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 The Brancatelli File

joe DON'T BE DUMB:
JOIN THE CLUB


BY JOE BRANCATELLI

August 19, 1997 -- This is a terrible admission to make even among fellow travelers, but I'll 'fess up anyway: The one place in the world where I feel most comfortable is in an airline club lounge.

Now don't get me wrong. I am not a soulless vagabond addicted to generic furniture, worn carpets, communal desks and public telephones. I don't drink much or eat peanuts, so it's not like I'm in the clubs for the booze and the snacks. And I do have a life that's on hold when I'm sitting in a club lounge waiting for still another connecting flight.

But I feel comfortable in airport clubs because they make perfect sense. An airport club is the only place in the world where I know that I've made the right decision by being there. I mean, if the choice is a crowded airport bar or, heaven forfend, the general boarding area, then an airport club is a no-brainer. Choosing the relatively calm, comparatively commodious surroundings of an airport club makes me feel like the smartest man alive.

All that said, I feel like an absolute fool when I'm in an airport terminal and I don't have access to an airport club. If I'm at an airport and forced to mingle with the madding crowd, I feel like the dumbest man alive.

This feeling of abject stupidity came over me just recently, when I was connecting through Rome's Fiumicino Airport for a flight home. After an early morning puddle-jumper to Rome, I was clutching my business-class ticket, which comes with club-access privileges, and looking forward to settling in at Le Navi Lounge during the three-hour layover.

I pressed the buzzer for access, strode to the front desk, presented my business-class ticket and began to feel comfortable and smart.

"I'm sorry, sir," said the gatekeeper. "You need an invitation from your airline for admittance."

"Yes, I know," I responded breezily. "Here's my business-class ticket. This airline uses this club as its business-class lounge."

"Yes, this is true, but you need an invitation card. They'll give you one at the transit desk when they issue your boarding card."

"That's just a formality," I said. "Besides, there's no one at the transit desk yet."

"I'm sorry, sir," said the gatekeeper. "You must get an invitation from the transit desk."

"Well," I asked, beginning to feel dumb, "when does the transit desk open?"

"Two hours," she said.

For two hours I sat in a nearby coffee bar. Me, my garment bag, my carry-on bag and my laptop, all squeezed against a pillar. I downed an obscene amount of espresso, then pounced on the airline agent as soon as she opened the transit desk.

After hearing a caffeine-fueled diatribe about my two-hour exile, she looked at me, smiled, produced an invitation to Le Navi Lounge, smiled again, and said, "Allora!"

In Italian, allora means a lot of things. But trust me, in this case, it meant: "You, sir, are the dumbest man alive."

I fumed all the way back across the Atlantic. "As god as my witness," I vowed, "I shall never be clubless again."

And here is where our tale takes an amazingly felicitous turn. When I got home, I slammed my laptop down on my desk--You know, sometimes I am the dumbest man alive!--and knocked over a pile of waiting mail. Atop the remaining tower of junk mail was a solicitation for the Priority Pass program.

What's Priority Pass? Just a fantastic little plan that gives you access to more than 180 airport lounges around the world. Besides privileges at all the club rooms operated by Continental, Northwest and TWA, the Priority Pass network includes access to all those international club lounges that otherwise demand you have an invitation from your airline. Including, I might add, Le Navi Lounge in Rome.

It goes without saying that I signed up before I unpacked. But if you're more skeptical, let me do the math for you: Priority Pass charges $295 a year--or $225 if you read Randy Petersen's InsideFlyer magazine--for unlimited visits at all its participating clubs. Join the Northwest WorldClub and you'll pay $270; Continental President Club charges $200; TWA gets $175 for the Ambassadors Club. That's a total of $645--and you still don't get the breadth of Priority Pass's network.

Want to feel like the smartest business traveler on the planet? Call 800-352-2834 and join Priority Pass.

Me, I'm off to Fiumicino to hang at Le Navi Lounge for a few hours.

This column originally appeared at thetrip.com.

Copyright 1993-2005 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.