United to ease access to United Clubs

Chicago-based United Airlines has quietly reversed itself and will expand access to its 45 United Clubs around the world, but not until late this summer.

“Effective August 18, 2016, all United Club customers, including members, are eligible to access United Club locations only when they have a flight arriving or departing on any airline the same day, and must show a boarding pass for entry,” the airline said in a message posted on its web page about United Club access.

The change eases a policy instituted on Aug. 18, 2015, at which time the airline announced it would require that members produce a same-day United Airlines (NYSE:UAL) boarding pass before being granted club access, effective immediately.

As I commented at the time, such a change would no doubt reduce the guest load at any given club and provide a better experience for those passengers flying United on that particular day. However, it could also alienate those United Club members who were flying on another airline but had purchased a United Club membership for other reasons, including convenience.

It strikes me as very reasonable to restrict access to those actually traveling on the day of their club visit but, with every United Club I know of located beyond security, I have to ask: Who else are they expecting to use the clubs?

Obviously, airport employees and certain others can get through security without a boarding pass but how many of those have a) a United Club membership and b) the time to spend relaxing at such a club either before undertaking or after concluding their official duties? In other words, is the number of such people not actually flying on a given day but visiting a United Club really all that significant?

A final question: If United, in 2015, could tighten the criteria for using its United Clubs “effective immediately,” what is the rationale for giving nearly six months’ notice before easing those restrictions? After all, it’s not as if United reduced the price of club membership to compensate for the reduced access.

This is not the first instance of United’s actions failing to align with words spoken by its leaders.

During the company’s 3Q13 earnings call on Nov. 13, 2013, the airline’s then-CEO Jeff Smisek said, "The only way you can differentiate yourselves is through excellent customer service."

A six-month delay to institute such a minor change does not constitute "excellent customer service."

After taking over the helm of the carrier following Smisek’s abrupt departure in Sept. 2015, new CEO Oscar Munoz sent an email to United MileagePlus members, promising that he was all about “improving the travel experience” and “putting customers first.”

Expanding United Club access is one small step in the right direction. Moving the change up and making it effective immediately could make it “one giant leap” for United.

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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