Dear US Airline Lounges: Please Sell Me Coffee!

Filed Under: Travel

Some people are sleep powered. Some people are solar powered. I’m simply caffeine powered. That’s why I think about (and talk about) coffee a fair bit more than the average person. I’m not looking for a 500 calorie latte, but rather just decent drip coffee with a dab of skim milk.

I’m sure I’m not the only caffeine-addict (and ex-soda drinker) who struggles with airplane coffee. Some airlines do coffee well — for example, JetBlue’s Dunkin’ Donuts coffee isn’t half bad, in my experience.


American’s coffee, on the other hand, tastes like it’s made with reclaimed lavatory toilet water sourced from a Beijing gutter.

So when practical I do everything I can to grab coffee in the terminal on the way to the gate. The only problem is that at 5AM, airport Starbucks lines are long.


What’s frustrating is that airline lounges for the most part actually have very drinkable coffee. Except they don’t have “to go” cups. Instead there are just usually mugs or small styrofoam cups with lids.


I get that technically airline lounges have a policy whereby you can’t bring in outside food, and can’t remove food from the club (I’ve even taken it upon myself to enforce that policy once in a while). 😉 And I think those rules mostly make sense, since you can’t count on people to be logical or courteous to others. In other words, I don’t think a neutral smelling sandwich will inconvenience anyone, while fried chicken or a Big Mac may.

But as a coffee addict, I’m slightly frustrated by the fact that there’s drinkable coffee in airline lounges, except I don’t have a way of transporting it. I’ve been tempted to either start traveling with one of those thermal cups, or otherwise to bring a Starbucks cup.

Heck, I’d be happy if airlines started selling larger coffee cups in the lounge, so that it’s possible to pour some and take it “to go.” I certainly know I’d be willing to pay a couple of bucks for that.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Anyone have a creative solution I haven’t thought of?

  1. @ Ben — Try switching to half ‘n half. Your problems will be solved…until you can’t find half ‘n half.

  2. Without a doubt get a thermal mug that seals well. Then you have the added bonus of not worrying about spilling as you make your way thru the airport and on the plane.

  3. I travel with my own mug, though I usually fill it up with Starbucks/similar and not lounge coffee (though to be honest, I wouldn’t hesitate to do that if the lounge has make your own single-serving coffee rather than a pot where you’re inconveniencing other customers.)

    I love my Contigo Autoseal — it’s been tossed sideways, stored upside down in my backpack, and juggled while putting suitcases in the overhead bin…and it’s never, ever leaked.

  4. Bringing your own mug seems like the really obvious solution, no? I mean, I always bring an empty water bottle to bring water on the plane, and this would serve the same purpose, right?

  5. I totally agree, Ben. Though as a coffee nerd (snob?), I’d take it a step further: I wish that there were higher-end coffee in more airports — the kind of place where you can get a pour-over or something. World Bean at LGA Terminal C/D and at JFK Terminal 2 is probably the best coffee I can find in an airport. They do pour-overs, and have a pretty good cold brew.

    Any airport coffee shops stand out to any readers as particularly noteworthy?

  6. Was in the refreshed admirals club at ohare G wing yesterday morning. They had they had to go cups with the sleeves and everything. The lids were crappy – the kind where you have to tear and peel back the opening but of course they never tear properly. Can’t comment on the coffee as I take tea but it was nice to grab quickly and take onto the plane as I was running late and couldn’t spend time in the lounge.

    I even took an apple with me but don’t tell the cops!

  7. Start backpacking. Makes you more humble. I could say join the peace corps but something tells me people in this hobby are unlikely to give back unless of course they can tell/show the world how great they are.

  8. You should get yourself a thermal, spillproof mug and fill it in the lounge. And use the mug even if you end up going at Starbucks so you don’t have to worry anymore about spilling coffee.

    I don’t know about you, but I always manage to get coffee all over my hand while walking around with a Starbucks cup even if I have a stopper in the drinking hole. Am I the only one?

