Innovations Transforming Airport Lounges Spotlighted at FTE EMEA


Pictured (left to right): APEX Group CEO Dr. Joe Leader; International Airlines Group’s (IAG) Acting Head of Above Wing Automation Martin Thomas; Aer Lingus’ Product Manager for Airports and Lounges Alex McEvoy; and Gerald Ong, Strategy and Commercial Development at Hamad International Airport. Photo: Grant Pritchard

At the end of last week, a distinguished panel delved into the future of airport lounges during the “Lounge Innovation Summit” at FTE EMEA in Dublin. Moderated by APEX Group CEO Dr. Joe Leader, the session explored innovations and commercial strategies poised to elevate passenger experiences to new heights.

Innovative Lounge Concepts and Automation

The session commenced with International Airlines Group’s (IAG) Acting Head of Above Wing Automation Martin Thomas highlighting the intersection of physical and digital environments in lounges. “Lounges must evolve to meet the heightened expectations of today’s travelers,” he asserted, detailing how IAG’s airline lounges blend physical comfort with advanced digital services.

Embracing Technology: Digital Transformations

Thomas elaborated on the technological advancements being implemented, including automated access, real-time space monitoring and personalized digital interactions. “Imagine a lounge where your preferences are known the moment you step in, where digital screens guide you to available spaces, and where personalized services are just a tap away,” he elaborated. IAG is already operating that shows which of the British Airways (BA) lounges at London Heathrow’s Terminal 5 are busiest and those with more availability.  The innovation allows for customers to make informed decision at locations with multiple BA lounges.

“Lounges must evolve to meet the heightened expectations of today’s travelers.” 

Martin Thomas, International Airlines Group

However, the discussion didn’t shy away from the potential downsides of such advancements. Thomas acknowledged, “While technology enhances convenience, it also raises concerns about data privacy and the perceived impersonal nature of automated interactions. Striking the right balance is crucial.” The potential for over-reliance on automation, at the cost of personal touch, remains a contentious issue within the industry.

Slide via International Airlines Group

Practical Insights from Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus’s perspective was provided by the airline’s Product Manager for Airports and Lounges Alex McEvoy, who shared practical insights from the frontline of customer experience. “Comfort levels in lounges are paramount. We strive to create an environment where passengers feel valued and relaxed,” McEvoy noted.

“Understanding and meeting the diverse needs of passengers will define the success of future lounges.” 

Alex McEvoy, Aer Lingus

McEvoy also discussed efforts to increase customer satisfaction through thoughtful design and service enhancements. “We’re focusing on freshening up our lounges with new furniture and acoustics improvements,” she explained. The need for lounges to remain adaptable and responsive to passenger feedback emerged as a recurring theme.

Strategic Vision and Future Trends

Gerald Ong, Strategy and Commercial Development at Hamad International Airport provided a strategic viewpoint on lounge innovation. “Our goal is to anticipate and adapt to future trends in lounge services,” he stated, discussing the need for diverse lounge offerings to cater to various passenger segments, including families and high-profile guests. “It’s a continuous initiative [to offer] personalized services and maintain a balance between luxury and efficiency,” he added.

“We continue to find innovative ways to offer luxurious experiences while remaining mindful of sustainable practices.” 

Gerald Ong, Hamad International Airport

Ong also noted the significance of sustainability in terms of lounge operations. “Integrating sustainable practices into our services ensures we meet the needs of modern travelers while protecting the environment,” he remarked. Ong’s vision includes not only environmental stewardship, but also the implementation of working spaces within lounges to cater to the growing number of digital nomads.

He further elaborated on the necessity of balancing efficiency, luxury and sustainability: “We must find innovative ways to offer luxurious experiences while remaining mindful of our sustainable practices.” The challenge, according to Ong, lies in meeting the expectations of a diverse clientele while maintaining high standards of service quality.

Slide via International Airlines Group

Engaging Panel Discussion and Q&A

A lively discussion then probed deeper into the panelists’ innovations and strategies. An audience question from Qatar Airways about the grab-and-go lounge concept sparked an insightful debate. McEvoy explained, “While the grab-and-go concept addresses overcrowding, passengers still value the traditional lounge experience.” Thomas added, “Premium leisure has driven longer dwell times, making traditional lounge experiences more desirable.”

Dr. Leader pushed back on the resistance to grab-and-go concepts, emphasizing their critical role in the future of airport lounges. “As passenger volumes continue to increase, traditional lounges will face more pressure to accommodate everyone comfortably. Grab-and-go options can alleviate this by offering a quick, efficient alternative for those on tight schedules,” he argued.

Automation and AI: A Double-Edged Sword

The conversation then turned towards the role of automation and AI in future lounge experiences. Thomas envisioned a future where biometric identification could streamline lounge access. “Once biometric data becomes commonplace, we will see a seamless, contactless journey from check-in to lounge access,” he predicted. However, he also cautioned about the implications of such technology, emphasizing, “AI and automation should enhance the human experience, not replace it. The key lies in using technology to empower staff to provide even better service.”

Dr. Leader questioned the panel on the potential pitfalls of heavy reliance on technology. “How do we ensure that the warmth and personal touch of human interaction are not lost?” he asked. McEvoy responded, “It’s a fine line. Automation can handle routine tasks, freeing up staff to engage more meaningfully with passengers. The challenge is to integrate technology in a way that complements, rather than diminishes, personal service.”

Slide via International Airlines Group

What Makes a Lounge APEX World Class

The panelists also shared their thoughts on what constitutes an APEX World Class lounge, setting the stage for the unveiling of the first APEX World Class Lounges by YATES+ at APEX Global EXPO on 30 October in Los Angeles at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Thomas emphasized the importance of seamless integration of technology and service. “An APEX World Class lounge combines cutting-edge technology with exceptional personal service. It’s about creating a environment where every detail enhances the passenger experience,” he stated.

“An APEX World Class lounge combines cutting-edge technology with exceptional personal service.” 

Martin Thomas, International Airlines Group

McEvoy highlighted the significance of personalization and comfort. “A World Class lounge prioritizes the individual needs of passengers. From personalized services to luxurious, comfortable settings, the focus is on making each traveler feel special,” she explained.

Ong stressed the balance between luxury and sustainability. “To achieve APEX World Class status, lounges must deliver unparalleled luxury while committing to sustainable practices. It’s about offering top-tier experiences that are also mindful of sustainable business and practices,” he noted.

To read more of APEX’s coverage from FTE EMEA 2024, click here.