Are takeaway coffees the new form of airport lounges?

The airport lounge changes. No longer just a space to relax and enjoy a few repeat trips to the buffet, some airlines are giving a cafe-style twist to the perk of elite status, ditching water baths and cabin seats in favor of a take-out convenience similar to a Pret Une crèche.

Why would they do this? Airlines say it’s about giving travelers more choice – an extra option for those short on time or who may not be interested in visiting ‘classic’ lounges.

The Air Canada Cafe at Toronto Pearson is a more casual affair than the airline’s Maple Leaf Lounge.

United Airlines’ Club Fly concept, under development at Denver International Airport, is a prime example.

Revealed via board approval documents, designs for what was first labeled as “Club Lite” show a new very compact space – less than 150m2 – squirrel between gates B61 and B63. Inside are shelves for prepackaged meals, a self-serve beverage counter, and seating for just 20 people.

United's first Club Lite lounge concept will launch under the Club Fly brand.

United’s first Club Lite lounge concept will launch under the Club Fly brand.

A single service desk for staff to provide booking assistance is the only other inclusion. And that’s it: no soft armchairs, not even a bathroom and certainly no reason to linger longer than necessary.

Of course, MileagePlus members and Star Alliance Gold-grade frequent flyers who prefer full lounge benefits can still access the main United Club near B32 – Club Lite is more for travelers in a hurry or who want to be closer to the boarding gate of their flight. .

United's Club Fly concept is a short-stay companion to its conventional United Club lounges.

United’s Club Fly concept is a short-stay companion to its conventional United Club lounges.

Approached by Executive TravelerUnited Airlines had no comment on Club Fly, including wwhether it’s a one-time tryout or a sign of things to come.

However, United isn’t the only airline giving us a new twist on the typical lounge experience – Air Canada and Lufthansa are already offering their own distinctive cafe-style restaurants.

Opened near Gate 20 at Toronto Pearson International in 2019, the Air Canada Café is a more conventional restaurant than United’s Club Fly, serving barista coffee, cold-pressed juices, light meals and snacks throughout the day .

The Air Canada Café is designed so you can walk in, grab a bite, then head to the gate.

The Air Canada Café is designed so you can walk in, grab a bite, then head to the gate.

The take-out wall of options includes sandwiches, cheeses, pastries and salads, as well as an assortment of muesli, crisps, chocolate and fruit bars, although with seating for 109 travellers, it is possible to stay for a while rather than pulling for the door.

Café Air Canada adopts a “Ready” approach.

Café Air Canada adopts a “Ready” approach.

The cafe is designed as a complementary offering to the airline’s existing domestic Maple Leaf Lounges, although the gate list is more selective: it is reserved for first-tier passengers. in business class, Aeroplan 50,000+ members, Star Alliance Gold members and Aeroplan premium credit cardholders.

Lufthansa’s Delights to Go, on the other hand, is a mostly automated experience – an in-and-out option where time-strapped travelers can pick up boxes of healthy snacks en route to their gate.

Behind a screen at Munich Airport is Lufthansa's Delights to Go concept.

Behind a screen at Munich Airport is Lufthansa’s Delights to Go concept.

After authentication via your digital boarding pass, travelers can choose from three gourmet snack boxes: Classic, Balance and Local, with the menu rotating every two weeks.

Among the “delicacies” inside are drinks, wraps and fresh fruit. Hot drinks are also available.

Delights to Go from Lufthansa is a catering offer designed for time-pressed travelers.

Delights to Go from Lufthansa is a catering offer designed for time-pressed travelers.

Since their debut at Munich Airport in 2018, the smart vending machines near gate G19 – free to all passengers who normally enjoy Lufthansa lounge access – have become a big hit, although Lufthansa confirms Executive Traveler there are no plans to deploy it further.

In Frankfurt, the Lufthansa Bistro Lounge near gates C14/15 is another new take on a regular hangout for frequent travelers – a hybrid of a traditional lounge and a casual café.

The Frankfurt Airport Bistro lounge, with healthy snacks.

The Frankfurt Airport Bistro lounge, with healthy snacks.

With the motto ‘At home with Lufthansa’, the bistro offers a mix of casual seating options, ready-to-eat healthy meal options and an aesthetic that wouldn’t be out of place in your local IKEA.

While it doesn’t stray too far from the tried and true lounge formula, there are enough innovations and twists to push the concept in a new direction…and make you wonder what could be next.

About Walter Bartholomew

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