A headline in The Telegraph makes a bold assertion: the middle class has ruined airport lounges. Is there any merit to this charge?
Don’t Blame Middle Class For Subpar Airport Lounge Experience…
Here is how The Telegraph summarizes the problem:
Airport lounges were, once upon a time, the exclusive domain of the premium-class flier. Now there are many reasons why lesser mortals might have access. Credit cards like American Express’s Platinum Card offer it as a perk, regular fliers can buy annual passes, and even occasional travellers can often pay a one-off fee to secure a few hours of luxury before their departure.
The inevitable problem with this democratisation of airport lounges is that these once-serene spaces have become oversubscribed, undermining their very purpose. With the situation worsened by staffing issues, many are now turning away customers who arrive more than three hours before their scheduled departure, shrinking the window for relaxing pre-flight cocktails and canapes.
Indeed, the problem is that demand greatly exceeds supply. Credit card companies (and your favorite bloggers) hawk credit cards that include access, but this become theoretical when you are turned away at a lounge due to overcrowding.
A few thoughts.
While we can pinpoint certain bottlenecks, like the American Express Centurion lounges in Las Vegas or the Delta SkyClubs at New York JFK, I am thankful the problem is not predictably widespread. I never have trouble finding a seat in the United Club at LAX or at most line stations (Denver is a mother story…). The point is that many of the lounge crowding issues are airport-specific and that leaves hope that those specific problems will be addressed.
Second, blaming the middle class is great for an attention-grabbing headline, but we must lay the blame where the blame is due: on the credit card companies. They are the ones who are pushing cards with lounge access that reasonable middle class people sign up for, including me. Plus, lounge operators agree to these deals knowing full well that demand may outstrip supply.
Third, these credit cards are still worthwhile. Cards like the American Express Platinum, Chase Sapphire Reserve, or Capital One Venture cards offer a host of benefits and crowded lounges do not eliminate the value proposition that makes those cards more valuable than the annual fee.
My friend Gilbert Ott, from God Save The Points, is quoted extensively in the article. He complains about the quality control of these lounges, lamenting, “These pay-as-you-go lounges are a fundamentally flawed business model. I think it’s insane.”
I have to wonder whether we are the insane ones. After all, we are the ones who show up early at the airport or brave lounge queues longer than at the security checkpoint for a few morsels of food or a cold drink.
Then again, I value a lounge precisely for a snack and drink if I show up to the airport ahead of my flight.
Is it the middle class that is crowding lounges? Sure. There are more of us and we like good deals. But I would not blame the middle class for a problem that credit card companies and lounge operators have created by issuing so many cards that lounges cannot keep up. The solution may be the continued cutting of access and card benefits, but don’t blame people for that.