The rebound in air travel occurred faster than anyone may have imagined. But no one may be happier about that than airline management, who have begun restoring and even introducing new amenities and popular perks to the air travel experience. As a result, in-flight service, airport lounges and frequent flier goodies are back in full swing. So, in 2023, passengers have a lot to look forward to, no matter where they are sitting on the plane.
Before Takeoff: Lounges, Tarmac Transfers
American Airlines has taken a fast and furious approach to its lounge network by building swanky new facilities such as the Admirals Club at Washington Reagan National Airport. The carrier is also upgrading other lounges to match the design format, with Austin, Denver and Newark airports first in line.
Last year, American also made a splash when it launched Flagship Lounge access for premium passengers on qualifying international flights. Flagship Lounge menus received an overhaul thanks to a partnership with the James Beard Foundation and chefs local to each lounge.
At New York-JFK, British Airways has shifted to Terminal 8 to join fellow oneworld member American Airlines. There, premium customers are directed to one of three new, jointly operated lounges (depending on cabin class and frequent flier status), including one with a dedicated champagne bar.
Other British Airways lounges in the U.S. will become accessible to more than just the airline’s passengers. Recently, the lounges in Baltimore, Newark, San Francisco, Seattle-Tacoma and Washington-Dulles airports have joined Priority Pass, the world’s most extensive independent airport lounge program. Many top-tier credit cards provide Priority Pass membership as a benefit.
Delta Air Lines
Delta Air Lines is no longer waiting on the sidelines regarding dedicated business class lounges. The Atlanta-based airline has plans to introduce a branded Delta One lounge concept, with the first coming to New York-JFK this year. Elsewhere, its popular Sky Club network is an exceptionally bright spot with several new locations, including a snazzy club at Chicago-O’Hare’s Terminal 5 (Delta’s new home in the Windy City). At LAX, passengers can bask in the California sun on the Sky Deck of the latest Sky Club, where made-to-order meals are part of the experience.
United’s new grab-and-go concept in Denver, dubbed United Club Fly, made a big first impression at Denver International Airport when it opened in late 2022. It is meant to complement the existing United Club offerings by giving passengers with Club access but limited time the option to pop in for prepackaged snacks, drinks and barista-made coffee to take with them on the flight. The airline says it hopes to roll out this concept in other airports.
Like other airlines, United takes care of its most frequent fliers with tarmac transfers during short connections. But it is taking things further by introducing an all-electric service with Jaguar. The model 2023 Jaguar I-PACE HSE—the first all-electric performance SUV from the British carmaker—is a luxury vehicle through and through. When used on the highway, it can reach a speed of 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.
Long-haul international passengers at Washington-Dulles can visit United’s long awaited Polaris lounge with showers, dine-on-demand meals and rest areas. In other lounge news, United’s Star Alliance partner Turkish Airlines has opened a new lounge at New York-JFK’s Terminal 1. In addition, Air France’s JFK lounge now features a new Clarins Spa, with complimentary facial treatments.
Overseas, British Airways introduced sleep pods (with a wake-up service) in its premium lounges at London Heathrow and a new custom cocktail list in its Concorde Lounge. Moreover, LATAM opened a new lounge in Santiago, the largest on the continent, with traditional food and beverage buffets and museum-quality artwork from local designers and budding artists. And Copa Airlines unveiled a much larger Copa Club at its brand-new Terminal 2 at Panama City Tocumen International Airport, with more seating and new amenities—a welcome change for its most frequent fliers.
Qatar Airways has added a second Al Mourjan premium lounge at Doha Hamad International Airport as part of a recent terminal expansion. For now, it is an interim facility for all lounge-eligible passengers, but will soon become the lounge that oneworld Emerald passengers can use when not flying in a premium cabin. Available for all passengers to enjoy, lounge access or not, is The Orchard, an indoor tropical garden with waterfalls and a shopping mall.
In-Flight Amenities: Menus and More
We’ve come a long way from the 2020-era plastic bags of sanitizing wipes and bottled water. Airlines are now one-upping each other above the clouds.
