The Airport Lounge Crisis

UPDATE: February 12, 2020

MAYBE MY EXPECTATIONS are out of whack, but I’ve always thought the airport lounge was supposed to be an exclusive sort of place. A place of luxury and comfort, where premium class passengers could escape the noise and bustle of the terminal. In my younger days, before I could afford to travel in the forward cabins, I’d walk past those smoked-glass doorways and think, wow, it must be pretty luxe in there. I mean, isn’t that the point?

Well, as anyone who travels regularly and visits these lounges will attest, this is increasingly not the case.

The main issue is overcrowding. Lounges are often so jam-packed that customers are forced to stand. I’ve seen lines going literally out the door. Noise levels, meanwhile, are off the charts, often because the property is overloaded with babies and toddlers.

One night I’m at the airport in Bangkok, at the Thai Airways’ Royal Orchid Lounge, which is shared by the various Star Alliance members. Access to the lounge is part of the whole premium class experience, and I left the hotel extra early to enjoy it. In the entryway vestibule, everything is peaceful, elegant and quiet. The hostess scans my boarding card and welcomes me. But when I turn the corner into the main hallway, everything changes. There must be five-hundred people inside. Literally every seat is taken. There’s trash all over the floor and it’s louder than a football stadium.

After standing around for ten minutes I finally score a seat. I’m wedged between four other visitors. My table is cluttered with the last person’s cups and plates, but if I wait for it to be cleaned, someone else will grab it. There are kids everywhere, and they will not shut up: yelling and crying and running around like it’s recess on the school playground.

The centerpiece of this chaos is an obnoxious guy in a Russian soccer shirt and his belligerent offspring. He’s something of a Vladimir Putin lookalike, sprawled sockless on a sofa with his naked feet hanging over the rail, playing a game on his phone. Around him is a spray of plastic toys deposited by his five — count ’em, five — preschool-age children, who when they aren’t tossing toys around are shrieking and throwing chips at each other. Every so often Vlad claps his hands and scolds them in lazily indignant Russian. They ignore him and carry on.

And here come the waitstaff with their carts. They’re flinging dishes into the bin, rapid-fire, and it’s BANG, CLANG, SMASH, BANG, SMASH, CLANG.

I try not to let it get to me. I distract myself with the buffet, helping myself to a gin and tonic, a miniature pastry-pillow labeled “chicken roll,” and some finger sandwiches made with institutional-looking white bread. But it’s so noisy and crowded that it’s impossible to relax. At one point I look up and can hardly believe my eyes. Walking past me is a mom and her two year-old toddler… in a diaper.

The photo at the top of this post was taken at the Aspire lounge (shared by multiple carriers) at Amsterdam-Schiphol. Every seat was occupied and the morning sun was blasting through the unshaded windows, heating the room like a sauna. At least a dozen babies could be counted, half of whom were shrieking at any given time, while a group of rambunctious, slightly older kids ran amok, throwing themselves over the furniture. Aside from the free food — which kept running out — what exactly was the advantage of being here versus any random spot in the terminal?

What was intended to be a place of comfort and relaxation has become a cross between a day-care center and a cafeteria. Silly me. I remember the first time I stepped into the Cathay Pacific business lounge in Hong Kong, and how, not knowing better, I was literally nervous. I had this idea that I was stepping into some rarefied chamber of privilege where everyone inside would like like James Bond. I’d be seen as an interloper and asked to leave. Instead, here was a room overflowing with the same people you’d see in any shopping mall, most of them younger than me, in cargo shorts and ballcaps, jostling with baby strollers and wolfing down beer and noodles.

I was in the Avianca lounge at Miami International not long ago. There was a guy, early thirties, sitting across from me, with his headphones cranked so high that everybody within fifty feat could sing along. The music was obnoxious enough, but then I noticed his t-shirt. It was black and emblazoned with two simple words in large block letters. It said… well, here’s a picture of it:

If that’s not an indicator of just how far air travel — even premium class air travel — has fallen, I don’t know what is.

This is by no means across the board, of course. It’s hit or miss, depending on the airport, the airline, and the time of day. The trend, though, isn’t a good one. There are a lot more loud, dirty, and overcrowded ones these days than pleasant or luxurious ones.

The cause is twofold. For one, more people are flying than ever before, in all classes, and/or with whatever mileage or frequent flyer status gets you in. On top of that, a growing number of passengers are using third-party perks to gain entry. Credit cards, mainly. Having an American Express platinum card, for example. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m as guilty of this as anybody, my Platinum AmEx and Priority Pass benefits getting me in to the same lounges I’m apt to then complain about.)

I should point out, too, that the same thing is happening in hotels. Have you been to the executive lounge in a Marriott or a Hilton or a Hyatt lately? A topic for another time, maybe, but the mechanics of the issue are no different.

This won’t be an easy one to fix. Operators have little choice beyond tightening up their entry qualifications or building bigger lounges. The latter is difficult, if often impossible. The former risks alienating a large number of customers who’ve gotten used to easy entry.

If I was running an airline, I’d have a few rules:

1. Lounge access is for first and business class passengers only. No third-party (Amex, etc.) entry unless capacity is below 75 percent.
2. One guest per passenger.
3. No guests for third-party customers.
4. No children under four years-old. Period, no exceptions.

That first one, I admit, is a non-starter. Airline lounges restricted only to premium class passengers do exist, but they’re uncommon, and carriers make a lot of money from those credit card deals.

