Special Ground Assistance at the Airport – for Famous People and Anyone With a Credit Card

Scott Mayerowitz runs an Associated Press story on airport VIP service.

Now, with the masses clogging up special security and boarding lanes, true VIPs are saying: Get me away from this chaos. And the airlines are listening.

.. airlines are focusing on easing the misery of airports for their highest-paying customers and giving them a truly elite experience.

At a growing number of airports, special agents will meet these celebrities, high-powered executives and wealthy vacationers at the curb and will privately escort them from check-in to security to boarding.

US carriers don’t rival the sorts of ground services provided by Lufthansa’s First Class Terminal, by Thai in Bangkok, or available for purchase in places like Singapore.

    Thai VIP services buggy

    Driving through Singapore Changi in a JetQuay buggy

But they do offer it.

American offers Flagship Check-in to its Concierge Key and three-cabin first class customers in Los Angeles and Miami. That provides a dedicated check-in area while cutting the line to security. (There’s Flagship Check-in in London as well, open to business and first class passengers and Executive Platinums, but it’s really just a separate check-in counter outside the front of Terminal 3 that doesn’t do much.)

In Miami, I think, this would be a great benefit — the security lines there can be truly horrendous, even as a first class passenger, and I’ve found PreCheck to be open only intermittently on my visits. Too bad that as a British Airways Gold member I do not get access to Flagship check-in, though I do get access to the Flagship Lounges (at JFK, Chicago, and Los Angeles even on a purely domestic itinerary and in London based also on my American status). Of course, American’s Concierge Key members — something I will likely never be — get Flagship check-in access but not Flagship lounge access. So until my BA Gold status expires in a year I’ve got the better end of that bargain I think.

For actual hand holding through the entire airport process, American offers the most formal program that anyone can purchase. I’ve seen American Idol’s Randy Jackson use it (and Billy Crystal not know about it). But it’s hardly a secret, and there’s no special password other than a working credit card.

What I didn’t know is that Delta offers a similar service for sale:

Delta’s VIP Select, only available through the airline’s corporate sales department or travel agents in the know, costs $125 for the first person, $75 for the second and $125 for each additional person, regardless of age. These fees are in addition to the price of a ticket.

Not surprising, since Delta already offers some of the most over the top special services for high value customers, with the occasional Porsche planeside meet and greet in Atlanta.

Here’s Lufthansa’s car service in Frankfurt.. nothing like driving behind a 747!

United, in contrast, ‘won’t talk about the fight club’:

United Airlines has a program but limits it to VIPs. Spokesman Rahsaan Johnson refused to detail it, saying “the individuals who enjoy the service we are providing understand what it is.”

Airlines do generally offer special services, not publicly for sale, for celebrities and politicians. Sometimes this is referred to as VIP or special services, other times ‘protocol’. There are designated waiting rooms, sometimes off to the side inside of lounges and other times separate from them. They’re a big deal in my home market of DC, as they no doubt are in Los Angeles.

Back in 2002 when US Airways filed bankruptcy (for the first time in the previous decade) their management layoffs included the two ‘special services’ VIP staff at Washington’s National airport. The late Senator Ted Kennedy, then a frequent beneficiary of the service (for the DC-Boston Shuttle), intervened by ringing up the President of the airline to make sure they kept the special accommodation. (Kennedy at the time claimed his intervention wasn’t about his own personal benefit, but was to “save jobs” — the two jobs, of course, that provided him personal assistance at the airport!)

Personally I’m grateful just for the expedited service that comes with status, though I’d pay for the hand holding if my elderly grandparents were in a position to travel again (their last flight was in 2005, and my grandfather is nearly 93). And I’ll much enjoy those opportunities to experience real over the top ground handling such as driving on a golf cart through the business class lounge to get to the first class lounge in Bangkok!

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 »

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  1. Anyone know of a good service @ LHR for passengers on BA? Their wheelchair service (I am disabled) is abominable. I would happily pay for someone to protect me from them!!!!!

  2. Quick question. If you book an AAdvantage and fly in F in CX, can you use Flagship Check-in at LAX?

  3. @John K – if you were flying Cathay Pacific from LAX you would not want to check in at the American Airlines terminal.

    However if you are flying Cathay Pacific first class from San Francisco, and flying AMerican Los Angeles – San Francisco on American, then yes.


    “You may benefit from our exclusive Flagship Check-in service if you are:

    …Traveling First Class onboard an international American or select oneworld alliance® carrier* anywhere in your outbound itinerary

    …*Eligible oneworld alliance carriers include, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines and Qantas. “

  4. @Gary – Okay, so according to the T&C, you can use the Flagship check in at LAX when flying F on Cathay pacific, but you said “you would not want to”… meaning, is there a similar service for Cathay Pacific at LAX that is better than the flagship checkin?

    I have a F flight on CX from LAX – HKG in June, is why I’m asking. As always, thanks for the loads of info!!

  5. @John K you are going to get boarding passes from Cathay Pacific and check bags in if any with Cathay Pacific at the terminal that houses Cathay Pacific. American isn’t going to accept baggage for Cathay’s flight (they would if their flight was first in your itinerary). And they probably won’t be able to check you in. Plus even if they could you would check in curbside and then still ahve to go to a different terminal. 🙂 Sorry for not being clear!

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