Luxe Common-Use Lounge is Becoming a Fixture at Fort Lauderdale Int’l

Luxe Common-Use Lounge is Becoming a Fixture at Fort Lauderdale Int’l
Nicole Nelson
Published in: 

When Mark Gale took the reins at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) in early 2016, the newly inaugurated chief executive officer began presiding over a facility that was home to several airlines, yet hub to none. It was a stark contrast to his previous tenure at Philadelphia International Airport, where the bustling American Airlines gateway was a dominant presence on the airfield and inside the terminal.

Time and again, Gale would ponder the fact that American’s premium passengers at PHL had access to first-class amenities at three Admirals Clubs, while very few FLL travelers were privy to such a luxury.

While the South Florida airport had only two proprietary lounges in terminals 1 and 2 available to the smattering of passengers loyal to United Airlines and Delta Air Lines, there were no comparable options in terminals 3 and 4, where American Airlines, JetBlue Airways and several international carriers operated. As such, Gale quickly set out to remedy this customer service void. Just months after arriving, FLL’s new chief executive began a mission to extend VIP customer service comforts and conveniences to more airport guests. 


Project: Common-Use VIP Passenger Lounge

Location: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Int’l Airport

Facility: The Escape Lounge - The Centurion Studio® Partner at FLL

Lounge Size: 5,042 sq. ft.

Airport Operator: Broward County Aviation Dept.

Lounge Developer/Operator: CAVU (formerly MAG USA and MAGO)

Project Partner: American Express

Facility Aesthetic: South Florida inspired, with coastal artwork/design features

Food & Beverage Lineup: Chef-created menu featuring local cuisine & brands

Soft Opening: Oct./Nov 2022

Entry Cost: $40/day when booked in advance, $45 at the door; free to Amex Platinum Card Members & Delta Reserve Card Members

Gale prevailed, and an upscale common-use lounge opened last October, with a South Florida vibe and locally curated food and beverage offerings. The new facility, located in the connector between concourses E and F of Terminal 3, is officially called The Escape Lounge - The Centurion Studio® Partner at FLL. Passengers on any airline pay $40 per day when booked in advance and $45 at the door. American Express Platinum Card Members and Delta Reserve Card Members do not have to pay an entry fee.

“I think it was just time for Fort Lauderdale, in its evolution, to have a first-class amenity such as a common-use, or VIP, passenger lounge,” Gale says, noting that the airport has a diverse air service portfolio. While FLL has long been known for many low-cost carriers such as Spirit, JetBlue, Southwest, Allegiant and others, it is also home to the various legacy carriers, plus an array of foreign flag carriers such as AZUL, Air Canada, Avianca and Copa.

“The Greater Fort Lauderdale area and passenger demographic includes upscale international business travelers and international vacationers. And we would like to think that we have a growing young, high-tech professional population—a very diverse population with different ethnicities from all parts of the world,” Gale explains. “Having this type of amenity in our airport would be widely accepted and, frankly, rather successful.”

Making it Happen

Gale’s push for a new upscale lounge was further supported by a big announcement mere months after he arrived: Emirates Airlines was bringing its five-star air service to FLL.

“There was one glaring, missing component to our airport that they were anxious for us to address, which was the need for a lounge able to handle their premium first-class and business-class passengers,” Gale recalls.

At the time, the airport was already planning a terminal renovation and expansion but had had yet to identify an appropriate post-security space to install a new passenger lounge.

The highly-anticipated upcoming inaugural service from Emirates was soon punctuated by the announcement of new London flights from British Airways. In addition, longstanding international carriers such as Norwegian Airlines and others also voiced their desire for a premium passenger lounge. Needless to say, Gale and his team were highly motivated to get the ball rolling on a suitable solution.

“Clearly, we did not have the real estate to be able to accommodate that, so we got the team together and started to take a look at some of our construction phasing inside of our terminal renovation and expansion program to see whether or not we could allocate 5,000 square feet of space to this type of an amenity for our passengers,” Gale recalls. Ultimately, the project team was able to move things around and accommodate the project in Terminal 3.

