Five ways airport lounges will change when travel resumes

Machine-made pancakes for breakfast and self-pour wine are just two things travellers will miss from airport lounges.

By Chris Chamberlin, May 25 2020
Five ways airport lounges will change when travel resumes

Airport lounges are usually a haven for frequent flyers, but in recent times they’ve become a coronavirus concern for health authorities alongside similar venues like bars, cafes, and dine-in restaurants.

As those businesses gradually reopen, so too will airport lounges – but, at least in the early days, not quite as travellers knew them before.

Here are five things you can expect to see when those frosted glass doors once again slide open.

1. Not every lounge will re-open at the same time

At airports where airlines have several lounges for different grades of travellers, not all of those lounges will simultaneously fling open their doors.

A good example are Australia's mainland capital cities, where each airport has both a Qantas Club and a Qantas Business lounge, along with a Chairman's Lounge for the invitation-only set. 

When Qantas first announced its nation-wide lounge closures in late March, the Chairman's Lounges and Qantas Club lounges were to be shuttered while the Qantas Business lounges became the default destination for all lounge-eligible passengers.

The rebound is likely to follow suit: Executive Traveller understands that Qantas expects its domestic lounge openings to be staggered and depend on the volume of travellers.

2. Social distancing and capacity caps

In common with any other venue where people gather, airport lounges will have to observe social distancing and avoid passengers clustering too close together.

How airlines and lounge operators implement this remains to be seen: one example is Zurich's Aspire Lounge, which now has a rule of two people per table with all tables spaced at least two metres apart.

A Qantas spokesman tells Executive Traveller that furniture in the lounges will be moved around, along with "other temporary changes to facilitate physical distancing."

Physical distancing will mean more space for passengers but severely limit lounge capacity.
Physical distancing will mean more space for passengers but severely limit lounge capacity.

However, this will also mean a reduction in actual lounge capacity and the need to place limits on the number of passengers allowed into a lounge – which could see some lounges declared 'full' even with relatively low numbers, and usually lounge-worthy passengers turned away.

Air New Zealand, which reopens a dozen of its domestic lounges this week as national travel restrictions ease, says there will  "be a maximum of 100 people able to be in any lounge which would normally cater for more than that."

This could also see independent lounges prioritise the guests they’re contracted to serve, such as those sent by airlines, while limiting access to other travellers such as casual visitors and members of third-party lounge programs like Priority Pass.

3. No more self-serve buffets

Pressing the pancake button at breakfast time, using tongs to fetch food from the servery, touching the handle on the sandwich toaster or pouring yourself a glass of wine from a communal bottle: those are four things you won’t be able to do as airport lounges slowly swing open their doors.

In fact, self-serve buffets will be but a memory for some time.

Self-serve buffets will be closed in most if not all airport lounges.
Self-serve buffets will be closed in most if not all airport lounges.

“In line with government regulations, our self-service buffet won’t be available," says Nikki Goodman, Air New Zealand's General Manager, Customer Experience. "Instead, customers will be required to be seated once they enter the lounge and there’ll be table service with packaged snacks on offer, as well as beverages."

“We know those travelling will be looking forward to once again being able to order a flat white before they fly and in lounges with a barista, customers will be given the choice of ordering through the Air New Zealand app, or through their server.”

Earlier this year, Cathay Pacific adjusted the food and beverage service in its remaining lounges to remove all buffet dining, relying instead on its popular Noodle Bar in business class lounges – where staff prepare and serve individual dishes to order – and the dining room in its Wing First Class Lounge, which is similarly a la carte.

If a buffet remains, it'll be served by staff instead of being self-serve.
If a buffet remains, it'll be served by staff instead of being self-serve.

More locally, prior to the current close-down, Virgin Australia moved to a ‘no touch’ dining set-up across its Australian domestic lounges.

Rather than helping themselves, guests seeking hot food would ask a staff member manning the counter to serve them their choice, which avoided passengers handling any shared utensils.

Qantas says its lounges will also contain "adjustments to food and drink service" and is currently working thought exactly how that takes shape.

4. Boxed meals and packaged snacks

Lounges that aim to further minimise contact between passengers and staff will move to boxed meals and packaged snacks, which can be prepared in the kitchen and made ready for travellers to quickly take away without lingering.

Expect items such as boxed sandwiches, wraps, chips and the like, as well as nibbles in cling-wrapped bowls.

That's an approach Virgin Australia took in its domestic lounges before the recent shutdown, which again avoided passengers having to touch communal tongs or scoops.

