Just Because The Airline Lounge Is Classy, Doesn’t Mean The Customers Are

Air travel is a microcosm of society, with behaviors and cultural norms that span a wide spectrum. Since deregulation travel has become more affordable, and society has become wealthier. Low cost carriers have driven down airfares as well. It’s a small-d democratic experience.

And most airport lounges in the U.S. are open to anyone that can pay. That grew out of the civil rights era. Exclusive lounges might make entry decisions on impermissible grounds so the objective criteria of cash access was used instead. Passenger behavior in lounges can be atrocious.

But there are also more exclusive lounges, limited to business class passengers only, or first class passengers. However just because you’re flying business class doesn’t mean that you have class as this passenger in a United Airlines Polaris lounge shows:

Polaris lounges are United’s exclusive spaces. They’re large, stylish, with sit down dining and a strong cocktail game. Even the airline’s secret Global Services level passengers don’t gain access when they aren’t flying international business class, and business class passengers don’t gain access even on premium cross country routes. Those restrictions don’t ensure that the passengers live up to the standards of the lounges, however.

Everyday passenger behavior in lounges has gotten worse, from being draped over couches asleep (lounge couches aren’t nap rooms) to simply sticking bare feet up on the furniture. Would you do this at the home of an acquaintance – someone you know, but not well? Why do this in front of other passengers, and on furniture that doesn’t even belong to you? Even regular United Clubs don’t allow outside food, surely clubs can impose minimum standards like ‘no shirt, no shoes, no entry.’?

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Agree 100%. Nothing to add beyond stating that some people have few manners, and little respect for anyone (including themselves). Sad.

  2. We keep hoping something will change. As a frequent flyer and lounge member, I was appalled at this very same situation. I asked the staff if they would address the situation and the response was “you want us to say something?” Sad indeed.

  3. Turkish Airlines flagship lounge in Istanbul looked like a refugee camp last time I was there.

  4. Same for Etihad business class Lounge in Abu Dhabi- Total crap lounge and experience. Not what I was expecting flying an otherwise good J product.

  5. I’m still puzzled as to why lounges don’t start by at least making some basic rules (shoes and socks on, be respectful of others while on the phone, keep watch of your kids) more obvious. If they post these already, they’re definitely not obvious enough. It won’t fix the problem, but it might raise awareness as well as show that they’re making some effort.

    It’s getting to the point where the lounge is only better than the terminal for the free food and drinks.

  6. The airline clubs of the past were membership driven. I worked in one. Members we’re businesspersons, and wealthy clientele (checks or cash only). Those that could purchase a lifetime membership made out if their longevity did as well. The club I worked in had its share of celebrities, some held membership, and others got access via the BIG Hollywood travel agents’ escorts. We never tracked back then… how many people the escort had brought in during the day.

    There was a sense of entitlement with younger Hollywood actors, and celebrities. Old Hollywood were so kind – I’ve mentioned before that Bob Newhart as one of the nicest.

    When PA & TW went under, the other BIG U.S. carriers started flying international and we let the F & biz class passengers in complementary, and limited their guest(s)

    In this era… people started dressing down for comfort; feet went up on walls, and on furnishings. International flights had longer layovers and we started seeing guests in full nap mode – taking up a full couch for 4 people.

    Tax-Deductible membership accounts went away and the clubs adjusted to selling access to the CC companies. Just like theme parks sell passes overtime, so did the CC with access “membership” clubs. It’s the same principle as “Keeping up with the Joneses”.

    I could write an entire article about…
    The Children’s Playground – spinning chairs and odd shaped furniture kids loved to climb.
    The LOUD talkers.
    The DON’T notice me “I’m taking another lap around the club”
    The ziploc bags grabbing all the snacks – currently the SFO club has JellyBelly candies
    I’m here for the FREE alcohol crowds

    How many of us shoulda bought the last U.S. lifetime membership when CO was selling them just before the UA/CO merger?

  7. There’s a couple sayings in the Balkans for people like this:

    “The sandal became a shoe…”

    “You’ve got $5000 in your pocket and you think you’ve got God by the b*lls.”

  8. These people need to subscribe to the Groucho Marx philosophy on clubs and stay away.

  9. Heaven help us now that shoes without socks is more of a thing. Kick shoes off, yucky bare feet. Oddly, at the same time you see sandals with socks more often.

  10. It’s neither democratization nor government deregulation of the industry that has led to such feet on/over tables/sofas/chairs behavior in airline lounges. It’s people becoming more relaxed and less considerate than they used to be with regard to observation of traditional norms in public.

    The passenger in the photo has footwear, in the form of slippers, that she removed while in the lounge. Open-toe footwear is not prohibited in these airlines lounges. And of the airline lounge personnel who move about the lounges, they seem busy minding their own business, and it’s perhaps better that way then end up with yet more power-tripping types at airports.

