Yesterday tommy777 went on an epic rant about US airline lounges and American’s clubs in particular.
There’s no question that US airline lounges do not compare to their Asian counterparts. I’d disagree that European lounges in general are superior. I’ve been to too many contract lounges, shared lounges, and even some airline operated lounges in Europe that are awful. I’ll never forget the now-closed Boticelli lounge (Alitalia) in Milan where they gave you shower shoes because the drains were clogged. They didn’t have hot water, either. Or enough seating. And there were lines 20+ deep to get a coffee. Many South American lounges are equally bad.
Nonetheless, it’s 100% true that American has offered the least free food. I don’t mind paid food options when those options are good, unfortunately they vary a lot from lounge to lounge. American generally doesn’t enforce a rule of no outside food or drink, so I’ll bring in Tortas Frontera at O’Hare and sometimes a Starbucks. Not free, but far better than anything offered for free elsewhere.
All fair and good criticisms.
But there’s one misconception worth correcting. He writes,
And ironically, the NA Carriers clubs are the only clubs you have to PAY to be a member for the trash they are offering.
In fact, it’s not just North American airlines charging for lounge access. Qantas, Air New Zealand, and Virgin Australia do too.
In the US, though, airlines charge for membership for historical reasons.
In 1974 the US government ordered that airlines either:
- make clubs available to everyone
- make clubs available to everyone flying a particular class of service, or
- make clubs available to everyone who pays.
Last year I had a longer discussion of how lounges used to be, and why we now pay.
Paid memberships were a way of ensuring compliance with non-discrimination rules coming out of the civil rights era. Anyone who could pay – regardless of race – could access the lounges.
Once the airlines had a revenue stream associated with the lounges it became difficult to walk away from that. The lounge network starts looking like a separate business unit, with its own profit and loss calculation.
Granted, American no longer structures it that way, a change made during its bankruptcy. And Delta among US airlines has done the most to make new investments in its clubs (and increase fees, and cut down on credit card-based access).
It’s not ironic at all that US airlines charge for lounge access, it’s based on particular US history — of civil rights law and the regulated era. And it follows logically that offerings would be limited compared to other regions given that model as well.