United’s newest airport lounge is a ‘grab and go’ cafe

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

By Chris Ashton, November 8 2022
United’s newest airport lounge is a ‘grab and go’ cafe

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-and-go convenience akin to popular UK outlet Pret A Manger.

That’s the thinking behind United Airlines’ new Club Fly lounge at Denver International Airport.

Club Fly doesn’t replace Denver’s United Club lounge – it serves as a ‘pit stop’ where travellers can grab a snack, soft drink or barista-made coffee on the way to their flight.

“We know there are times when our members are in a hurry and use our clubs to sneak a quick drink or snack,” explains Luc Bondar, United’s Marketing & Loyalty VP and president of the MileagePlus program, “so we've created this new format to make it easy for them to do that without sacrificing an upscale club environment.”

“In Denver, more than two-thirds of our customers are connecting to other places, making it the ideal city to introduce this concept.”

United says over half of the visitors to its regular lounges already take away snacks and drinks after their visit.
United says over half of the visitors to its regular lounges already take away snacks and drinks after their visit.

Located on a highly visible corner of the airport’s new Concourse B-East expansion, between gates B61 and B63, Club Fly occupies a small footprint of barely 150m2 and is open to all lounge-worthy passengers.

Travellers scan their boarding pass at the automated entry gates and choose from a selection of sandwiches, wraps, salads, yogurt, snacks and fruit, as well as bottled non-alcoholic drinks.

There’s also a barista pulling Illy coffee, so passengers can skip the infamously long lines at the terminal’s cafes.

United’s Club Fly concept – which may well be rolled out at other busy United hubs – sees the US carrier join Star Alliance siblings Air Canada and Lufthansa, both of which already offer distinctive cafe-style eateries of their own.

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.

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.


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 951

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 64

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 163

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 67

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 242

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.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2017

Total posts 162

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


09 May 2020

Total posts 561

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 101

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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 321

Don’t mind the concept for domestic lounges but If it’s bottled beer then they would lose me, love my draft beer and would be happy to find somewhere else in the terminal and pay for it. 

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 334

Great   I like my Senator Cafe Munich for grab a coffee n go to smoking room at MUC T2 whereas in Zurich and Frankfurt we still have smoking rooms in out First Terminals, Senator Lounges and Business Lounges.  Just beware, as you may, like me have a Romanian steal your phone in public smoking rooms at Muenchen Jozef Strauss  As long as full service lounges are still where, why not have these ?


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 382

When I first read this article the thing that came to mind was "Oh great, race to the bottom" but on reflection I think if done well and keeping the core principle of "premium" at the centre of the strategy I think this concept could be a real winner and dare I say possibly out-shine over the existing model. As long as the 'grab & go' F&B are high quality, offer good variation & selection and are fit for purpose I can see this being great facility in domestic/short haul lounges. Grabbing a high quality & substantial sandwich. salad, roll and drink from the lounge for the flight could be a much better option than taking the inflight option in economy. What I would say though is that the existing model of F&B (i.e. not grab & go) will need to have a premium overhaul so that it really differentiates from the G&G or as I said earlier the later could outshine the former.

29 Jan 2012

Total posts 163

Welcome to the future boys and girls. It's all about profits and marketing. Lounges and generous seat pitch eat into the airline profits, so to put a marketing spin on these Coles Express outlets is obviously their focus now. Premium lounges will still remain, but only for the affluent passengers paying top dollar for their sets, and they will certainly be in the minority, while the loyalty tiers flying in budget seats will soon enjoy the express lounge experience. As we have already seen, status is now being earned through revenue spent, not miles flown. Lounges will be measured the same way.

The luxurious and intimate airline lounge experience of the 80's - virtually gone now!

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