Delta To Detroit Sky Club Members: Go Away

Space at an airport comes at a huge premium. American Express, for instance, would be in far more airports if they could have gained the space. Now there’s competition from Chase (with Airport Dimensions) and Capital One in addition to The Club (Airport Dimensions), Plaza Premium, and others.

The good news is that travelers will travel inside an airport to use lounges, so less marketable spaces can be turned into club lounges. Still, most airports are highly space-constrained. They’re expensive in terms of rent and the capital costs necessary to build out a lounge. So these spaces are always smaller than they ought to be to provide a peaceful experience.

Add in that when a lounge is nice, people will arrive earlier and spend more time there than you expect even knowing that people will arrive earlier and spend more time there. If there’s decent free food the problem compounds several-fold.

And travel is back. Leisure travelers arrive earlier at the airport than business travelers did. Clubs are full.

One lounge that’s gotten the most criticism lately is the American Airlines Admirals Club in Charlotte. Renovations to the main club have it closed, and those are largely for fire code and other changes will be modest. But that leaves the secondary club as the only club (though there are ‘service centers’ with drinks and takeaway snacks and reservations help) that have been set up. There are regularly lines to get into the only lounge, which defeats the purpose of lounge access. You’re waiting in line to get into a crowded space.

Of course United has lacked a proper club at its Newark hub for years since converting the main club space to a Polaris lounge. They have several spaces, including under construction, but New York-based flyers haven’t have good or enough space to relax or work at the airport for some time.

With travel’s return Delta is having trouble, too. Here’s the new Detroit A43 club – at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday. If there’s a time when a lounge should be empty it seems as though that would be it.

Contra American Airlines there are no lines to get in, just passengers being told to go away. This isn’t a one-off, they have a pre-made banneer to put out.

We are currently at capacity, but we look forward to welcoming you shortly.

American Express lounges have had the biggest problem with overcrowding, because the food has been decent (though less good than it was years ago – it’s expensive to feed all those travelers and it’s no surprise I haven’t seen beef in awhile). They’ve clamped down on access, no longer selling guest access to otherwise-ineligible cardholders, limiting guests, and moving further in that direction. But it hasn’t helped, and use continues to grow.

But Delta justified its Sky Club charges, which are higher than competitors, on the basis of the exclusivity that would provide. Higher charges, less demand, greater space for those with access. And Delta has even squeezed American Express to build lounges in its terminals and grant Centurion lounge access to premium Delta co-brands. It’s clearly not enough.

To borrow a phrase Delta has used in the past, when everyone has lounge access, nobody does.

Update: For those of you arguing that this Delta club is a special case, here’s the New York LaGuardia club at 2 p.m. on Monday, shared by a reader.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I like @Ken A’s idea. At $845/year, if I am denied entrance traveling alone or with one other person to a Sky Club, I should be refunded $50 of the annual membership fee, or have the membership extended by a month. Traveling in a group of more than two could be excluded from this refund policy due to the vagaries of planning for how many members travel with families or guests.

    $845 is real money and I fail to see why that’s not enough money to guarantee space for one person to enter any club they like whenever it’s open for business.

  2. Dirk: uh, what!!??

    Jon: dream on. They have you where they want you. They’re not giving an inch…..

  3. Dumb question, but does anyone have any kind of integration between club capacity status and their app? I know I would become more frustrated or upset to find a line (or closure) after I’ve walked out of my way across the airport.

  4. Back in the 80s, and perhaps still, fitness clubs did this… they sold access to the clubs for a flat annual or monthly fee, then turned away members who actually tried to use the clubs. Several chains lost or settled court cases, and things improved a bit.

    Perhaps it will take court cases to force lounge providers to stop overselling access.

  5. I saw this article a little while ago. As I am standing in line to get in to the B club at ATL I figured I would comment. I have now seen the B club at capacity with a line for at least the last few weeks. It is one of the largest clubs in Atlanta and the only one in the B terminal. I have also seen the “capacity” sign in place outside the Salt Lake club ready to be deployed. Which is a huge club. I don’t really thing the updates they made to the rules are going to really make much of any difference.

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