The Pandemic Is Over: Unhygienic Self-Serve Buffets Back In Delta Lounges

At the start of the pandemic airlines closed their club lounges as passenger numbers plummeted. With traveling returning lounges have been re-opening, and Delta has re-opened clubs more quickly than its major competitors. They’ve also done more to bring back food. In fact Delta replaced pre-packaged last month in some clubs with buffet service. Last month I noted Detroit where an employee was plating food off the buffet for passengers.

Well, the employee is now gone and Delta has returned to self-service petri dish buffets in Detroit. In the U.S. Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths are down markedly. Some of that comes from vaccination, some from seasonality, and some from widespread natural immunity from prior infection. Even as variants spread, the chances of picking up Covid-19 in the United States is lower than it’s been since the start of the pandemic.

So we have an opportunity to return to normal, where we’re merely exposed to the regular germs of other passengers, like at the O’Hare Sky Club when it was shut down by health inspectors.

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, 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. Fine with me. Let’s not all turn into hysterical germophobes. These buffets were fine in January 2020, and no reason they’re not ok now.

  2. Waiting for airlines to now end food service in clubs, quoting travel blogger criticism.

  3. The LAX Sky Clubs still had employees serving all food and drinks as of yesterday when I flew out. I look forward to being able to serve myself again

  4. The pandemic is not over! Better but not over. Not yet epidemic or endemic.

    Acting like the pandemic is over when it’s not will prolong it. Doesn’t mean to worry but to act responsibly.

  5. Follow the dollars. Extra employees at a SkyClub costs more, so they will say it isn’t a health risk to have self-service. Now, on most US business class flights they only serve snack boxes in most business in order to “reduce contact with passengers for safety reasons”, or basically cause it’s cheaper. Let’s face it, Delta is not doing any of these changes for health reasons, if not for profit.

  6. It’s not hygenically worse than it was pre-pandemic. And the science (per the CDC) appears to show that transmission of COVID on surfaces or other than face to face contact is minimal to non-existent. See, See also, Indeed, using “deep cleaning” to prevent COVID spread is another instance of kabuki theater at airports and other public places (like asking for ID when entering an office building).

    I don’t worry about getting COVID from the buffet snack in the Sky Club at DTW. It is about like worrying about getting hit by chunks of blue ice falling from aircraft flying overhead — possible, but highly improbable. I worry far more about getting food-borne illness from any buffet.

  7. A week ago AA Clubs I visited at RDU, CLT, and ATL returned to normal self service. My main concern would be not the buffet-style food but rather weakened immune response of most population after not leaving a basement for a year.
    Now, you go to a an airport, buffet, restroom, or just through an elevator and you touch many surfaces. You are fully vaccinated but you still have to wear a mask. You touch and adjust your mask on your face multiple time to get all that bacteria directly onto your face. You may as well just lick all the surfaces you touch with your hands – the results would be about the same – and licking the door handles in public restrooms is never a good idea. This is likely why several of my colleagues got stomach flu or something like this after last week travel. One still has fever for 5 days in a row and the poor guy did not leave his bathroom for 3 days…(But he did not visit any airline clubs).

  8. Clubs are no less hygienic now than pre-pandemic, and the science says there is low to no risk of getting COVID from surfaces such as buffets. See,, and

    I worry about as much about getting COVID from the buffet at the Sky Club at DTW as I do about being hit by a chunk of blue ice falling from an aircraft — statistically possible but of miniscule probability. Indeed, there is science to support the proposition that spending on “deep cleaning” is a waste of resources. It is another instance of airport kabuki theater.

    If I worry at all about getting disease from airport lounge buffets (or any other buffet) — it is far more about food-borne illness and things sitting out long past their maximum exposure time.

  9. The AA clubs I’ve been at PHX and PHL have had prepackaged food and service but no buffets and I am good with that. I like to cruise a lot and avoid the buffets on the ship except when necessary (it’s vacation, bring me my breakfast, I don’t want to have to go get it). That being said, I will continue to order off the menu and avoid self service situation going forward. The cruiselines are already going to the “we will serve you” format in the buffets and think it will eventually become a trend.

    Unfortunately, DL again acts like the pandemic didn’t happen and follows theory and not science (AKA, blocked middle seats did nothing). SkyClubs continue to be second rate and expensive, but now you get the free bonus of a virus or bug with you day pass. . .Fun!

  10. Wife and I (both fully vaccinated) flew Delta LGA-ATL on June 4. Buffet in LGA (Sky Club-Terminal D) was terrific…and we’re both still healthy.

