Stuck at the airport. Ugh. Whatever the reason — long layover, bad weather, unexpected delay — and no matter how nice the terminal, it’s a good chance that you’re bored or tired.
Wouldn't it be lovely to have somewhere to escape the crowds, relax comfortably, charge your cellphone without battling for an electrical outlet, and grab a bite that doesn't take a chomp out of your wallet?
Such a place exists: an airport lounge.
You don't you need a membership, elite status, a first-class ticket, or one of those fancy premium credit cards to gain entry. A number of lounges sell single-use day passes that are just the ticket for travelers with time to kill or in need of a quiet respite.
No longer merely spartan spaces where harried frequent fliers could get a cup of coffee, make a phone call, and read the newspaper, airport lounges have changed dramatically in the past decade and are now nicely designed, comfortable spaces offering better food and worthwhile amenities.
"Airlines used to focus on the corporate traveler. Now across the industry, we're seeing them invest in lounges to create a total experience for both the business and leisure traveler," says Brett Catlin, managing director of alliances and product at Alaska Airlines, which is spending $40 million to build and renovate lounges across the United States. In addition to the U.S. airline-branded lounges, there are some operated independently, such as the Club Airport Lounge and Escape Lounge.
Want to enter the inner sanctum? Expect to pay $40 to $60 per person, typically at the door, for those operated by major U.S. carriers. (Delta Air Lines recently discontinued the sale of single-visit passes to its Sky Clubs, and with the exception of Air Canada, Etihad Airways, and Emirates, most international carriers don’t offer day passes.)
You'll be asked to show a government-issued ID and a boarding pass for same-day travel on the airline or a partner airline. These spaces are capacity-controlled; you may be denied entry if it is crowded with card-carrying members and other passengers entitled to club use.
Once inside, travelers often receive access to complimentary eats, ample workspace with high-speed Internet, comfy spots to kick back, oodles of power outlets, private restrooms (where no one looks askance if you brush your teeth or change your clothes), and, in some lounges, a fully staffed travel desk.
That travel desk may be the most important. Airlines assign only their best-of-the-best gate agents to their lounges. So, if you miss a connection or your flight is canceled, you have an experienced airline pro acting as a concierge who knows all the tricks to get you rebooked.
Amenities and pricing vary by lounge — for example, some passes are good only for a few hours or at limited times — and you may need to book at least 24 hours in advance, so read the fine print and plan accordingly.
Here are some lounge options as of Dec. 1:
Locations: Five — New York’s John F. Kennedy, Los Angeles, Portland, Anchorage, and Seattle-Tacoma (three).
Day pass: $50.
Amenities: Food and snacks, beverages (including wine and beer), TVs, high-speed WiFi, online access to newspapers, concierge service stations to help with last-minute upgrades.
On the menu: Steel-cut oatmeal, scones, bagels, a salad bar with artisanal breads, soups, veggies, hummus. Custom-crafted cocktails. Additional menu with fresh-made entrees such as a Korean rice bowl or chicken pesto panini for $8 to $10.
Little extras: Starbucks coffee prepared by professional baristas in some locations. Wide selection of local microbrews.
If you love it: Purchase a membership within 30 days of purchasing a day pass and Alaska Airlines will refund the cost of the day pass.
Locations: 34 worldwide, including Philadelphia.
Day pass: $59 (not available in Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Boston, and, temporarily, Dallas-Fort Worth).
Amenities: Lounge-style seating, high-speed WiFi, personal travel assistance, snacks and beverages, shower suites, and business centers.
On the menu: Breakfast might include hard-boiled eggs, oatmeal and cereal, fruit, yogurt, bagels. The afternoon finds hearty soups, fresh salads, vegetables, hummus, and cheese. Some clubs offer full meals for sale as well as premium cocktails.
Little extras: Fresh-brewed La Colombe coffee. Day-pass holders can bring up to three children under 18 with them.
Locations: 31 worldwide, including Philadelphia.
Day pass: $59.
Amenities: Beverages and light snacks, bar service, high-speed WiFi, and agent assistance with reservations, seat assignments, and electronic ticketing.
On the menu: Pastries, bagels, salad bar, soups, fresh vegetables with dip. Larger lounges offer full breakfast, lunch and dinner buffets.
Little extras: Free use of color printers. Private "phone booths" with speakerphones at some locations.
If you love it: Purchase a membership within 30 days of purchasing a day pass and United will waive the $50 initiation fee.
Locations: 11 in the United States (Atlanta, Boston, Baltimore-Washington, Cincinnati, Dallas-Fort Worth; Las Vegas, Orlando, Phoenix, Pittsburgh; Seattle; and San Jose) and two in Britain (London’s Gatwick and Heathrow).
Day pass: $40.
Amenities: Snacks, bottled water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages, (including beer, wine and liquor), free WiFi, charging ports, TV, and workstations with desktop PCs. Some locations offer shower facilities.
Little extras: Unlike airline lounges, the Club allows guests to get food from an airport restaurant and bring it in with you.
Locations: Six — Minneapolis-St. Paul; Oakland; Hartford; Reno-Tahoe (Nev.); Greenville-Spartanburg (S.C.); and Ontario (Calif.).
Day pass: $40 in advance, $45 walk-ups.
Amenities: Plenty of seating, quiet library area, full bar, business space, high-speed WiFi.
On the menu: Complimentary lighter fare including cereals and pastries at breakfast, and sandwiches, salads and soups the rest of the day. You can also order heartier dishes from an extensive menu for an additional cost.