United Airlines Adds Lounge Access At New York JFK

United Airlines Adds Lounge Access At New York JFK

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United Airlines has figured out a way to offer its premium passengers lounge access at New York’s JFK Airport.

Alaska Lounge JFK now open to United business passengers

As of September 1, 2021, United Airlines business class passengers departing from New York JFK can use the Alaska Lounge located in Terminal 7. This is a noteworthy development, since previously a United business class ticket didn’t offer lounge access at JFK, due to lack of an agreement.

The Alaska Lounge JFK

For context, in the spring of 2021, United Airlines returned to JFK after cutting service back in 2015. United pulled out of JFK at the time so that it could instead focus on its hub at Newark Airport (EWR), and the airline believed it could get most passengers to travel out of EWR instead of JFK.

Since returning to JFK, the airline has been flying premium configured 767-300s on transcon routes to both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Unfortunately all flights will be downgraded to 757-200s as of this fall, given the lack of premium demand at the moment.

United’s premium 767-300 Polaris cabin

While United Airlines ordinarily offers United Club access to premium transcon passengers (though not United Polaris Lounge access), the problem was that United didn’t have a lounge at JFK. The only lounges in Terminal 7 are the Alaska Lounge and the British Airways Lounge, and seemingly until recently the airline couldn’t come to an access agreement.

While the Alaska Lounge isn’t anything to get too excited about, it is a significant improvement over no lounge access. Then again, the lounge was even accessible with Priority Pass.

The interesting dynamics at play here

While not particularly consequential, there are a couple of things that I think are noteworthy.

For one, there used to be a United Club at JFK up until 2015. When United Airlines left the airport, Alaska Airlines took over the space, and it became the Alaska Lounge. So it’s funny that United passengers will again have access to the same space, but this time it’s managed by Alaska.

The partnership dynamics at play here are also curious. Keep in mind that Alaska Airlines and American Airlines have a close partnership. While Alaska Airlines is giving up on the New York to Los Angeles route as of this fall, it’s a market where American Airlines is strong.

I wonder what went on in the background here, given that United seemingly wasn’t able to initially strike a deal for lounge access:

  • Alaska Airlines usually has no problem filling up lounges with Priority Pass guests
  • It makes me wonder if United ended up having to pay more per visit than Priority Pass had to pay, or if the Alaska Lounge is no longer as full with Priority Pass guests, given how travel demand has shifted in that terminal (since British Airways has historically been the biggest airline)
  • I also can’t help but wonder if they voluntarily came to this agreement, or if somehow United lodged a complaint with the airport over being denied a lounge option, and then eventually Alaska gave in (this is farfetched, but I’ll throw it out there)
  • While there’s something to be said for allegiance and partnerships, at the end of the day agreements like this are usually just business, so I’m not surprised to see that something was worked out
Alaska Lounges have proper espresso-based drinks!

Bottom line

United Airlines business class passengers departing JFK now get access to the Alaska Lounge. It’s good that United finally figured out a way to offer lounge access out of JFK, since lack of lounge access was a major competitive disadvantage. Then again, this lounge was accessible with Priority Pass anyway, so I wonder how many United business class passengers didn’t have access anyway.

Are you surprised to see United managed to come to an agreement for JFK lounge access?

(Tip of the hat to Stella Shon)

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  1. Jon

    Alaska Lounge members have access to exactly 4 United club locations, so I guess this makes a bit of sense if you consider this as an extension of that?

  2. shoeguy

    The AS Lounge is housed in what was the former United Airlines Red Carpet Club (then United Club) before it closed down in 2015. The space was always pretty large overall, but as a UA club, it was very basic and never upgraded.

    UA's re-entry at JFK is very much challenged. A lot has changed since UA bowed out (a terrible decision). Competition is very stiff and essentially a three-way battle between B6, AA,...

    The AS Lounge is housed in what was the former United Airlines Red Carpet Club (then United Club) before it closed down in 2015. The space was always pretty large overall, but as a UA club, it was very basic and never upgraded.

    UA's re-entry at JFK is very much challenged. A lot has changed since UA bowed out (a terrible decision). Competition is very stiff and essentially a three-way battle between B6, AA, and DL. Business travel is muted at best, and UA's set up at JFK, essentially what it was before it left, isn't amazing (T7 has very few top tier amenities) and it will be closing next year.

    1. Greg

      How is JFK transcon competition more stiff than 2015? It was 4 other airlines - AA, DL, Virgin, and B6 back then. I'd say more competition back then.

      But biz travel demand is much weaker as you point out.

  3. Raheem

    I was there for the evening US JFK-LAX flight. I didn’t realize US had struck an agreement with AS so I tried to access the lounge through Priority Pass and told they had reached limits and there was a “virtual queue” for Priority Pass guests that was ~20 parties deep.

    Hopefully guaranteed access for UA J passengers is a big step as there is only a single bar/seated food option in the terminal and...

    I was there for the evening US JFK-LAX flight. I didn’t realize US had struck an agreement with AS so I tried to access the lounge through Priority Pass and told they had reached limits and there was a “virtual queue” for Priority Pass guests that was ~20 parties deep.

    Hopefully guaranteed access for UA J passengers is a big step as there is only a single bar/seated food option in the terminal and it was quite a wait to get a seat at the bar or a table.

    Thanks for posting this update. Will certainly make use on my next UA JFK flight in two weeks.

  4. DCS

    I get to check out this lounge when I travel this coming week from JFK through LAX to HNL with UA in biz.

    The lounge hours are 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

  5. MikeL

    I like the idea of transcon, I do! But have you seen the new LGA? As a 100% United flyer, with Newark is down the road with all it's amenities(minus the over crowding :P); choices are out there. Living part-time in Manhattan and part time in San Antonio... I would choose LGA with a connection over having to travel to JFK; and if I needed direct, I just see Newark as being more flexible.

