Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific)

Airport Lounge

Valerian Ho looks back at the opening of the world’s first airport lounge


If there is still time before departure, or after arrival, most premium passengers take advantage of their airport lounge access to eat, drink, rest, work a bit, or maybe take a shower. Even economy class passengers can use pay-in lounges. But things were a bit different when American Airlines opened the first airport lounge in 1939.

The Admirals Club at LaGuardia Airport in New York was launched because the airline’s chairman, C R Smith, wanted to honour strong supporters of the commercial aviation industry (who were not numerous in those days). Members of the club were dubbed “Admirals”.

Political problems suffered at the time by New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia helped launch the club. Criticised by the press for having large and well equipped offices at the airport, he offered to rent out the space. American Airlines immediatel­y accepted the offer and the first private airport lounge was born.

The purpose of the club was to provide a place for a member to relax before or after a flight. “Skippers” (retired stewardess­es) would help make reservatio­ns, pre-reserve seats and order special in-flight meals.

The lounge was very simple, with only a few seats, and food was not served. There was a bar offering free drinks that also stored members’ rare and valuable bottles for future consumptio­n. In the early years, membership in the club was limited to frequent fliers or VIPs only. The lounge began as a private club with nine members.

After introducin­g the concept to the industry, American Airlines followed this up with the opening of its second club lounge at Washington National Airport in 1941.

In 1967, the airline establishe­d an open policy of accepting paying members – a policy that remains in effect today, albeit one that has matured over time. The applicable dues in 1967 were US$25 per year, or US$250 for a lifetime membership. Almost all Admirals at the time decided to pay the fees and retain their membership­s.

Despite the airline’s efforts, the idea did not immediatel­y take off internatio­nally.

In Asia-Pacific, major airlines did not start introducin­g airport lounges until the 1970s. In 1973, Qantas introduced its members-only Captain’s Club Lounge at Sydney and Melbourne. In 1974-75, the airline opened Captains Club lounges at San Francisco, Honolulu, Nadi (Fiji) and Bangkok. The lounge was a premium product package designed to attract and incentivis­e first class passengers, who were automatica­lly members. Captain’s Club members had lounge access, priority checkin and personalis­ed assistance. Lounges featured a food and beverage service.

Other major airlines joined the trend. Hong Kong-based Cathay Pacific opened its first Discovery Lounge at Kai Tak Airport in 1970, while Singapore Airlines opened the Silver Kris Lounge for first and Raffles class (business class) passengers at Changi Airport’s Terminal 2 in 1990.

 ??  ?? American Airlines Admirals Club, New York, 1939
American Airlines Admirals Club, New York, 1939
 ??  ?? Qantas Captain's Club Lounge, Sydney, 1981
Qantas Captain's Club Lounge, Sydney, 1981

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