America's top chef, Philadelphia's own Michael Solomonov, will lend his star power and an Israeli-inspired food menu to an American Express passenger lounge that will open next month at Philadelphia International Airport.
American Express, catering to its premium credit card customers, is constructing a 6,300-square-foot Centurion Lounge in PHL's Terminal A West, on the mezzanine level, directly above the current British Airways lounge.
Solomonov, executive chef and co-owner of Zahav restaurant, is partnering with American Express to bring some of his favorite flavors to his first food foray in an airport.
"We are extremely honored to be a part of the American Express Centurion Lounge family and excited to help make their newest lounge an oasis of hospitality for Philadelphia travelers," said Solomonov, named the outstanding chef in America at this year's James Beard Foundation Awards, often called the Oscars of food.
"It's such an exciting time to be a Philadelphian, and I am grateful for the opportunity to show visitors to our historic town what the City of Brotherly Love is all about," said Solomonov, who opened Zahav in 2008 with business partner Steve Cook. Their other restaurants include Dizengoff, Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Rooster Soup Co., and Goldie.
Amex lounges offer more and fancier amenities than standard airport lounges, including private showers, hot-food buffets, complimentary drinks with top-shelf liquor brands, and staff to help with travel plans, WiFi, and quiet work areas.
Solomonov's PHL menu will include challah French toast with tehina and blackberries, Israeli salad with feta, kale tabbouleh with apples and pomegranate, Bulgarian kebabs with red pepper and white bean salad, and malabi with coconut and passionfruit, American Express said.
Janey Whiteside, executive vice president at American Express, said earlier this year that American Express has seen an increase in travel to Philadelphia among its Platinum and Centurion credit-card members. "Seeing that increase led to the prioritization of Philadelphia as the next location," she said.
American Express plans to announce soon the opening dates for its newest locations in Philadelphia and Hong Kong International Airports.
Access to the lounges is complimentary to Amex Platinum with up to two guests and Centurion cardholders who can bring their immediate families or up to two guests. Both levels can purchase additional day passes at $50 a guest.
American Express began opening airport lounges in 2013 — in Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas, Miami, New York LaGuardia, San Francisco, and Seattle — after American Airlines and United Airlines discontinued complimentary entry to airport clubs with the Amex Platinum and Centurion cards.
Now complimentary access to American and United airline lounges goes to travelers who have the airlines' branded credit cards — Citi's AAdvantage executive "world elite" MasterCard for American and the Chase United Mileage Plus Club card for United. Passengers without those cards can pay a daily rate to use a lounge, or an annual membership that can cost several hundred dollars.
Delta Air Lines' credit card is with American Express, and the Amex Platinum and Delta Reserve cards continue to provide entry to Delta Sky Clubs.
Airport lounges are coveted by business and frequent fliers as quiet places to work and relax while waiting for flights. The decisions by United and American angered elite Amex cardholders, who pay a $550 annual fee for the Platinum card and $2,500 for the invitation-only Centurion black card.
American Express choosing PHL "shows that Philadelphia airport is a meaningful airport," said Jeffrey Erlbaum, president of ETA Travel in Conshohocken. "The other places they are putting them are big hubs and big destinations.
"Business travelers like airport lounges, and the feedback I've gotten is that these Centurion lounges are better than airline-operated lounges — better service, better food, better layout," Erlbaum said.