Atlanta Int'l Adds "Airline-Agnostic" Passenger Lounge

Victoria Soukup Jensen
Published in: 

Building on the traditional popularity of airline lounges while also catering to a preponderance of hub and spoke passengers, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) has opened an independently-operated common-use lounge that offers extra perks to all passengers for a $35 daily access fee.

Already popular, The Club at ATL provides typical “members-only” amenities such as private restrooms and showers; complimentary food and beverages; separate work, social and quiet areas; and high-speed Internet access.


Project: Common-Use Passenger Lounge
Location: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Int’l Airport
Name: The Club at ATL
Size: 7,200 sq. ft.
Capacity: 161 guests
Daily Access Fee: $35
Operated By: Airport Lounge Development
Services Offered: Complimentary food & beverages (including alcohol); Wi-Fi access; social, work & quiet areas; large flat-screen televisions; multi-language newspapers & magazines; private restrooms & showers
Key Benefits: Provides premium service to passengers; conserves terminal space vs. operating multiple airline-specific lounges; helps attract carriers by precluding the need/cost of building their own lounge

“Just a few short months after opening, The Club at ATL has significantly enhanced the passenger experience at the world’s busiest airport,” says Louis E.Miller, ATL’s general manager at the time. “While our airline loyalty lounges do very well, we serve many customers who do not fit that model, yet still want a comfortable space with food and beverages to relax between flights. The Club at ATL meets the needs of our passengers looking for a tranquil retreat at an affordable daily rate.”

With hub carriers accounting for about 85% of its 95 million annual passengers, ATL has a “very large number of guests” who may be receptive to a lounge that is not affiliated with one particular airline, explains Miguel Southwell, who became the airport’s interim general manager when Miller retired.

“You have to make an effort to serve the major segments of your passengers,” Southwell continues. “Because we have so many non-aligned airlines that have passengers coming through the airport, we wanted to make sure that those guests can have the same kind of treatment as those that are associated with the aligned airlines. This club helps perpetuate Atlanta’s image as a world-class airport.”

According to Southwell, the common-use lounge is proving popular with customers by serving thousands of guests each week, which exceeds the airport’s expectations. “Clearly, there was a demand that was unmet,” he reflects.

Three airlines also operate lounges at ATL: Delta, American and United. 

No Membership Needed

The Club at ATL functions much like an airline club, but doesn’t require an annual membership. Airport Lounge Development, the Texas-based company that operates the club, focuses on providing an upscale experience for visitors — via personalized service and premium alcohol brands such as Chivas Regal, Johnny Walker and Glenlivet, as well as a variety of red and white wines. Food offerings vary throughout the day and include fresh salads, sandwiches and soups, and snacks such as crudités and hummus and pita bread.

The company also operates common-use lounges at Mineta San José International Airport in California; Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina; Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (its first location) and two facilities at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.

“For some lounge projects, Airport Lounge Development undertakes the design and construction of the lounge, including funding the construction; but we have also worked with airports where much of the design, construction and funding has been airport-driven and (our) role has been to collaborate on the design — particularly the more technical aspects, such as kitchen and bar design and equipping,” notes Graham Richards, director of operations at Airport Lounge Development. “It all depends on the airport’s needs and preferences. Both scenarios have worked very well.”

The Club at ATL can accommodate 161 people and is available to any traveler — regardless of the airline they are traveling on or their class of travel, provided that they hold a valid same-day boarding pass and pay the per-person access fee.

The 7,200-square-foot lounge at ATL was constructed as part of the airport’s new 1.3 million-square-foot International Terminal. Located on the third floor, the lounge’s two-story glass wall makes it a prominent feature of Concourse F. “It would have been a challenge to retrofit it in existing space, because you already have the concessions, airline offices, work areas and hold rooms already built out,” notes Southwell.

