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.
Speaking of clt. Paying full price for an Admirals Club membership- parts of the benefits pic.twitter.com/JvWJJvoRXV
— VeritableQuandary (@veritableqndary) April 26, 2022
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.
[…] But a lounge isn’t useful if it’s too crowded, and with travel rebounding lounges are crowded. Some lounges handle that with a line to get in – so members stand in the terminal waiting to enter a space with little room and no tranquility. Delta just rolls out a sign that says they’re full, go away. […]