I’m not optimistic. Look at airport security as an example, whereby a tediously inconvenient, jury-rigged system became the new normal. Sure there’s PreCheck, but the basic structure of the system is irrational and frankly chaotic. If you could time-travel back twenty years and describe our security protocols to a passenger, he or she wouldn’t believe you. The whole thing would be seen as ridiculous and unacceptable. Yet here we are. It’s amazing what we grow accustomed to and eventually accept with a shrug.


Ask the Pilot lounge awards…

BEST: The Emirates first class lounge in Dubai, concourse A. The private boarding bridges, the gourmet food, sumptuous surroundings and complimentary massage. Where to start, and what’s not to like? And no, your Amex ain’t getting you in here.

Dubai Decadence.

MOST DISAPPOINTING: The Wingtips lounge at JFK’s terminal 4. Another of those shared lounges, which tend to be worse than the airline-specific ones, this is a singularly awful space. Cramped seating, noisy kids, rickety unwashed tables, and it’s always a hundred degrees inside. As for the food…

Bon appétit !


All photos by the author.

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82 Responses to “The Airport Lounge Crisis”
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  1. Patrick Wahle says:

    I just found the Covid-19 solution.
    My wife and I just flew from Bangkok to Toronto business class via Abu Dhabi on Etihad.
    We were 4 in a 777 business class to Abu Dhabi and 7 in a 787 business class to Toronto. Maybe a dozen people in coach. No kids on board for 21 hours. Bangkok and Abu Dhabi lounges were totally deserted. We had the chef and the staff for ourselves. Definitely no rush to return to North America.

  2. Patrick Wahle says:

    There maybe two solutions to avoid the kids in business class and in lounges.
    – A certain number of flights should be forbidden to parents with kids. It could be based on time of departure or day of departure. For example the daily flight from New York to London would be no-kid flight on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.. If there are 2 daily flights, one out of the two would be a no-kid flight.
    – Other solution would be to put parents with kids in a separate compartment when there are few flights during the week or the month.
    – Then there could be an agreement between airlines: For example if several airlines are flying between New York and London, some airlines would have no kids on Monday, Wednesday, Friday (let’s say BA) and United would have flights with kids on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and no-kids flights the other days of the week. It would be easy to setup.
    Regarding lounges, there is a new trend like Air Canada is doing at Pearson in Toronto. Two different lounges: Signature for international business class paying customers (no points, no credit card perks, etc.) with exquisite restaurant serving top food and beverages. Then there is the Maple Leaf lounge for all other Air Canada business class customers travelling on points, upgrades, etc…as well as domestic flights travellers.

  3. Aaexp says:

    You would win more support of you weren’t so rebarbative regarding kids. Kids are rarely the problem, and indeed on my last few overcrowded lounge visits there were none, or they were confined to the play area.

    Regardless, my kid has just as much right to be in the first class lounge as anyone else. I bought the ticket up in the front of the plane. By virtue of being in the top 0.2% of customers of my usual airline, I have access to their best lounges whenever I travel.

    Look at it this way: I’m trying to teach him from a very early age how to behave with decorum. The problem is the adults who never learned decorum themselves. Cool it regarding the kids.

  4. Jeff Latten says:

    I was spoiled…I joined the PanAm Clipper Club back in the late 70’s and this was exactly what an executive lounge should be. QUIET! Free cocktails and snacks. The staff would get your boarding pass for you. Plenty of room with comfy seating and reasonably adult and nicely dressed patrons. I don’t remember seeing or hearing one child in any of the Clipper Club lounges…either there were none or they were well-behaved. Same thing.

    All gone. Now they’re airport short term Disneylands for families. So it cost you $50 a year for the Clipper Club membership…big deal. So worth it.

  5. Chaz says:

    I’ve found it’s more interesting and beneficial nowadays to just wander the terminals rather than stay in a “premium” lounge at most airports (though the CAL lounge at Taoyuan is still rather nice).

    Dishonorable mention to the Skyteam lounge at Chek Lap Kok. Pretty much like the first lounge you described above!

  6. gordon bell says:

    Obviously you have never been to the Delta Sky Miles lounge at Terminal 2 in JFK. Most of the seats are ripped or stained and the whole lounge is open air sitting on top of all the fast food restaurants. Great place to spend an hour or so inhaling the vent fans over the deep fryers. Add in the usual over crowding and lousy food, and this “club” is tough to beat for worst.

  7. Kate Hanni says:

    I’m so glad you pointed this out Patrick. I’ve been mind-blown on more than one occasion about not only the first class lounges and the decline in any modicum of a first class experience. It doesn’t stop with the lounges either. Since moving to Bend Oregon I flew 1st class to AZ direct on AA. The seats were maybe 2 inches wider than economy, less legroom than bulkhead or Emergency exits and frankly far lower legroom than most business class seats, no foot rest and about 2 inches of recline. We were passed bagged snacks. Really awful what’s happened to the air travel experience.

  8. BoBo Bobson says:

    And it’s not just first class airport lounges. High class hotels have become jamboree’s for the little ones. What’s more fun than fine dining while watching kids chase each other around on a lawn that’s overlooking the ocean. Parents today think everything that’s good for adults is good for their ^%)&^*^& kids too. Bah Humbug. If an establishment says, “no kids,” they’d probably get sued for age discrimination. When I grew up, parents used to say to us kids, “children are to be seen and not heard.” No more, folks.

