Dear British Airways: you can’t pull the “capacity” card when your lounge is empty!

I’m flying Cathay Pacific first class from Chicago to Hong Kong today, and have a wee bit of a long layover after an early morning flight from Seattle.

Unfortunately Cathay Pacific uses the SAS lounge in Chicago, which really isn’t very nice. In the past they used the Swiss lounge which at least had a first class section, though that’s not the case anymore. That being said, Cathay Pacific does try to add a touch of class to the lounge by reserving the instant noodles and stale sandwiches exclusively for their passengers. 😉

I’ve been sitting in the SAS lounge since noon, and noticed that at 2PM the British Airways lounge opened, so at that point decided to meander over there. Great, I’m both traveling in first class and a British Airways Gold Card Holder, and the OneWorld lounge access policies are pretty clear in that either of those “credentials” entitles me to access a British Airways lounge.

Well, apparently not in Chicago. I went to the British Airways first class lounge and the agent informed me that Cathay Pacific uses the SAS lounge in Chicago. I thanked her but pointed out the OneWorld logo on the door and said that I’d like to use the lounge on account of their participation in OneWorld. The agent informed me the lounge was at capacity. Funny, because there wasn’t a single person in the lounge. She then said “our flights today are completely sold out.” I said she could kick me out if she felt the lounge was getting too full and I’d gladly leave.

She stuck to her story and I didn’t argue further and instead decided to try my luck across the hall at the British Airways Terraces lounge. There the agent informed me that British Airways doesn’t have an agreement with “them.” Did I miss the announcement that British Airways left OneWorld?

Interestingly that lounge too was completely empty, and actually huge.

I totally understand an airline should be able to pull the “we’re at capacity and can only accommodate our own passengers” card, but is it okay to do that when the lounge is empty?

About lucky

Ben Schlappig (aka Lucky) is a travel consultant, blogger, and avid points collector. He travels about 400,000 miles a year, primarily using miles and points to fund his first class experiences. He chronicles his adventures, along with industry news, here at One Mile At A Time.

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Comments

  1. msp — ignore the front desk, speak in german and just meander in clicking away on the camera until security (aka the person who clears glasses/plates) kicks you out.

  2. BA has never denied me entrance to any lounge, once I produce AA ex plat #oneworld emerald card! Not their style at all! Surprising!

  3. I was in the Swiss lounge for Cathay Pacific once. It was actually my very first airline lounge. I wasn’t terribly impressed aside from the free beer. I was even less impressed when I was in the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Biz Class lounge and realized how substandard facilities in Chicago are.

    Which goes to the larger point. The International Terminal in Chicago is a joke and disgrace to international terminals. I guess that’ll happen when neither United or American fly out of it.

  4. I call shenanigans. Write a letter to CX, BA, and One World if they have any sort of contact info.

  5. I’ve been denied access to the BA ORD lounges twice with the same capacity excuse. Once flying CX, once flying RJ. Both times the lounges looked quite empty as well. Didn’t argue, just laughed a bit and left.

    Very unimpressed with BA lately. They kicked me out of F check-in in JNB last week and said they only offer J check-in for OW Emerald now and then booted me from the T3 Lounge in LHR when I asked to use the shower. They stated the shower is now considered part of the Elemis Spa and therefore only for BA customers.

  6. Surprised you didn’t pull up a fake booking to see if you could have purchased an F seat on the BA flight to LHR (a la “but you are still selling suites”). There is a great old FT thread with someone who bought a refundable ticket to get lounge access then cancelled before the flight as the friend he was waiting for flight finally arrived.

  7. @AdamH: Wouldn’t you have to check-in to get the boarding pass to let you in, thus making it non-refundable?

  8. @Steven L. No you can still cancel after you check in. Most fares you just have to cancel by departure time. Others even let you cancel after departure if you don’t board.

  9. What can be done when lounges go rogue and this type of tomfoolery occurs? Seems like the “subject to availability” clause gets invoked far too often by the Carol Beer Posse. Surely when airlines join an alliance, they agree to abide by the terms and conditions. Is there a way to ask OneWorld to step in and sort things out? I was unable to find any contact details on their site. Any way to tweet them for a speedy resolution while you wait?

  10. @AdamH — This is done way more than you might think.

    @Stevev L. — Checking in for a flight doesn’t turn a refundable ticket into a non-refundable ticket. You can still have an emergency or change your mind after check-in and even after entering the lounge and having dinner and drinks. 😉

  11. @Gene

    I wonder how many times one could take advantage of such a scheme (shower, day-room, breakfast, lunch…) before you would be banned.

