BA NEWS • August 2020
Far removed from the hustle and bustle of the terminal, airport lounges have their own kind of magic, but what do they look like in a post-Covid world? The Club sits down with the brains behind their recent transformation – Matt Callard (Head of Ground Experience), Mark Murphy (Global Lounge Operations Manager), Martin Thomas (Customer Management Product Executive) and Lukasz Wyrzkowski (Lounge Business Executive) – to learn more
From left to right: Mark Murphy, Martin Thomas, Matt Callard and Lukasz Wyrzkowski
So team, can you give us the latest on which lounges are open?
MC: At the moment, reopenings are based on three main factors: flying schedules, the number of customers actually on the aircraft and local legislation. We have three lounges open at Heathrow Terminal 5 – the First lounge and both Club Lounges (North and South). We’re monitoring the situation across the network in order to get all of our international lounges open as soon as it’s safe to do to so.
What hygiene measures can lounge users expect to see?
MC: First and foremost, increased cleaning. The constant cleanliness of the environment has been our number one priority. A new card system (one side red, one side blue) means lounge users flag the blue side when they’re leaving their spot permanently. That way our team can swoop in and sanitise ready for new customers. The red side simply means the lounge user is happy to be left alone.
LW: We’ve brought in a whole new team whose exclusive job is to sanitise the space – everything from the communal areas to the restrooms and kitchens. All our staff wear face masks and, since the lounge is an extension of the terminal, all lounge users will be required to wear them when walking around.
MM: Hygiene is central to the way we’ve developed the lounges post-Covid. That means hand sanitiser stations throughout, social distancing signage and glass separation screens, plus temperature checks for our lounge staff each day when they arrive at work. It’s important that everyone feels safe and protected.
“While competitors are reducing what’s on offer, we’ve adapted and enhanced.”
And what has been removed?
MM: We can no longer have buffets and self-service but, while competitors are reducing what’s on offer, we’ve adapted and enhanced. We’ve introduced an à la carte offering that’s arguably a more luxury proposition for our lounge users. And serving individual drinks (pictured below) has already proven more responsible and sustainable than the help-yourself method, especially regarding pre-flight restrictions on alcohol consumption. We’re no longer benchmarking against other airlines, but against the wider hospitality industry. Today’s good isn’t good enough – it has to be great.
LW: We’ve removed print magazines, but lounge users can download the PressReader app for free, giving them access to thousands of great newspapers and magazines on their device. ELEMIS spas are currently closed (with reopening to be confirmed), but showers are available to book.
Can you tell us about the contactless entry and food ordering?
MT: We’ve essentially mirrored the T5 experience – flashing your boarding card to the scanners before heading through to security – at lounge entry. The lounge food app, Your Menu, utilises scannable QR codes, and we’ve made that process simple, too.
MC: The adoption rate of the Your Menu app is at least 90 per cent, so it’s really being embraced. But if someone doesn’t have a phone or a laptop, the team will take their order manually – we have hosts in every area of the lounge who can help customers with the food ordering process.
MT: The technology is there to complement the service of the staff who work the lounges, and vice versa.
Are there any other big changes?
LW: Infrastructure. In the First and South Club lounge we now have manned bars, which is an entirely new approach for us. While alcohol was previously self-service, we partnered with a company called MadeUp to create pop-up bars where you can see your drinks being made. In the Club lounges we have a live chef service, so there’s more transparency around food prep, too. And there’s the new one-way entering and exiting system at reception, which is all perfectly clear and signposted.
Do you think the changes will stick?
MM: We don’t see the changes as a short-term fix, but the beginning of a long-term change to the customer experience. We won’t return to the pre-Covid experience but, maybe when restrictions loosen and passenger numbers increase, we’ll reintroduce the grab-and-go offering to run alongside the YourMenu platform and offer our guests more choice. It’s about adapting and always improving.
Behind the scenes, how quickly did this transformation happen?
MT: From the start, we’ve worked with IAG’s in-house digital transformation group, Hanger 51, and a design team to get the technology and signage in place as quickly as possible. From initial talks to implementation, it took less than a month. In the old world, that process could taken up to a year.
And what’s been the proudest moment for you all?
MC: I feel very proud about what such a small team has turned around in such a short time frame. These guys all went through furlough and returned fired-up to enhance the lounge experience, working collaboratively with not only each other but our suppliers. Love ’em all.
LW: We monitor a lot of frequent flyer portals, such as Flyer Talk, and 95 per cent of what I am seeing is positive to extremely positive, with the extra 5 per cent being really useful feedback. I feel that what we’ve done post-Covid is perceived as better, so I’m thrilled with the result.
MT: For me, it was so rewarding seeing the orders fly through on the Your Menu app on day one of the Heathrow lounges reopening.
MM: Change is always going to be scary. I’m just proud that the business has given us free rein to try something new. Most of all, I’m proud of the grassroots team. We have hundreds of lounge staff around the world and their response means we’ve set a new standard that bodes well for the future.
For those spending their pre-flight moments in the First terrace, UK company Device Charger Ltd will be offering a select number of free mobile phone power banks in the lounge, so you can charge your device from your seat. To learn more about Device Charger, click here