Lounge Access Rules and First Class Meals are Too Complicated

Adam Carolla flies American in first class, Los Angeles to Washington DC.

He’s turned away from the Admirals Club. He makes a reasonable case that — like Alaska Airlines does — paid first class travel ought to access the lounge.

Certainly lounge access policies are confusing. I see passengers all the time who don’t even look like they’re trying to scam access get turned away because they don’t understand the rules. And got a question today from an international first class passenger asking if she gets lounge access. It has to be that the airlines are doing something wrong, not the customers, at that point. (Many foreign carriers print useless ‘lounge invitation’ cards to let customers know they get access.)

I once stood in front of Billy Crystal in line to access the club at LAX. The line was several people deep, and he asks his handler “isn’t there a way to avoid this?” It seems like American is failing if Billy Crystal’s man doesn’t know about Five Star service.

Carolla suggests first class meals should consist of only food that actually exists on the ground. If no one would want it on the ground, they don’t want it on the air. Don’t offer a leek omelette.

One of his guests explains that airline food is often “the dream of something fancy by someone who’s never had food before and never been in first class.”

Lower expectations and do a better job. That’s something US airlines should probably do. Although many international airlines actually do seem to do a pretty good job with food

Definitely an audio track ‘not safe for work’.

(HT: Fly and Dine)

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. Many foreign carriers print useless ‘lounge invitation’ cards to let customers know they get access.)
    I actually think it is a nice idea

  2. Carolla’s expectations are totally unrealistic. He may have a few nuggets of useful feedback, but it’s wrapped up in so much pie-in-the-sky lunacy. If he knows that HE is so demanding, why don’t his people spring for Five Star Service?

  3. I was half-listening to his rant and nodding along.

    Then he got to his fat teenage diver analogy. Aaaaand I lost it.

    Thanks for sharing, Gary.

  4. What airline serves a leek omelette? If executed properly, that’s far, far better than the tasteless, oversalted, overcheesed omelettes airlines typically serve, who can only be found in a Sysco-run cafeteria in the ground.

    A leek omelette sounds like something you would find in a real restaurant on the ground … yum!

    Uhm, what was the point exactly?

  5. I don’t understand what is so hard about this:

    First and Business Class customers who do not hold Emerald or Sapphire tier status are not eligible to access American Airlines or US Airways lounges when travelling on solely domestic flights within the U.S. or between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico [except Mexico City], the Bahamas, Bermuda and the Caribbean; customers travelling in First or Business class on U.S. transcontinental flights between JFK-LAX, JFK-SFO and MIA-LAX (and vice-versa) are eligible for lounge access.

    It may be wordy, but it’s pretty self explanitory.

  6. Honestly, domestic US airline lounges are god awful. You pay a lot of money and get very little in return… er, you get the opportunity to pay even more in the lounge. No foreign carrier to my knowledge does that.

    It’s so bad that if you fly JAL in J out of ORD, they give you “premium” drink and “light meal” chits. I actually didn’t know that. Got to the lounge, looked at my dad, and said “gonna go grab some mickey d’s before the flight.”

    I get back, thumb through my stuff, and find a “free light entree.” FML.

  7. That leek omelette he speaks of is a Virgin America creation. Which is the most over-rated airline when it comes to soft product.

  8. Agree with Bill, post #1. If American had printed me a “useless” lounge invitation a couple months ago when I was flying through JFK on a same-day first class international oneworld flight, then I wouldn’t have had to spend about 20 minutes and a couple phone calls with a supervisor fighting my way into the stupid flagship lounge.

  9. If Adam’s disappointed that he has no idea whether he gets lounge access, I’d like to be there to witness his disappointment when he finally enters the lounge and observes the offerings. The idea that paid F should get lounge access, even domestically, is spot on in my book though. It does simplify things and most people flying paid F are probably doing a it to buy comfort and convenience. It should be part of the product. And this is coming from someone who has flown one paid F and one paid J ticket in his life.

    I’m almost ashamed to admit, but I keep a lounge membership (via Citi Exec) because it’s a clean place to change a diaper and the best place to get service. I can’t tell you the last time I even bothered to look at the snacks and drinks.

  10. I completely agree with Dan and the article itself.

    I fly a lot internationally and on domestic routes in various countries.

