economy lounges

Image via Porter Airlines

APEX Insight: For most, economy-class travel means less legroom and fewer frills, but a few airlines are moving in the opposite direction.

Since it began flying in 2006, Porter Airlines, which offers short-haul flights in parts of North America, has been providing complimentary lounge access in select airports for economy-class passengers. “Our passengers are usually surprised when they walk in. It’s not something they are expecting,” says Brad Cicero, director of Communications and Public Affairs for Porter. But Porter is not alone. At Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, Air Canada passengers and Porter passengers share the economy-class lounges.

Many airlines, including United and American, allow economy passengers to buy a day pass that provides access to basic lounge benefits such as complimentary food and beverages, showers and Internet access. With the LoungeBuddy app, passengers can read reviews of different lounges in an airport and purchase lounge passes of their choosing.

But for Porter, whose motto is “Flying Refined,” offering economy passengers a perk usually available only to elite passengers is part of a larger philosophy about air travel. “We want to recreate the golden age of flying,” Cicero says.

“The cost of providing an amenity on the ground is significantly cheaper than providing it on the flight.” — Tyler Dikman, LoungeBuddy

“It is easier for small-scale airlines to offer economy lounges because they have shorter flights and lower costs, and the layover is not too long,” says Tyler Dikman, LoungeBuddy’s CEO and cofounder. In addition to running the app, Dikman has clocked more than two million miles and has visited over 800 airline lounges. He points out that Bangkok Airways, a boutique airline offering short-haul flights in Asia, has a free lounge for economy passengers.

“The cost of providing an amenity on the ground is significantly cheaper than providing it on the flight,” Dikman adds.  “A customer who has already had coffee on the ground is much less likely to be demanding it in the air.”

There may be no comparison between Porter lounges and the hushed luxury of a well-kept business- or first-class lounge. The lounge amenities that Porter, Air Canada and Bangkok Airways offer are pretty basic – water, soda, coffee and tea, and snacks. But as Dikman puts it, “A few small extras can be extremely meaningful to passengers.” Besides, a business traveler on a quick trip might not necessarily want a fine wine, but a good cup of coffee will go a long way.

“ Lounges for Economy Travelers” was originally published in the 6.5 December/January issue of APEX Experience magazine.