    In certain cities, at certain airports this could be a viable strategy.

    Hrm…

  12. I would call BA Gold line on the spot and let agent talk to them.

    But AA has a decent lounge in ORD as well. Is it in the different terminal?

  13. Sorry, this sounds like one of the biggest first world complaints I’ve ever heard of. And do you REALLY need to be flying first class again to Asia? Do you ever donate miles to those in need, or just blow them on unnecessary first class redemptions

  14. Whoever commented on the international lounge offerings at ORD and said were subpar was accurate.
    Maybe I can do a blackbag job with the the FTC or Justice Dept on the next airline merger because it will tend to reduce competition among airline lounges in violation of section 7 of the antitrust act…..

  15. are your pic’s of the BA lounge(s)? if so, its seems you not missing much anyway. My take is they have wrong, very wrong, as a BA Gold (OWE) travelling on OW metal you should have access, no questions asked!

  16. I’ve never encountered that problem, but to be fair, I mostly use the lounges at LHR in terminal 5 as an AA Platinum member. Those lounges are huge, so the capacity card is probably rarely applicable. I love the BA lounges; they put the AA Admiral’s Club lounges to shame.

  17. How would I would have handled this:

    I would have made an Avios booking on the spot (refundable within 24 hours) and then have told the agent to go fuck off. This post infuriated me. It’s beyond me how it’s our responsibility to train personnel how to to their jobs.

    JRL

    Oh, and on the way out I would have used the business center to print a copy of the email I sent BA to hand her.

  18. I’m English and I haven’t flown with BA since 1991 and reading this doesn’t make want to start again now. Nothing like bad publicity!

  19. @JRL – n.b. the 24 hour provision doesn’t apply to flights leaving within 24 hours of booking. So that would be a very expensive way to get into the lounge!

  20. Have some decency and dignity. If they tell you no, just walk out. Even if the agent is wrong, it means “Not Wanted”, period!

    and another Cathay trip… ***double yawn***

  21. And this is one reason not to fly CX out of ORD. :/ Where are you staying in HKG this time?

  22. What lounge, if any, does ANA business out of ORD give access to? Sorry for such a newbie question.

  23. @Dan, OZ uses SAS at ORD with no separate F section, and it’s pretty lame.

    As a side, BA lounge sucks anyway.
    Avoid them along with the crappy UK in general.

  24. @Thomas Good… very original point man. There are thousands of starving passengers in Palestine who would KILL to transfer @ the Lufthansa First Class terminal.

  25. Wow, apparently the staff from their award booking call center are also working the lounges. It’s a good thing you didn’t ask to speak with a supervisor!

  26. It’s a first world problem of sorts. You have flown enough miles to have the right to use this lounge. I wouldn’t go away.

  27. I am flying Cathay Pacific first class ORD to HKG in two weeks. I was still under the impression that the Swiss lounge was what I would be using for my 6 hour layover but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I do not have Oneworld status which lounges SHOULD I have a access to?

  28. I have had the same experience flying Cathay F from ORD twice. BA will not let you in period. I am PLAT for life on AA, showed that card they still said no.

  29. BA lounges in the US, especially at smaller stations, seem to believe that the oneworld access policies don’t apply to them. I’ve had this at ORD, and a friend of mine who is BAEC Gold is regularly gets turned away from the BA lounge at SEA when flying AA (he does it repeatedly to make a point, and to see if they ever get straightened out). Then again, BA seem to revel in making their own rules in contravention of oneworld policies, so it’s not surprising to me.

  30. @ sjs – I’ve had success in <24 hour BA redeposits <24 from departure (and even after check-in).

    Even so, booking an AA award on BA metal would have fixed it regardless and have proved something valuable in protest!.

    OW policy is not station specific. Lucky's rejection is complete horse shit and anyone who says "not wanted" is a passive ZERO without any bite.

    JRL

  31. If AA was go Star instead of OW after the merger is finalized I bet BA would notice that.
    Also if you have status as a BA flyer wouldn’t you typically get access to all the AA lounges?

  32. Once I was eating an early dinner at a popular restaurant. It was completely empty except for me and my companion. A young couple with a baby in a stroller came in, and were told that there was no room for them. The couple became very upset, claiming that the restaurant refused them a table because of the baby.

