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Airline Club Lounges – A Slice of Zen

People travel by plane all the time.  And with travel comes waiting—and lots of it.  Waiting to get through security, even if you are TSA pre-approved.  Waiting at the gate…waiting to take off.  Sometimes it seems the amount of waiting is longer than the flight itself.

Where experience is everything, airlines find there is stiff competition to deliver a positive experience inflight.  But they can offer up a great experience while you wait for your flight.  Airline clubs are making a comeback in a big way.

At the intersection of Waiting and Experience

Airline clubs have been around since the early days of airline travel.  Back then, membership was considered a luxury, allowing select travelers the comforts of home while they waited for their flight.  Today, the airline club lounges promise luxurious and amenity-laden surroundings for anyone willing to pay for the experience.

A Valu-able Experience

What makes one airline club unique and different from another or from airport restaurants for that matter?  How does the design support the elevation of the club to a distinct level, one that travelers, either the frequent flyer on the run or the seasoned globe-trotter, will use?

Without a doubt, the club needs to offer a valuable experience.  Our world operates 24-7 and travelers expect to stay connected every minute of every day and night in a surrounding that offers comfortable seating, up-to-the-minute technology, premium food and beverage choices, and ease with services that support this experience.   They need to see the value of joining an airline club, rather than spending time in the secure side of the airport, balancing their laptop and their sandwich on their laps and looking for a place to charge their phones.  Here’s where the right foodservice design can make a big impact.

Elements of Design

Fast…efficient…Quality.  These are the goals that should be considered when designing a facility with an elevated food and beverage program in mind.  But you also need to consider other points – ones that will affect the programming and may dictate the design.  For example, how large a footprint is there?  Can the lounge support a kitchen?  Or just a warming pantry?  Will the food come prepared from a commissary or will there be cooking on-site?  Are there grab n go options for the traveler in a hurry?  What is the average time spent at the club?  Is this club in an international or domestic airport wing?

First Class all the Way – Even When You Fly Economy

Airlines wish to attract all travelers to their member clubs and that means the lounge needs to provide multi-purpose and service.  For example, some travelers might enjoy sinking into a soft, comfortable chair in an atmosphere of relaxation and harmony before boarding the plane, warranting a sophisticated beverage service replete with cocktail station, wine displays and tasting platforms.  A full catering kitchen supports an upscale menu to complete the experience.

Alternatively, a non-cushioned seating area may attract the “fly-in fly out” passenger who requires a limited beverage dispensing bar for quick choice and service along with an adjacent open-style kitchen offering opportunities to be entertained in a spontaneous manner.

The frequent flyer on the run might not have time for a sophisticated experience or even a quick-service experience.  Rather kiosks, refrigerated, ambient or even hot, positioned at the entrance of the club lounge, housing non-consumable and consumable items might be just what they need or desire.

Tight Footprints

Narrow, tight space and airport lounges tend to go hand in hand.  Typically, there is limited back-of-the-house space since the lounge is located in narrow concourse areas.

While the location and the geometry of the space may reduce the overall real estate for the club lounge, a well-thought out design may allow for service to two different types of travelers. For example, if a kitchen is positioned in between two bar areas, one side of the kitchen and the adjacent bar might service the FIFO traveler, while the opposite side, within the same kitchen footprint, offers a cocktail-style bar to travelers.

Versatile Equipment

Restrictions of gas operated equipment in most airports and other jurisdictional mandates about hoods and grease cooking increase the challenge for the designer.  These constraints necessitate an efficient design, utilizing minimal equipment with maximum versatility.  The equipment must have the ability to produce not only a broad array of food options, but also a large volume of food – all in a short period of time.

Ventless technology has come to the rescue.  Frying, baking, steaming, broiling, toasting and slow cooking are all feasible with carefully selected ventless equipment.  More refined menu options, a trend in airport restaurants, can now be cooked on-site, relegating pre-prepared cold sandwiches to the grab and go food outlets throughout the terminal.  However, while the ability to cook with a variety of methods is alluring, the goals of fast…efficient…quality, are still of paramount importance to the success of the airport lounge food program.

Stacked foodservice equipment creates a vertical kitchen, giving back precious real estate to the front-of-the-house for other amenities such as therapeutic massage areas for travelers embarking on long flights, shower facilities, and additional restroom lounges.  The design/catering team might propose a “this goes with that” solution to increase cooked production within a smaller footprint…for example, a combi oven and blast chiller stack, conveyor oven toaster stack, vector units, combi oven stack, and coming to the U.S. market soon, a split pot braising pan.

Bottom Line

Airlines offer travelers the opportunity to enjoy their travel wait experience in a refined and luxurious way by visiting the newly transformed airline club lounge — a little slice of Zen in an otherwise chaotic and stressful airport.   And while the airline succeeds in edging out the competition, the traveler wins with top-notch experience sure to add value to even the most mundane of trips.

By:  Keith Short, Director of Design – West Coast | San Francisco

And Khaled Halabi, Project Manager | New York



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