American Airlines has Admirals Clubs which are accessed primarily by paid members – whether via an annual membership or a premium Citibank credit card – and Flagship lounges which are accessible by international business class passengers along with the airline’s mid-tier elites and higher traveling internationally, and oneworld partner mid-tier elite frequent flyers as well.
Lounges were largely closed in March, as passenger volumes fell and the need to social distance grew. Initially modified service was offered, such as packaged food rather than buffets, and local lock down regulations in some places meant alcohol couldn’t be served. At some clubs packaged food could only be eaten in the lounge. In other locals food could only be taken away and eaten outside the lounge.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge LAX
Faced with a patchwork of rules, and a shrinking airline, American made the decision to shutter lounges. Air travel is beginning to come back, admittedly off of a very low base. However forward bookings for domestic leisure destinations especially are performing better in June and July.
At the Wolfe Research Conference airline analyst Hunter Keay asked American’s executives whether Flagship lounges would open before Admirals Clubs re-opened?
American President Robert Isom said that flagship lounges “will be closed until we see demand that warrants opening them back up.”
American Airlines Flagship Lounge Chicago O’Hare
This is an important point: clubs remain closed not just for social distancing reasons, but to control costs. They’re only going to make clubs available when there’s a revenue proposition to do so. And international travel demand, and especially international premium cabin demand (which relies heavily on business travel), is expected to come back last.
Bottom-line don’t expect Flagship lounges to re-open quickly. And, I’d add, don’t expect new lounges like Philadelphia to come online right away because discretionary capital spending is among the easiest of cash burning endeavors to defer.
When Flagship lounges do come back the challenge exists of what sort of service to offer, as well, because these facilities have had extensive buffets which are largely frowned upon in the COVID-19 era. The JFK lounge had ‘Bridge dining’ which offered prepared-to-order menu items. Other lounges had ‘action stations’ with a single potentially customizable hot item prepared by a chef.
American Airlines Flagship Lounge Buffet New York JFK
That may not scale well for the volume of passengers historically supported in the lounges (at New York JFK dishwasher capacity was an issue early on), though of course that volume may not return before COVID-19 is less of an issue.