Independent Lounges Give Secondary Airports and Low-Cost Carriers an Edge

The No.1 Traveller lounges at Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham, Stansted and Edinburgh are available to all travelers, regardless of airline or ticket class.

Independently operated airport lounges are opening up around the world as airlines start flying new long-haul aircraft to secondary markets, and business travelers seek what one executive calls “the little luxuries” in an industry increasingly dominated by low-cost carriers.

Two of the largest companies running these lounges are Swissport, based in Zurich, and Plaza Premium Lounge Management, based in Hong Kong.

Swissport purchased the lounge operator Servisair last year and also owns Airspace Lounge, based in Dulles, Va., while Plaza Premium Lounge Management operates a network originally focused on Asia but that has since expanded in Australia, the Middle East, Britain and Canada.

A more local service is offered by No.1 Traveller, based in London, which at present operates lounges only in Britain.

In the United States, lounge service providers include Airport Lounge Development — a sister company of Priority Pass, which runs a program that gives travelers access to independent airport lounges — andAmerican Express.

Opened in January 2013 to coincide with All Nippon Airway’s introduction of a daily 787 service from Silicon Valley to Tokyo’s Narita International Airport, the 7,400-square-foot lounge at Mineta San Jose International Airport — run by Airport Lounge Development — was an important factor in the airline’s decision to operate there.

“Time is money, especially for the business travelers in Silicon Valley, who live in a fast-paced environment,” Hiroyuki Yamada, the San Francisco and San Jose passenger sales manager for ANA, wrote in an email. “Taking care of their work and having a good rest before the flights makes a tremendous difference for them.”

Vicki L. Day, director of marketing and customer service for the San Jose airport — a former hub of American Airlines — said the airport knew it “needed to have a lounge to attract any international carrier with premium class passengers.”

ANA’s premium class passengers use the lounge at no charge, as do Priority Pass members; others can purchase a day pass for $35.

Plaza Premium Lounge Management has grown from operating two independent lounges in 1998, in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, to 68 today. Song Hoi-see, its chief executive, said he expected demand to grow as firms cut back on business class tickets for short-haul trips and sometimes even for longer flights, depriving employees of lounge access.

“Low-cost carriers are becoming more popular throughout the world,” he said, “and they don’t provide lounges. There’s an opportunity with them.”

Phil Cameron, the chief executive of No.1 Traveller, said his business had been helped by the recession. Faced with austerity, “people want the little luxuries,” he said.

No.1 Traveller now operates six lounges, with a fully tended bar, bistro and other services, at London Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow airports, as well as in Birmingham and Edinburgh; this month it will open a more casual lounge at Gatwick. Travelers can buy a three-hour lounge visit for between 25 and 35 pounds, or $43 to $60, a rate that is discounted with an advance purchase online. The company also sells lounge passes to tour operators and airlines for use by their customers; Mr. Cameron said this service could help an airline without an airport lounge “differentiate itself instantly” from competitors.

Nancy J. Knipp, senior vice president of Airport Lounge Development and a former president of the American Airlines Admirals Club, said some travelers might find independently operated lounges more attractive than those run by network carriers because the carriers’ lounges had become overcrowded and increasingly focused on their “top premium customers.”

Ms. Knipp said Airport Lounge Development — which also operates lounges in Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas and Phoenix — was getting “the most amount of inquiries from airports with a growing international market, and larger gateway airports.”

Anthony Tangorra, president of Airspace Lounge, said his company would expand “where the supply of lounges is low and the demand is high,” for example in mid-size markets abandoned by network carriers. Mr. Tangorra set up the company’s first lounge in 2011 in a former US Airways lounge at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport; the operation has now grown to include Cleveland, the JetBlue terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and San Diego.

According to Lisa Durocher, senior vice president for charge products and benefits at American Express, Centurion lounges are opening in airports “with the most outbound departures” by cardholders. Located in Las Vegas and Dallas, and planning to open this year in San Francisco, New York’s La Guardia and Miami, Centurion lounges are freely accessible to platinum and Centurion cardholders. Other American Express cardholders can buy one-day passes for $50.

One factor that could determine the growth of lounge operators is the location of vacant space at airports. Tyler Dikman, chief executive of LoungeBuddy, a company that has developed an app for travelers to track airport lounges worldwide, said a location behind security controls that provides access to all terminals makes a lounge attractive.

Independent lounge operations will continue to grow, said Henry Harteveldt, travel analyst with Atmosphere Research, “provided airport terminal real estate is available at a reasonable price.”

That may be a constraining factor, noted Mr. Cameron of No.1 Traveller: “To find 10,000 square feet of space in an airport is hard. There are a limited number of spaces, so the challenge is staying innovative enough to be the one that gets them.”

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