The new American Airlines Admirals Club on the E concourse at Washington’s National airport is absolutely stunning. I enjoy the design elements there more than any other lounge in the United States.
There are windows overlooking both airport operations and the terminal itself and there’s plenty of seating. But most of all its the subtle detail, from tables drawing inspiration from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, to lampshades drawing inspiration from the Capitol Dome, to tables inspired by a jet engine and carpeting that mirrors the view of the ground below as seen out of the window of a plane at 30,000 feet, more thoughtful detail has gone into this lounge than any I can think.
Perhaps the only airport space I prefer in design is the Qatar Airways al Safwa lounge in Doha which literally has nearly thousand year old items on loan from the Museum of Islamic Art.
At the new club at Washington National airport, even the serving dishes are thoughtfully designed such that they make the usual Admirals Club fare look downright appealing.
All of this is readily apparent to guests who visit the space. The new club draws many passengers who are leaving from the C and D concourses, even though both of those have their own Admirals Clubs. It’s a convenient easy walk, and this creates a huge opportunity to renovate those clubs since there’s now a plethora of space to close one of those pre-existing clubs at a time. I don’t expect that soon.
One thing that most people miss when visiting the Admirals Club on the E concourse at Washington National, though, is the VIP Room. It’s tucked right behind the checkin desk on the right as you get off the elevator.
This space is unique among clubs, built because the airport sees a large number of Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, heads of Executive Branch agencies, as well as visiting dignitaries from abroad. You and I aren’t be invited in (usually).
The space is “inspired by the Library of Congress” and features a table, couch, and a bookshelf of books designed to look so old their spines have worn off all of their identifying marks. Above the couch is a black mirror. When American announced the space they described the purpose of the mirror being to “draw[..] the eye up to only reflect back down an image of self.” The favorite image of almost anyone who will be sitting there!
And perhaps the ultimate VIP perk, the room features its own bathroom.
Special services for VIPs has a long tradition at the airport. Two decades ago, when US Airways was going through bankruptcy and furloughing employees, the late Senator Ted Kennedy interceded to ‘save the jobs’ of the special services staff who took care of him at the airport. He didn’t want the dominant carrier there to stop offering special treatment.
The DC airports used to be managed by the federal government. One of the major stumbling blocks transferring control to a regional airport authority in 1987 was that Senators and Representatives did not want to give up their close-in free parking at the airport, so that was something the new airport authority committed to retain. (This parking lot was temporarily closed for the airport’s ongoing construction in mid-2017, with those eligible receiving free parking in regular garages in the interim.)
While LAX sees celebrities, DCA sees people who are ‘famous for DC’ (DC is known as ‘Hollywood for Ugly People’.) And they have their designated place in the American Airlines Admirals Club on the E concourse of the airport.