Flight delays, missing luggage, broken in-flight entertainment systems, seat swaps… there are plenty of things that could annoy frequent travellers. But few things seem to upset frequent flyers quite like getting incorrectly denied airport lounge access.
Over the years, there have been many stories on frequent flyer forums such as AFF about travellers who should have been eligible to use the lounge but were refused entry because the airline staff on the door made a mistake. Here are just a few…
- Qantas & Virgin Suspend Lounge Access on Arrival (2021) – both Qantas and Virgin Australia suspended lounge access on arrival without bothering to inform frequent flyers or update their websites
- Qantas Wrongly Refuses Lounge Access Again (2020) – a Oneworld Emerald member was repeatedly kicked out of the Qantas Club in Townsville, despite specifically receiving confirmation from Qantas that he was entitled to use the lounge
- Virgin Lounge Pass Holders Incorrectly Denied Entry (2020) – Virgin Australia flyers were incorrectly turned away from the Sydney lounge when trying to use a complimentary pass
- Qantas Flyer Incorrectly Denied Lounge Access (2019) – a Qantas Gold member was incorrectly denied access to an Air New Zealand lounge when travelling on a Qantas codeshare flight
- Qantas Denies Lounge Access Despite Oneworld Rules (2019) – a Qantas customer was incorrectly refused entry to both Qantas lounges in Perth, despite connecting from a long-haul Oneworld Business class flight which entitled them to lounge access under Oneworld rules
- Qantas Flyers Denied Emirates Lounge Access (2018) – Some Emirates Lounge staff members were routinely refusing entry to Qantas frequent flyers who were entitled to access
Regardless of the circumstances, stories of airline passengers being wrongfully refused lounge access always seem to resonate with frequent flyers. Why is that?
Well, firstly, lounge access is one of the key benefits of paying for an airline lounge membership or achieving elite status. So, it’s incredibly frustrating when the main advertised benefit of something you’ve paid a lot of money for – or taken a lot of flights to achieve – is not honoured.
Secondly, being denied lounge access often leads to unnecessary embarrassment for the passenger. That’s because the rejection can be quite public and if the staff are not tactful, it can also be a belittling experience where you’re made to feel like you’re attempting to take something you’re not entitled to. It’s especially embarrassing if you’re travelling with work colleagues who you’ve promised to guest into the lounge.
Thirdly, it leaves the traveller feeling powerless. To be clear, we absolutely do not condone abusive behaviour towards airline staff. That is not OK on any level. But there’s little that can be achieved anyway by arguing with the staff member on the door – even if you know you are entitled to use the lounge and can prove it.
Once the person on the door says “no”, their decision is final even if they have misinterpreted or don’t know the rules. Arguing with the lounge staff in this instance is not only counterproductive, but there have been instances in the past where Qantas lounge staff in Los Angeles were instructed to call the police on anyone who argued with them. (This was made infinitely worse by the fact that staff at that airport were routinely denying access to people who were actually entitled to use the lounge.)
Finally, there’s no good way to compensate travellers who’ve been incorrectly denied lounge access after the fact. Sure, you could complain to the airline afterwards and hope for a response within 4-6 weeks. But by the time you receive a response, you’ve already left the airport. If you complain and the airline does bother to respond, you might get an apology. But airlines rarely offer any sort of compensation for this.
Indeed, when I contacted Qantas last month after my guest was incorrectly denied lounge access, all I received was confirmation that the guest should have been let in and told “sorry for any disappointment caused on this occasion”. That’s fine, but it doesn’t really make up for the disappointment. In these kinds of instances, compensation ought to be offered in the same way that it is for a broken in-flight entertainment screen or faulty seat.
(Perhaps even more frustrating is that when I returned to the same lounge the following week, the staff still weren’t aware of the changes to guesting rules.)
Of course, many people do “try it on” with lounge staff, who’ve probably seen every trick in the book from people trying to gain entry to a lounge they are not entitled to use. So, it is more than fair that airline staff are careful about who they let in and ask questions if they think somebody is not eligible. But they need to get it right, every time.
That’s why it is so important that airlines ensure the staff working in all of their lounges are thoroughly across the rules. When there are changes to lounge access rules, both staff and customers need to be informed immediately. Failing to do this will inevitably cause disappointment and embarrassment for an airline’s most loyal and valuable customers.
Yes, the lounge access rules are often complicated. But if they are so complicated that even the people who are paid to enforce the rules can’t follow them, that’s a problem.