  11. It’s time to just let it be. It’s called Darwinism. The educated survive the dumb ones get sick, recover or die and the species is better off.

  12. Super. Have 4 trips planned in July. Back to back using the clubs in Detroit, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Centurion in Vegas. About time!

  13. The pandemic is not over. What an idiotic thing to try to proclaim, but then again you have been minimizing the situation since it started. The Delta variant which is way more contagious is spreading across the US. It went from 1% of all US cases last month to now 6% of all US cases. You understand that the UK just hit their highest new case count since February because of this covid variant right? You know the UK where they have a higher vaccination rate than the US? Explain to us how that means the pandemic is over? Give it several weeks and we will be see cases surging especially in the states with lower vaccination rates.

  14. This is a good step forward. We are AA flyers, so hope that they follow suit quickly, especially wne FL re-open.

    Let the germs that kept our immune systems from atrophying (those who were not abusing Purell, anyway), return!


  15. Corona viruses are largely not spread by contact or via the GI system but, one year ago, we had massive shortages of toilet paper and surface cleaners because US public health leaders either didn’t know what had been created since covid-19 doesn’t act like other corona viruses and/or to hide their culpability in the creation of covid19.
    Buffets are just like everything else health related – if people aren’t comfortable using them, they are free not to partake just as some people will choose not to get either the flu or covid 19 vaccine but will wear a mask – and others will do none of it.

  16. Being in a sterile environment is actually bad for you if you have a normally functioning immune system. It needs something to do, otherwise it starts to turn on you. Let your kids play in the dirt. Feed them peanut butter when they are little. There’s a reason peanut allergies are virtually unknown in Israel – Bamba is routinely given to toddlers and small children. I’ve been immunized, I have nothing to fear from a lounge buffet as long as it’s cleaned properly everyday and maintained during the day.

  17. Flew AA First yesterday, DFW-SFO, dinner flight. “Catering never made it to the airplane”. No snacks. Nothing. Barely enough water per pax for 3.5 hr trip. Crazy times.

  18. I was in the Detroit Sky Club last week and found it to operate exactly as you pictured it:

    SERVED by Sky Club employees.

    Same story in the Austin Sky Club.

  19. We have flown 4 times since March and have experienced the SkyClubs in ATL (4 times), HNL (once), LGA (once), and DTW (once). I appreciated the individually packaged food in ATL, HNL, and LGA and the “concierge” service in DTW. But what we really liked best was that the quality of the food improved tremendously. It went from an average of 5-6/10 in all these places to 8-9/10. So if they are going back to petri dish service, I hope they don’t also go back to high school cafeteria style food. During the pandemic I went out of my way to compliment the quality of food in SkyClubs – seeking out the Club manager when I was there or sending in praise on Quite honestly, some of the offerings at that time rivaled Centurion Lounge food. Please don’t bring back the “sucky” food.

  20. Don
    The growth of credit card run lounges will have a big impact on airline lounges. I don’t think a lot of the airline lounges that exist today will make it at the prices that airlines charge (even as part of elite benefits). There is also an interesting dynamic of airlines and their credit card partners now competing for the same business although I am sure they will try to tell us that they have their own niches.

  21. @Alan

    Most of those 600,000 dead (“with” COVID-19) were already old/infirmed or overweight/obese. You can’t tell people to stay young, but you can tell them to lose weight. You can also tell them not to stay in unventilated places with people who might shedding the virus. If you can’t be bothered to take those two very simple actions (or you’re stuck in nursing home a Democratic governor ordered to be bombed with sick folx), maybe you don’t really care that much about staying healthy and alive.

  22. Good for Delta! There are enough people flying now to open the lounges. I just wish UA would follow them in opening more of their clubs, especially in EWR where they have a direct flight to Athens. UA has several Polaris flights to Europe, so it is time to open Polaris Clubs, too.

  23. a disposable foodservice glove requirement would eliminate what you call unhygienic. One glove on the hand you are touching the tongs with would work and those are cheap. I am ready for real food in the lounges or I will be cancelling a credit card or two, it is the main benefit we use on our higher-end cards. The lounges need to open up and stay open normal hours (Wing Tips at St Louis closed at 7 pm the other night with a full airport. It makes no sense and serving two or three dirt-cheap items does not make good business sense, cause who wants it? What makes that special? If I still have to go spend $30 in the terminal to get a meal, what use is the lounge to me?

  24. Pandemic is over where vaccination rates are high…rising cases week over week in majority red states who let their freedums get in the way of common sense.