Pre-packaged meals at Virgin Australia's Brisbane lounge.
Pre-packaged meals at Virgin Australia's Brisbane lounge.

5. Reading material goes digital

As lounges look to remove items that multiple travellers touch and reuse, communal newspapers and magazines will also disappear for the time being.

It’s a move that reflects what’s already happening on board, where airlines aren’t stocking seatback pockets with the typical inflight mag. Qantas, for example, now emails Frequent Flyers with an invitation to download an electronic copy of what would otherwise be the print magazine.

Where magazine editions have already been physically printed, some high-tiered frequent flyers have reported receiving their own personal copy by mail, even if they’re not currently travelling.

Airlines are already swapping printed newspapers and magazines for digital editions.
Airlines are already swapping printed newspapers and magazines for digital editions.

But as flying resumes and lounges reopen, expect digital magazines and newspapers to be the way forward.

Apps such as PressReader allow users to download offline copies of their favourite titles to enjoy at any time – whether that’s before, during or even long after their flight – and some airlines provide free PressReader downloads when connected to their lounge hotspots.

Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines are among the increasing number of airlines that allow lounge lizards to stock up on digital reading material, which some may prefer to traditional print newspapers and magazines: not only because they’re not touched by multiple readers, but because the content can be enjoyed even after leaving the lounge.

Also read: Singapore Airlines unlocks free e-magazines, newspapers

Additional reporting by David Flynn

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

Qantas

01 Jun 2016

Total posts 24

AFR is not on the Press reader and is in demand with the morning travellers using Qantas Lounges. I hope a digital edition is provided plus this will save some trees.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 255

If you're not already a 'digital only' subscriber, you'll need to become one, it's very similar to The Australan.

Both are top quality and can be used on PCs, Tablets and smart phones.

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 294

Why haven't all these measures been put into place previously for each annual flu season, which is also highly contagious. I get CV needs to be managed but at this rate I'm not sure what's worse CV itself or the paranoia about it, I'm thinking the later.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

AT, I agree completely.

What is wrong with everyone? Take some simple precautions and let's get back to our lives!

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 30

I won't travel until all these temporary measures are gone.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 692

On that basis, you may be at home for quite a while. Some things like self-serve buffets may never return.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 30

Nah, buffets will make a comeback in hotels and lounges once this nightmare is over. They are very popular, especially in Asia.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 692

I'm not so sure. Royal Caribbean have already announced that they are doing away with buffets across their fleet. I assume the airlines' insurers will not be too keen about airlines restarting what is now seen as a risky practice.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 58

What makes you think this will ever be "over"?

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

That is correct. Flu is never 'over' despite a vaccine. Flu kills nearly 500,000 every year, we just get on with things. As we should do with this virus.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 58

I'm not sure we should "just get on with things". We only have to look at the disasters in Europe and the Americas to see what happens when you try to pretend COVID-19 is just like a flu. Sensible precautions need to be put in place and enforced to minimise infection opportunities. Let's open society back up again in a measured way and see how we can keep the infection rate to a manageable level.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

Flying high, this is like a flu. In fact the flu infects more people and kills more every year and yet the world carries on. My mother was killed by the flu as were 8 others in her care home. This is what happens all around the world constantly. The media and social media have created panic for normal events.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 58

Um, no. COVID-19 is not "like a flu". It's far more infectious for a start (roughly double). And it's more deadly - about ten times more than the regular flu.

You should pay attention to experts such as epidemiologists, and not right-wing politicians and shock jocks.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

Um, yes it is like the flu. All virus have similar characteristics. And the flu is far more infectious and deadly. Fact! The point is we should be more concerned about the flu each year but mostly we are not. Our concern for this Coronavirus is out of control compared to the reality. The facts are clear but many are influenced by media who want to get viewers or sell adverts in their print and digital media. Wash your hands, wear a mask if you wish and as a race, us humans need to get on with our lives and not decimate the economy.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 58

Um, saying “Fact!” is always a dead giveaway that what you're claiming is incorrect. Again, can I suggest you get your health information from health experts, not right-wing nutters. You'll look less foolish next time you decide to venture an opinion out in public.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

I understand that you will not change your view just because you already are and will continue to be incorrect in your assessment. Countries are already opening their borders to international travel. This will accelerate over the next period of time. You can stay locked in your world scared of something which will not cause you much of a problem if at all, while the rest of us will smile broadly, travel very soon and be completely unaffected.