JetBlue has spread its wings across the Atlantic and restyled its in-flight experience. Main cabin passengers can choose from a menu of main and side dishes to customize their meal (stealing the thunder from the boring adage of a beef-or-chicken choice). Many of the farm-to-table ingredients come from minority- and women-run local farms.
In the Mint cabin, New York-based Delicious Hospitality Group—known for a variety of top restaurants—handles the in-flight menu while passengers enjoy all-aisle-access seats. And Alaska Airlines has made upgrades to its in-flight menus by adding new dishes such as the West Coast muffuletta, a sandwich with ham, prosciutto and soppressata on a sesame-crusted ciabatta roll with mozzarella cheese, arugula, avocado and olive pesto, plus more vegetarian options in a new partnership with Seattle-based gourmet salad company Evergreens.
Delta is furthering its work with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events, rolling out more of its famous menus on flights. For example, Antico Pizza’s Neapolitan Margherita pizza pies spice up certain flights from Atlanta, while San Francisco-departing passengers can tuck into meals from Greek restaurant Souvla.
In Delta’s Premium Select cabin on long flights, passengers are in for a refreshed experience, starting with a “bubbles and bites” aperitif after takeoff. In addition, the airline is adding more menu options for premium economy passengers, upgraded amenity kits with Grown Alchemist toiletries, and memory-foam pillows.
Economy class passengers on United flights now have the option to purchase a meatless burger. The $8 breakfast sandwich from Impossible Foods uses the same plant-based sausage patty on the menu at Starbucks and Jamba.
Golden Door and Singapore Airlines are doubling down on their partnership, bringing a wellness focus from the famous California retreat to the airline’s onboard menus. Two-dozen new meal choices are coming to its First, Business and Premium Economy classes, many available via its Book the Cook service on its longest flights from North America to Singapore and a handful of other destinations. These include new dishes like power-packed oatmeal with goji berries, blueberries, quinoa, almonds and honey drizzle, and miso-marinated cod over forbidden rice served with stir-fried vegetables and basil edamame puree.
Perhaps one of the most “first-world problems” may be receiving only one serving of caviar in Emirates first class. Worry no more, as Emirates is investing more than $2 billion into the onboard product of premium cabins. The airline is now provisioning more Persian caviar on flights so that First Class passengers can indulge in a second (or third) helping and wash it down with an even larger stock of Dom Pérignon vintage champagne. Also new is a menu of movie snacks and light bites such as lobster rolls, sliders and popcorn.
Turkish Airlines has restored its full onboard Flying Chef service, which had been on hiatus during the pandemic. As part of the airline’s high-end Do & Co partnership, chefs prepare meals onboard and can often cook certain items to a passenger’s liking. The chefs come from culinary backgrounds, many having attended culinary schools and worked in restaurants before flying. They can even prepare special meals like a grilled cheese sandwich or bespoke salad if they have the ingredients.
Perks: Amenity Kits and Souvernirs
When it comes to amenity kits, Qatar Airways swapped out its old goodies for new Diptyque products in the premium cabin and its lounges. Likewise, Air Canada has chosen the luxe Acqua di Parma brand for its Signature Class amenity kits on long-haul flights, upping the ante for North American carriers.
Stateside, American Airlines has introduced new Shinola amenity kits, with the latest in the series set to debut this year and showcase products from Brooklyn purveyor D.S. & Durga. Perhaps most important to travelers, Delta is launching free Wi-Fi on many of its domestic flights, with plans to roll it out on even more.
Another of Delta’s SkyTeam partners, KLM, continues to release more of its highly sought-after souvenir delftware miniature houses each year on the airline’s birthday. They are gifted to Business Class passengers on long-haul flights. The most recent is a model of a historic building in Aruba, honoring the carrier’s 103rd year of operations.
Sometimes, new perks are about more than just the frills of flying. For example, Turkish Airlines has implemented the Sunflower Lanyard Project for travelers with hidden disabilities or mobility issues. Wearing the sunflower lanyard indicates to staff that customers should be afforded more care when traveling through the airport.
No matter where you are flying, near or far, airlines are working to rebuild confidence among the traveling public and add a little bit of flair and glamour back to the flying experience. We’ve all surely missed it.