Are ‘grab and go’ cafes the new shape of airport lounges?

Smart vending machines and Pret A Manger-style meals could soon be headed to a lounge near you.

By Chris Ashton, August 16 2022
Are ‘grab and go’ cafes the new shape of airport lounges?

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.

The Air Canada Cafe at Toronto Pearson is a more casual affair than the airline's Maple Leaf Lounge.
The Air Canada Cafe at Toronto Pearson is a more casual affair than the airline's Maple Leaf Lounge.

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.

United's first Club Lite lounge concept will launch under the Club Fly brand.
United's first Club Lite lounge concept will launch under the Club Fly brand.

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.

United’s Club Fly concept is a short-stay companion to its conventional United Club lounges.
United’s Club Fly concept is a short-stay companion to its conventional United Club lounges.

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 Air Canada Cafe is designed for you to duck in, grab a bite, then head to the gate.
The Air Canada Cafe is designed for you to duck in, grab a bite, then head to the gate.

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 Air Canada Cafe adopts a 'Pret' approach.
The Air Canada Cafe adopts a 'Pret' approach.

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.

Tucked behind a screen  at Munich Airport is Lufthansa's Delights to Go concept.
Tucked behind a screen at Munich Airport is Lufthansa's Delights to Go concept.

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.

Delights to Go from Lufthansa is a dining offering designed for time-poor travellers.
Delights to Go from Lufthansa is a dining offering designed for time-poor travellers.

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.

The Bistro Lounge at Frankfurt Airport, complete with healthy snacks.
The Bistro Lounge at Frankfurt Airport, complete with healthy snacks.

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.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 834

That is a really good idea the 7-11 of the airport free of charge, Asian Salad, Chicken and Mayo Sandwich, Beer, Soft Drinks and Wine. It actually increases the range without the additional cost of preparing meals and then the option of take onboard if you're in economy. 10 out of 10

Very interesting, all are slightly different approaches to the same idea. Definitely appreciate these are not replacements for traditional airport lounges, more like an alternative in a more convenient location. The Air Canada cafe and Lufthansa bistro could almost be normal airport lounges, just done in a different way.

26 Mar 2020

Total posts 61

Great idea as long as it is always offered in "addition" to your traditional lounge offering.

Call me cynical but I can see some airline execs testing the waters and see if consumers would accept the new 7/11 style grab and go's as replacement alternatives to your full service lounge (operating costs would be alot cheaper)

Imagine Qantas club membership being reduced to 7/11 style grab and go's 

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 142

Totally agree, it is all about budgets. Am sure AJ already has plans for QF - and if you compare QC today to its offering 30 yrs ago, it is nearly already there.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

25 Jul 2013

Total posts 64

I can seeing this being a nice service in smaller airports – but I have to say, the benefit of a lounge is not just a free snack. Having a quieter space to relax in away from the terminal crowds, a space to do work, nicer bathrooms with showers etc ... I think I place higher value on these ammenities than the food.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 235

I agree, being somewhere other than the crowded terminal and having a place to sit and relax or work, easy access to AC or USB outlets, nicer bathrooms and even showers, those are all very much part of a lounge's appeal to me. I think these 'secondary' cafe lounges are a great idea as long as they don't replace a normal lounge. Of course if you want showers then it's really all about the main lounge, because that's also for people who have more time including the time ti take a shower, but I would prefer that these secondary lounges put as much emphasis on a place to sit and work or just get away from the crowds, than merely being about 'grab and go' sandwhiches and wraps.

JKH
JKH

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 155

I must be old fashioned. The postmodern, colder world continues to depersonalise. The convenience store look is lacklustre.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 526

I agree there has been strange responses but I get not every one wants to sit down in a reasonably comfortable chair and drink their coffee or eat their meals (preferably not in a box) rubbing shoulders with other pax. 

Having to pick up takeaway F & B package from an airline premium lounge with limited space, so that you can be the regular crowd eating standing up or box on your lap in an ultra low and uncomfortable seating area, pretty much defeats the purpose of paying or trying to get premium lounge access.

Are these people with such ideas trying to sell a turkey to justify downgrading a service?

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Feb 2015

Total posts 82

There is almost no chance that Air Canada would replace their full lunge with their grab-and-go. For a start, there are way more eligible passengers that could ever fit into the G&G at any given time. And as nice as the Pearson G&G is, premium passengers would never allow the removal of comfortable seating/ work area (though the latter definitely needs renovating). G&G takes some of the pressure off the Maple Leaf Lounge, which is often full to capacity and sometimes has a queue of people waiting to get in. I haven't been in the G&G for a while, but last time I was there, there was a nice lady handing out super-premium chocolates (not available in the Maple Leaf Lounge). Further, the G&G cafe is on Level 2, departures level and really conveniently situated for both of the domestic-gate wings, whereas the Maple Leaf Lounge is on Level 4, and is serviced by the slowest elevators in North America.


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