  9. Jeff says:

    You are absolutely correct. Except you have an advantage of ending up at the pointed end where there is quiet and structure. The rest of us are continuing the journey among the chaos (in seats that are too small and have no leg room)

  10. Graham silliman says:

    Your suggestions focus on restricting access. Another way to improve the experience would be to build more lounges.

  11. David-in-Florida says:

    You should try the Malaysian Air international business lounge in Kuala Lumpur. It is huge and the staff provide excellent service.
    The lounge is huge. The food is great. They even have vegan options.

  12. Jinx Fogle says:

    Im no old fuddy duddy but I recall when one would dress nicely for air travel. I would wear at least a sport coat,tie,nice slacks dress shirt,shined shoes. We were all nice and friendly. What has happened is the airlines fault. No meals, VERY CRAMPED, pay for a drink. The lowering of standards by the airlines make many people grumpy,= I am tired you kids go play. I not like it but…. One last thing the airport is large and kids are excited, the lounge is like a corral for active kids. I love the calm, but its gone forever.

  13. Jeff BH says:

    Well, my perspective has shifted quite a bit now that I have a one-year-old. She’s already been to five countries (USA, China, France, Germany, Switzerland), and we’ve been in the Star Alliance lounges in all five.

    She has, for the most part, been quiet and appreciated. Especially by women; men mostly ignore her.

    Best experiences: Frankfurt (what lovely staff), Berlin and Lyon. Worst: Shanghai (the lounge is run by Air China, which should be pretty much all you have to hear). San Francisco was OK, but overcrowded. I don’t *know* if that’s caused by the credit card customers United gives access to, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

    The thing is, if you were going to design a place that is hellish for children, it would be an airport. Massive crowds, overstressed adults everywhere you look, nothing but hard surfaces and loud noises, very little food that’s infant-appropriate. (Shout out to the coffee bar attendant in Zurich who didn’t charge me for warm water when he realized I was going to use it for formula.)

    We sought out the lounges in the hope it would give our babe a bit of comfort and quiet, and we mostly got it. I certainly understand Patrick’s point of view, which I shared until recently, but until airports can find some way to deal appropriately with babies, I just can’t blame parents for their any-port-in-a-storm attitude towards lounges.

    • Stephen Stapleton says:

      Perhaps, just a suggestion, people should not fly with babies or toddlers except for emergencies, such as health care. Visiting grandma for her birthday is not a reason to subject an infant to the rigors of air travel, not sufficient reason to inflict him on the rest of us, while emergency liver transplant is. Subjecting the rest of the passengers in the airport or, worse, on the plane, to a crying baby is practically inhumane. Rather than airports accommodating babies, how about if babies just didn’t fly?

      • Jeff BH says:

        In our case, our travels with an infant broke this way: one trip to take the baby to California so her dying Grandmother could see her for the first and last time, and one business trip by my wife while she was still nursing.

        Neither was entered into lightly. I strongly doubt most people traveling with babies are doing it for fun. I’d recommend assuming that any parent in an airport with an infant is (a) doing it because they’re compelled to do so and (b) could use some tolerance and understanding.

    • joe says:

      Just one question? WHY do you consider it a good idea to take a toddler into a premium lounge? Just because you have to travel with a child doesn’t mean you have to fly businrds class or take them into a lounge. I’d rather my children not grow up with a sense of entitlement from being in premiun lounges or flying business class all their lives

    • BadBilly says:

      Oh yes, we weren’t talking about YOUR little angel. NO! She’s special! The sooner she learns the rules of common decency and consideration DO NOT APPLY to her, the better!

      That you don’t know you’re the problem confirms you are.

      • Patrick says:

        A little harsh here, Billy. Jeff sounds like a responsible parent. It’s the ones that simply don’t give a damn that are the problem. There are some other commenters here that better deserve your ire.

  14. Stephen Stapleton says:

    I gave up on the lounges some time ago. I used to be a member of the Admiral’s Club and remember them as a quiet oasis from the noise of the main airport. Didn’t even have all those repetitive announcements about not leaving one’s luggage unattended. I’d sit and read the Journal or The Times. Eventually, when the laptop was invented, work on my laptop, mostly playing the computer at bridge. Then, the barbarians invaded and I wasn’t flying enough to make the $500 or so a year worth it. Now, I just go to the far end of a bar, preferably not a sports bar. It may be noisy, but there aren’t children. Frankly, I’d bar anyone under 12, not 4, and only then with muzzles on, from flying, let alone entering a lounge.

    There is a theater some distance from me that serve alcohol and food. The lobby looks a W hotel lobby complete with a bar. The theaters are relatively small, but, because there is alcohol, there isn’t anyone under 21 in the place. It is THE place to see Disney movies. I saw the live action Beauty and the Beast there and not a child in sight. I have already purchased my tickets to Mary Poppins Returns. It is an hour’s drive, but so worth it.

    At some point, we as a society are going to have to confront hordes of children running around mostly adult spaces.

  15. Glenn Baxter says:

    A few days after reading this, I was in the United Lounge at HNL. There were a few kids making noise, but they were put to shame by one chubby little Damien yelling and running at (his) top speed around the lounge.

    As the lady across from me and I predicted, the kid tripped over his own feet and hit his head on the coffee table. He was obviously unhurt, but raised his wails about 10dB, which was the threshold that his parents could finally hear. They ran back to where we were sitting and glared at us, as if we had placed the coffee table there.

