Are you a VIP jerk? 10 things NOT to do in airport lounges

Enjoy the benefits of this privilege without spoiling it for everyone else

Erica Sandberg
Personal Finance Writer
Consumer finance expert, author and “Opening Credits” columnist.

core airport lounge access with your card? How not to be a VIP jerk

Money can’t buy you class, they say, though some credit cards can get you into posh joints like airport lounges. Unfortunately, plenty of rookie cardholders can unwittingly ruin the experience for more seasoned travelers.

So how does one blend seamlessly amongst more worldly types without committing an airport lounge gaffe?

Private clubs located inside airports offer a refined respite many travelers crave, but not all can afford. A typical day rate is around $50 and yearly passes often start at $400. Other lounges are reserved for business and first-class ticket-holders only. Set away from the bustling crowd, lounges provide peace, comfortable seating, abundant charging outlets, Wi-Fi, reading materials, food and soft drinks, all in a upscale setting. Some even include showers, beds and adult beverages. It’s a little slice of heaven, as long as everyone behaves, which is not always the case.

One of the coveted perks of certain travel rewards credit cards is admission into luxurious airport lounges. For example, the United Mileage Plus Explorer * comes with a couple of passes each year, the Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite Mastercard * offers unlimited entry to American Airlines’ Admirals Club and The Platinum Card from American Express * gets cardholders into its vast network of lounges, including the Centurion and Delta Sky Club.

If you have or are applying for a card that grants lounge privileges, know how to enjoy the benefits without spoiling the experience for everyone else inside.

Here are the 10 don’ts (and do’s) of airport lounge etiquette. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Buffet

1. Dont get greedy at the buffet.
Noel Morata, co-founder of Travel Photo Discovery, implores loungers to refrain from gluttony.

During a rush, employees can struggle to keep up with demand. “Please be considerate of other travelers who are also using the lounge,” says Morata. “Just because you love fresh mangoes or exotic fruit doesn’t mean you get to scarf the entire platter for yourself. There are others who do want to also have a taste as part of the lounge experience.”

Even if it seems there’s enough to go around, do not stash bunches of bananas or bags of chips in your luggage for later, either.

Do go easy on the snacks. If you take the last of something, mention it to someone who can restock as quickly as possible.

Devices

2. Dont blast your device.
“My least favorite fellow lounge guest is the guest who sits there watching videos on their phone or tablet without any headphones,” says James Cave, creator of The Portugalist travel guide. “People do this outside of airport lounges as well, but it’s particularly irksome when you’ve paid for somewhere quiet to work or relax.”

It’s also against the house rules of most lounges, including American Airlines Admirals Clubs.

Do keep your dings, beeps, music and movie sounds to yourself. Switch your electronics to vibrate or mute mode, or toss on some earbuds or headphones.

Hotel or Living room

3. Don’t spread out your belongings.
As hotel review editor for Oyster.com, Megan Wood spends a lot of time typing away in lounges before and between flights. Her pet peeve is when people treat them as their private spaces by spreading out their belongings. Wood believes the behavior comes from a sense of entitlement some people feel the moment they pass through the VIP doors.

You may not be breaking any house rules, but marking your territory in this way is absolutely impolite.

Do feel free to place your suitcases and bags on empty seats when the lounge is sparsely populated, but when people stream in, consolidate to the best of your ability. You do not have the right to take up as much room as you like.

Singles Bar

4. Don’t treat it as a pickup joint.
Another major no-no is using the space as a hook-up joint.

“As a single female traveler, I have found that some men treat the airport lounge like it’s their own personal pickup spot,” says Wood. “I always jokingly tell my friends, ‘If you’re looking for a married, middle-aged man, get an American Express card and spend some time in the airport lounge.’”

Do be cognizant about making another person feel uncomfortable with unwanted advances. There’s nothing wrong with forming a connection between connections, but lounges are supposed to be safe environments for all guests. Keep them that way.

Too Drunk

5. Don’t drink too much.
A cocktail or two can make flying more pleasant, but be careful.

Getting loaded at the lounge is not OK. You not only risk being barred from boarding, you can negatively impact other people, especially if you become belligerent or sloppy.

For example, Anthony Bianco, who runs the The Travel Tart – Offbeat Tales From A Travel Addict, recalls an odd event in the Qantas Club in Johannesburg. “I saw this guy in his mid-30s go straight for the top-shelf hard spirits and start to pour himself many drinks,” says Bianco.

