Domestic airline lounges in the USA do not have the best reputation. A place to get a drink and sit out your flight delay in a dark, cigar lounge atmosphere? United does not like that thought, and they have decided to do something about it.
At first they started renovating their clubs, bringing them up to a new standard. Now they have come into the second phase, and are going to be updating the food and snacks on offer. For many frequent fliers, this should be a welcomed change.
I have been through my fair share of United Clubs. I have been a Star Alliance Gold member for years, and like many of you, I am inherently familiar with Goldfish crackers, Tillamook cheese, and yogurt (or chocolate) covered pretzels/raisins. I have had my binge sessions while waiting out a delayed flight snacking on those things while powering my devices.
Considering that an annual club membership could run you as much as $500 a year, the meager snack offerings don’t seem all that great. Those days are now going to be history. United has decided to follow the feedback of their guests, and also a similar trend among their competitors, to offer something a little bit more substantial, even palatable.
United Clubs will now have an extensive offering throughout the day, with time-appropriate menu items available. Traveling in the morning, and want to grab a quick breakfast before your flight? No problem!
If you want something on the lighter side, you will get the option of a Greek yogurt bar, or perhaps some hard-boiled eggs and bagel sticks (think bagel texture, but in a breadstick format). Need something a little more filling, you can grab a bowl of oatmeal, with a range of toppings.
For the “afternoon” (think lunchtime, onward) there will be a soup with bread, along with a salad (the first offering will be a wheat-berry salad) along with hummus and other items to snack on, like pretzel thins.
There will be some items that, of course, will be staying. Fresh fruit (in this case, apples and bananas) will still be available, along with also some trail/snack mix. But gone are the cookies & yogurt pretzels, replaced with Sheila G’s Brownie Brittle (a brownie in cookie format). Drink offerings are not changing as well, with Coca-Cola products staying, along with coffee and a range of complimentary alcoholic beverages.
Some alcoholic beverages will still be available for purchase if you want something a little bit more on the premium side, and for the first time, Champagne will be available network-wide (not just in the Global First Lounges) with Laurent-Perrier being available for purchase.
The new menu will be rotational (similar to onboard menus), and thus will vary. The items will cycle as the seasons change and will allow United to try new things at appropriate times. The first club to get the new menu, starting today, will be the C16 club at United’s Chicago hub. From there it will roll out to the other clubs at O’Hare, and head on to the major hubs (SFO, IAD, IAH, etc) by the end of summer. By the end of the year, expect it across the entire United Club network.
“We’re making major changes in our United Clubs to give our customers the elevated, hospitality-centric service and experience they deserve and expect. This year will be transformational,” said Jimmy Samartzis, vice president of customer experience. “Our new fresh, tasty and healthy food offerings, overhauled service approach, and systematic investment in renovating the rest of our 49 clubs worldwide will give our customers an airport getaway for relaxing or being productive during the hustle and bustle of their travel day.”
That is all well and good, but how does it taste? Well, United invited a number of their frequent fliers and select media to give the menu a try. We could sample offerings from both the morning and afternoon service. In the perspective of lounge food, I found it fresh, varied, and (most of all) tasty. The Greek yogurt (which is vanilla flavor) was creamy and delicious, without too much of an overt tanginess. The bagel sticks had the texture and taste of a traditional bagel, yet were in an easier-to-eat format vs being round.
For the afternoon, the soup tasted great and although I am not able to eat hummus (due to allergies), others seemed to be pleased. As someone who has an extreme sweet tooth and who has consumed enough cookies to rival the Cookie Monster, I was impressed by the brownie brittle.
The new trail mix was good as well, being raw (as opposed to a more traditional toasted variety), it had a fresh taste, though it could do with less seeds in my opinion.
The menu changes are not the only thing to be changing in United Clubs; expect changes to the way the club looks too. With new food comes new approaches from the hospitality and service standpoint. Gone are the tacky cereal dispensers – expect more modern, appealing service items to get your snacks from. The new, renovated club design will bring a more modern look to the lounge, with plenty of different seating options to work, rest, or enjoy a drink.
The biggest change will be the addition of outlets — power galore! The club is bright, fresh, and modern, and feels like a lounge should. United has already started to deploy their new renovated look with one (of four lounges) already completed at Chicago (Terminal 2), plus clubs in Boston, San Diego, and Seattle. The new Star Alliance Lounge, operated by United, at London Heathrow’s new Terminal 2 is one of these new lounges and has won industry acclaim for its design.
As United begins updating all 49 of their clubs, incorporating these changes, they start a process of becoming consistent. They will be working to implement major brand changes, so expect to see more improvements in the future. Not just to the clubs and onboard, but to the gates, airport, and other passenger experiences. I can’t wait to see how some of these changes will play out.
Note: United provided the author’s flight to/from ORD and accommodations during his visit — all opinions are his own.