    Let Darwinism take its toll baby…

  25. @Amazing Larry – it’s clear that math isn’t your forte (unlike, say, racism and bigotry) – but put 600,000 in the numerator and 34,000,000 in the denominator and let us know what you come up with, mmmmkay?

    (oh, and that doesn’t even count the long-haulers with permanent medical issues going forward)

  26. @UA-NYC

    Hate to point it out, but there are plenty of people who vote Blue who don’t want to get vaccinated either – like the African American community who all live in those so-called Red States. My mother
    (fortunately vaccinated) happens to live next door to a black family who have been coughing up a lung for the past two weeks, but refuse to see a doctor and insist it’s a sinus infection. They all think the vaccines are an extension of some sterilization experiment. Louis Farrakhan told them so. So get off your high horse and stop claiming it’s all knuckle dragging Trumspsters.

  27. You guys. It was a joke. Sarcasm. Hello! It was like he was saying, “Well, Delta is acting LIKE the pandemic is over because all the gross serve-yourself ways are back. Make your own Petri dish with your dinner.”

    The fact that people cannot read a joke with the right tone is a scary commentary on modern times. Sheesh, people.

  28. You guys are all wimps. Nothing beats the ET Cloud Nine lounge in Addis, old Terminal 1, with the rat traps visable behind the buffet tables. That’s good eating!

  29. The best part about this post was that it triggered folks like @Bill and @Derek who didn’t understand the irony of it all. These are the type of people that will be directly responsible for us wearing masks on airplanes for a long time into the future. Come to think of it…I wonder if either are flight attendants.

  30. Fine by me!! Like someone else said. . let’s not get all hysterical over this. It was fine in January 2020 so it’s fine now. My god. Get over it. The rest of you can hide in your house forever with your mask on and a shot in your arm.

  31. @cargocult – the numerator is likely higher just as the denominator is. Doesn’t change the mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragger repeated claim of this being “99.9% recoverable” as you and your ilk love to proclaim.

    @C_M – excellent anecdote of a sample size of N=1. Sure, no shortage of Black Americans haven’t gotten vaccinated, for obvious (historical) reasons. Doesn’t change the macro (and data-driven) fact that Blue states over-index on vaccination and Red states massively under-index on them.

  32. @David:

    Mmmm. Fresh rats at the ET Cloud Nine lounge in Addis, old Terminal 1. From your report, this lounge has stepped up to serve freshly caught, locally sourced, free-range organic food. I think this lounge is trying to win a James Beard culinary award or a Michelin star.

  33. I agree
    Pandemic is over
    Has been for a little while now
    Lets get back to life as we know it

  34. @UA-TDS

    I never said that COVID-19 couldn’t be deadly. I said that its worst effects are largely avoidable if one isn’t fat and doesn’t hang out in viral gas chambers. As for the correct numbers, are you saying that the actual number of US deaths “with COVID-19” is anywhere close to 2.4 million? Do you realize that total mortality in the US was about 3.36 million in 2020? (The 600,000 number is not an annual one, but the issue of proportion remains the same.) I don’t believe I have ever made a statement about “99.9% recoverability.” Still, it’s funny how public health officials have to put out information about how to tell the difference between COVID-19, hay fever and colds. If you can’t tell…

    I understand that your “concerns” about COVID-19 come from a place of superiority and authoritarianism. People were/are free to take measures to avoid SARS-CoV-2 without orders from the state unless they are stuck in nursing homes under the authority of people like Andrew Cuomo or Tom Wolf.

  35. @UA-NYC

    Yes, keep stat picking to maintain your moral superiority, but state-based data is way too crude a measure. Upstate New York is not NYC. Upstate is much more Red, and probably lower in vaccination rates, but is that because of a Red/Blue divide or an urban/rural one. You’d need to find some pretty fine-grained data to prove what the driver is, as rural areas in general have had a much different attitude about COVID in general and not everyone in rural areas is a Trumpkin. The best data I’ve seen tends to indicate that the most reliable predictor of vaccine uptake is education level, and that seems to work across all groups – the higher the education level, the more likely people are to take the vaccine, RFK Jr excepted.

    The thing about averages is, no one is one. Your membership in any group shouldn’t be a plus or minus, only your individual actions should count. But so much easier to stereotype.

  36. @C_M

    You make the mistake of thinking that collectivists like UA-TDS care about individual people or objective truth. They “care” about groups of “folx” and how they can be organized to gain and wield political power and “truth” will be molded to support their political goals.

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