by Vince Pirrello, Asia Executive Chairman, Woods Bagot
1 January 2014 marked 100 years since the birth of commercial aviation. Every day more than eight million people fly all across the globe and increasing every year with China, India and SEA Asia as the growing middle class that sees the world.
The human need for exploration is never ending. Even as we all become more connected with technological communication, the desire for people to travel and meet face-to-face has intensified.
As a corollary, airlines have created exclusive airport lounges and business clubs for their passengers, rewarding them with facilities, special membership and VIP access to a transit oasis. The price is loyalty to the airline.
At the advent of air travel, prior to World War II, people thought of the airport terminal building as an essentially temporary structure. However, as the yearning to travel began to match the technology of flight, the terminal building became a new transit interchange. This was followed in the 1950s by experimental modern airports built of glass, with solid soaring concrete roofs celebrating flight and mobility, epitomised by Eero Saarinen’s TWA Terminal, 1959, New York.
Airport design did not make any significant progress until the late 20th century, when projects such as Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong and Kansai airport in Osaka saw the modern airport develop into a city in itself. Not only was it a sophisticated gateway connecting the passenger with a growing metropolis but at the same time the passage between the city itself and the world beyond. The airport is nowadays a vast multi-facility building with check-in halls, rooms for security and immigration, terminal gates, shopping malls, hotels, office buildings, spaces for containing bulky goods, showrooms and retail and food halls – all linked with the central public transport hub.
The original idea of private airport lounge access was simply to cut the journey time through the terminal by giving first-class and business travelers priority. For those who could afford it, a pleasant and hassle-free journey was ensured. It has only been in the last 15 years that the exclusive lounge has been recognised as a crucial part of an airline’s brand image and loyalty programme.
Key airlines around the world are creating destination private airport lounges co-branding “brand” themselves around the quality of their lounge service experience and amenities offered. The lounge has now surpassed the terminal as the embodiment of the flying experience, especially now that lengthy processing and security has removed the anticipation and excitement of the flying experience.