In the past, airport lounges have been designed with the business traveler in mind. But as “luxury leisure” travelers start to outnumber people flying for work, airport lounges are aiming to feel more homey and less corporate than before.
A prime example of this is American Airlines’ Admirals Club lounges, which the Fort Worth–based carrier is reimagining to be more retreat-like. The first to get the new design enhancement is the Admirals Club at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Washington, D.C., which is opening to the public later this month.
This 14,500-square foot lounge feels more residential than office-like, with sustainable design elements, relaxation spaces, and a strong sense of place. Upcoming Admirals Clubs with this new design concept are also planned for Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), Austin–Bergstrom International Airport (AUS), and Denver International Airport (DEN). American didn’t provide a precise timeline for when it plans to open these other new lounge locations.
American tapped Chicago-based DMAC Architecture & Interiors to envision these newly built lounges. Known for its work on hotels, restaurants, and spas, DMAC has never worked on an airport lounge prior to this. However, Gill Sukhtej, American’s manager of lounge products, said his intent was finding a firm that does hospitality well.
“That’s what DMAC’s strength is—doing a signature experience, knowing it’s more than just the renderings. It’s the lighting, it’s the acoustics, all those sensory experiences that are big components in this design,” Sukhtej told AFAR during a sneak peek tour of the DCA Admirals Club on October 12.
“We didn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Dwayne MacEwen, founder and principal of DMAC Architecture & Interiors. “But [we had our] eyes wide open [to] the opportunities to make this better, and then maybe move the needle of what the customer experience should be.”
A sense of place
Each new lounge will feature design references to the local landscapes and landmarks of the city it’s in. Upon entering the Admirals Club lounge in DCA’s new Concourse E in Terminal 2, adjacent to gate E47, passengers will be welcomed by American’s Flight Symbol logo and a winding flight of steps built to evoke iconic D.C. landmarks such as the Washington Monument.
“We wanted to make this feel like it was carved out of one block of stone—very austere, more museum-like than airport lounge–like. But I think that’s appropriate for where we are,” MacEwen said. (There’s also an elevator for those who can’t or don’t want to climb the steps.)
Upstairs in the Lounge Pavilion—the relaxation area of the new Admirals Club—eagle-eyed guests will notice custom side tables near the fireplace that feature raw edges reminiscent of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
The Capitol building—which you can see from the lounge itself—also inspired the look of the pendant lamps hanging over the cocoon-like armchairs designed to prevent conversation in the Quiet Room. If you look closely, you’ll notice the dome-shaped shades are made up of words pulled from important speeches given in D.C. And the city’s most popular season was incorporated into the decor, with Kusama-esque Cherry Blossom Infinity Windows—designed with mirrors to reflect strands of faux cherry blossoms endlessly—at the entrance to each bathroom.
Sustainability and wellness
In terms of sustainability, the lounge features locally sourced American walnut throughout, high-efficiency LED lighting that brightens and dims as daylight comes and goes, as well as low-flow fixtures in the bathrooms.
Though the lounge doesn’t offer any spa amenities, efforts were made to create a calming retreat-like space above the hubbub of the concourse below. For example, the walls have four inches of batt acoustical insulation behind them so the lounge is quieter than the rest of the airport. There are also multiple private phone booths, as well as standing desk areas off the dining room for those who do need to take work calls. For families, there’s a private bathroom and a mother’s room with an armchair and sink for those who need to pump or breastfeed during their travels.
Food and beverage offerings
In the Dining Pavilion, there will be complimentary buffet-style service, including eggs in the morning and tacos in the afternoon. Heartier items like power bowls and local dishes like crab cake sandwiches are available for sale. Complimentary local beers are on tap from Virginia Beer Company, DC Brau, and Atlas Brew Works. In an effort to diversify its vendors, American Airlines has partnered with McBride Sisters Wine Company—one of just a handful of Black-owned wineries in the nation—to serve its chardonnay in its new lounges.
How to access Admirals Club lounges
There are several ways to gain access to this new lounge at DCA—and to the nearly 50 other Admirals Clubs worldwide. First, customers flying in first or business class on a qualifying American or oneworld Alliance airline flight automatically gain entrance. Same if you hold AAdvantage Executive Platinum, AAdvantage Platinum Pro, AAdvantage Platinum, oneworld Emerald, or oneworld Sapphire status.
You can also buy an Admirals Club membership that costs $850 annually. However, membership comes as a complimentary perk of the Citi® / AAdvantage® Executive World Elite Mastercard®, which has an annual fee of $595, so it makes more sense to get your club membership that way. Plus, it’s currently offering its biggest welcome bonus in years. Cardholders can bring up to two guests or immediate family members who are traveling with them. You can also add up to 10 cardholders to your account at no extra cost, and each of those additional cardholders receives Admirals Club access (with two guests apiece, as well).
Lastly, you can also purchase a day pass for Admirals Club lounges online or at select locations for $59.