  11. Agree – many people are slovenly and have no class or pride. Maybe they’ve been taught that, or they have no ability to in-person socialize thanks to social media, or simply have no discipline.

  12. My daughter and son-in-law were traveling from O’hare on Sunday, grateful for the United Club, as it was a bit of a refuge from the weather delay chaos on the concourse. As an airline brat, she still dresses up to fly, and expects people to behave with a little decorum.

    She texted me a couple times. Once to tell me about the guy who was talking loudly, on speaker, for an hour. Every time he was asked to be quiet, he claimed he didn’t speak English. I don’t care what language you speak, you know that’s unacceptable. The second was a picture of a woman with her bare feet up on the table. To say she was appalled would be an understatement.

    I simply don’t understand why people think they can behave like this.

  13. There was a time when people dressed for dinner. They dressed to travel. They dressed to go to the store. They felt that how you presented yourself in public was a reflection on who you are. Not any more. People don’t care anymore. They’re not raised to care. And, when you violate social norms, it’s everyone else’s problem for pointing it out to you.

    It’s going to get worse until it gets better.

    If the airlines don’t want this behavior in their clubs then they need to implement dress codes and standards of conduct. If you violate them, you should be politely asked to correct. If you refuse, you should be invited to leave…end of discussion. But this will never happen and I have accepted the fact that my standards are different than other people’s standards. That’s on them.

  14. Gary Leff: yes. EdSparks: yes. M. Casey: yes.

    Cindy Chiu: As a frequent holidaymaker to South Asia, both in resorts and in local villages, I am accustomed to simple sandals worn in high-class environments: even there, barefootedness and feet up on furniture and walls violates South Asian decency.

    You know me, I wear coat and tie (in soft, breathable natural fibers) in both cattle class and business class and in whatever lounge.

    I don’t have a simple solution; maybe some else does?

  15. Is the corollary to this “Just Because [Airline/Airline Facility] Is Not Classy, Doesn’t Mean The Customers Are”?

    Anyway, there are often suggestions about the low cost carriers having worse passenger behavior. And with regard to passenger behavior on LCCs — with regard to the limited exposure I’ve had to them — I can’t say I’ve notice that as much as I’ve noticed that there is just a decline in the general level of social competency out there and that it got worse and worse as the demand for internet-connected smartphones and social media took off.

    Remember back when the research was pointing out to how children’s exposure to TV (including cable TV) and music programming may be having adverse impact on their development and there was a chorus of people wanting to regulate/label and restrict entertainment programming to which kids may be exposed? Perhaps there is an argument to say that the exposure to the online rabbit holes of social media is far more damaging to adults and kids than “explicit” music lyrics and even violent video games which did but a tiny part in the general decline in social competency that is increasingly observable across the ages.

  16. The title says it all. I sat in LHR Admirals Club and watched a woman over a 30 minute period take and put AT LEAST 20 cans of Coca Cola and Coke Lite in a handbag and take back to her seat while her husband sat and read. Every other trip was with zip lock bags for perishables, baked goods, packaged snacks and candy being offered. I don’t know where they were headed but evidently there was famine there . . . not that her bag was at a temperature for safe food handling. To think those who have mental issues don’t buy airline tickets and do not have lounge privileges is naïve. While in LHR keep your carry-ons in sight at all times lest you find it full of drinks and food.

  17. Hmmm…. you really don’t have to go to an airline lounge to see this behavior any more, do you? Any decent public place has its fair share of people doing their best to imitate SF homeless in dress and conduct. I will not even start on their vile Hell-spawned brats.
    It would be easy as an older person to point the finger at younger folk, but honestly folk in my age group are guilty of thoughtless and self-absorbed behavior too.
    In 1996 — was it so long ago? — Justice Robert H. Bork penned a very prescient tome “Slouching Towards Gomorrah”. Upon my life, didn’t he have that right?
    Whilst I might fall victim of them at some point, I am not averse to dress codes that are known in advance and enforced. They would, IMO, prevent the worse loutishness.
    Honestly, in the US we have made our own bed. The lounge behavior @Gary describes would not have been tolerated in the HK of a few years ago, nor would it be in the Japan of today.

  18. Bork was not a justice of anything in 1996 or ever. However, by then he had already been Bill and Hillary Clinton’s law school professor

  19. We have a saying down south…old saying but still applies to many “wealthy” people: “You can take the trash out of the trailer, but you can’t take the trailer out of the trash.”

    Any more questions?

  20. I see it. Inconsiderate perople lying across couches, taking off their shoos (and socks) and occupying space for 2-3 people each, when the lounges are crowded and the whole place is looking like a refugee camp. However, I also understand if it is difficult for the staff. They of course also see the problem – but how should they address it appropriately, without pissing people off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *