Back in 1939, the U.S. commercial aviation industry had few strong advocates or frequent passengers. One way to make them feel special was to create their own VIP airport lounge that served food and drink.
But airport terminals of yesteryear had limited space. The first lounge at New York’s LaGuardia Airport was actually connected to the office of then-Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.
As terminals grew and lounges proliferated, passengers were generally restricted to the use of one specific airline lounge and perhaps a few limited partners. That is, until the late 1990s, when airlines began forming big global alliances. Now international travelers could seek refuge in the lounges of other member airlines as they flew to destinations around the world.
By the mid-2000s, as the battle for premium global travelers intensified, international airlines began adding more amenities to their lounges, enabling busy travelers to conduct business in quiet areas, refresh in a private shower or lounge on comfortable furniture.
Today, global airline alliances have upped their game by infusing their lounges with a previously unforeseen level of luxury, comfort, design and aesthetics. In the last few years, airline passengers have seen more opulent, shared lounges at some of the carriers’ biggest hub airports, like New York, London and Hong Kong. Rules vary, but generally speaking, business- and first-class flyers of a member airline can access an alliance’s airport lounges, while certain elite level frequent flyer members are allowed into alliance lounges no matter which class of service they’re traveling in.
These oases offer a relaxed, pampered environment that often can rival five-star hotels. Indeed, they can be stunning, spacious multi-level showstoppers. Besides using the free wi-fi or charging their devices, passengers can conduct work in private spaces, unwind with free food and drink or take a snooze in a nap room.
Some alliance lounges have added their own distinctive, luxurious touches. For example, the SkyTeam alliance, with 20 member airlines worldwide, has four SkyTeam branded lounges. Its latest in Hong Kong, a 3,000-square-foot facility that can seat up to 230 passengers, features a yoga room, a hot and cold buffet of international cuisine and “living wall” of more than 50 different plant species, bringing a touch of nature to the travel experience. To locate more than 600 member lounges worldwide, try the SkyTeam Lounge Finder.
If a global airline alliance doesn’t have a shared lounge in a particular airport, qualified fliers can still access individual member carriers’ lounges. To further a seamless travel experience, airline alliances are increasingly grouping all member airlines into a single airport terminal, eliminating the need to transfer to other terminals to catch flights or visit lounges, hence reducing passengers transfer times and enhancing their airport experience.
But the benefits for premium travelers of airline alliances don’t stop at airport lounges. At check in, passengers receive the same kind of VIP treatment when flying partner airlines as their elite status or premium ticket provides with their originating carrier. That usually means an express check-in counter and preferred handling for checked luggage, in addition to priority boarding and special assistance in making tight connections.
SkyTeam even has transfer kiosks at several airports that allow passengers who’ve missed connecting flights to print new boarding passes for alternative flights and receive assistance for other needs, such as vouchers for hotel accommodations.
The alliances will also generally give their high-value customers expedited access through airport and immigration security checks—like a special entrance to checkpoints allowing them to bypass the long lines of other passengers waiting to be screened. In recent months, the major alliances have deployed special signage at major hub airports to direct premium travelers of their member airlines to these access points.
Global airline alliances can clearly ease the demands of international travel. With status (or premium cabin tickets) comes privilege.
For more information on VIP treatment the next time you travel, visit http://www.skyteam.com/en/skypriority/.