    My companion asked me, “Should we say anything?” I said, “Not my kid, not my coffee table”.

    I did give my business card to the receptionist, should the parents decide to make a stink.

  16. Thomas Daddato says:

    The ‘Pau Casals’ lounge at El Prat airport in Barcelona (BCN) has a play area for children, with toys etc. This is next to the cell-phone area. Then there is an enclosed quiet-area, separating the two loud zones from the actual lounge.

  17. Carmel says:

    This site seems to be anti little flyers (aka infant and toddler flyers). Yes, kids are noisy, but parents try their hardest to minimize the noise so that you can have your peace. But how could parents ”manage” their kids if there isn’t a place that’s comfortable or entertaining for kids? If lounges are off limits, should they be restricted in the noisy and dull areas of the airport? And then y’all will blame them for having cranky kids on board. Great! (4 thumbs up for airports that have kids area/ playground for kids to burn their energy before flying)

  18. arnold s says:

    The airport lounges you are drooling over were never much more than a gathering place for the nouveau riche. A room behind “smoked-glass doorways” was not really what you imagined. Full of boring folk. Not particularly well educated. Not having attended particularly good schools. You know, plain old folks.
    Just folks who had the money to not fly with the ordinary hoi polloi in the back of the plane, But, still, hoi polloi, themselves, nonetheless.
    I think that you missed nothing of value in your “younger days” of having your nose pressed against the glass, looking in.
    I mean, I mean, this is in an airport. Not the Coq d’Or of the Drake hotel, in the old, old days of Chicago. An airport. An airport.

  19. Brian Richard Allen says:

    Timely piece. Spot on. Thanks, Captain.

  20. el Dorko says:

    So it isn’t just me? Excellent article…

  21. Andrea G says:

    I’ve found that my airport experience has improved the more I ‘de-perk”. I gave up on lounges years ago based on many of the reasons you’ve listed. Now I walk to the gate and then head for a seat in the most remote and empty area I can find until it gets close to boarding time. I’ve also given up on the TSA Pre-screen BS. I hit my breaking point on a flight out of Orlando where I watched nearly the entirety of the ‘regular’ security line breeze passed me as I was trapped behind a woman whose bags were being emptied of things like a full sized Noxema tub, a large can of hairspray, and kitchen scissors.

  22. Ed says:

    No doubt. Keep lounges exclusive to those traveling in actual business class. I wouldn’t go so far as to block children under 4, dealing w/ other issues would remedy any problems with families and crowding / noise. Ultimately we’re dealing with market forces and what has degraded air travel in general has finally come to roost in the lounges.

    Remember being upstaged to first from business several times, and enjoying a scotch in a nearly empty lounge with United at Dulles Airport. Heaven. That’s the lesson here: first has become the new business class I suppose.

  23. Ameya says:

    Wow. This aptly summarizes my experience even in the country I frequently fly in: India.
    I am 30 but I echo the same sentiment you have mentioned. The “luxe” part of Lounges is missing due to the commodification of credit card based access. Not to sound like an old man, but when I used to fly 5-8 years back, the Lounge used to be an amazing experience with courteous staff, rubbing shoulders with elites and C-Suites of the world, great food and amazing views of the runway.
    You wouldn’t believe that in a high population density country like India, the Lounges would be a respite from all the hustle-bustle.

  24. Vidiot says:

    I’m, I guess, a bit of the problem because I have lounge access via a credit card and PriorityPass.

    I would like the system much, much more if the management of these lounges would simply act like they cared. Don’t let people into the lounge unless there’s space for them. (They should know how many people they’ve allowed entry, and how many seats they have.) Or if it’s impolitic to bar one’s own airline customers due to it being shared with PriorityPass, then do as you say and restrict PriorityPass entry when total lounge capacity climbs over a threshold such as 75% of total capacity.

    And have cleaning crews circulate more frequently to keep the place nice, and replenish the food and drink in a timely way. (And maybe upgrade from ramen noodles? I’m not expecting a filet mignon, but nothing says “welcome” and “class” like offering the almost literally cheapest possible food.)

  25. Angus "Butch" Perkins says:

    This is just a pebble on the beach but my recent experience at the Virgin Atlantic lounge at LHR was beyond great. I thought I was walking into a five star restaurant. Table service. Beyond friendly staff. Great food.Great bartenders .I truly did not want to leave.

  26. Dan V says:

    It’s people. It’s what we do. It’s what we are. And I, like you, are a misanthrope.

    Until we can perfect a trans-species conversion, we are stuck in our self abuse. My trans species choice: pangolin or sloth.

    Till that can be done, I remain a grumpy, self isolated old man. Who avoids all communal human gatherings, and most personal ones. Why do you think that the “wise man” lives reclusively in the side of an isolated mountain?

    • Rod says:

      “I, like you, are a misanthrope.”

      Your grammar might be a trifle weird, but I hear ya man, I hear ya.
      However, actually it’s the person Seeking wisdom who lives in a cave, not because of any curmudgeonly impulse but so as to avoid distraction in the process of turning inward. Once Enlightenment has been achieved, there’s no further use for the cave, and that lounge full of screaming brats and boneheads wearing loud T-shirts won’t cause a single ripple on the Enlightened One’s cool.

  27. Dan says:

    The Business Class Lounge at Ataturk airport looked straight out of the Star Wars bar scene when I was there.

