The key to lounge design: creating the perfect spot for everyone

Details and Design banner with text on graph paper backgroundBefore the COVID-19 crisis, lounge users were, by and large, a group of people with diverse needs. She’s a busy businesswoman, he’s traveling with his kids, they’re a family on holiday and have spent a bit extra to travel in comfort… and they’re all using the same lounge.

But as industry begins a gradual recovery, and the lounge experience is modified to include new health and safety protocols, can lounge users find the spot they want in order to make the most of their time there?

Before we start, let’s be clear that this persona-based analysis carries a major caveat: customers can be all of these individuals at various points. Someone who’s a business traveler one day may be a leisure traveler the next, simply going on vacation, or a traveling family on holiday seeking diversion after spending months on lockdown. Indeed, the leisure traveler is expected to return to the skies first.

While you read, think of your favorite lounge, or the last one you visited, or the one you’re professionally responsible for. Does it meet these passengers’ needs? And are there other types of passengers that need to be served?

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The upmarket leisure passenger

An increasingly important part of the premium travel segment, upmarket leisure passengers aren’t well served by the more corporate lounge.

They want to feel they’re getting value for money for the premium they’ve paid, and their goal is a smooth, calm and relaxing journey to start and finish — and even extend — their trip.

Their desires revolve around a comfortable place to sit with whoever their traveling partner is, a nice glass of wine, a good bite to eat, and somewhere to charge and use a tablet and phone. The perfect spot might be a small gathering of armchairs or a loveseat with the right surfaces to meet their needs versus, say, a clinical corporate setting.

Some airlines lean too heavily towards the traditional business traveler. Time to innovate. Image: Lufthansa

The frequent flyer’s family

Traveling families are often served quite poorly by airline lounges, which miss their needs in the design process. The families of frequent flyers — and particularly the frequent flyer in question — want to feel that all that time away from home pre-pandemic was worth it and that their loyalty paid off.

They want to relax in the gap between herding children through security and getting them on the plane, and they need somewhere that works for kids of multiple ages. They know that everyone in the lounge and on the plane benefits if the littlest ones are somewhere safe where they can have fun and make some noise while not disturbing others, but the folks also want to be in the lounge rather than in a terminal play area.

The perfect spot for the traveling family will depend on the kids’ ages. A frequently-sanitized play area may be great for younger kids, but teenagers wouldn’t be seen dead near it, preferring instead fast wifi and the facilities to keep their devices recharged. In any case, a strong Internet connection is now doubly important for children who might also be virtually learning as they travel with mom and dad.

Air France creates a play area for children in some of its lounges.

The modern business traveler

As the nature of work evolves, so does the nature of the business traveler, with the modern variant more likely to be an independent businessperson, contractor or in the gig economy.

A key challenge is balancing work and personal lives. The modern business traveler wants and needs all the things that a traditional business traveler does and more: a really good cup of coffee or glass of wine, and a pleasant place to pass the time while also leaning into some work with a high-speed Internet connection that is fit for purpose and Zoom meetings.

The modern business traveler’s perfect spot is probably something akin to a socially-distanced coworking space or work-friendly café, with a variety of tasty food selections, a choice of customizable caffeine options, all presented in a place that has been designed for their needs.

Every traveler wants power — and lots of it. Image: John Walton

The traditional business traveler

The traditional business traveler is the kind of person that most airline lounges are aimed at, though their numbers have represented a trickle rather than a flood over the last several months of the pandemic.

They’re more likely to be a corporate traveler, and whether they have access via a lounge program, a purchased premium class ticket, or as a frequent flyer perk for their loyalty, it’s all about using the time in the lounge to get things done.

They want efficiency, to refuel and to recharge, both literally for their device batteries and figuratively for their own. They want to get online and get working, and they need space, privacy and a simple, easy experience.

Creating space and privacy is helpful for a variety of travelers, especially those focused on business. Image: Cathay Pacific

Across all these kinds of passengers, there’s certainly some overlap: modern business travelers and upmarket leisure passengers in particular have some similar goals, while the former can be said to be an extension or evolution of the traditional business traveler.

The key for airlines and lounge designers: creating spaces that serve all these passengers, and making sure that each space serves more than one.

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