Snapshot: 1939, the world's first airport lounge

29 Jan 2016 by Valerian Ho

Valerian Ho looks back at the earliest club facilities for first class flyers

American Airlines opened the world’s first private airport lounge, the Admirals Club at New York LaGuardia, in 1939.

Political problems faced by New York mayor Fiorello LaGuardia were the catalyst. Criticised by the press for having large, well-equipped offices at the airport, he offered to rent them out. AA chairman CR Smith took him up on it, seeing it as a way to honour supporters of commercial aviation (of which there were few in those days).

The lounge began as a private club with nine members, duly dubbed “Admirals”. While food was not served, a bar offered free drinks and members could also store their own rare and valuable bottles for consumption. “Skippers” (retired stewardesses) helped to make bookings and order in-flight meals.

The carrier launched its second lounge at Washington National in 1941. In 1967, it adopted a policy of accepting paying members, charging US$25 per year, or US$250 for lifetime membership.

The concept did not immediately take off internationally. British Airways (then BOAC) launched its first facility – the Monarch lounge for first class passengers – in the new JFK Terminal 7 in 1970. It added its first Heathrow facility in T3 in 1976.

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