Words by Kirstie Pickering
The allure of the private aviation experience is its exclusivity, luxury and streamlined travel process. Despite not being able to offer commercial passengers a flight on a private jet, many airports are now offering access to VIP terminals to a wider pool of clientele. The move creates an opportunity for airports to generate more revenue and offers commercial flyers a premium travel experience.
“The pandemic has made people more attune to privacy, safety and making every moment count,” says Joshua Gausman, co-CEO and founder at PS LAX, a private luxury terminal serving members – who will be flying on commercial or private flights – at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
“Statistics show that Americans are spending more per trip and are spending on privacy for the first time. This will continue to be prioritized as commercial airlines operate at reduced schedules and experiences delays.
“Our membership base is in the thousands, with ongoing wait lists around busier seasons. We have now fully rebounded beyond 2019 levels, and we are busier than we ever have been before.”
PS LAX is detached from the airport itself, meaning guests avoid interaction with the crowds and queues at LAX. This allows more time for pre-flight relaxation.
Around 30% of PS LAX customers work in the entertainment industry, including actors, directors and musicians. The other 70% are businesspeople, CEOs, high-net worth visitors from overseas or travelers looking to make their trip more special. More than half of passengers who use PS LAX are flying internationally, and most of them live in LA.
“People think of their time at PS as an extension of their time in LA,” says Gausman. “We keep everyone’s preferences on file, so we know how to make each experience perfect. Our most popular pre-flight or post-flight amenity is an in-suite massage – the perfect end to a long day of travel.”
A top notch experience
This premium experience is luring many commercial travelers to spend more time in pre- or post-flight facilities on the ground. After almost two years of limited travel opportunities because of the pandemic, the uptick in VIP service users could mark the beginning of shift in commercial flyer behavior.
Malta International Airport’s La Valette Club brand brings together a lounge inside the main terminal building and a VIP terminal separate to the main airport. Users of the La Valette Club lounge can be split into two categories: members, most of whom are frequent business travelers and one-time users who purchase a lounge pass ahead of a trip.
The number of lounge guests for La Valette Club in April 2022 was almost the same as those in April 2019,
pre-pandemic, even though April 2022’s passenger traffic through Malta International Airport was 21% below pre-pandemic levels.
“During the pandemic and in its wake, we have seen an increasing trend in one-time use of the lounge,” says George Mallia, head of retail and property at Malta International Airport.
“This increase could be due to several reasons, including savings accumulated during the pandemic, health concerns triggered by the pandemic, and millennials who are back to traveling and are seeking to emulate lavish lifestyles presented on social media by their peers and influencers.
“We are also seeing an increase in the number of members who are leaving their membership renewals to the last minute, possibly because the pandemic has led to shorter booking windows for trips. This poses an extra challenge to the team, which would at times need to process several memberships and issue membership cards within hours.”
Malta’s VIP Terminal guests mostly arrive and depart from Malta on private jets, but there are also a significant number of passengers who travel on commercial flights.
“We cater for the needs of different travelers through the VIP terminal with three different membership tiers – Traveler, Club and High Altitude – and a one-time option. This sets us apart from some other VIP brands,” says Mallia.
“Additionally, we promote to our guests the ability to customize their airport experiences – for instance, by purchasing one of our ancillary services in addition to their membership or purchasing a Special Occasions Package when taking a trip such as a honeymoon.”
Looking for luxury
Vienna International Airport has its own VIP terminal, which positions itself as a luxurious add-on to scheduled flights. Around 1,500 passengers use the terminal per month on average. Most are Europeans and about 60% are German speaking from Austria, Switzerland or Germany itself.
“Travelers value the privacy and quietness at VIP terminals even more now after the pandemic,” says Michael Zach, managing director of Vienna International Airport. “They are also more afraid of getting stuck in a long line of queuing passengers for security checks, for example.
“We offer VIPs personal assistants and limousine transfers right up to the booked flight. There is one big difference with our VIP offering though – our clients do not spend their time at the VIP terminal in a shared lounge, instead they have their own personal suite included as part of the service.
“Almost all customers of the VIP services go on commercial flights. The VIP terminal is located in the same building as the general aviation terminal, but as there are no waiting times at the airport for passengers of general aviation flights, those customers don’t book and use VIP services,” added Zach.
To create a personalized and luxury experience, VIP terminals need to offer commercial travelers amenities that they couldn’t find in an average airport lounge. This amplifies the passenger experience and increases the likelihood of return custom.
“Our hospitality and focus on customization are our most standout features,” says PS LAX’s Gausman. “We care a lot about our members and the experience they have each time they arrive at our terminal. Our team works tirelessly to create memorable moments and seamless logistics.
“Cars are a very big deal in Los Angeles, and our members love driving their own cars to PS. Our members rave about what a luxury it is to valet their vehicle and have it detailed while they are away.
“The drive across the airfield directly to the aircraft door of a commercial flight is a popular feature. The tarmac drive past massive aircraft is a unique experience only found at PS.
“We also spent a lot of time and resources designing a serene outdoor garden. Members love enjoying a cocktail under the stars, reading a book next to our fountain, playing yard games with family, or walking their dogs. It’s a very non-airport-feeling place our members cherish.”
In Malta, La Valette Club was created with its Mediterranean setting in mind.
“The lounge’s standout feature is definitely the outdoor terrace, where our guests can soak up the sun whilst enjoying a drink and a snack before boarding their flight,” says Mallia.
“The huge windows allow visitors to enjoy great views of the airfield and the airport’s neighboring villages, further adding to the lounge’s appeal.
“La Valette Club also offers an array of ancillary VIP services, with two of the most popular being meet and greet and the chauffeur service. The former includes access to the lounge and porterage with the aim of assisting travelers who need an extra helping hand in navigating the airport. The chauffeur service whisks guests from the terminal to the aircraft – and vice versa – for added convenience.”
“We always have a private suite included in the VIP service,” adds Vienna’s Zach. “That is what travelers value the most. We refurbished our suites in 2019, so the design is very up-to-date. We’ve had impressive feedback from our guests.”
As travel continues to change shape following the peak of the pandemic, expanding VIP services for commercial travelers looks to be one of the smart ways airports can recoup money lost over the past two years. Demand is evidently on the rise for such services as travelers look to the luxury and the high-end experience private aviation offers, and it’s airports can use this spike when looking to expand their operations.