Start your vacation in style! Make the most of your airport layover at a private lounge where comfy seating and snacks make the time fly by.
Have you ever longed to enter a private club at the airport so you could begin your vacation in a comfortable chair? Frequent traveling families may wonder if paying a steep annual fee for a quiet lounge stocked with free snacks is worthwhile. Before you make a decision, let’s examine how the airport experience has changed.
Forever more, heightened security regulations will force all travelers — business and leisure — to spend more time at airports than ever before. Seizing an opportunity to entertain this captive audience, independent lounge operators, food concessions, and shops have been making airports more wait-friendly.
At the same time, many airlines closed their own lounges, assigned lounge management to outside operators, or raised annual fees to astronomical levels. Others gave up their uniquely branded lounges, consolidated costs, and streamlined service by opening lounges shared by partner airlines; Los Angeles International now has Star Alliance, Oneworld and SkyTeam lounges for clients of 16 different airlines. Focused only on their highest-paying (rather than most frequent traveling) customers, a few international airlines have gone beyond business class to super luxurious clubs managed by five-star hotels, with tablecloth restaurants, day spas and fully staffed concierge desks.
But the picture isn’t all bleak. Today’s family travelers can benefit from the new variety of diversions at airports around the world. Additionally, options for a one-time entry to independent airport lounges have increased dramatically, providing an inexpensive way to make a layover more comfortable. These independent lounges typically offer ample seating and nap space, luggage storage areas, business services, WiFi, satellite TVs, and food and drink.
Are Lounges a Safe Haven for Unaccompanied Minors?
A daypass to an airline lounge used to guarantee that an under-age child traveling alone would have a home during wait times at a stopover. Kids could be taken to a safe environment where compassionate agents were happy to remind these unaccompanied minors about their flights. This is no longer true.
Parents of unaccompanied minors will not find the “daycare” choices of the past. When the majority of lounges became for-profit operations, things changed. Access to the airline-owned lounges that remain has become an expensive privilege of first class and elite frequent travelers. Travelers must be ticket holders on the airline that hosts the lounge.
The independent or airline-neutral lounges, however, may still welcome your unaccompanied minor if he or she is “deposited” in the lounge by an adult prior to flight time. Use the following guidelines to see what your options are, then be sure to confirm your lounge arrangements prior to departure.
Airport Lounges With Credit Card Access
Credit card and affinity companies compete to offer travelers perks. Access to many private airport lounges run by noted restaurant and hospitality companies is now available to any family with the interest and resources to join, and the time to spend in them.
For example, adults with Diners Club cards have lounge privileges at 130 different airports, which vary as the company makes new deals. Diners Club cardmembers, for example, can relax at one of the Premium Plaza lounges located in terminals 2, level 3 at the Changi International Airport in Singapore. The lounges are open 24 hours to serve complimentary healthy snacks, hot beverages and juices, as well as provide TV, newspapers, magazines, local telephone service, Internet access and showers with amenities. Fee-based services include a fitness facility; napping suites; body massages; and foot reflexology. At airport-run clubs at Newark and Miami Airports, Diners Club card holders can get in free, and buy a Guest Pass for $25-$45 per day; kids under 12 may enter free.
An airport lounge agent interviewed for this story said that if a minor is brought into the Diner’s Club lounge, then they must be accompanied by an adult at all times. So if your child is travelling alone they will need an adult to stay with them while they wait for their flight.
The American Express Platinum card offers free airline lounge use to cardholders and their family members who have tickets on American, Delta, Northwest or Continental airlines. While traveling guardians may bring family guests in at no charge, these airline-affiliated lounges will not accept unaccompanied minors because the American Express cardholder must also have an airline ticket.
Independent Lounges & Day Pass Clubs
The independent service Priority Pass costs $99/year plus $27 per traveler per visit, and admits travelers into 600 lounges in 300 cities in 100 countries. The Standard Plus Membership costs $249 per year, and includes 10 free visits; additional visits are charged at $27 per person per visit. Only one family member needs to become a member to enable other companions to buy a $27 daypass. Families who belong to Marriott Hotels’ frequent guest rewards program may join at a discounted rate or redeem points for membership. Marriott Rewards members will save 20% off their first year of membership. See Marriott Rewards for more information.
A Priority Pass spokesperson said that checking in an unaccompanied minor would probably be acceptable to many lounges, but that it would depend on the individual airport lounge operator. She explained that the most strict interpretation of their rules would be that the Priority Pass cardholder must have a valid ticket, not just an “Escort Pass” so they could be with their traveling minor. But she confirmed that the lounge staff has the final say, and that bringing in an unaccompanied child to await a flight was not uncommon. For more information, visit www.prioritypass.com.
Loungepass is a British service offering access to nearly 130 lounges in 100 airports worldwide. Their current fee is GBP 13.50 per visit, per guest, regardless of age, and passes are sold through their website prior to travel. The Loungepass agent we interviewed said that families were welcome to purchase a Loungepass online for many of their clubs, but that some are off-limits to toddlers under 24-months, and others deny access to children ages 2-11. (Each airport club’s rules are clearly stated on the site before you purchase your pass.)
Regarding the use of clubs for an unaccompanied minor, she explained that in all the countries in which they operate, Loungepass-affiliated clubs offer free alcohol to guests and would not want a guest under 18 to be present without a guardian. For more information and to book a pass, visit Lounge Pass.
Of course, if you’re stuck at the airport as we were recently at New York’s JFK, with nowhere to spend the 10-hour wait until the next flight (after spending 4 hours on a plane that never left the gate), any lounge will do. With lots of perseverance, we discovered The Lounge (718/751-4063) in Terminal 4–JFK’s international terminal that serves dozens of airlines. A private venture located near the bag check, the terrific and stylish Lounge boasts WiFi internet access, private conference rooms, office cubicles with computers, complimentary wine and a well-stocked snack bar with more robust meals (bagel and salmon, soup, salad) available at no cost by request. Best yet for long-haul travelers are the bathrooms with private shower facilities.
The Lounge welcomes families with children but will not accept unaccompanied minors, stressing instead that in this period of extreme airline delays, parents should remain at the airport — waiting in The Lounge of course — until their charge’s flight has departed. You won’t need to join any club or book ahead here; it’s priced at $40/four-hours per person plus $10/hour thereafter. The Lounge has contracts to service the guests of several airlines using Terminal 4, with big plans to expand, but they already rate an A+ in our book. The Lounge welcomes members from Priority Pass, Lounge Pass, Gulf Bank, and Airport Angel as well.
The bottom line: Airport lounges can provide a valuable respite from the rigors of air travel, as long as your circumstances and their regulations line up.
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