The Airport Lounge as Differentiator

Graham Alcock
In the highly competitive aviation business, ground services are where operators can really differentiate themselves.

Following a lack of investment in recent years, the market is seeing increased ground services activity as operators strive to compete on quality provision. The business/first class lounge is an especially important part of the ground service experience, and one of the most critical branding elements for an airline.

To meet the needs of first class and business class clients, airlines seek to offer a complete airport to airport experience, not only in the air but also on the ground. Well-designed lounges provide a refuge from a very busy airport and an opportunity for airlines to demonstrate their character, qualities and service level.

For the airline, the quality of their lounge is an extension of their brand and a way of enhancing customer relationships. As passengers spend more time at the airport, due to increased security, congestion and delays, the lounge experience has become a powerful differentiator in airline selection.

...airlines seek to offer a complete airport to airport experience, not only in the air but also on the ground.

For facilities and upgrading to remain innovative and competitive, well-planned construction and upgrade programmes are part of the product’s lifecycle. Facilities obviously become tired and need refreshing or replacing at intervals. An increase in forecast passenger numbers is also having an effect, with airlines considering the most cost effective ways to meet an increase in demand, without reducing quality. Individual budgets and priorities will vary, but value for money and enhancing the customer experience is key in all schemes.

In recent years, many operators have acquired a changed customer demographic following mergers and alliances. Their product offering may need to change in line with new branding, or may need altering to accommodate different customer groups. Some airlines are redefining their lounge entry requirements to ensure they meet the needs of their original target customer base, segregating the new alliance customers.

Technology plays an increasingly important role in the success of lounge facilities. Power requirements have increased in line with customer device expectations and therefore need to be addressed during the early design phase.

At Faithful+Gould, we have many years’ experience of supporting airline clients in creating lounge facilities. Our integrated project, programme and cost management approach leads clients towards a balance between aspirations and budget. We are typically involved from the outset, from setting feasibility budgets through to settlement of final account.

In logistical terms, carrying out construction and fit-out works airside is always challenging. As experienced airside project, programme and cost managers, we understand the logistical and compliance issues and we can demonstrate how we’ve successfully designed programmes that address these challenges.

Our most recent success is United Airlines' new international departures lounge, the first to open at the Queen’s Terminal, London Heathrow’s new £2.5bn Terminal 2. Appointed as employer’s agent and cost manager, we were instrumental in the creation of United Airlines’ flagship departure lounge suite. A close relationship with the client, integrating our team with theirs, and a lateral thinking approach, ensured a productive partnership and realisation of the project vision.

For facilities and upgrading to remain innovative and competitive, well-planned construction and upgrade programmes are part of the product’s lifecycle.

We have a varied aviation sector portfolio and examples include London Heathrow (with lounge projects for British Airways at T3, T4 and T5; United at T2A and T2B); JFK, New York; Manchester Airport; Barajas Airport, Madrid; John Wayne Airport, Orange County, California, and King Abdulaziz International Airport, Saudi Arabia.

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