Airport lounge crowding has become an increasingly big issue in the United States in recent years. I wanted to talk about that a bit, including some behavior that I find to be confusing…
Many airport lounges have a crowding issue
Yesterday afternoon I was flying Copa Airlines business class from Miami to Panama City, and the airline uses the Turkish Airlines Lounge at the airport. Not only is this lounge used by all Star Alliance airlines leaving from the terminal, but it’s also open to Priority Pass members.
Turkish Airlines is clearly looking to squeeze every cent of revenue out of airlines and Priority Pass, so rarely are capacity controls put in place. The agents will let in people as fast as they can scan them in.
I was admitted to the lounge, and couldn’t find a single open seat. The lounge was simply uncomfortably crowded, so I left.
Out of curiosity, I returned 30 minutes later, and this time found a line of a couple of dozen people outside the door.
This isn’t an isolated incident. While not all lounges have the same crowding issues, in general finding airport lounges in the United States filled to the brim, or even with a line out the door, is no longer a rarity. Many Delta Sky Clubs look like a New York City nightclub on a Friday night, based on the line at the door.
Why are airport lounges so crowded?
What’s causing these crowding issues, especially given that business travel is nowhere close to making a full recovery (and historically it’s business travelers who largely use lounges)? I think there are a few things at play.
There’s no denying that the most significant factor is premium credit cards that offer lounge access, especially Priority Pass memberships. A decade ago it was mostly baby boomers who had premium credit cards. However, these cards have become much more mainstream in recent years. Not only are younger users maximizing the perks more, but they’re probably also more frequent travelers on balance.
For that matter, the value proposition of premium credit cards has improved significantly over the years. Going back a decade, the Amex Platinum Card was basically the only premium card on the market. Now we have the Chase Sapphire Reserve and Capital One Venture X, both of which offer Priority Pass memberships, with a great overall value proposition.
While I absolutely think that’s the primary issue, there are a couple of other factors at play here too:
- While airline capacity in the United States has expanded significantly over the years, most airports haven’t really proportionally increased space allocated to lounges
- A lot of airport lounges are increasingly monetizing access, with less regard for the passenger experience, and more regard for the bottom line (which, I guess, fair enough…)
Now, I’m sure some will say “well bloggers are to blame, y’all are promoting credit cards that offer Priority Pass access, and that causes this crowding issue.” I hear you, but:
- I still think there’s big value to be had with Priority Pass, just not with your average lounge in the United States; for example, I get huge value at Priority Pass restaurants, and also at lounges outside the United States
- I think it’s important to set reasonable expectations; some sites make it sound like a Priority Pass membership will get you access to these incredibly exclusive lounges in the United States, when that’s not really the case
- I’m not here to point fingers, but I’ve been doing the same thing on this blog for nearly 15 years, and as much as I wish I could take credit for this, I don’t think I’m the one making premium credit cards mainstream
Personally I still get huge value from Priority Pass. That includes at Priority Pass restaurants, at other Priority Pass experiences, at lounges outside the United States, etc. I use Priority Pass lounges all the time and have a great experience… just not every time.
Why do people bother with full airport lounges?
I’ve written in the past about what makes a good airport lounge. As I’ve always said, for a standard contract or Priority Pass lounge, the number one thing I hope for is a quiet place to sit. So many airport lounges are failing to deliver that nowadays.
The beautiful thing is that there’s an easy solution — the gate area. For example, below is what one of the closest gate areas to the Turkish Lounge Miami looked like.
To me this was infinitely better than being in a lounge — it was quiet, there was lots of natural light, the apron views were awesome, and Wi-Fi was free. For me this is a pretty easy solution. If a lounge is too crowded, I can always find a gate nearby to sit at instead.
Yet for reasons I can’t understand, I seem to be one of the few people who does that. Can anyone help me understand why? I would speculate that it comes down to a couple of factors:
- Some people want to eat and drink; I get it if you’re really hungry, but I also feel like the food and drinks in contract lounges are generally underwhelming, and if you can afford a high annual fee credit card, you can also afford to buy something actually decent in the terminal
- Alternatively, you can eat and drink something in the lounge, and then head out into the terminal
- I suppose on some level people feel that they’ve already “paid” for lounge access in one way or another, so they want to use it and get value from it, even if the experience isn’t great
Airport lounge crowding has become an increasingly big issue in the United States in recent years. This is no doubt because of the huge popularity of premium credit cards that offer lounge access, though there’s more to it than just that.
While there are still lots of amazing lounges, personally I just skip your typical, run-of-the-mill Priority Pass lounge in the United States. I’d rather sit in a quiet gate area with Wi-Fi, lots of natural light, and with no one nearby.
Where do you stand on the lounge crowding issue in the United States? Is there a solution? And am I the only one who often prefers just sitting in the gate area?