  9. You need to get a thermal, spill-proof mug. Not just too solve coffee on the go issues, but so you can stop throwing away so many damn cups when you know you’re gonna be needing coffee.

  10. I always take some Starbucks Via instant coffee packets.
    Then all you need is hot water.
    They are far better than airline or hotel coffees, and are small and highly portable.

  11. One of the things Australian carriers get right is coffee in their lounges. Both major full service carriers have baristas on duty at peak times to make you expresso in take away cups if required. At non-peak times, they have machines that make OK coffee. At the risk of seeming like a coffee snob. Starbucks is to coffee as a Kardashian is to talent.

  12. I have to disagree with Michael about the instant coffee – the water you would get on American is the problem. I know because I drink tea and I had the same Bigelow tea on American Eagle and then two hours later again on American and it was just too disgusting to be drinkable. When I told them I couldn’t drink it because it tasted really weird they just didn’t care and poured it away.

  13. The solution I’m going to look into soon is the Minipresso..

    Make your own espresso by hand. You just need to figure out hot water, which should be available on a plane, especially if you are traveling premium.

  14. The Amex Centurion Studio at SEA has paper cups for to go coffee, and is brewing a NW roasted (can’t recall if Seattle or Portland) coffee that isn’t the Green Mermaid’s. Caffe Vita maybe?

    I agree with the BYO mug option. Doubles for water.

  15. Get a S’Well bottle. You will not regret it. Keeps things hot for 12 hrs (almost too hot) and cold for up to 24 hrs. One of the investments I’ve made. I have 3 in different sizes.

  16. I don’t know, @credit. Your experience with backpacking seems to show that it turns people into a snide, self-congratulatory douche.

  17. Coffee costs pennies to produce; I wouldn’t feel guilty about “stealing” some from lounges that implicitly give it to you anyway.

  18. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the Alaska Board Rooms as an airline that does it right. They have Starbucks Drip coffee, in addition to machines that make a decent espresso drink too.

    The Go cups are decent too, although I prefer the chunky glass coffee mugs they have for consuming in the Board Room.

    The Board Rooms are all Priority Pass lounges too!

  19. I recently saw a woman at a Delta Sky Club ask an employee for a disposable coffee cup since said employee was holding one herself–and the employee responded that they weren’t allowed to give them out to passengers.

    It makes no sense, since the plates for the food (which presumably the airline has a lot more interest in preventing people from hoarding, from a cost perspective) are disposable, but the only thing they go out of their way to keep you from carrying out is a 5-cent cup of coffee?

  20. @2pax one of many things aussie carriers do well. The lady who runs the coffee stand in the Qantas club in MEL is very good, she knows my order – strong piccolo, and the orders of many other regulars. Very efficient too.

  21. I second the already mentioned thermal mug suggestion. Yes, it’s yet another thing to carry. Yes, you’ll occasionally be asked by TSA to prove it’s empty.

    On the other hand, fill it in the lounge and, with a good one, you’ll have hot coffee for hours (or at least until you’ve drunk it). If you’re on an airline with good coffee, most will refill it onboard without complaint. This has some other benefits. 1) You’re not depending on an FA to refill it (especially useful on short flights or when there’s turbulence). 2) Typically cool cabins and decreased air pressure aboard conspire to cool coffee very, very fast in flight. A good thermal mug works hard to keep your coffee hot. 3) Because they seal (and even when open, have a tiny opening), they don’t spill when things get bumpy.

    Finally, you’ve got a great mug to use on the ground, filling it in hotel lobbies, lounges and the like.

    I never travel without my Thermos Stainless Steel King mug and my Kor Delta water bottle.

  22. I’m not a coffee fan, but my colleagues in Oz find the idea that Starbucks is somehow decent totally laughable (having syrups to add to the massive cups kinda gives the game away!) – hence why they’ve had no success penetrating the Oz or NZ markets! As others have mentioned, QF and NZ have baristas in all their major lounges and free takeaway cups. Even BA have takeaway cups in their lounges!