    ...

    I like the idea of transcon, I do! But have you seen the new LGA? As a 100% United flyer, with Newark is down the road with all it's amenities(minus the over crowding :P); choices are out there. Living part-time in Manhattan and part time in San Antonio... I would choose LGA with a connection over having to travel to JFK; and if I needed direct, I just see Newark as being more flexible.

    I totally understand my use case going from NY to TX isn't transcon, but even the times I need to go all the way east to west... It's easier to find a nice 777/787/767 route from Newark.

    Unless they can open it up their slots and options, and make JFK more like LGA or even SAT(flying to all hubs)... I just don't see how it can actually work. PS wasn't working pre-covid right? And those were specially configured 757-200's... how can this?

    On a side note... I visited the new LGA United Club this morning... and it's super nice/clean/large... highly recommend!

    Now, if the goal is to lose money and buy up slots one at a time for the next 10 years as they become aviable, I'm totally for that...

    1. Ivan X

      I’m with you, and prefer flying EWR from Manhattan over JFK (LGA is n/a, as I’m usually transcon, so I not only want the nonstop but the better aircraft), but. but here are some counterpoints, for the sake of the argument:

      - there are NYC snobs who just won’t fly from EWR as a regular thing. I know several of them.
      - there are Brooklyn, Queens, and LI people who find EWR too far.

      I’m with you, and prefer flying EWR from Manhattan over JFK (LGA is n/a, as I’m usually transcon, so I not only want the nonstop but the better aircraft), but. but here are some counterpoints, for the sake of the argument:

      - there are NYC snobs who just won’t fly from EWR as a regular thing. I know several of them.
      - there are Brooklyn, Queens, and LI people who find EWR too far.
      - speaking for myself, if I’m traveling light, I *love* the LIRR AirTrain from JFK, and I *hate* the NJT AirTrain from EWR. This is even more relevant now, with sky high rideshare prices, and yellow cabs scarce.
      - since the Polaris lounge opened, the United Club situation at Newark has been dire (I realize they are opening another one, but it has been *years*).
      - the new Centurion lounge at JFK is just fantastic, best one I’ve been in, even if it is airside (with no airside connection to Terminal 7) in a different terminal.
      - if you really get delayed, the TWA hotel is wonderful.
      - I have frequently seen great miles and cash prices for JFK that I haven’t seen from EWR.
      - I love the premium configured 767 more than the 777 and 787, though that’s obviously a non-issue now.

      So with all that said, I personally don’t *need* United to be in JFK, but I like having options, and there are some benefits. With that said, the switch to 757’s is a significant deterrent and I’ll be leaning back towards EWR unless the timing or price are really right.

      (I was in the new United Club at LGA once and agree it’s quite nice and one of the better ones.)

    2. Miamiorbust

      Yes, but it is Newark. Live in NYC long enough and you will understand that you just can’t fight that. People didn’t move from West Nowhereville to NYC to fly from NJ. UA’s move implicitly acknowledges that reality. Actually think Alaska lounge is better fit for UA than BA. Transcon crowd is more good coffee than gin and tonics.

  6. UA-NYC

    Occam's Razor - with crappy old CO 757s now flying the route (vs. high-J 763s), maybe UA is now willing to pay a bit more per max given it's only 16 seats x 4 flights per day (and sure there is breakage on top of that w/pax not even realizing it's there or using it).

    1. Ivan X

      I like this theory. Makes sense.

    2. DCS

      Correction: Crappy CO 757s are NOT "now flying the route"...

    3. Eskimo

      @UA-NYC I think you're giving Occam not enough credits.

      Occam's Razor - UA uses 757 is decided by RM bean counters. UA uses lounge is decided by Airport Ops.
      UA is broken because Finance doesn't collaborate enough with Ops.

  7. John G

    I flew the inaugural JFK-LAX, United had a ton of it's top executives present who all briefly spoke at the gate area and then were happily to chat and answer questions. When I asked about the lounge, they said it would be the British Airways lounge (once it reopens)...They also said this would be a designed 763 high J route as part of their renewed commitment to JFK. Ha, that wasn't even six months ago.

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Eskimo

@UA-NYC I think you're giving Occam not enough credits. Occam's Razor - UA uses 757 is decided by RM bean counters. UA uses lounge is decided by Airport Ops. UA is broken because Finance doesn't collaborate enough with Ops.

MikeL

I like the idea of transcon, I do! But have you seen the new LGA? As a 100% United flyer, with Newark is down the road with all it's amenities(minus the over crowding :P); choices are out there. Living part-time in Manhattan and part time in San Antonio... I would choose LGA with a connection over having to travel to JFK; and if I needed direct, I just see Newark as being more flexible. I totally understand my use case going from NY to TX isn't transcon, but even the times I need to go all the way east to west... It's easier to find a nice 777/787/767 route from Newark. Unless they can open it up their slots and options, and make JFK more like LGA or even SAT(flying to all hubs)... I just don't see how it can actually work. PS wasn't working pre-covid right? And those were specially configured 757-200's... how can this? On a side note... I visited the new LGA United Club this morning... and it's super nice/clean/large... highly recommend! Now, if the goal is to lose money and buy up slots one at a time for the next 10 years as they become aviable, I'm totally for that...

UA-NYC

Occam's Razor - with crappy old CO 757s now flying the route (vs. high-J 763s), maybe UA is now willing to pay a bit more per max given it's only 16 seats x 4 flights per day (and sure there is breakage on top of that w/pax not even realizing it's there or using it).

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