Why publicity hounds want the privacy of a $560 airport lounge

By Bloomberg News, March 31 2017
Why publicity hounds want the privacy of a $560 airport lounge

With his bouffant hair, sequin-encrusted gowns, flaming red lips, and painted-on eyebrows, Harald Gloeoeckler has made a career out of being instantly recognizable, at least in his native Germany.

Sometimes, though, even publicity hounds such as Gloeoeckler want a bit of privacy and are willing to pay something extra for protection from autograph seekers. Something like €405 extra – the price of a day pass at Frankfurt Airport’s new VIP lounge.

“It’s impossible for me to go incognito,” says Gloeoeckler, a fashion and furnishings designer known for hosting television shopping shows and posting Instagram selfies sporting little or no clothing. “I just want a little peace when traveling.”

The lounge, about the size of three basketball courts, is a tranquil oasis of custom-made couches and hand-woven carpets. Original Warhols, Christos, and 19th-century ink drawings from Japan line the walls.

There’s caviar and camel-milk chocolate for the peckish, a bar stocked with Hennessy XO cognac and single-malt scotch, and a smoking room with Robusto, Torro, and Churchill cigars.

The high price of privacy

The cost exceeds what many travelers pay for a flight, covering access to the lounge, a ride in a Porsche or Bentley to and from the plane, and an escort through customs and immigration (no pesky lines, of course).

For €770, customers can bring a friend and get four hours in one of eight suites with a daybed and private bathroom.

The biggest “royal suites” are about 600-square feet, feature a bath with tub, and run €1,300 for three people. Access is limited to just 15 parties at once, served by a staff of about 30 on hand at any given time.

There are conference rooms for up to 18 people, and escorts will usher local guests through security for €30 per head. For kids (from age three they pay full price) there’s a game room with consoles, a pinball machine, and a foosball table.

“While these services are exclusive to a small, wealthy group of guests, that group is growing continuously and has high expectations,” says Anke Giesen, operations chief at Fraport AG, the company that manages the airport.

The facility opened in January after a slightly smaller one, built in 2014, proved so popular that it was soon turning away customers.

The new lounge, which Fraport says cost over €10 million, more than doubles the space available for guests, and both are open to travelers from any airline. While some carriers foot the bill for first-class passengers, airport officials say many pay their own way.

It's not a lounge, it's a lifestyle

The lounges highlight the trend toward ultra-luxury among people with no limitations on their budget.

While most people opt for discounters such as Ryanair or Southwest, where they’ll queue for a half-hour before being crammed into their seats, at the other end of the spectrum travelers will spend lavishly to get pampered.

Airlines’ business class lounges, once the redoubt of a chosen few, have become crowded as parvenus use their miles to upgrade or gain access even when in cattle class.

And while virtually all big airports these days have pay-per-use lounges that cost around US$50 per visit, they’re usually not a whole lot more comfortable – or private – than waiting outside among the hoi polloi. Only a handful of airports, mostly in Asia, have facilities as plush as Frankfurt’s, though industry-watchers expect more in the coming years.

“Travelers want ever more unique and personal experiences, and an offering like Frankfurt’s fits right in,” says Merilee Kern, a luxury travel consultant in San Diego. For airports, “if the balance is maintained between exclusivity and a steady flow of guests, it can be a good investment.”

Travelers at Changi airport in Singapore can avoid public areas and get a suite with private bathroom, champagne, and a personal butler for about $1,000.

European airports such as Munich, Amsterdam, and London’s Heathrow let celebrities avoid crowds with VIP packages that start from €300, but their facilities are less extensive than Frankfurt’s.

While some travelers could go to a hotel for a few hours and get similar service for less money, the lounge is inside the security perimeter. That means it’s open to transfer passengers who lack a visa for Germany, and it lets even those who do have one avoid queuing at the metal detectors.

Designer Gloeoeckler insists the facility has become almost a necessity since he risks getting chatted up even in First Class lounges.

“I no longer do it any other way, it’s too exhausting,” he says. “If I go out without makeup or my hair done? That’s even worse. The paparazzi will take photos when I’m not styled, and these are precisely the photos that you don’t want."

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