What an Airline Pilot Thinks of Airport Club Lounges

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WingTips Priority Pass lounge in JFK Terminal 4.

Commercial airline pilot and blogger Patrick Smith had disappointing experiences in airport lounges. And he’s packing suggestions how to fix them.

Mr. Smith writes the Ask the Pilot blog, which covers everything aviation related. He also authored best-selling book Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel: Questions, Answers, and Reflections.

The cover of airline pilot Patrick Smith's book, 'Cockpit Confidential.'

(I highly recommend both his blog and book. He’s a very informative and entertaining writer.)

He visited the Thai Airways Royal Orchid Lounge in Bangkok last winter — an experience he details in his post “The Airport Lounge Crisis.” (Do be warned the post contains an image of a profane t-shirt that’s quite relevant to the story.)

“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.
What was intended to be a place of comfort and relaxation has become a cross between a day-care center and a cafeteria.”

I see some of you nodding and saying “Yep!”

He details very dressed down customers treating the lounge like their personal living rooms. He writes about babies crying while other children tear through the club.

As for the food? Meh.

He chalks the problems up to too many people having access to lounges. Some people receive lounge access with business or first class tickets. Others enjoy it as an elite status perk (though Delta downgraded Sky Club membership for Diamonds). And, of course, a number of people have lounge privileges with premium travel credit cards such as the American Express Platinum (learn more), American Express Platinum Business (learn more), and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.

(“I’m as guilty of this as anybody,” Mr. Smith writes, “my Platinum AmEx and Priority Pass benefits getting me in to the same lounges I’m apt to then complain about.”)

Dallas DFW Airport American Express Amex Centurion Lounge

How would Mr. Smith fix airport lounge overcrowding? If he ran an airline, here are the rules he’d implement:

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.

How Would His Changes Affect Airlines?

I don’t believe Mr. Smith is buying an airline soon and his wish list is hypothetical. But as an airline professional, his take is certainly interesting and thought-provoking. The first class lounge would pretty much go back to being the first class lounge.

Airlines annually rake in billions from credit card partnerships. I wouldn’t be surprised to see people cancel their travel credit cards that give them lounge access. Airlines would potentially lose chunks of money. Not so much they’d go out of business, of course; but enough for them to justify job and product cuts (merited or not). Granted, he said third-party access wouldn’t be eliminated. But a cardholder’s chances of getting into a lounge might drastically be cut, depending on lounge size.

While he doesn’t specifically mention airline club lounge memberships — paid annually or earned through status — I’m guessing those would be 86ed, as well.

Before my daughter came along, I would have agreed with his “No children under four years-old. Period, no exceptions” edict. But now that I have a child we bring into lounges (before any possible gate shena), I don’t agree. The second our daughter gets whiny, my wife or I take her out to the concourse for a walk.

Which Lounge Tops Mr. Smith’s List? And Which is the Worst?

Make sure to read his post all the way to the bottom to see which lounge he thinks is the best. And which one is…not so much. (Hint: it’s at JFK.)

What Do You Think?

Do you feel the same way Mr. Smith does? Do you think airport lounges are missing style and decorum? Do you like Mr. Smith’s suggestions? Please share your thoughts in the Comment section below!


  1. His “no kids under 4 years old” policy is ridiculous. Agree some kids don’t behave well but that is on the parents and not on the kid. My kids always flew with me and my wife since they were newborn and always been in lounges and I can guarantee they behaved better than many adults I see in lounges today. Same for flying in first/business class.

  2. i agree no kids under 4. Its bad enough on the plane but unfair to business travelers unless Delta staff are going to start booting those that dont behave, and you know that would never happen.

  3. Enforcing rules would go a long way to helping the problem. But I doubt management cares anymore.

  4. What if the kid has a business/first class ticket?

    Lounges should have rules for behavior and those should be equally enforced whether it’s a disruptive child or an adult yelling into the phone.

  5. I have never had Sky Club access as a perk. But several years ago my husband was travelling a lot for work and we purchased two Sky Club memberships for a year. The chairs are much more comfortable and waiting for your flight is quieter and the food is nice. Even then I recall that DET was overcrowded and we had to wait for seats. But, we were never turned away. I would be furious if, after I paid my own cash for a handful of Sky Club visits, I was then turned away. I would expect Delta to compensate me in cash. We have never purchased Sky Club memberships again. Too expensive and too crowded.

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