  28. Mad Mac says:

    I’ve stopped going to the lounges in the US. The experience is better in the terminal in most airports, than in the lounges. And given the costs of access, after a meal in the terminal and the few places where pay for internet is required, is actually cheaper. Don’t tell the people paying for the lounge access… it keeps them cooped up in a room so I don’t have to deal with them…

  29. Brian Roulston says:

    Oh,I remember when I was in my teens ( I’m 50 now) and we flew Air Canada to Florida,that was my first plane ride.It was aboard a DC-9 and back then most people dressed wearing dress pants or casual dresses. The last time I flew was Southwest to Begas out of Buffalo and the people coming off the plane in Buffalo had overalls ( it was spring and they were not airline employees.),ripped blue jeans tank tops. This was just after 9/11. What a difference.
    So yep…I know what you’re saying.

  30. Yehuda A Mond says:

    I agree, this is very unfortunate, and something needs to be done.
    For the record, I am a Priority Pass member, and I take my family (myself, wife, 9yo boy, twin 5 yo boys, and 4-month-old girl as of now) to the lounges. But they know with absolute certainty how they are allowed (and not allowed!) to behave (and the baby is quiet). The boys behave like angels, quiet, no one’s climbing anywhere, and they all sit while I get them whatever they need – they are not allowed to take anything by themselves. I’m sorry to hear that my family might be an exception.

    • Jeff Latten says:

      Would that other families ensured that their children acted properly and with decorum, as does your family. You folks appear to be the exception these days, but don’t lose hope!

  31. ted says:

    The Cathay First Class Lounge in Hong Kong was fantastic. It was a rare treat for us! Also love the Quatar Business lounge in Doha. An overcrowded but nice lounge is the Swiss air Lounge in Zurich because you can walk outside and get that fresh cold air.

  32. Ben Thomas says:

    Sadly the same issues are now starting to affect business class travel, especially screaming brats.

  33. Evestay says:

    Most disappointing: the lounge at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi used by Air China. I really would have expected something better from Star Alliance, particularly after the splendid lounge at Tom Bradley/LAX.

  34. arnold s says:

    You wrote, “If you could time-travel back twenty years and describe our security protocols to a passenger, he or she wouldn’t believe you. The whole thing would be seen as ridiculous and unacceptable.”

    And, maybe, you might want to toss in that lil’ ol’ thing about airplanes being flown into NYC buildings, those buildings collapsing, slit throats of pilots, terrified passengers, the airline system being shut down for days, etc.

    I suspect that the folks you mention above would be more than willing to arrive early, take off their shoes, and do much, much more. Pretty easy trade-off, in my book, to land safely.

    • Simon says:

      That’s complete baloney.

      None of the security kabuki we do today would have prevented what happened on that day.

      But thanks being one of those people. Your fear ensures the terrorists won as we gave up part of our freedom and our way of life.

      • Rod says:

        Yes, utter dingo-kidneys.

        You’ve just fallen for an aspect of the economic shock doctrine is all: using event X as a pretext for devising unhelpful but profitable industry Y, or doing other things to Fill Boss Hogg’s Pockets in response to some appalling but irrelevant occurrence.

      • Dave says:

        “None of the security kabuki we do today…”

        I understand the point that intense searches to remove small sharp items is foolish…that the only reason anyone was ever able to hijack a plane with a box cutter was that the passengers naturally assumed that the hijackers would want the plane safely landed somewhere. But surely some of our security kabuki is necessary…how about the tedious bag/backpack/laptop and shoe scanning? For the same reason that it makes sense to scan the checked luggage for bombs, it makes sense to scan these, unless the shoe/laptop bomber ideas are actually implausible as a threat.

        • Simon says:

          Here’s the rub, your shoes aren’t actually checked for explosives. The reason we still do the whole 3 oz nonsense? They still don’t have a detector capable of sniffing explosives reliably. It’s kabuki plain and simple.

      • arnold s says:

        To Simon says (September 27, 2018 at 3:25 pm):
        I have no fear. I was in the Army, 1LT, 1966-1969. How about you?!?!?
        The “security kabuki” you mention has cost me two Swiss Army knives that I carry in my dopp kit that I forget to move into my checked bags. The knives ended up in my carry-on and were confiscated. The airport x-ray works as do the on-the-ball TSA employees.
        It’s sad folks like you who want to play the “terrorist” and “fear” cards.
        Oh, BTW, did I ask if you were in the military? If not, what is your fear level?

    • SheilaT says:

      As a former airline employee, a ticket agent at Washington National Airport, who started in 1969, well before the current “security,” I know that the current state of passenger screening is almost purely theater. It’s not as though dozens of hijacking attempts are foiled each year thanks to the screening. It’s that what happened nearly two decades was a one-off, extremely unlikely ever to happen again. I emphatically do not feel safer going through the current security lines. I feel harassed and inconvenienced, and it’s why I almost never fly any more.

      Several years ago I took Amtrak from New Mexico to Portland, Oregon, and booked a sleeper compartment the whole way. In Los Angeles there’s a lounge for the sleeper compartment passengers only, and although it was rather busy the hour or so I was there, I could get coffee and a danish and sit quietly. When time came to board my next train there were porters there to help with luggage. It wasn’t the height of luxury, but it was quite pleasant.

