USA Today; Arlington, Va.; May 15, 2001; Chris Woodyard;
Abstract: Frequent fliers pay $450 a year to use American’s 32 domestic clubs, less if they have elite status. But fancy clubs aren’t just about membership fees. Having a top-flight club is a tool to lure business passengers who have been in shorter supply lately as the economy has tightened.
Copyright USA Today Information Network May 15, 2001
DALLAS/FORT WORTH AIRPORT — Jim and Janet Roseman barely had time to admire the tan Brazilian granite floors and English sycamore paneling. As soon as they stepped into the new Admirals Club at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Jim shot over to the cyber cafe to take one last look at e-mail. Janet made a beeline for the self-serve cappuccino machine. “The cappuccino is incredible,” she declared before they jetted off to vacation in Costa Rica.
The Dallas couple is among a wave of travelers indulging in fancy airport clubs, the newest realm of airline one-upmanship. From sweeping views to free back rubs, airlines are pulling out the stops to offer luxurious oases at their biggest hubs. “It has become a very big deal. Customers are expecting more,” says American’s Chris Mandracchia, manager of premium services.
Frequent fliers pay $450 a year to use American’s 32 domestic clubs, less if they have elite status. But fancy clubs aren’t just about membership fees. Having a top-flight club is a tool to lure business passengers who have been in shorter supply lately as the economy has tightened.
American isn’t the only airline sprucing up its clubs. Look at what some airlines are doing:
* Delta. Club members received chair massage in Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and San Francisco this month as part of a program in conjunction with an Atlanta firm called Stress Recess. “Delta is innovating the benefits of chair massage for business people on the road,” says Stress Recess CEO Devorah Slavin.
* United. The Red Carpet Club and United First Lounge at Narita International Airport in Tokyo feature massage chairs and cordless battery-powered headsets that allow members to watch the flat-screen TVs throughout without disturbing others.
* Northwest. The new club that opened in Minneapolis last December features a fireplace, chairs with swivel tables and electric plugs inside lockers so laptops can recharge while their owners lounge in the bar. It has “rooms within rooms” to give a more intimate feeling. A new Memphis lounge has many of the same features.
* Virgin Atlantic. The new $3.2 million clubhouse in San Francisco offers sweeping floor-to-ceiling views of the bay and skyline. A collection of digital art adorns the walls. It’s for Virgin’s Upper Class passengers.
Since opening its new complex in Terminal A at Dallas/Fort Worth last month, American is right back in the thick of the best-club competition. Like many things Texan, the club is big — 28,032 square feet, about the same as 12 new houses. The complex combines the Admirals Club, international arrivals lounge and first-class passengers lounge.
The new club is used by 1,800 to 2,000 travelers a day, almost double the demand for American’s next-largest club in Terminal B, yet it had to give a sense of spaciousness and relaxation. “The old club was wall-to-wall people, all sitting side by side,” Mandracchia says. Yet, the new club doesn’t feel that big.
Instead of a huge open room, the club has separate rooms for different functions. Especially distinctive is a children’s playroom with personal computers preloaded with games and educational software. The adult equivalent is a music listening lounge, where travelers tune in over headphones.
“I’m trying to pull in a younger crowd, a younger market, and keep people a little more entertained,” says Glen Jones, design principal for Harris Design Associates in Dallas, who conceived of many of the club’s features. “You’ve got to keep your clubs a step ahead to keep your membership levels up.”
Some of the other top features in the new Terminal A club include:
* A cyber cafe with four personal computers offering instant Internet access.
* Three shower suites, with valet service to press the clothes of arriving passengers.
* A smoking lounge to give its mostly foreign clientele one last chance to light up before a long international flight.
To create the new super club, Mandracchia and designers toured rival airlines’ clubs. Some features they liked, some they didn’t.
For instance, they wanted to improve on the showers that customers use to freshen up after a long flight. They went with a six-nozzle arrangement that drenches customers with the force of a Texas thunderstorm. It’s become so popular that it’s presenting a problem: Guests won’t leave. They are staying in the shower so long that club managers are thinking of putting little signs in the dressing rooms asking them to limit their visits to 30 minutes. “We never thought we’d have a line to use the showers,” Mandracchia says.
Likewise, some music aficionados are nodding off in the music listening lounge, raising fears they will miss their flights. For now, the solution will be to install a prominent clock on the wall in the faint hope they will peek at the time now and then.
What did go over well was the idea of creating a club that would feel a bit homey. Warm earth tones reflect the Texas landscape. And the art collection is among the most lavish to ever grace an airport club.
“I am kind of agog. The artwork is great,” says musician/ songwriter Gary Burr as he takes his first look around. The sheer size impressed him, too. “I am from Nashville, and this is bigger than the whole airport.”
Others are impressed by the technology.
The club is equipped for wireless Internet access by laptop users who have MobileStar accounts. And to keep members from unplugging lamps and creating a jumble of wiring to plug in laptops, power and phone connections are everywhere.
“It’s got it all,” says Linda Kay Petersen, who heads a charitable foundation, glad to be able to plug in her laptop anywhere.
Others are looking for simpler pleasures.
“They have honey-roasted peanuts. How great is that?” Burr says.
Source: USA Today