I recently saw a photo cross my Facebook stream of a soda machine in the American Airlines Admirals Club in St. Louis and it somehow struck me. That was new. Pretty minor, but new.
That small change anchored a sense that something was up, along with American opening a new lounge in Buenos Aires which looked pretty good.
American also just opened another lounge at LAX, of all places in the midfield terminal used for regional flights. That’s something which would sure make waiting over there more pleasant, as it’s pretty barren otherwise.
I spoke with Mimi Chen from American’s Premium Services to understand what was going on.
I wanted to know about the soda machines. She explained that as they refurbish clubs, one idea is giving customers more control over food and beverage and also relieving congestion at the bar. They don’t want people to have to wait for refreshments.
The new LAX club has one. It’s part of their new overall standard palette, and the LAX club features their overall new club ‘look and feel’ that’s intended to be a “modern fresh environment, warm and comfortable.”
And, of course, the new LAX club has a soda machine. And it’s self-serve, away from the nice-looking bar.
This club is small – just 2400 square feet – but you don’t need a large club for the remote terminal, they weren’t working with much space, and it’s a real improvement over what was on offer before.
The new design palette isn’t sweeping the clubs all at once, it’s simply a matter of rolling renovations getting new touches and improvements. I’m told that there’s nothing planned for Austin now, so the putting green there is safe.
They’ve closed the US Airways Club at Washington National airport that’s shared with American. They’ve consolidated down to a single club on that pier, and are evaluating what to do with the US Airways club space. I’ve heard lots of folks say that they’re going to tear down the wall between the clubs and simply expand, but apparently a decision on that hasn’t been made.
(Washington National isn’t the only place they’re consolidating clubs, they also did that in Raleigh in June as well – where like at DCA the surviving club was the American lounge.)
We don’t know what the final product alignment is going to be between US Airways and American, they haven’t announced those details, but there are at least already more complimentary snacks in the American clubs than there used to be. (US Airways always had less complimentary food in the air but more on the ground, oddly enough.)
When I’ve visited the DCA club, since the US Airways Club closed, I haven’t noticed it visibly crowder (which surprises me). There’s a legacy US Airways agent as one of the three working the front desk, and she (it’s always been a woman when I’ve been in) works on a US Airways terminal while the other two agents work on American terminals.
The DC club is a pretty tight-knit group, and I really like them. Of course I love the design, amenities and food of the American Express Centurion lounges, whether the Dallas Fort-Worth lounge or the brand new New York LaGuardia club which opens this month.
But the one thing American Express lounges can’t really provide, that US airline clubs usually do*, is help with airline-specific reservations issues. If you book your trips with American Express Travel, the Centurion clubs can help. But if you simply have an American ticket, American agents are who you need to deal with for help with upgrades or during irregular operations or if you want to switch flights.
The ladies at the DCA Admirals Club have always been fantastic. I check in with them, and they proactively look at my flights — they let me know whether the inbound aircraft has arrived, whether I’m likely to have any trouble with a connection, or if I arrive especially early whether I might be able to get on an earlier flight. I’ve often gotten out earlier, made my destination when I wouldn’t have otherwise, `and even done so while getting upgraded thanks to the magic they work.
And they’re like family. My favorite bartender is Johne, who makes a truly outstanding bloody mary. It’s complimentary, though I’ll sometimes substitute better alcohol with a drink coupon I get when I access the lounge using my British Airways status (normally I use the BA Silver card for drink coupons just to pick up free bottled water before the flight).
One of the other bartenders was stricken with cancer and has been on leave. Folks organized a bake sale to raise money for him while he’s off of work. I don’t need the baked goods, but several customers organized to just donate money to help him. Because it’s family. They take care of us while we’re on the road, and we try to take care of them right back.
Another ‘new’ club is in San Diego, where the former Admirals Clu is now a pay-in Airspace lounge but that offers complimentary access to Admirals Club members (same access policy as an Admirals Club). The Admirals Club name is on the door. (As an Airspace lounge, it’s an Admirals Club you can still access with an American Express Platinum card, heh.)
They’ve got a lot of ideas, but I don’t expect to see a bunch of new locations or new amenities outside of the process of finalizing standards between the American and US Airways Clubs at least until the two airlines combine. Ms. Chen, like virtually everyone else at American I speak to, repeated the mantra “integrate before we innovate.” That’s the line across the company for almost any topic right now.
Ultimately I love the top-end amenities that some foreign airlines offer in lounges. It’s hard to beat Thai spa treatments prior to a long haul departure. But if you’ve ever tried to get help with a reservation, even a seat assignment, in the Thai Airways first class lounge in Bangkok you’ll know that the basics can be just as important. The American Airlines lounges aren’t the height of luxury, but their clean, comfortable, provisioned places to wait for your flight and get any reservations help you need along the way.
* I’ve been told in Alaska Airlines lounges that they cannot help with reservations — they’re management employees, and they tell me either to use the kiosk or go see a reservations agent because union contracts only allow those agents to work on reservations. Not all United club agents are equally helpful with reservations either ::Dulles: ::cough:: ::Dulles::