  35. Julianne Adamik says:

    Absolutely true!!!! Everything you wrote is so true and so disappointing for those of us seeking a quiet haven to wait for our flight. Recently I was in the lounge in a United lounge somewhere (can’t remember) and not only were the kids running amok, food all over the furniture and floor, and baby screaming nonstop but they also had a dog with them that shit and peed on the floor. They made no attempt to clean it up. Just left when it was time for them to go. I was STUNNED.

    I love your ideas, only I would make the age limit for kids 12.

  36. Buff says:

    It’s definitely the credit card access that ruined things. Once American granted lounge access with their Citi card, things went downhill. ORD was a nightmare. But it’s been remodeled and though still crowded, there is a nice quiet lounge with recliners. I’ve had to chase multiple people on phones out with my school marm look, but most behave.
    I’m surprised you didn’t mention that AA has built ultra lounges in LA, ORD and elsewhere (they don’t tell me!) for 1st class and Concierge members. It’s still crowded but there are separate rooms for families. Try the one in LA. It’s like a movie premiere.

  37. Jay B says:

    TOTALLY TRUE!!! Charge me a $1,000/year, I don’t care. No babies. Dress code YES. No-T shirts.

    No cutoffs. No sandals. I never comment. Couldn’t pass this subject without commenting.

  38. Saranda Berisa says:

    💯 agree with this. Was just speaking with a friend about how decorum and general respect are out the window. It’s unimaginable to me that people are so unaware of anything around them but themselves. I literally use the lounge for peace and quiet to do work, and there seem to be no rules, or common etiquette. it’s just a feee for all now. People just don’t care. we’re in it for ourselves.

  39. Speed says:

    It’s easy to dismiss this as “a first world problem” but in fact it is one of incompetent, semi-competent or uncaring management. The airlines involved have promised something and failed to deliver.

    This morning’s Wall Street Journal has a different view of travel …

    “Like generations of Russians, Andrey Kuznetsov learned about the vast expanse of his eclectic land by riding in a smelly train carriage where 54 bunks are crammed into about 600 square feet.

    “Russia’s third-class communal railroad cars, known as platzkarts, have for decades melded together people, cuisine and customs from across the nation’s 11 time zones for journeys that can last seven days.

    “Now the platzkart’s future is threatened by President Vladimir Putin’s drive to modernize the country’s outdated infrastructure and stimulate an economy struggling under the weight of Western sanctions.

    “Starting next year, state-owned OAO Russian Railways will introduce transitional carriages boasting showers, vending machines and USB sockets, according to company officials. Then, in 2025, the raucous platzkarts are expected to be replaced by sleek carriages with capsule-like berths separated by blinds or plastic windows, according to the factory that makes the cars.

    The words tell a great story of travel. The pictures and videos are terrific.

  40. MikeO says:

    Patrick, I had to laugh at your “this is how it should be” picture. Empty seats! What corporation, least of all an airline, would want to be operating with a bunch of empty seats? How does that “maximize shareholder value”? I see it as a natural progression from the baggage fees. Cheapen the basic product, then charge more to make it livable. Make the airport as crappy and crowded as possible, then start charging people (or giving them “perks” with hidden costs and high interest rates) for a slightly better experience. We can fix this: an add-on charge to reserve a seat! Or you can show up and wait for your seat assignment in that (did we mention we overbook?) lounge. Is that what you want? Really? What are people going to do? Stop flying? MWAAHAHAHA! They’ll find ways to mollify really important customers while offering a “lounge experience” to the proletariat. I do like the idea in the comments about dedicated child-friendly places. Frankly, I am shocked that no one has monetized this effectively yet. Trust me – flying is a far worse experience for responsible parents than for you. Better yet, a place for pets – people will spend more money on them than kids! Having said all this, there is something to be said about the decline of common decency, in general. A bit more of that all around would certainly help.

  41. Earl says:

    Well, should we be surprised when folks are flying on airbuses?

    Bulawayo railway station, 1994 – I’d been in Zimbabwe for several weeks, the locals were poor but all dressed sharp – saw a young woman backpacker looking slovenly and swore that I would always dress up. To some extent. I was wearing a hawaiian shirt, jeans, allstars, perfect kit for Indochina, my fave place to visit. Minimum dress for flights.

    Flying home from Auckland last year, to Sydney, the bloke in front dropped his chair onto my knees. “Give me some notice, I’m six foot two.” He consulted with his girlfriend at length, five minutes later told me “I’m six five.” Genius.

    Passed him when striding down the hallway, in my Italian jacket, shirt, tie, etc, him in t-shirt, shorts, thongs, told him “dress like an adult next time you get on an aeroplane.”

    I like to think the dogs identified his luggage and he didn’t cope.

  42. Karl says:

    If there was any business-savvy, they’d open separate lounges catering to people with children. I know e.g. Heathrow has kids play areas with ball pits, slides and activity monitors. I know parents would prefer going a place with real distractions for their kids rather than some boring lounge where the kids are bouncing off the walls.

  43. Aija says:

    I am not a pilot nor do I work for the airlines. I usually agree with you on everything style, accommodations, general public’s lack of respect for others, and most importantly – my home is Boston as well. In this article I see you bash the fact that there were babies everywhere. Babies are not the problem, their parents are. I am not by any means the perfect parent, but I know that whenever I travel, I would prefer an ‘upscale waiting room’ such as one of those beautiful Lufthansa or any other airlines’ ‘business lounge’. When a few years ago I was traveling with an infant I could go in those and never make a noise, because regardless of my child’s age, she knew to be respectful to her surroundings. Or maybe I did and she knew how to respond to my voice.