Getting so trashed you think you’re the bartender is not appropriate behavior anywhere.

Do regulate your alcohol intake and be knowledgeable about the house rules. Many lounges, such as Alaska Airlines’, impose a three-drink maximum. Stick to it.

Full Volume

6. Don’t be too loud.
“The whole point of airport lounges is to get away from hectic, loud and crowded terminals,” says Richard Roszko, a producer at talcMedia.

“You would think frequent flying business people would be more cognizant of the situation, but no. They think they can hold a teleconference in the lounge that lasts 30 to 60 minutes ‘because it’s quiet.’ Mostly no one will bother to tell you to pipe down, but you will get nasty glares from about 99 percent of the people there.”

Do be subdued. Since lounges can be relatively quiet, your voice will carry if you converse in even normal tones.

“If you get a call, speak softly, and go excuse yourself from the sitting area,” says Roszko. If you must chat at higher decibels, head to the bar where the sound will be diffused.

Wild Kids

7. Don’t let your kids go wild.
In between or prior to long flights you may crave a break from your squirmy toddlers and squirrelly ’tweens. Everyone else will find them irritating (at best) if the kids are burning off their pent-up energy in the lounge.

“This is not a private playground for your children,” says Roszko. “No running or screaming in the lounge!” And absolutely no climbing on or leaping from the furniture, digging hands in communal snacks or drawing on the walls.

Do control your kids. Bring books, plug your chldren into their games or play with the little ones so they won’t ruin other guests’ precious lounge time. Also, ask at the front desk if they have coloring books, toys or a children’s section.

If all else fails, escort your children into the main terminal, which may have far better facilities for kids. 

Feet on furniture

8. Don’t put your feet on the furniture.
Luxury travel and lifestyle blogger for The Sophisticated Life, Nadeen White is a lounge etiquette expert. What drives her nuts is people who put their feet up on the tables, chairs and sofas.

“It’s gross,” says White. “If you’re paying or work up to lounge status, it’s a privilege situation where you feel you can act any way you want. But you can’t because it’s a common space.”

Do relax. Go ahead and loosen your belt, stretch your legs and lay back in one of the soft sofas. That’s what lounges are for! Just stay awake. Unless beds are available, most lounges, such as United Club, don’t allow sleeping.

Overly Amorous

9. Don’t be overly amorous.
Maybe it’s the thrill of an impending vacation or honeymoon, but romance can bloom in airport lounges. According to a 2017 US.Jetcost.com survey, as reported by the Washington Post, 1 in 10 American travelers partook in some kind of adult relations in an airport, with 12 percent of them doing it in the lounge.

Don’t be among them. No one wants to witness you getting frisky, and it’s not sanitary for future guests. Moreover, if discovered, you’ll be kicked out.

Do smooch discretely. “Airport lounges are enjoyed by travelers from all over the world,” says Brent Griffith, vice president of LoungeBuddy. “With that in mind, many cultures have different levels of appropriateness in terms of public affection.”

So err on the conservative side and refrain from any kind of make-out session. Those sofas off in a distant, dark corner are for PG action only.

Attire

10. Don’t wear inappropriate attire.
T-shirts with offensive language and images, ripped, filthy or reeking items of clothing, bathrobes, pajamas and microshorts are just a few examples of what not to wear in an airport lounge. Same goes for traipsing around barefoot.

You may not be breaking any specific rules, but it’s rude. International lounges, however, often do have strict standards regarding attire. Australian singer Kate Ceberano, for instance, was asked to leave the Qantas Lounge because she was wearing open-toed shoes. Shorts, baseball caps and hoodies are among the forbidden in Swissport Executive Lounges.

Do your homework and review the dress code policy. “If it’s a nicer lounge, you usually can’t go wrong when dressing in a smart, casual fashion,” says Griffith. “When in doubt, throw a change of clothes in your carry-on and don’t be afraid to step up your game a bit.” Being a little elegant is part of the experience!

Airport lounges can be the perfect antidote to the chaos and cacophony of most airport terminals. If your credit card’s rewards program lets you partake, make the most of the event. Default to the sophisticated side. You and everyone else in the lounge will have a lot more fun if you do.

* The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers.

See related: Hidden card benefit: Save money and sanity in airport lounges, How does Priority Pass lounge access work?, 13 luxe airport lounges you can access with a credit card


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Updated: 11-20-2017