This effort was followed by a public registration of interest in August 2019 to seek developers and operators with both practical and experimental design concepts. Proposals were submitted and considered through the formal procurement process, and Broward County’s Selection Negotiation Committee awarded the top-ranked Manchester Airports Group (recently rebranded within the U.S. and digital divisions as CAVU) with the lease agreement to build out and operate an Escape Lounge – Centurion Studio® Partner.

CAVU President of the Americas Kevin Shrier notes that the relationship between Broward County Aviation Department, CAVU and American Express (the brand behind Centurion Lounges) was forming at a delicate time in the airport industry. In fact, the Broward County Aviation Department approved plans to proceed with the project just as airports across the United States were shutting down at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

“As with many projects in the airline and travel industry, our project was impacted by COVID-19 and therefore was delayed at some points,” Shrier explains. “However, as a team, we are proud of how we navigated the pandemic and the challenges this presented and are grateful to Broward County Aviation Department for their continued support and partnership.”

In January 2021, plans for a multimillion-dollar capital investment to build out the new lounge were finalized, notes Henry Perez, Broward County Aviation Department’s Director of Business and Properties. 

“By July of 2021, the plans were submitted, reviewed and approved, and we finally got an opening in October of 2022. But between those dates, we had a lot of supply chain issues, especially with electrical components and things like that,” Perez recalls. “Overall, though, the process was really good. It was great to work with CAVU because they were very cooperative and very responsive. From A to Z, it went quite well considering what we were dealing with.”

Once construction began, anticipation built quickly, with social media users frequently checking in for updates about when the lounge would be open to the public. Eventually, the tasteful array of reading nooks, local artwork, private workspaces and seasonal menu offerings was officially unveiled when the American Express partner lounge officially debuted in October 2022.

Extending the First-Day Fanfare

Nicole Javell, Head of Delivery at CAVU, notes that the facility launched to a flurry of excitement, with travelers, the press, airport staff and local politicians eager for the airport to have its first premium common-use lounge. On opening day, the lounge welcomed more than 300 travelers.

“Visitors particularly liked the fact that the design choices throughout the lounge were informed by the local South Florida coastline and culture,” Javell says, adding that the lounge menu has earned equal praise. Like the décor, it’s locally inspired, featuring dishes such as gazpacho, rock shrimp salad and Key lime mousse from Florida-based celebrity chef Laurent Tourondel. Mojitos and pineapple margaritas have emerged as favorites from the bar.

“What has also stood out from customer feedback and reviews is the personable service provided by our in-lounge team, giving each customer a memorable start to their journey,” she remarks.

Javell reports that the right combination of design, amenities and service is sustaining the honeymoon allure, and the lounge continues to attract hundreds of guests a day. “This proves that the demand for a premium experience away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal isn’t going anywhere,” she reasons.

Pablo Rivero, vice president and general manager of Global Lounge Experiences at American Express, explains that each of the 14 Escape Lounges – Centurion Studios is designed to reflect the local culture of the city where the airport
is based.

“Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport is a popular travel hub for our card members, and we are thrilled to partner with the team at Escape Lounges to provide guests with a place to recharge, access high-speed Wi-Fi to stay connected, and enjoy a high-quality meal during their travels,” Rivero says, noting that dishes on the lounge menu were created by chef behind Fort Lauderdale’s DUNE by LT. “As a Florida resident, I am personally excited to be able to start my travels at a beautifully designed and relaxing space, try some of the dishes from Chef Laurent Tourondel’s seasonal menu like the French Toast Royal topped with pineapple confit, or his Mediterranean twist on a chopped salad if I am feeling healthy. And, of course, you can’t beat the coffee made from local roaster Calusa Coffee beans.”

Gale is also pleased with the transformation of the Terminal 3 lounge location from start to finish.

“Ultimately, it was the desire for FLL to take the guest experience to a higher level and to be able to offer this amenity,” he concludes. “We think we hit a home run with respect to that and with our partners who are now operating the facility.”


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