Lounge lottery: How US lounge food offerings stack up right now
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From the 8 November 2021, the United States is once again reopen for non-essential travel, marking the end of 20-months of COVID-19 travel restrictions. As such, now is the perfect time to take a look at the catering and other comforts currently on offer within US airport lounges.
You can be forgiven for worrying about quite what you should be expecting during your travels but a recent trip to the Delta lounge at New York’s JFK airport had a pleasant surprise in store for TPG’s executive editor Scott Mayerowitz: a full buffet, including paella. That’s right, food is coming back to your favorite US lounges. It’s not quite to pre-pandemic levels everywhere, but the offerings are improving.
Overall, it’s hit and miss, but the trend is very positive and a great sign of what is hopefully to come n 2022. Now that travel to the US is possible again, chances are you are able to pop into your favourite lounge. Let’s take a look at recent TPG staff experiences across the United States.
Delta Air Lines lounges
Good news for Delta flyers, all Sky Club locations are now open again. On that recent trip to JFK I mentioned, a sign declaring “fresh food buffets are back” greeted Mayerowitz.
Indeed, he found full buffets are available again, even including a paella station. As you can see below, there were hot soups and cheese cubes, which are pretty standard fare. But there were also fresh make-your-own salads, pasta salad, clams, pasta primavera, orecchiette pasta and much more. For dessert? Biscotti or brownies.
As we reported in May 2020, food options had been really cut back in the age of COVID-19. That’s all changed now. I can confirm because I was pleasantly surprised on a recent trip through Salt Lake City: The glorious new Sky Club in the new Salt Lake City terminal (it includes a Sky Deck) was also again offering hot serve-yourself food. In fact, I kind of missed being able to get some grab-and-go items to take with me.
I would say Sky Club offerings are now on par with what they were pre-pandemic.
American Airlines lounges
American Airlines also appear to be in a strong position when it comes to food lounge options. The airline says it has now reopened all of its domestic Admirals Clubs. TPG senior writer Zach Griff was in one of the Miami AA Admiral’s clubs recently. He said it definitely was similar to pre-pandemic offerings. Griff says he actually even liked a few of the changes saying there were a “…unique elements, like a create your own mezze plate.”
Most AA lounges will have cheese cubes, hummus, hard-boiled eggs and fruit. Many also now have self-serve soups again.
And Griff pointed out that one of the AA lounge favorites was back: the guacamole station. You can have avocado toast in the morning and guacamole, salsa and chips in the afternoon. (Don’t forget to leave a tip.)
TPG cruise reporter Ashely Kosciolek was just at the Admiral’s Club at LAX. She said they had, “Breakfast buffet: eggs (scrambled end boiled), oatmeal, cereal, fruit, yogurt, breads (bagels, English muffins, cinnamon muffins), spreads (butter, jelly, cream cheese), toppings for oatmeal (brown sugar, raisins, coconut), toppings for eggs (salsa, chives, cheese, sour cream), juices.”
The Admirals Club was also back to selling other meals. Below is a look at the current menu and prices.
She also got to see the snack buffet that day and it included, “pretzels, M&Ms, Cajun trail mix, white chicken chili, falafel, kale and sweet potato soup, naan and dips (hummus, veggies, tzatziki), veggies, cheese cubes, chocolate chip cookies, Rice Krispie treats, pumpkin spice blondies, iced tea and soda.”
Red Ventures director of social media Sophia Fen told me her boyfriend was just at ORD (Chicago) on Monday in the Admirals Club.
The food choices included:
- Chips/salsa/guac station (staff made the guac from scratch)
- Pita/hummus/tzatziki station
- Fresh fruit
- 3 different types of soup
- Salad bar
- Hot meals for purchase, including chicken tenders and hot sandwiches
The AA lounge offerings are favorably comparable to food offerings pre-pandemic.
Note also, as we’ve reported, the Flagship lounges are also back. American has brought in new chefs and a ton of options kicking off with the reopened Flagship lounge at New York-JFK last month.
Zach tried the roasted squash with a side of zaalouk as an appetizer and the signature roasted cauliflower dish.
The Flagship Miami (MIA) lounge reopened on 28 September. The Flagship lounges in Chicago (ORD), Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX) are set to open later this fall.
United Airlines lounges
Many United lounges are open again, but some are still only serving prepackaged “grab and go”-type offerings.
Summer Hull, TPG editorial director, has been in several United clubs recently, including Houston (HOU) and Dulles. She said, “… each club was really different.” Offerings varied from lounge to lounge. That wasn’t just her experience; she’d heard similar comments from many of her social media followers, too.
However, Hull also said that “United needs to elevate the club experience, but based on her low expectations, it outperformed, “… in some cases, it works better than before as you can grab and go. So, it’s not as great an offering as Amex or Delta — but it never was. In some clubs, it’s as good as before, just different.”
If you were hoping to experience one of United’s business-class-only Polaris Lounges, you’ll need to wait a little longer. There are reports a few of them could reopen in 2021, but no official word yet on when.
Alaska Airlines lounges
All of Alaska Airlines’ lounges have reopened. I’ve been a few times recently to the spectacular flagship lounge at Seattle’s N gates. I found food offerings to be as good as pre-pandemic with hot beverages prepared by baristas, and a self-serve buffet available again. The full bar is open and there are long, not-socially-distanced lines for cocktails.
Even the pancake machines are back.
That’s a huge difference to offerings during the pandemic that were all self-serve and mostly sad prepackaged snacks.
Alaska Airlines is even bringing new experiences to some lounges. The brand-new lounge in San Francisco has a toast station where you can get a little bubbly and some bread with your choice of toppings. For the record, that’s sourdough toast from San Francisco’s Acme Bread Co.
American Express Centurion lounges
The biggest disappointment, in my opinion, is the American Express Centurion lounges. I’ve had some unpleasant experiences at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport lounge, in particular.
Most Centurion lounges have offered food served by lounge employees only. Lounges at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) provided prepackaged meal selections.
That’s beginning to change, and Amex says self-serve is coming back. It can’t come soon enough, judging by the lounge in Dallas. Check out the lines. The lounge had one lonely employee serving from a closed-off buffet and wait times were very long; it took a half-hour to get food.
I will say, the lines at the Centurion lounge in Miami have been much more manageable when I’ve been, and other TPG staffers haven’t seen the problems I’ve seen at Dallas.
Lounges across America are reopening at a rapid clip, and the food offerings are getting better day to day, this will only improve following the U.S. once again reopening to non-essential travel on the 8 November. While it will be a while before everything gets back to pre-pandemic normal. We are happy to report there’s been dramatic progress.
Featured photo by Scott Mayerowitz/The Points Guy.
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