Everyone wants to know “when will air travel make a full recovery”? If you’ve been in the air lately, the answers based on load factors render a mixed message. Some flights are fully stoked, with social distancing nearly impossible. Others are wide-open, leaving plenty of free space to go beyond social distancing — and even actually work and relax throughout the flight.
At a time when solid data supporting the recovery of air travel is hard to find, Collinson published a report revealing optimistic findings based on the extent of the increase in global airport lounge visits. Collinson is the owner of Priority Pass, a network of airport lounges providing frequent travelers access to over 1,300 locations in over 650 airports across 148 countries.
The report shared that across the Priority Pass network, total lounge visits are up by 46% for the first half of 2021 compared to the second half of 2020. Currently, over 75% of lounges across the globe are open for business, and visit data showed a 28% month-on-month increase between June and July 2021.
Airport lounge access is important to many travelers, maybe now more than ever. Speaking to post-pandemic traveler needs, 87% of travelers in a broader survey reported they wanted access to socially distanced spaces in order to ‘de-stress’ and ‘relax away from the crowds’. And the traffic numbers correlate to the recovery of air travel. Globally, domestic flights are forecasted to be at 90% passenger capacity by April 2022, according to data from OAG and analysis from Priority Pass.
OAG data also shows that the U.S. currently leads the way in travel recovery, with nearly 3.8 million flights taken in the past year — of which 95% are domestic — compared to 8.9 million in 2019. Meanwhile, Russia and China are already at 70% and 87% of flight volumes compared to 2019 — places where Priority Pass has a comprehensive lounge presence.
In hopes of unpacking these figures at a deeper level, we contacted Andrew Hodges, SVP Priority Pass with Collinson, to learn more about the dynamics of airport lounge usage before, during, and after the pandemic. (Editor’s note: Will there ever be an “after pandemic” period? We hope so.). Here’s a recap of our interview with Andy.
Wise Marketer (WM): How long were most airport lounges closed during the pandemic and when did they begin to open up again?
Andrew Hodges (Hodges): The majority of lounges closed when the pandemic first hit back in March last year. When restrictions started to lift in certain regions our partners started to re-open. Currently we have 75% of the network open; there are some locations that are closed due to local government restrictions.
WM: What would frequent flyers notice that is different about airport lounges after the pandemic? Would it be physical changes to accommodate social distancing, changes in food or beverage service, or other areas?
Hodges: The key change is more visible health and hygiene standards. Most locations have ensured social distancing can take place, this has involved closing certain areas of the lounge, ensuring table service is provided and clearly marked out areas for seating. From a brand perspective we launched Ready 2 Order in certain areas, which allows guests to order food and beverages through their mobile device. Other partners have issued similar programs.
WM: What has become of "day passes" for airport lounges? Were they eliminated as the result of the pandemic? Are they being discouraged as a means to limit capacity and make the lounges more special for FFP members and airline cobrand cardholders?
Hodges: These still exist. Single-use passes would be accepted as long as the lounge is open and stated as accessible in the relevant network. It would only be for the appropriate passes — and time restrictions will apply once accessed.
WM: Are the changes we are talking about in the first 3 questions consistent across different parts of the world, U.S., LAC, EU, Asia, etc. or is each region treating lounge operation differently?
Hodges: Ultimately the running of lounges in different regions is down to our partners in accordance with their local government directions. Generally, everyone has taken a consistent approach to the pandemic, but as we know the situation is different in each region so there will be variances. Our goal from the start is to ensure we offer as much support as possible to our members during this really challenging time.