In United’s New Lounge Concept, Taking Snacks Is Encouraged

The United Club Fly wants Club members to help themselves to grab-and-go food and drinks for their flight—no secret stashing required.

A traveler with suitcase checks food options in new United Lounge in Denver.

United’s new lounge concept in Denver is meant to give customers free grab-and-go food options.

Courtesy of United

The newly opened United lounge in Denver International Airport may not offer alcohol, bathrooms, or nooks for napping. But it does have coolers full of packaged gourmet sandwiches, cheese trays, salads, chips, sodas, and juices, as well as a coffee bar for made-to-order espresso drinks—and taking all the available food and drinks to go isn’t just allowed but encouraged.

The new concept by United, dubbed United Club Fly, is meant to help United Club members (people who pay a yearly fee to access the more than 40 other U.S. United lounges, which have complimentary food, drinks, Wi-Fi, and sometimes showers) with tight connections get grab-and-go sustenance for their next flight quickly without feeling guilty about stuffing cookies in their bags for later.

Why the new lounge concept?

“We realized that we couldn’t continue to have a one-size-fits-all lounge mentality,” Alex Dorrow, United’s managing director of lounges, premium services, and hospitality, tells AFAR about why the scaled-down version of a United club lounge was created. “It’s intentionally different from our other lounges, meant to serve a particular need.”

More than two-thirds of United customers coming into Colorado’s largest airport are on connecting flights, according to United. And that means they could also have a potentially tight connection. Denver serves as a hub that connects to numerous smaller airports throughout the country, including Fargo, North Dakota; Albuquerque, New Mexico; Billings, Montana; and Lincoln, Nebraska.

“These are cities that are really critical to our overall network, but we’re not giving them the same type of premium treatment,” Dorrow said. “We have to find ways to create value, and that’s not always getting into a big club, especially if [travelers are] short on time. This isn’t the solution for all our customers; this is about how we can better cater to more of our guests.”

The lounge is located near Gate B61, at the end of the terminal, where regional jets are often located.

The interior of the United Club Fly lounge in Denver

United’s new, small-format lounge is meant to be in and out.

Courtesy of United

United Club Fly design

United Club members, travelers in United’s premium cabins flying internationally, and United Club one-time pass holders will have access to the new United Club Fly (though, unlike the traditional lounges, they can’t bring in a guest). Glass gates open electronically for eligible visitors when they scan their boarding pass.

The space is designed to funnel guests in one door, past the coffee bar, down the aisle of food and cold beverages, and out through another exit. Dorrow said it’s to help prevent congestion. But if people want to stick around to eat or charge their devices (there are traditional plugs, as well as USB-A and USB-C outlets), there are a handful of standing desk spots and 16 seats.

Dorrow said when designing the lounge, it was important to his team that “guests knew they were in Colorado.”

In keeping with the local theme, the space was made to look like a ski lodge, with wooden beams forming an open A-frame roof and a faux fireplace, an optical illusion created by water vapor (though it doesn’t emit heat, it still makes the space feel extra cozy). The leather seating was sourced from local craftsmen. And the windows are frosted to look like they’re snow-covered; while those on the inside can see out, people walking on the outside can’t see in. The wooden sign features a topographic map of the nearby Rocky Mountains.

United Club Fly food and drinks

At the United Club Fly every item is meant to be taken to-go—everything from the muffins to the salads are individually packaged—and the food options, Dorrow says, were chosen based on what were the most popular items from the main lounges that guests stuffed in their bags before running out. The items, such as the sandwiches and cheese plates, are fairly sizeable—definitely something hungry travelers could make a full meal out of.

The food and beverage options are also convenient for guests with super short-haul flights that don’t reach cruising altitude long enough for flight attendants to do a drink or snack service.

The coffee bar offers a variety of espresso and matcha-based drinks. Though if the line is too long, there’s also a self-service area with drip coffee and a machine that brews Illy coffee.

Future lounge changes in Denver

United hasn’t yet decided which, if any, of the other airports it services will get the grab-and-go treatment—it’ll depend on how this venture works out, Dorrow notes.

But the new concept comes as Denver’s airport is going through a bit of a renaissance across its lounges. Beyond the new grab-and-go concept, United is also renovating and doubling in size its two existing clubs (both are in the B Concourse) and is building a new club on the A Concourse to serve more international customers. Capital One has also announced that it’s building a lounge in Denver (its only other finished product is in Dallas), which the brand aims to open sometime in 2023. And American Airlines is in the process of reimagining its Denver Admirals Club (though no dates have been provided yet).

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at AFAR. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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