The airport lounge is changing. No longer just a space to relax and enjoy a few repeat trips to the buffet, some airlines are putting a cafe-style twist on the elite status perk, ditching bain maries and booth seating in favour of grab n’ go convenience akin to a Pret A Manger.
Why would they do this? Airlines say it’s all about giving travellers more choice – an additional option for those short on time or who may not be interested in visiting ‘classic’ lounges.
United Airlines’ Club Fly concept, under development at Denver International Airport, is a prime example.
Revealed via council approval documents, designs for what was first tagged as ‘Club Lite’ show a new and very compact space – less than 150m2 – squirrelled between gates B61 and B63. Within are shelves for pre-packaged meals, a self-service drinks counter and seating for just 20 guests.
A lone service desk for staff to render booking assistance is the only other inclusion. And that’s it: no cushy chairs, not even a bathroom and certainly no reasons to linger any longer than needed.
Of course, MileagePlus members and Gold-grade Star Alliance frequent flyers who prefer full lounge perks can still access the primary United Club near B32 – the Club Lite is aimed more at travellers in a hurry or who want to be closer to their flight’s departure gate.
Approached by Executive Traveller, United Airlines has not offered any comments on Club Fly, including whether this is a one-off trial or sign of things to come.
However, United isn’t the only airline giving us a fresh spin on the typical lounge experience – both Air Canada and Lufthansa already offer distinctive cafe-style eateries of their own.
Opened near Gate 20 at Toronto Pearson International in 2019, the Air Canada Cafe is a more conventional noshery than United’s Club Fly, serving barista coffee, cold-press juices, and light meals and snacks throughout the day.
The wall of grab-and-go options includes sandwiches, cheeses, pastries and salads are available, alongside an assortment of muesli bars, chips, chocolate and fruit, although with seating for 109 travellers there’s the option to stay a while rather than make a dash for the gate.
The cafe is intended as a complementary offering to the airline’s existing domestic Maple Leaf Lounges, although the door list is more selective: it’s only for top-tier passengers in business class, Aeroplan 50K members and above, Star Alliance Gold members and Aeroplan premium credit card holders.
Lufthansa’s Delights to Go, on the other hand, is a mostly automated experience – a get in, get out option where time-poor travellers can pick up healthy snack boxes en route to their gate.
After authentication via your digital boarding pass, travellers can select from three gourmet snackboxes: Classic, Balance, and Local, with the menu rotating every two weeks.
Among the ‘delights’ inside are drinks, wraps and fresh fruit. Hot drinks are available too.
Since debuting at Munich Airport in 2018, the smart vending machines near gate G19 – free to all passengers who normally enjoy Lufthansa lounge access – have become a big hit, although Lufthansa confirms to Executive Traveller there are no plans to roll it out further.
In Frankfurt, the Lufthansa Bistro Lounge near gates C14/15 is another fresh take on a regular frequent flyer hangout – a hybrid of a traditional lounge and a relaxed cafe.
With a motto of ‘At home with Lufthansa’, the bistro features a mix of casual seating options, ready-made healthy meal options, and an aesthetic that wouldn’t be out of place at your local IKEA.
While it doesn’t stray too far from the tried-and-tested lounge formula, there are enough innovations and twists to push the concept in a fresh direction… and make you wonder what could be next.