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 58

It's not my assessment, it's the assessment of relevant exerts. Even after I repeated that, clearly you continue struggle to understand.

I note you haven't mentioned whose expertise you're deferring to.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

If it's not your assessment why are you offering an incorrect opinion? Most bizarre! And quite clearly I am not deferring to your words which we now know are not your opinion based on your own exhaustive study but merely repeating what you happen to have read.

My expertise comes from my now 16 years paid membership of the RACGP. Now I agree that medical practitioners have different opinions or prognosis on a medical subject, nothing wrong with that, but my opinions are based on science and medical journals. I wonder where you get yours from?

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 58

You have a paid membership of an association? Wow - those are impressive credentials in the area of epidemiology! Oh wait, they're not at all. Could I suggest asking around in your association for the contact details of some epidemiologists? They will be able to correct your erroneous opinions in this area. The GPS I know are always happy to take their guidance from specialists. Not sure why you refuse to do so....

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 255

The jury is still out Agents, all we know for sure is it started in Wuhan, China. A vaccine will be found, I'm confident of that. Until then, thorough handwashing and sanitizing gel must become de rigueur.

Air Canada - Aeroplan

13 Feb 2017

Total posts 2

Hope that you enjoy your home city and house. You won't be travelling for quite a while. Travel is going to change

and it will never be the same again. More and more people will work from home, finding out that travel is not always necessary, and airlines and hotels will change to keep costs down. Until a vaccine is found that will stop Covid 19, travel will be restricted. Even if you get vaccinated, the whole world will have to have access to the vaccine. Look at Brazil right now, and Africa is another country that will cause problems. And we have not yet had the second SPIKE!

Flying High, Richard W: A reminder to keep discussions below articles on-topic and on-track. The topic here is how airport lounges will change when they re-open. Further off-topic comments here will be removed, so we instead encourage you to create a discussion in the site's Community area.

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 65

As a recreational flyer, I would possibly fly in a DC 3 to get overseas and love it. Lounges to me and wife are a place to have a shower and get ready for the next flight. We are not looking for an experience to remember, but a pleasant place to pass the time for the real adventure: flying to the next destination of simply: home. To mention just the one to please Alan Joyce......the Perth lounge for folk flying direct to LHR or home from Pommie land. It is soo lovely and welcoming and beats all others.

24 Dec 2013

Total posts 88

If lounges will have less capacity I wonder what will happen when a lounge is declared full. Will they just start handing out $15 food court vouchers and consider it as an acceptable alternative?

16 Aug 2017

Total posts 9

Lounges will be just the start, imagine the terminals and especially gates.

I'm unsure why self pour wine would be off the table. Human pathogens do not survive in wine.

Just visit any upscale winery and you will observe that after you have tasted a barrel sample the remaining contents of the tasting glass will be poured back into the barrel.

"... self pour ..." = touch bottle after last person, before next person.

There's no difference between touching a bottle and touching any other surface in the lounge, including but not limited to the seats, inside door handles in the toilets, tap handles, glasses, coffee cups, etc.

The important thing is that you don't breathe any airborne droplets (hardly likely with wine) or touch any part of yourself above ythe shoulders after handling anything that you are not positive as having been sanitised.

Absolutely right parish, ridiculous inconsistencies and contradictions in spacing, touching, etc, etc, requirements every direction you look. Perhaps they figured that as glass 'booze' bottles are an ideal surface for harbouring pathogens for extended periods AND will probably be handled often by a wide variety of people in a short period of time they might be an easily eliminated high contact and risk source ... door and tap handles perhaps a little harder to temporarily eliminate. Have asked 'the authorities' to run future standards past me first in order that some of the silly contradictions can be removed. Will send you a copy for approval. Cheers.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 56

Correct, exactly as we have done for ever. And we have survived with untold germs and virus around. We will with this one. Why so scared?

29 Jan 2015

Total posts 33

yuck. did not know that.

I suppose the remedy is just to buy and drink whole bottles? :-)

@h15t0r1an ... don't believe tooo much about 'spit slops' going back into barrels ... this section mainly for light entertainment ... maybe, but only very occasionally, reliable informed knowledge.

12 Dec 2018

Total posts 12

On topic...as a regular flyer I welcome the short term precautions if there is long term gain. But there has to be a measurable gain, with a deadline, which is the only way to assess the success of any action undertaken. What I hope doesn't happen though is these changes become the norm because people simply continue to fail on basic hygiene and consideration of others.


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