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.”
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.
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.