An airport lounge is a lounge owned by a particular airline (or jointly operated in the case of an alliance). Many offer private meeting rooms, phone, fax, wireless and Internet access and other business services, along with provisions to enhance comfort such as free drinks and snacks. At lounges, passengers will also find more comfortable seating, quieter environments and better access to customer service representatives than in the airport terminal.
Access to airport lounges may be obtained in several ways. A common method to gain access is by purchasing an annual or a lifetime membership. Membership fees are sometimes discounted for elite members of an airline's frequent flyer program, and may often be paid using miles. Certain high-end credit cards associated with an airline, such as the Continental Presidential Plus and the Delta Reserve Credit Card, include membership to the lounges for as long as one owns the card. Travelers flying in first class or business class are often offered free access on their days of travel.
Lounge access can also be attained with an airline status card. The top levels often offer access to any of an airline's lounges or partner airlines' lounges, when traveling in any class of travel on any of the partner airlines (usually it is required for the cardholder to be booked on one of the carrier's flights within the next 24 hours).
Generic lounges provided by an airport operator also exist. A fee is paid, which ranges from a daily fee to yearly fees or lifetime memberships. Independent lounge programs such as Airport Angel, Priority Pass offer lounge access for an annual fee. Premium credit and charge cards such as Diners Club International, American Express Platinum and Centurion Card charge cards, and the Morgan Stanley i24 Card, offer lounge programs for members. As of 2008 the American Express Platinum (in some countries) and Centurion charge cards, Morgan Stanley i24 card and the RBS Black Card include Priority Pass membership. American Express also offers access to lounges belonging to partner airlines when flying with those airlines.
Besides offering more comfortable seating, lounges usually provide beverages like coffee, water, soft drinks, juices, beer and other alcoholic beverages. Domestic US lounges including the Alaska Board Room, American Airlines Flagship Lounge, Continental Presidents Club, Delta SkyClub (formerly Delta Crown Room and Northwest WorldClub) and the US Airways Club offer free alcoholic beverages; the American Airlines Admirals Club and the United Red Carpet Club used to offer alcoholic beverages for purchase, but are now free (United began its new policy due to the merger with Continental). All of these clubs offer premium-level alcoholic beverages for purchase. Lounges also provide snacks like fruit, pastries and cheese. They generally offer television, newspapers, and magazines. Phones and dial-up internet service may be available. Free wireless internet access is becoming more common, some airlines offer wi-fi operated by contract providers, either complimentary or for a daily or monthly fee. Most lounges also have private workstations/desks with outlets and internet connections for laptops.
Some lounges, such as the Emirates Lounge and Qantas Lounge, offer luxuries such as full buffet meals, massage services and swimming pools.
Most major carriers have one or more lounges in their hubs and additionally in major airports they serve. Major US airlines such as American, Continental, Delta (which includes the former Northwest), US Airways and United operate dozens of clubs, smaller airlines like Alaska tend to only operate clubs in their hub cities.
Certain ground handling companies also operate lounges and invite passengers from the airlines which they handle.
Some airlines may also offer a First-class lounge or a Business-class lounge in some airports that can be different from their regular lounges, more in line with the European/Asian concept of an airport lounge as outlined above. In most cases, airlines will offer first class passengers a free pass to their standard airport club. They may also offer Arrival lounges for passengers to shower and rest after coming out of a long-haul international flight.
Many airlines outside North America and Australia do not sell lounge membership, reserving lounge access for elite frequent flyers. However, if one has a lounge membership in an airline in one of the three major airline alliances (Oneworld, SkyTeam and Star Alliance), they will sometimes have access in the lounges of the other members of that alliances. For example, Qantas Club membership provides access to British Airways lounges because both are members of Oneworld.
The American Airlines' Admirals Club was the first airport lounge when it opened at New York's La Guardia airport in 1939. Then AA President C.R. Smith thought that it would be a great tool for VIP passengers.