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United Tightens Up Lounge Access

If you’ve visited an airline’s airport lounges recently, you know: The lounges are often crowded, offering little of the promised relief from the hustle-bustle of the public departure area just outside the doors.

For its part, Delta last year upped lounge-membership prices by as much as 54 percent, and excluded complimentary guest access as a benefit of the American Express Platinum and American Express Delta Reserve cards. Delta claimed the moves were made to “maintain the Club’s exclusive atmosphere.” No doubt the airline had one eye on its bottom line as well.

Next up: United. The airline has begun posting signs throughout its network announcing its own change to current lounge policy. Beginning on August 18, 2016, “all United Club customers, including members, will only be eligible to access United Club locations if they have a same-day boarding pass.”

In an email response to my request for clarification, a United representative said this: “To reduce crowding and make the overall club experience more relaxing for passengers traveling through the airport, United Club access is now reserved for customers with a same-day boarding passes only. Boarding passes from any airline are accepted.”

Predictably, the policy change has triggered an outpouring of negative comments on travel sites like FlyerTalk, which caters to the road warrior community.

But as airline devaluations go, this seems modest to the point of triviality. Realistically, how many lounge visitors aren’t there because they’re flying later the same day? How many travelers typically use an airline’s lounge after a red-eye flight? How many use their memberships to visit a lounge on a non-travel day, just to grab a free snack? The numbers have to be very small indeed.

But the question cuts both ways. Given the likelihood that the new policy will have little effect on the number of lounge visitors, and thus the overcrowding problem, why bother to change the policy at all? United has enough of a negative-image problem as it is, without riling up the decidedly vocal group of travelers who obsess about such matters. An ineffective solution to a real problem hardly reflects well on the airline.

A tempest in a teacup. In an airport lounge. Which, next year, you’ll need a same-day boarding pass to visit.

Reader Reality Check

Is the new policy a deal-breaker for you?

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