Claude Roussel, head of Delta's Sky Clubs, on opening the biggest lounge to date

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On Sept. 15, Delta opened its largest Sky Club in conjunction with the opening of the new Salt Lake City airport terminal. All told, approximately half of the Sky Clubs around the world are open, even as Covid-19 continues to ravish the airline industry. Airlines editor Robert Silk spoke recently with Sky Club managing director Claude Roussel about the new Salt Lake City club and about plans and operations for the clubs during the pandemic.

Claude Roussel
Claude Roussel

Q: Why did Delta build its largest Sky Club at Salt Lake City when it is only your fourth-largest hub?

A: We have a very strong base in Salt Lake City. When you look at building a club, you don't look at what is going to happen next year or the year after. Most clubs are there for the next 10 years or 15 years. So we do very in-depth capacity analyses. And with our very strong partnership with American Express, the co-branded card and of course Platinum, our volume demands the size of club we built in Salt Lake.

Q: The Salt Lake Sky Club is 28,000 square feet, what is your next biggest?

A: JFK is our second largest at about 26,500 square feet. 

Q: Tell us about the club's features.

A: We've managed to design this club really beautifully, with two full bars and two food buffets. We also have five beverage stations. So wherever you are in the club, you can really grab your coffee or flavored water -- whatever you might want. We also have two showers, because we have international traffic out of this airport. The showers will be welcome when the international traffic picks up again. And then we have the sky deck. The sky deck has become a favorite part of the club for our guests.

Q: Shifting gears, what is the status of the Sky Club system as far as how many are open and how you are operating them?

A: We've got 26 Sky Clubs open today out of the 54. As far as the situation in the clubs, we have always been for providing the very best service. But today, our No. 1 priority is the safety of our guests and our employees. So we are taking about 40% of the seating away. We've installed shields at the bar and at the front desk so our employees and guests feel comfortable and safe. And our entire food and beverage program is fresh food, packaged for grab and go or eating in the club. It's packaged for individual portions. There's no buffet right now.

Q: Your bars are open, right?

A: Yes. We are mixing drinks. Everyone in the club obviously is wearing masks and gloves.

Q: How's business in the clubs?

A: Our business is much reduced. But we still welcome a very fair amount of visitors. 

Q: Do you have specific visitation numbers?

A: No. Nothing that I can share. But we can say that they are open because we have enough visits to make them viable to stay open.

Q: Has Delta changed its long-term vision for Sky Clubs in light of the impact Covid-19 has had on the industry, especially on business travel?

A: We have not yet seen clubs that are at risk of not reopening. Obviously, time will tell and will tell us what direction we go. For today, our expectation is the network we have is the network we will have. It might take a little bit longer to reopen certain clubs based on volume.

Q: About half the Sky Clubs are open now. Do you have any thoughts on how many might be open by the end of the year?

A: We are still looking at that. It's a landscape that changes every month. If you had asked me in July what would open in September, I could not have answered. Probably by the end of September we'll know what our strategy will be for November and December. My guess is that we will have more than what we have today. 

Q: Have you had to close any clubs that you reopened either for volume or health reasons?

A: We closed Miami again because of what happened with the rise of Covid cases. We saw our business really take a turn in the other direction. Miami will reopen again. It's just a matter of the demand needs to be there for it, obviously. 

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