I took the plunge and took an airline flight last week. The flight was solely to experience air travel during the pandemic. My last flight was March 13, 2020, when the U.S. government was just starting to let the American people in on the secret of the deadly reality of Covid-19.
Having completed the second Pfizer dose on February 14, I’d been patiently waiting for the CDC to issue guidance that vaccinated travelers could travel safely. At the end of March I gave up waiting and booked a quick trip to Denver, CO. The day after I got back, the CDC finally approved domestic and international travel by vaccinated individuals, with certain precautions.
These flights were effectively a trip to nowhere so spending as little as possible was important. The process of searching for airfares was harder than I remembered. I’d hadn’t searched in a year. Remembering how to use various search engines and the American Airlines website came slowly but surely.
I found a good coach airfare ($126) on American Airlines going to Denver, CO in the afternoon on March 31 and returning at 01:00 (1 am) on April 1. Catching a redeye home was desirable in this instance to avoid spending the night and needing a hotel. I expected to pass the eight-hour layover in Denver in the American Airlines Admirals Club and the American Express Centurion Lounge.
The airport was busy although the crowds were smaller than before the pandemic. Going through security was the only time I felt somewhat uncomfortable in the airport. Social distancing markers were only present in the area in front of the podiums where IDs and boarding passes are inspected.
Charlotte B Concourse Admirals Club
Charlotte (CLT) is the second largest hub of American Airlines, the largest airline in the world. American has only two Admirals Clubs in CLT and the B Concourse club is small. A much larger club is located between C and D Concourses. The C Concourse lounge looks to be 10 times the size of the B Concourse lounge, if not bigger.
For the last few years, American has been renovating and remodeling many Admirals Clubs. The B Concourse lounge was remodeled in 2019. It looks like the C Club will be very difficult to remodel. Reps have said that the large volume of American Airlines passengers flowing through CLT makes it almost impossible to shut down the C club for renovations. That club will need to be remodeled at some point. It will be interesting to see how American handles it.
On this occasion, I visited the B club because my flight departed from Gate B16. The entrance to the lounge is next to Gate B3. I checked in at the reception desk just inside the entrance. It had been so long since my last visit, I was unsure of the check-in process.
The overall layout has not changed. Lounge seating is to the right, and the bar, buffet and work tables are to the left upon entering.
American has not reduced the number of seats in the lounge. Instead, small signs are left on vacant chairs saying they are reserved or occupied. People just pick up the signs and sit wherever they want. Although this lounge can get very crowded, social distancing was not an issue because there weren’t many customers.
Fewer patrons was the major difference between pre- and post-Covid visits. Although much to the displeasure of the CDC, domestic air travel is surging recently, business travelers who are the majority of airline lounge customers, are returning to the skies at a slower pace. An uncrowded lounge provides much more enjoyable experience just as it is nicer to fly on an empty plane.
I noticed that hardcopy newspapers and magazines have been replaced by digital versions that can be downloaded onto your devices.
The most noticeable change in service was the food. There were fewer items available; and family-style buffets have been replaced by individually packaged, single-serving portions. Air travel is taking to a new level the single-serving life style of the frequent traveler that Edward Norton’s character describes in the movie Fight Club.
Complimentary hot items like oatmeal, soup and scrambled eggs are available by placing an order at the bar. That is also where house drinks and premium spirits are available, naturally.
Coffee, tea, soft drinks and other beverages are available for self service.
This Admirals Club also sold food and non-alcoholic beverages through a vending machine. These items can be eaten in the club or taken onboard a flight.
Overall, my short stay in the Admirals Club was very pleasant. Providing a quiet spot away from the noise and commotion of the concourse and gate areas hub is the primary function of an airline lounge. Not having as many choices on the buffet and having to go to the bar to get hot items was a bit disappointing. On the other hand, using packaged portions and preparing hot items individually cuts down on spreading germs which is good with or without a pandemic.
Before boarding the flight to Denver, I also stopped at the American Express Centurion Lounge, That review will be next.