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David J. Danto

 

Business travel thoughts in my own, personal opinion

 

             

 

eMail: ddanto@IMCCA.org      Follow Industry News: @NJDavidD

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“United To Paying Newark Club Members – Drop Dead”

 

Related imageSo, after many months of being squeezed into inadequate airport clubs, the ‘temporary inconvenience due to construction’ at the United Clubs is finished – and if you’re not an international Polaris traveler, the temporary inconvenience has become permanent. That’s right, the newest club, located between the C2 and C3 wing at EWR has finally reopened – as a Polaris only lounge.  Newark finally has a club like the others in Chicago and San Francisco.

                     Robbing Peter to pay Polaris

While this is good news if you’re one of the people that regularly flies United on international routes, United – as usual – is infuriating and inconveniencing a huge part of its customer base in the guise of making improvements.  Rather than open a new location to be a club for its business class international customers, United stole space from paying United Club members, who were already squeezed to the limit.  If you were looking for an indication that domestic business travelers mean nothing to United – that there is no returned loyalty – then here you have it. 

Months ago, the first indications that construction had begun was the closure of the largest United Club at Newark, and the removal of comfortable seating and elbow room at the older C1 wing club.  During peak times one would walk into the old C1 club – the soft seating removed and replaced with smaller, crappy, plastic chairs – and be unable to find one to use.  Club members would be elbow to elbow, fighting to get into the refreshment lines, fighting to find a place to do work, making the tiny respite of club membership feel more like the rest of the airport.  We were told that this was all temporary – that a new club was under construction, that it would be a temporary inconvenience, that passes would again be accepted once there was room, etc.  The exact quote from the last “operational update” email that United send paying club members was:

“We appreciate your patience while we work to bring you an upgraded lounge experience.”

All of that talk of ‘temporary’ was apparently only directed at people who fly in the aforementioned Polaris class.  While I intend no insult toward them, the reality is that for the rest of the club using population – customers that pay cash in advance for annual access – United didn’t make it clear (until now) that the extremely reduced experience (and the expected ‘patience’) is apparently permanent.

Yes, the large club between the C2 and C3 wing at Newark has finally reopened - for Polaris passengers only.   As it states above, it’s “exclusively for our international premium cabin travelers.”  If you’ve paid for international first / business class you can get in.  If you’re a United Club member and/or a United Club credit card holder that flies out of EWR terminal C – with one of the clubs now closed-off to you – your annual $400+ club fee buys you exactly 50% less than it did before. 

The people I’ve personally spoken with when visiting the old, crummy, overcrowded United Club in the C1 wing don’t understand how United didn’t set-aside some of the space in the construction plan as a regular club.  Or, why they didn’t just open a new, separate Polaris club – perhaps in the space where a club used to exist years ago – upstairs at the front of the C2 wing.  While it’s not hard to understand why United would want to spend lots of money to attract their more lucrative Polaris customers, it’s still unconscionable for them to have done it at the expense of people who have PRE-PAID for admission to a club experience that no longer exists at their home airport.  Clearly the management at United that bends over backwards for their heavy spenders feels no allegiance to the frequent domestic business travelers that fill their planes in the US every day. 

United themselves has acknowledged and explained that the non-Polaris clubs in EWR are now inadequate.  They say:

“Alternative options. We anticipate these United Club locations will be full, particularly during the afternoon and evening. For those traveling through New York/Newark during these peak periods, our OTG partners offer many dining options that you can explore instead if your schedule allows. United MileagePlus® Credit Cardmembers even enjoy a 20 percent discount.

So to me, that says ‘thanks for paying for your club membership, but since that investment is now vastly devalued we want you to spend additional money at the pop-up restaurants we’ve placed directly in your way as you head to the gate.’  Really?  That’s the message?  No “we’re sorry but we’ve screwed you” or “here is a partial refund of your annual membership because we’re now offering less service and locations for your money?”  No acknowledgement of the devaluation at all? 

For an analogy, let’s say I rent a two room apartment from you, and you decide halfway through the year to give away one of the rooms to someone else - but then still expect me to keep paying the same rent because you're graciously giving me a discount at the hotel on the corner that I shouldn't have to use because I rented a damn apartment.  Does that make sense to anyone?

As they improve the experience for international business travelers United just completely ignores what they’ve done to domestic travel club members.  The difference between what they always seem do to cheapen and devalue the airline experience and this situation however is that we’ve already paid cash in advance for access to these rooms, and they’ve removed the biggest one at our home airport and jammed-up the others without a price adjustment.  

Two United agents are stationed outside the club - now a Polaris only lounge - to turn away

paid club members that notice the C2-C3 club is now reopened and try to enter it.

If you are a United Club member and domestic business traveler that flies out of Newark, there are much less reasons to renew this membership for next year – as there is much less service.  If there isn’t a price reduction on the horizon (and – knowing United management - it was hard to even type that with a straight face) then the drastically reduced value for that investment probably makes it not worth it.  What should be a simple, calm respite from the stress of the regular Newark airport experience is now a crowded, uncomfortable reminder that you mean exactly squat to the current leaders of this pathetic airline. 

This is made even worse with the realization that the Polaris Clubs themselves seem to have been designed so poorly that they too are now subject to demand outgrowing the space.

So, welcome to the new United lounge situation at Newark – possibly a great experience if you’re flying internationally (during non-peak times) – but if you’re just a lowly domestic business traveler, there is literally no soup for you.  

 

This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions.

All image and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.