The largest United Club opened on Sept. 13 at Denver Airport. Airlines editor Robert Silk sat down at the club with Alex Dorow, the carrier’s head of lounges, to discuss the upscaling of United Clubs as well as the overall industry picture for airport lounges.
Q: Why is Denver the right spot for the largest United Club?
A: We have grown Denver substantially over the past several years. Over two-thirds of our Denver customers every day are connecting. We want to ensure that with all these new markets that we’re connecting through here, we’re also offering a premium experience to our club members, our premier customers as well as our premium-cabin customers. In Denver, given that growth, we also want to make sure that we are scaling those products accordingly.
Q: You don’t have an international Polaris Lounge in Denver. I imagine that’s a factor.
A: We have six Polaris lounges across our network today. But now we’ve grown our international footprint out of Denver substantially. Thirteen years ago, we had a single flight to London out of Denver, and it only flew in the summer months. Now we have on some days two flights to London, a flight to Munich, a flight to Frankfurt and a flight to Tokyo. We want to be thoughtful of our international premium customer. So, more to come on that front.
Q: United also opened another lounge in Denver last month. Plus you’ve unveiled two lounges since spring 2022 at Newark and one early this year at O’Hare. How have they been received?
A: We’ll also be opening our club [near Gate C-78] in Newark this fall. They’ve been received incredibly well. They are significant step changes for us from where the program was in the past.
Q: Tell me how these new clubs improve upon the older United Clubs.
A: These clubs now have real kitchens for us to produce food in-house so that we can have very thoughtful menus that change much more frequently and can be produced at scale. The size of the clubs has obviously changed. The types of seating have changed. When you think about our legacy facilities, it was simply a sea of chairs and dining tables. Our goal now is to take a large space like this but also make it feel appropriately intimate. The types of furniture have also changed. It’s not just standard club furniture and a dining table. We have different types of chairs. We’ve added sofas. And we’ve added power at every single seat. We want to make sure that the basic things we deliver to our customers are space, comfort, power and then food and beverage.
Q: Is crowding still an issue at any United Clubs? And was it an issue this summer with Polaris as flyers flocked abroad?
A: Absolutely, and I think that is the double-edged sword. I want to build a program that is desirable to our customers and is enticing and showcases value from a marketing perspective. But we want to ensure that we’re not delivering something that is compromising to the overall experience to our customers. So, yes, we have experienced crowding, which is exactly why we are thoughtfully approaching master planning of all our United Clubs, so that we can grow accordingly with the scale of growth for our entire network.
Q: Is an airport lounge race taking place?
A: While I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a lounge race, a lounge serves as a differentiator for the overall customer experience. It’s an affinity tool, and it’s a key part of our commercial value proposition so that we can build loyalty with our customers, offer something that they value and ensure that we’re continuing to deliver exceptional experiences.
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