Star Alliance is temporarily shuttering almost all of its own-brand airport lounges around the world, affecting business class, first class and Star Alliance Gold passengers departing from Amsterdam, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, Nagoya, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Rome.
The only facility not already closed down is the Star Alliance Lounge in São Paulo, but which will be opening for fewer hours each day.
“We have closed most of our Star Alliance lounges now,” Star Alliance CEO Jeffrey Goh confirms to Executive Traveller, explaining that some closures were forced by various government regulations, while others were shuttered to keep costs down.
In Paris, for instance, “airport authorities are saying, no congregation of more than five people … and where you have food and beverage services, they need to be closed. The lounge serves food and drinks, so here, we were required to close by the airport authority.”
Elsewhere, social distancing measures – which often call for four square metres per person in indoor environments like airport lounges – can significantly cut the potential capacity of each lounge, and by extension, the economics of keeping the doors open.
“When you get to four square metres per person in the lounge business, it is just not viable to open,” Goh continues. “The economics just wouldn't make sense: it's better to close down.”
Why can’t lounges just stay open, if they’re not banned?
Behind the scenes, airport lounge operators – including Star Alliance – typically earn a pre-set fee per passenger they admit.
Depending on the circumstances, that payment comes from the passenger’s airline, frequent flyer scheme or lounge membership provider, and helps cover costs associated with the lounge like staffing, food and beverage, and airport rent.
With social distancing capping the number of guests that can come through, and with fewer people currently flying in any case, keeping a lounge open for a small handful of eligible passengers can be rather costly.
“I think customers will understand,” Goh says.
“In the midst of all this – where airlines are clamouring for liquidity to protect the business, to protect employees – we also shouldn't forget that a priority for the airlines and the industry is the health of its customers.”
Star Alliance airlines close their own lounges
Branded alliance lounges aren’t the only ones closed to passengers, with some Star Alliance members including Air Canada, Air New Zealand, SAS and Thai Airways closing all of their own airport lounges until further notice.
Others, like Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines, have also drawn down the shutters to most of their own airport lounges, keeping only a select few up and running.
These include the Lufthansa Business Lounge at Newark Airport – although Lufthansa’s lounges at New York JFK, and elsewhere around the world, are closed – and Singapore Airlines’ SilverKris T3 business class lounge in Singapore, which currently welcomes all lounge-eligible travellers.
Stateside alliance member United Airlines has locked up all of its premium Polaris business class lounges and many of its United Clubs, although some United Club lounges remain available in key locations like San Francisco, catering for passengers on United’s daily flight to Sydney.
In Australia, all domestic and international airport lounges remain closed until further notice due to government requirements.
However, subject to passenger demand, Australian lounges may re-open over the coming months as those government restrictions are progressively eased.
This could include some lounges in international terminals as well, including those operated by Star Alliance member Air New Zealand, with the prospect of a trans-Tasman ‘travel bubble’ on the cards for mid-year.
Additional reporting by David Flynn.