    I guess your mentioning that all ‘quiet places’ in the airport should ban children just struck a chord in me as sometimes those quiet places are the only refuge a new mom will have. Not all parents who may have a million points to use to qualify for the access to these rooms have control of their kids – as it seems fewer and fewer parents do – but would there be a yardstick to measure who is actually qualified and classy enough – even with their child – to enter these places. Children are not the problem, their parents are. that’s all I am saying.

    • Daniel says:

      Aija, I agree absolutely with your comments and would add that adults, whether accompanied by children at not, are the problem in all public spaces, not just airport lounges. The freedom to do exactly what you want, irrespective of how much it inconveniences those around you, seems to be regarded as a basic human right these days. Any attempt by those inconvenienced to ask the individual to moderate their behaviour is treated as an assault and responded to with great hostility, or even physical threats. The problem becomes particularly acute in crowded public spaces where we are forced into uncomfortable proximity to others. My partner and I are frequent air travellers and, rather than relishing the whole experience, including our time at the departure airport, we just grit our teeth and hope it won’t be too awful this time.

    • Julianne Adamik says:

      Aida – you are absolutely right! It seems parents these days don’t care how disruptive their kids are to others and do nothing to control them. Unfortunately you are a very small minority. In the meantime those of us seeking a quite place to work or relax now are being forced to do it in the middle of what has become a day care center. I’d like to see lounges create an area especially for parents and children. Not only would other be happy with the situation but I image so would the parents. Kids are great at entertaining other kids.

    • Peter says:

      “Babies are not the problem, their parents are.”

      Truer words have never been spoken. A little consideration for those around you goes a long way. Kids are noisy, most of us can tolerate a little bit. But, if your kids are throwing stuff around, running and screaming, perhaps you should take them out into the terminal proper so they can let off a little steam? Then, when they can behave, by all means, bring them back in. Courtesy and common sense seem to be scarcer these days. It’s part of your job as a parent to teach these qualities to your children, and make sure they understand how important they are.

      Don’t get me started on the vast amount of trash on the streets. Honestly, is it such a burden to stuff it in your pocket or a backpack until you can find a trash can? And cigarette smokers…if you have to smoke, can you not dispose of your butts in someway other than throwing them on the sidewalk?

  44. Alan Dahl says:

    Maybe instead of deciding who gets in based on how wealthy the person is perhaps it should be based on quietness and politeness? Make a ruckus and you’re asked to leave no matter how much you paid for your ticket. Sadly just because one is rich doesn’t mean that you’re well-behaved as most Americans have learned recently.

    • Robin says:

      Yes, George Soros is definitely a prime example of wealth not necessarily leading to good behavior.

      • Vidiot says:

        What a crock of crap. If you have an on-topic point, make it. But don’t make a drive-by BS statement with zero support. You’re one hairsbreadth above shouting racial slurs out a car window as you cruise by.

  45. 39alpha says:

    Sigh… very sad to hear the Istanbul lounge has gone downhill. Not long ago, it was the only lounge in the world that was so good I’d schedule a longer layover than necessary just to enjoy it!

    And yeah, people need to dress a little better when they fly. At absolute minimum, men should not be allowed on a plane in a sleeveless shirt. Seriously, nobody wants to look at your armpit or spend hours pressed against your tattooed shoulder.

    • Rod says:

      “Nobody wants to look at your armpit or spend hours pressed against your tattooed shoulder.”

      Or even your untattooed shoulder. Alas, even fully clothed people can smell to high heaven or spill across the arm-rest into your space, or whatever.
      For clothing, there Must be Some Sort of policy. I mean, if you showed up entirely shirtless, no matter how sweet-smelling and squeaky clean, something tells me you’d be denied boarding. A lot must be left to the crew’s discretion … but who among them wants the hassle? Perhaps if enough people went to flight attendants and said “Fuck no, I’m not sitting beside that guy”, things might shift.

  46. Brian says:

    Yeah I’m with you on this. There have been so many times where I’ve opted out of going to various Delta Sky Clubs because I was familiar enough with the airports to know which ones would always be too crowded/noisy.

    Fortunately for me, SEA-TAC’s new Sky Club at Terminal A is always pleasant on Monday mornings on my trips out; not sure if you’ve been to that one. For some reason, for me it is always the evenings when I’m returning home – the time I most want to relax – where I always find the lounges more stressful than not.

    Question – are your experiences here as a leisure traveler or does this also include work?

  47. JamesP says:

    I don’t blame Amex as much as Chase for this – one of their Sapphire cards comes with lounge access for unlimited guests. But a lot of credit cards offer the lounge perk.

    I flew First to PHL not long ago, and by that time Virgin America had been acquired by Alaska. So I got to go to the Alaska lounge at LAX. A zoo. I had a glass of wine and a few cheese cubes and left for a quiet part of the terminal.

    I hear the Amex Centurion lounges are nice though, but I haven’t been to an airport that has one yet.

  48. Patrick London says:

    Your post put a smile on my face, because I totally sympathise with you. I recently tried to find a quiet place on a 4h-layover at Warsaw/Poland. None of the 4 or 5 business lounges were accessible (overcrowded or noisy). I finally found a super-quiet and comfy place to have a nap in a small cafe next to the observation deck (you have to go landside for that), incl. a power socket for my laptop. Psst! Don’t tell anyone about it…
    Interestingly, there seems to be a related “problem” on some European trains. For example in Germany, you can often find better (i.e. quieter) seats in 2nd class than in 1st class, because, in the latter, you’ll often find the sort of families you just described (the 1st class fare is only about 50% higher than in 2nd class).