  23. Can’t understand why American doesn’t do something about their dreadful coffee. It is virtually undrinkable. Very disappointing. You don’t need to serve estate-grown specialty java from the north side of a volcanic hill on Easter Island. Just give me a decent cuppa joe.

  24. I just stayed in the Alaskan Board Room at LAX thanks to the Citi Prestige. Besides a childrens area for the kids, the thing I appreciated the most is they had an espresso machine with Starbucks coffee that actually tasted like real Starbucks. They also had tall size to go cups. Not huge but you can always fill it to the top with espresso 🙂

  25. Nice to see the commenters with their helpful suggestions about spill-proof mugs. But Ben didn’t ask for that advice. In fact I gather he’s rather keen to have warm liquids splashed on him in the mornings from time to time if you catch my drift.

  26. [email protected] “coffee addict”….you must be kidding that you consider the so called “coffee” at most lounges is drinkable….I call it coffee flavored water….do your self a favor and bring your own like I do…like some posters up above …all you need is hot water and creamer …which is readily available everywhere…problem solved…try Nescafe Taster’s Choice instant coffee self serve packets (french roast) a try…not only it tastes better its cheaper too!

  27. I’m very big on quality coffee. I travel with the Bodum travel French press mug, a bag of whole bean coffee, sugar, a portable manual coffee grinder and the Aeropress which we won’t get into here. (

    At home prior to leaving for the airport, I quickly grind two servings of my favorite whole bean coffee and pour the grinds in the mug. Once I pass TSA, I go straight to a Starbucks to fill my mug with hot water. Let the mug filled with hot water a coffee grounds brew for about 3-5 minutes and enjoy. No need to wait in line just go up to the barista and ask for it.

    If you’re less of a coffee fanatic you can buy the single serving packets of Starbucks Via coffee packs alrdy with sugar and dry creamer in it. All you need is to add the hot water.

    Why wait in them long Starbucks lines? Take an extra five minutes and prep your coffee mug while you pack ur luggage. Cheers!

  28. The Contigo travel mugs are slim, tall, and have spill proof locks. Just bring a couple packs of them Starbucks Via, pass thru TSA, skip the Starbucks line, and ask for hot water.

  29. Move to Australia ?

    Baristas in all our lounges, apps for ordering coffee in Virgin Lounge and take away cups in Qantas and Virgin lounges .That, and ripper coffee to start with!

  30. two things

    1. I carry a thermos brand carafe that has a lid I can sip thru, but is water (coffee) -tight when closed. I fill it up at SBUX or equivalent in the terminal, or in the lounge.

    2. I carry SBUX VIa “instant” coffee in my briefcase. Even the airlines can do hot water.

  31. +1Ken (Are you the same Ken who admonished Gary for his “mind control?” If so, I nearly “+1ed” you there, too. Great minds. . . .)

  32. BYO thermal mug and fill it with a good coffee you can find in the lounge.

    Aren’t there some apps where you can preorder at selected coffee shops and basically go to a faster queue to retrieve your order? A bit like this:

    If US lounges want to start selling coffee, they had best start with actually supplying coffee which is worth selling. The thin brown stuff that drips from most machines in the USA into a huge glass jug on a hot plate and tastes like dishwater is far, far from anything resembling reasonable coffee. Even an espresso coffee robot, although many times also not great quality, is better than most drips and can be self-service setup.

  33. Hmm you posted:

    What’s frustrating is that airline lounges for the most part actually have very drinkable coffee. Except they don’t have “to go” cups. Instead there are just usually mugs or small styrofoam cups with lids.

    What’s wrong with a styrofoam cup with a lid? Aside from concerns about waste & sustainability seems fine to me. Looks like based on your pic that’s an old former US club. Most of the newer AA Admirals club locations have the Nescafé Allegria machines and also carafes of black coffee.

    Worth noting DL is transitioning from the Douwe Egberts machines they added following the NW merger to Starbucks in their club locations, consistent with serving SBUX onboard across the system.

    AS serves SBUX in their lounges too, even sometimes has a Tazo iced tea or SBUX iced coffee variety as well.

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