The Austin airport was supposed to be getting a new lounge accessible by American Express Platinum cardmembers. The airport solicited bids to run a new independent lounge, and selected MAG (“Manchester Airport Group”) USA which runs Escape lounges. A rendering of the lounge even suggested it might be a dual Escape Lounge-Centurion lounge which is the setup in Phoenix. However the City Council balked in a dispute over minority contracting rules.
The lounge was supposed to be:
- Approximately 8000 square feet
- On the mezzanine level of the main terminal across from gate 16, which is six gates away from the American and United clubs and squarely in Southwest Airlines territory
- Featuring a local Austin chef curating the menu
- Designed “with a ‘Zoning Concept’ theme [where e]ach zone will be named after a recognizable Austin neighborhood and will feature Austin inspired design, e.g. Downtown District, South Congress Café, Rainey Street.”
The City Council was expected to formally approve the lounge space award to MAG on January 23 however this was delayed to February 20th because Airport Dimensions, which operates lower quality ‘The Club’ lounges, filed a protest arguing that the city should accept lower rent from them since they are better positioned to meet government Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise standards.
While the airport authority thought they’d work through these objections and get the project approved, that didn’t happen.
- Austin airport has a Airport Concession Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal of 11.06%. Airports score bids on the basis of whether they meet the goal, not on the basis by by how much.
- The MAG contract hit 13% ACDBE by turning over operations of the lounge (but not ownership) to “D&B Mitchell Group, a Dallas-based, Black-owned business” which would take a percentage of revenue off he top. In addition MAG partnered with local Mozart’s coffee, which is minority-owned.
- Airport Dimensions, which came in second and operates The Club lounges, had offered a 20% ownership stake to a local minority-owned business.
- Airport Dimensions is also, oddly, claiming they’re a Texas-based company while MAG are a bunch of U.K.-based fer’ners. Airport Dimensions is part of the U.K.’s Collinson Group which owns Priority Pass. Locally-owned is an impermissible decision-making criteria under federal rules in any case.
In addition to MAG and Airport Dimensions, there were also bids from Plaza Premium and Turkey’s TAV Operations Services which runs Prime Class lounges. The MAG bid guaranteed nearly twice as much revenue to the airport as the second place Airport Dimensions bid.
The City Council decided not to act on the lounge award, “to withdraw the airport lounge item and to have it reposted at another meeting with new wording once they have had more time to learn about the issues at hand.”
So what happens next? According to the airport communications manager “if the council does not decide to award MAG this lounge contract, the city would re-do the whole process with a new request for bids.”
While all of this plays out the Austin airport has only Delta, United, and American lounges – all of which now restrict use to passengers actually flying those airlines on the day of deprture. Even members of their respective clubs cannot access a lounge when flying Southwest or Spirit.