    The so called “lounges” are really “clubs” in the US. If you are not a paid up member of the club then it can be hit or miss if you get in. I’ve often accessed the Delta clubs because I often fly with them. Irrespective of my class of ticket they only let me in if I have an international business class leg of my journey that day.

    Having said all that, these lounges are appalling compared the standards set internationally. Many a time I enter a US lounge and it is jam packed, sometimes standing room only. Refreshment offerings are pathetic which means that if you have a long wait for your connection you might as well go into the terminal and buy your lunch. Also charging for drinks! What is that all about.

    US carriers should stop selling passengers short and take a leaf out of the book of their international rivals. Go to an Emirates, Virgin or BA lounge and you’ll see how it should be done.

  11. Agree that US lounges are quite rubbish. We were at DFW Amex’s Centurion lounge last week. Had high hopes given the positive reviews and some proclaiming it to be the “best lounge in the US” (or similar).

    It’s fine – has enough plugs for electronics, has the “spa”, has seating. Food was ok. Drinks seem to require additional attention…asked for Malibu…”sorry don’t have any”. Asked for a Mint Julep…”sorry, don’t have any Mint”. Asked for 18 year single malt whiskey…”sorry, we have 12 year old or Johnny Walker Blue”.

    The shower was temperamental – too hot then cold then too hot…supposedly they have been trying to get it fixed for weeks…obviously without success and without advising their guests they may get scalded!

    More importantly than the physical/material side of things (which can be improved/added/bought) are the personnel. Felt like we were in some average restaurant with the staff talking loudly to one another (arguing about who’s turn it was to clear the plates), rushing around. The bar staff were inexperienced. And they expected a tip. The level of service / decorum was absent and definitely not in keeping with the status of the lounge being promoted.

    A visit to any Asian (or the big 3 Middle Eastern) lounges would put the US/North American lounges to shame.

  12. I would expect something different, created with a twist like many nice restaurants on the grounds do, in a (real) first-class meal, such as a leek omelette. Domino’s in first class? no, thanks. That’s for business class. Of course, for domestic US flights I expect 0 for even first class.

  13. Went through this (not being allowed lounge access) a month back while flying back from India on an international business class award ticket. Routing was BOM-FRA-ORD-SFO.

    Tried accessing the United Club at ORD (had a 8 hour layover before my final ORD-SFO, which was booked in First), was told I cannot use the lounge since (a) I’m not a club member and (b) I don’t have an international outbound segment from ORD. I’ve flown a fair deal of award flights now, where I’ve had no trouble accessing lounges on domestic legs by showing my first class boarding pass (and international business class boarding passes).

    Luckily, had a club pass handy (have a MileagePlus Explorer card), so was able to actually go in and use the lounge, but it seemed unfair, so I wrote to Lufthansa and United. Lufthansa said since it’s a United Club, they couldn’t do much, but noted my complaint, and United themselves quoted their lounge access rules:

    “When traveling in First or Business class, whether on a paid ticket or on award travel, you only have access to a United Club or Star Alliance Lounge in conjunction with your outbound international flight. If traveling domestically, First or Business class tickets do not gain you access to the clubs. The only way that one can access a club on domestic flights is to be a member or to use a One Time Pass.

    Since you were trying to access the club on your domestic portion of your travel is why they did not allow access and you had to use your pass. Since they were following the policy we will not be reimbursing you for the One Time Pass that you had to use to enter the club.

    Whenever possible, we try to accommodate our customers’ requests and are sorry that we cannot do so in this instance. We value your business and look forward to serving you in the future.”


    Ben Farrell

    MileagePlus® Service Director

    I’m sure rules were followed, but it is rather disappointing to not be allowed lounge access when you are trying to use it on an inbound segment (I can’t say I’m missing out on much, a lot of United Clubs aren’t really world-class lounges anyways), but for what it’s worth, probably something to keep in mind for future travel.

    Would be interesting to see if others have been through this as well.

  14. Nash D — I had the same problem on a PVD-ORD-LAX-SYD trip. Told the desk I was international first class to SYD and she did let me in.

    Lounges in the USA are like being at McDonalds! LH, BA, and Asiana lounges for F and B are so much nicer, cleaner and offer much more. LAX US lounge does not even have a shower on my SYD-LAX-PLH. Why? Did they not think a 20 hr flight with a 8 hr layover for a red eye out I would not need one?

    LH lounges offer food Food FOOD! Peanuts, chips and cookies are not food US and United!

Comments are closed.