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American Express announced on Wednesday that it will begin the process of reopening its popular Centurion Lounges. Airports in Seattle and Philadelphia will lead the way, opening their Centurion Lounge doors on October 5, with more lounges to follow in a phased format.
The issuer is also implementing a set of new health and safety protocols and practices meant to protect travelers in its lounges. Called the “Centurion Lounge Commitment,” the procedures include the option for contactless mobile check-in, capacity restrictions and reconfigured seating to allow for social distancing. Guests and employees will also be required to wear masks while in the lounge, and surfaces will be cleaned more frequently.
All Centurion Lounges were closed on March 21 due to the coronavirus pandemic and its drastic impact on travel demand. Alexander Lee, the Vice President of Travel Experiences and Benefits at American Express, said that Amex has been working closely with state and local health authorities in the interim to open its lounges safely.
“Our principal aim has been reopening when we feel we can create a safe environment for our employees and customers,” Lee told CNN Underscored. There will also be enhanced screening requirements for employees, including temperature checks and coronavirus tests as needed.
Under the new safety protocols, buffets in the Centurion Lounges will be temporarily eliminated. However, the issuer still plans to provide its premium food offerings to guests using servers. This should be welcome news to Centurion Lounge regulars, as American Express has led the way in food quality at domestic airport lounges in the United States.
The famous Centurion Lounge bars will remain open, but will feature a shorter cocktail menu in order to reduce wait times and bar crowding.
One new policy that’s sure to cause concern is the need to reduce capacity in the Centurion Lounges due to social distancing requirements. Many lounges already had issues with overcrowding, and while travel volume is still down significantly, reduced seating capacity may lead to some card members getting turned away.
Lee told CNN Underscored that the issuer will utilize a waiting list tool for customers who cannot be immediately accommodated due to capacity restrictions. “The tool allows us to make sure we log them and notify them as soon as there’s capacity in the lounge” via a text message sent to their phone, he explained. Upon check-in, card members will be given guidance on how long to expect to wait.
A significant reduction in travelers may also help reduce wait times, depending on the situation. “It’s going to vary a lot by airport, it’s going to vary a lot by time of day, it’s going to vary by travel season,” said Lee. But, he added, “we feel comfortable that we’ll be able to accommodate customers as we have in the past.”
Opening dates for the other Centurion Lounges are not yet set, and “will depend on the metrics and conditions in each city,” explained Lee. “Philly and Seattle are the start of this reopening. They’re certainly not the end of this reopening.”
But due to the unique service levels of the Centurion Lounges, permission by state and local jurisdictions to reopen may not be enough in and of itself to welcome guests. “There’s nothing that absolutely precludes us from operating a lounge,” said Lee. But, he added, Amex wants to be able to provide a true Centurion Lounge experience.
So if, due to local regulations, a lounge was only able to offer food for customers to take with them instead of eating it in the lounge, American Express would likely keep it closed until it was able to provide a more aspirational experience.
Earlier this year, American Express announced it was expanding the Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport. On Wednesday, the issuer also confirmed that joining Las Vegas in expanding will be the Centurion Lounge at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which will move to an entirely new location.
Located beyond security in the airport’s new Terminal B, the relocated lounge will double in size, adding much-needed workstations, a family room and views of the New York City skyline. Both expansions are expected to be completed in 2021.
In the meantime, the issuer says it remains committed to its Centurion Lounge network, and still expects to open its previously announced new lounges in Denver, London and New York’s JFK airport, though the timing will depend on the guidance and protocols of local health authorities.
According to Lee, the pandemic also won’t stop Amex from pursuing future Centurion Lounge expansions in new cities. “We’re still committed to our lounge proposition and to our customers,” he said. “The pandemic has changed travel for the immediate term and will have lasting effects, but as customers come back to travel, they’ll be looking to us” to be a part of their travel experience.
Access to the Centurion Lounges is one of the key benefits of both The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express, as well as the invitation-only Amex Centurion cards. The personal and business cards carry annual fees of $550 and $595 respectively, and are geared toward road warriors and small business owners.
Folks paying those fees each year will be happy to see the lounge network begin to reopen, though locations in Seattle and Philadelphia are probably not enough to quench their thirst for the oasis that Centurion Lounges offer. American, Delta and United Airlines have kept a number of their own lounges open throughout the crisis, and as of late, those airlines have also increased the pace of reopening and the services being offered.
American Express has been more deliberate about reopening its own lounges, which has been a loss for those road warriors still traveling. That makes the reopening of the Centurion Lounges extremely welcome, even if it comes one or two lounges at a time. And for everyone who’s still staying home, the current limited-time benefits on American Express cards may take some of the sting out of that annual fee until you’re able to relax with a craft cocktail at a reopened Centurion Lounge.
For more information on the reopening of the Amex Centurion Lounges, visit thecenturionlounge.com/reopening.