  49. Jerry says:

    There are still great lounges that hark back to the day of not being able to “afford” premium seats and the lounge access that goes with it. For example the private suites lounge behind SQ’s first class lounge in Changi is exactly how lounges should be for premium passengers. Amex cards and lots of flights racked up in Eco class don’t get you in there. However, if you fly in the suites, you are met at your private terminal and escorted to check-in and then through the terminal, into the first class lounge (that is open to people who fly biz class a lot) and then into a separate private lounge behind the first class lounge where you will find respectful fellow passengers, peace and quiet, table service, great staff, good french champagne (not the regular) and people dressed “properly”. This experience is also accompanied by lots of “green-eyed” looks from the passengers in the “regular” first class lounge. The only problem with these high-end private lounges is that now, as was the case then, I can’t afford them…

    I agree with your comments about the Istanbul lounge – that was exactly my experience 2 months ago.

  50. Stephen Stapleton says:

    PUULLEEZZ. Do NOT get me started on how much nicer airline travel used to be. As one who still pines for Flight 1 and Flight 2 on Pan Am, once started, I cannot be stopped. December 4, 1991, will live in infamy for me. I am booked for the Pan Am Clipper Lounge Experience in Los Angeles ( ) this November and will likely cry for all the nostalgia. The ticket prices are rather realistic, too.

  51. Glenn Baxter says:

    I used to belong to UA, American and Alaska lounges. I traveled extensively for business and needed a way to be productive during downtime. My goal was to have my call reports and expense reports done before I got home. Even though my company would not pay for them, I renewed for about 15 years.

    About 3 years ago I stopped. If I am traveling with my wife, who walks with a cane, I buy a day pass, but am routinely disappointed.

    This isn’t about elitism, it’s about common decency of the customers and following through on promises of the providers.

  52. Rod says:

    Well it’s excruciating to hear the tribulations of the upper classes, ain’t it?

  53. Alison says:

    If I could like your article a thousand times, I would. I’ve pretty much given-up on air travel these days. I used to just be mildly scared of flying, but now, I’m abstaining due to what has become essentially Walmart in the skies (I don’t even care how snobby I sound anymore). It’s like David Sedaris said in an essay from a few years ago, to paraphrase – I feel like people nowadays were cleaning-out a pig stall when they suddenly threw down their bucket and said, damn, I need to go to Los Angeles right now! I’m hardly a fashionista, but when did we become such incredible slobs at the airport? I’m not suggesting everyone return the days of wearing a suit to travel, but hell – there’s got to be some kind of middle-ground between a suit and flip-flops and a Fuck Yeah T-shirt. And the lounges? Agree with you Patrick – it should be for business class and first class only. No more credit card entries. Airlines have completely devalued their first and business class experiences by opening-up the lounges to everyone. (And no, I don’t benefit from this. My company doesn’t pay for business class). My husband travels from DC to Lagos every month for work – by the time he gets to Lagos, he has to be ready to immediately begin a 12-hour shift. I know he’d love it if the lounge experience and the flight experience were all one peaceful transition. But increasingly, it’s not.

    • Liou Haberman says:

      “I don’t even care how snobby I sound anymore”

      No…no, you clearly do not.

    • Marko says:

      Good points, and speaking of business, sometimes I seem to be the only business person doing business things in business class! It really is necessary to some extent if you’re going to have to hop off the plane and work at a high level.

  54. Simon says:

    I agree wholeheartedly, Patrick. There are nice lounges (Schiphol has a rather nice KLM lounge for example), but they usually are overcrowded and people’s manners are often just not appropriate for what should be a quiet and public place (think library, not ballgame or your private den).

    The issue with lack of manners or etiquette I believe is a more widespread issue with common courtesy and putting aside ones own mannerisms when in public. The me-me-first attitude and the individualism fetish of our times has made us numb to what people around us deserve/expect. Not everybody is in love with your children like you are, not everybody likes getting sniffed by your dog, not everyone wants your shoes on their seat, etc.

    The overcrowding issue I see like you. There are just too many people allowed in. On some alliances it’s rather easy to get to silver. Thanks to bonus miles, that makes achieving gold easier and then you’re in. You could be a total pleb who flies a lot of ultra-cheap economy (some maybe even paid for business travel) and you’ll make gold in a few months. Once you’re there, it’s hard to lose it. Lounge access should be restricted to people who actually pay a lot of money to fly, not just fly many legs (I say this as somebody who almost never flies business). Needless to say, lounge access should be entirely decoupled from other promotions like this AmEx baloney.

    • Ian M says:

      As someone who has flown all over the world (except Antarctica) in the last 45 years and has never paid top dollar I have to object to those who say that lounges should be restricted to those who pay top dollar for their flights. I know how to behave in public, indeed some of the most obnoxious passengers I have seen are those who believe that their money entitles them to behave badly. Dedicated and preferably sound isolated childrens areas are a good idea, and if someone, anyone, does not conduct themselves properly, they should be evicted. I recently returned from a trip to Japan where people are so considerate that even talking on your phone on public transit is considered intrusive and bad manners. Sigh.