By Robert McGarvey
It was on a recent trip through Sky Harbor in Phoenix that I recognized how much I have come to like American Express’ Centurion Lounge. Its absence, due to a delayed opening at Sky Harbor, drove the point home.
I had nowhere to go.
Priority Pass had bupkis in Phoenix. It had lost access to The Club (it had also hosted BA passengers during certain hours), which was a pleasant enough if thoroughly non descript club. Usually quiet however and that’s a plus.
On this recent flight I was flying Southwest and it doesn’t operate its own lounges.
I was tempted to go to the under construction Centurion Lounge and just look at the thing but, on second thought, that seemed creepy.
So I bought a bland torta at an airport eatery and sat in the din of Southwest’s boarding gates – a process that still, understandably, confuses occasion SWA pax – and I meditated on how long it would be for Centurion to open at PHX.
The good news: AMEX, acknowledging it missed its November opening date, now says the Centurion will open at PHX in December. It hasn’t by mid month, I see no firm date announced, so I am not holding my breath. But I am not flying again this year and I remain confident that the Centurion will open at PHX in January.
People tell me the airline lounges are much improved – I hear that often now. My own visits to airline operated clubs this year have found same-old, uninspired lounges. But one was a United Club in Terminal 2 at PHX and that whole terminal is slated for demolition. Folks there are ghosts going through the motions and how can you blame them?
Nonetheless, there’s rather wide agreement that US based carriers have never gone full out to create lounges that compete at a global level and while I will use free carrier lounge passes when I have them, I am not buying them.
And although I can access Delta lounges when flying Delta – via an Amex Platinum card – I just don’t fly Delta enough to have a comment. But bet that if the Centurion delay persists I will rethink that. Delta appears to have made an effort to produce a decent lounge in Phoenix and my next PHX flight may well be on Delta.
It all depends on the Centurion Lounge at PHX.
Sure, I know Amex has cut back on Centurion access. Used to be often I stopped in the Las Vegas Centurion after landing there and now no can do. Access is limited to cardholders with a departing flight within three hours.
But such limitations had to come. The Centurion lounges were at risk of being destroyed by their own popularity and maybe they still are. Here’s a recent report: “On a recent trip, I entered the American Express Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International at about 3:00PM. There was a line to enter the lounge and most guests seemed to be traveling alone. I waited about five minutes to enter, only to find there was not a single seat available. Not a single seat anywhere in the lounge! I waited 10 minutes!”
I’ve heard similar from fellow travelers but so far haven’t personally experienced severe overcrowding in a Centurion Lounge. Crowding – you bet. But not so thick it made me want to flee out into the terminal.
Then, too, Amex knows it has crowding issues and it also knows that the Centurion Lounge is a prime cardholder perk (especially as Priority Pass seems ever less useful, at least on my domestic travels). Are they working on fixes? You bet. That’s no guarantee there will be fixes but there is hope.
And the parade of opening Centurion Lounges grows – in 2020 look for JFK, LAX, LHR, Denver and Charlotte. That brings the total to 15.
Will I join the “why bother with clubs” crowd that seems to be growing in number? On a recent trip through SFO I didn’t bother hunting for a club – yeah, there’s a Centurion but in a distant terminal from the one I was routed through – mainly because I cut down on my time at the airport.
But I don’t see that becoming my norm. Not just yet. And so I am counting down to the opening of the PHX Centurion. I just hope it meets my expectations.