Adding a common-use lounge is an effective way to boost non-aeronautical revenue, says Richards. “Since there is less reliance on the landing fees and direct revenue they receive from airlines, airports are increasingly looking at alternative revenue sources such as parking and concessions,” he explains. “One of the drivers is the need to have an upscale lounge, a place for the premium traveler to relax. Not all airlines have lounges, but most airlines want to service their premium passengers by giving them lounge privileges.”

Richards applauds ATL for its new international terminal and the balanced concession mix it includes. “Atlanta is a great airport,” he raves. “It’s the busiest passenger airport in the world, and they’re right on the money with what they’ve done. Their vision of a common-use lounge facility could assist in securing a new carrier, new routes or expanded air services tomorrow. And The Club at ATL could well be part of the solution that’s needed to attract that new business.”

Branding is Key

The common-use lounges run by Airport Lounge Development all have names based on their three-letter airport codes: The Club at ATL, The Club at DFW, etc., and provide a similar array of amenities.

“It is helpful to the airport to have a lounge that is part of a network,” says Richards. “Airport Lounge Development brings its ‘The Club at’ brand and its highly-defined operating standards to the table, which means that the airport itself does not have to worry about the day-to-day operation of the lounge.”

Agreements with several carriers allow airlines to pay entrance fees for high-value frequent fliers and business or first class passengers. “It allows them to respond to the premium passenger by providing them with a lounge service,” says Richards, noting that it’s also a way for the airport to support its airlines.

In many cases, airports that construct common-use lounges use previous airline-run lounges that have been closed, notes Richards. “We are ‘airline-agnostic’, in the sense that we don’t exclude any airline from our lounges. We also provide for other customer groups who want lounge access as an option too,” he says.

The Club at ATL has been well-received by the traveling public, especially by business travelers and passengers facing lengthy flight delays, reports Kim Wiemuth, president of Gideon Toal Management Services, which handles the day-to-day management of Airport Lounge Development facilities.

“People traveling for business can come in, have something to drink, get a bite to eat, charge their laptop and get back to work,” Wiemuth explains. “It’s an oasis in the hustle and bustle of the airport, where people are buzzing around you and talking on their cell phones. You go into The Club, and it’s peaceful. You can have your soup and sandwich and a cocktail or cappuccino and get your work done, or take a shower if you need to and just relax.”

Wiemuth believes the “Club at” brand is easily recognizable to frequent travelers. “You can go from one lounge to the next and there may be subtle differences, but we try to provide the same service and the same type of menu; so you always know you are in an Airport Lounge Development lounge,” she explains.

Replacement Option

Mineta San José International Airport opened The Club at SJC in January 2013, about three years after American Airlines closed its airline lounge. Vicki L. Day, director of Marketing and Customer Services for the airport, says that travelers, especially business passengers, had enjoyed the lounge environment and missed it when it closed. Because SJC is a medium-sized airport that didn’t have a carrier with its own club, a common-use lounge was seen as the best option, explains Day. 

The Club at SJC was constructed in a seldom-used area on the third level, between terminals A and B, directly above the international gate. While the former American Airlines lounge was located on one end of the airport, the new 128-seat common-use club is located in the middle of the airport, providing easy access for all passengers, says Day. 

Airport officials hope the new 7,000-square-foot lounge will help attract more carriers to the airport, which served 8.3 million passengers in 2012 and offers about 130 daily flights on 13 carriers. “We think this is an attribute that will appeal to them and is already proving popular with our Tokyo-bound passengers, in particular, and other frequent fliers who are looking for a place to be more productive while waiting for their flight to depart,” says Day.

Common-use clubs can help attract new service to an airport, since airlines don’t have to invest in building their own brand-specific lounge, explains Richards. With terminal space at a premium, he predicts that common-use lounges will become increasingly popular. “It is not easy for an airport to commit to building multiple airline lounges,” he notes. “If they build one common-use lounge, they can provide service to all of the airlines under a single roof.”


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