unrelated, and probably a matter of common sense in the grand scheme of things, it is likely to draw sarcasm.

Eligible passengers in Melbourne are invited to use the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge. The facility is small and likely to be busy at peak times, but relief may be on the horizon as Air New Zealand is refurbishing their worldwide lounge network.

New York traffic consolidation; Newark clubs to be refurbished

Today, United announced that in October, premium transcontinental service (“p.s.”) will move from New York JFK to their Newark Liberty Airport hub (EWR) The move basically stems from a slot swap between Delta and United, allowing Delta to increase the scope of their operations at JFK and United to consolidate at EWR. As part of this change, United will also redeploy Boeing 757 aircraft configured for international service to premium transcontinental service to San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX), and upgrade international service to Boeing 767 aircraft.

This pragmatic shift dramatically increases connection options at EWR and is likely to be well received by Europe-bound business travelers from the west coast, who will benefit from flat beds in business class all the way to their destination.

The silver lining, though, is that United is effectively pulling out of JFK. While there is something striking about one of the world’s largest airlines abandoning the largest airport of the most iconic American city, the reality is that United’s service out of JFK had been shrinking to the point that it hardly justified the cost of ground operations. The airline phased out international routes years ago, and domestic service had been stripped down to premium transcontinental routes to SFO and LAX.


United Club – New York JFK

For passengers out of New York, the shakeup is a mixed bag. Plenty of ink will be shed on whether JFK or Newark is worse — one thing is sure, neither airport is convenient or world class. However, the separate terminals at JFK, while terrible for transfers, do enable a pretty seamless check-in and security experience, at last for frequent travelers. Besides, United currently operates both a United Club and a Global First Lounge at JFK. The continued operation of the Global First lounge is notable — since the airline has no international service out of JFK, the lounge highlights the likely high number of Global Services customers (top spenders) in the New York area.

The Newark experience however isn’t as palatable, with longer security lines (although there is a new Global Services lobby), and crowded clubs. In today’s announcement, United also underscored their intent to refurbish the lounges. The announcement is vague, but “lounges” is plural, so we hope that it covers at least both the United Club at gate C120 and United Club by gate C74. The former has a solid set of amenities, including shower suites and a theater room, but it is overrun by crowds all day and the design has faded. As for the latter, suffice to say that it is rather dated and barebones. Incidentally, the United Club at Concourse A is a haven in comparison, and is United’s only lounge with showers serving exclusively regional traffic.


United Club – Newark Liberty airport, by gate 74 (EWR)

Both clubs in the C concourse would benefit from a complete makeover, and ideally an additional location would open to support the increased number of passengers. We hope that United will also choose to open a Global First lounge, space permitting.

Here is United’s announcement:

While at Newark Liberty, p.s. customers will have access to the New York area’s best airport experience. The company also announced today that it is making a multi-million dollar investment to renovate United’s Terminal C lobby and to bring its new airport lounge design concept to all United Club locations at Newark Liberty. United already has invested more than $2 billion to build a world-class gateway at Newark Liberty where, with its airport partners, the airline is offering chef-driven restaurants, redesigned lounge-like gate areas and improved United Club locations.

Featured image: United Club – New York/Newark, NJ (EWR) by gate C120

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