In Part 1 I looked at airline lounges as a whole and what they can provide passengers. Then in Part 2 I explored what it is like to be a passenger at Alaska Airline’s Board Room. Today we will see what it takes to provide that high level of service to passengers in an airline’s lounge. What better way to do this then roll up my sleeves, put on a suit and work as a concierge at Alaska’s Board Room at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA).
It starts with an early arrival. Luckily they let me sleep in and I didn’t have to be at SEA until 6:30am. The Alaska Airlines Board Room opens at 5:00am, meaning employees will start arriving at 4:30am… yikes!
There aren’t too many jobs where you have to take off your shoes and go through a TSA scanner, but many airline and airport employees get the privilege of doing this daily. By the time I arrived, the security line was already long, but since I was being escorted by an Alaska employee, we got to go to the front of the line… booya, I need to do that more often! Then it is just a short walk to Alaska Airline’s boardroom which is located between the C and D concourses.
I was assigned to follow concierge veteran Gina who was to show me the ropes. I was excited to see what it takes to do her job and learn a bit more about Alaska’s Board Room. In the passenger areas, the Board Room is pretty quiet that early in the morning, but behind the scenes things are very much in motion. Around 7-8am the Board Room sees a huge rush and when I arrived it was all about getting things ready for the rush, while taking care of the customers that were already there. There was no relaxing; wine tasting or good food for me, like in my previous visit, because this time it was all about business.
A big part of the job involves connecting with customers. Many times the concierge will know the names and stories of regular customers. This morning there was a regular customer of Gina’s in the lounge of the Board Room with his family. Even though Gina had never met his family before (it is normally just him flying), she knew about his sons and wife from stories the passenger has told her, which was quite impressive. The family was supposed to be leaving on a flight to San Francisco, but due to fog there, it was delayed. Now, it was our job to help make their delay as easy to deal with as possible.
The first thing to help out was getting the pancake maker up and running. This is probably one of the coolest things I have seen in an airline lounge. Press a button and the machine makes a nice, hot double stack for you. The only bad thing was I was working, so no pancakes for me, however the passengers (especially the kids) love it.
The concierge job is multi-faceted and to be successful, you have to be able to multi-task. These are just some of the duties they must perform on a daily basis: passenger relations, greeter, food prep, bartender, cleaner, dishwasher, ticket agent, hospitality, cashier, stocker, sales person, and of course pancake machine setter-upper. One of the nice things for the employees is they are constantly rotating positions. A person might do a few hours down at the front desk checking people in, selling memberships and assisting with flight/seat changes, then they will do a few hours in the upstairs bar serving drinks and preparing for the next round of food service. This helps employees from getting bored and knowing all aspects of the board room. One of their biggest duties involves being a problem solver. Whether a passenger needs a package shipped or a hot drink, a concierge are going to help get it done.
The job is not easy, but sure is a lot of fun. Everyone I talked to there (on and off record) absolutely loves their jobs. They get to work with people, see airplanes out the windows (not sure if that part is a benefit to most of them) and get awesome job perks, like free flights. I have talked to a lot of flight attendants who say they have the best job in the world, but I wonder if airline lounge workers might have a leg up. Unlike flight attendants, they aren’t stuck in an airplane with a customer. If one gets too rowdy, they are able to call security or maybe take a walk to calm down. However, it is rare for passengers to misbehave in the Board Room.
Alaska sees about 40,000 passengers per month go through their SEA Board Room… that is a lot of people, but the employees there are always up for the challenge. If you have the extra funds, the cost of admission to Alaska Airlines or other airline lounges become very worth it. Even if you don’t have the funds, spoil yourself sometime and splurge $40 for a day pass next time your flight is delayed, I am guessing it will be worth it!
A special thanks to Gina and all the Alaska Airlines Board Room Staff for showing me your world and letting me slow you down a bit :).