    After they left, the hostess came up to us with a pained expression on her face and, almost sobbing, explained that the restaurant was booked full that evening and that she’d never refuse someone a table because of a baby. She was clearly distraught by having to turn away the family, but what could she do?

    So maybe BA knows their lounges become full before their flights, and that’s why they don’t admit Cathay’s passengers, even when it’s empty. (I’m not saying they SHOULD do this, just that the reason they gave for denying entry may not be far from the truth.)

  33. BA routinely denies access to OneWorld Emerald members not traveling on BA at their US lounges. I’ve had the same experience as you at Houston and Dallas. It’s very frustrating indeed!

  34. @ msp2anywhere — To clarify, in the end I was able to get into the Terraces lounge.

    @ msp2anywhere — There were several seats available, though keep in mind first class passengers are only a small subset of the passengers filling their first class lounges, given that Emerald members get access as well.

    @ Chris — This is one of those things where the best you can probably do is use social media. There’s very little accountability when carriers don’t follow the policy.

    @ wwk5d — They let me into the Terraces lounge eventually, though this wasn’t something I was about to argue too much on.

  35. @ BigRedBears — I far prefer American’s Flagship Lounge, though that’s in T3, while British Airways and Cathay Pacific leave from T5. My mom was already in T5 or else I would’ve spent time in the Flagship Lounge first.

    @ Thomas — Do I need to be flying first class? It’s my mom’s 60th birthday and I’m taking her to Asia for the first time to celebrate. Is that necessary? Nope. Were the seats open and did I have the miles? Yup.

    And while I love giving to charity, miles are NOT something I’ll ever donate given what a horrible rate the actual charities get from them.

  36. @ JBH — Definitely wasn’t a great lounge, though it did have a bathroom and showers, neither of which the SAS lounge had.

    @ JRL — Cool you’ve gotten away with it, though not a risk I’d take, especially with 45 minutes till departure.

    @ Beachfan — I haven’t, and doubt I will.

    @ Dan ray — Yep, they also use the Asiana lounge.

    @ DaninSTL — ANA leaves from the United terminal, so they use the United Club.

  37. @ bobgilbert — They ended their contract with the Swiss lounge a few weeks ago and now use the SAS lounge, unfortunately.

    @ DaninSTL — Yep, as a BA Gold I get access to American Admirals Clubs and Flagship Lounges.

    @ John — As of a few weeks ago, I believe. The Swiss lounge now doesn’t open till 2PM.

    @ snic — And I agree that’s perfectly reasonable, though when I offer to leave if the lounge fills up I think it’s a bit of a different story.

  38. Personally, I find it kind of embarrassing to be rejected from the lounge and I’d be unhappy about being in a position where I’d have to quibble when on a first class ticket. Not part of the experience I’m looking for.

    Although I don’t like doing it, as a strategy, I’ll often look up and print out a piece of paper like the “Entitlement Matrix” beforehand. This is useful because it’s hard for me (or the lounge dragons) to be straight on the rules. I’ve found deferring to the authority of a document to be pretty successful.

  39. I had a somewhat similar experience last month traveling on BA in F. My wife and I showed up at the lounge at YVR with our boarding passes and a guest each. As you told me some months ago, per OW rules, a BA pax traveling in F is allowed one guest. Initially, the agent would not allow our guests. When I politely protested and told her she was incorrect and that under the terms of their OW agreement, any first class pax is allowed one guest AND that I had printed out the section from the OW website and had it with me and would be happy to show it to her (lifting my laptop bag onto the counter and unzipping it…), she relented and said, “I’ll double-check with my manager” and let us all in.

    I didn’t bother trying the same again in the Concorde Lounge at LHR upon departure. We just left our friends to wanter T5 while we drank Kir Royales and put our feet up :-)

    FWIW, if you call BA and ask if you can take a guest into the first class lounge, they say ONLY if you are an Executive Club Gold. No mention about OW.

  40. Hi,

    This is pathetic of BA and they should be disciplined for this.

    How are the OneWorld lounges in CDG Paris?

    We are flying Malaysian soon and they don’t have their own lounge. We are on business class tickets but no OW status.

    Dale.

  41. Similar thing happened to me at SFO. We had J tix on JAL and stopped by the BA lounge. The dragon did not believe it was OW policy that I should be allowed in, and neither did her manager. However, given that the lounge was relatively empty at the time, they did finally relent and let us in. Next time I will have a printout from the OW website spelling out the lounge access policy.

  42. The lounge access is subject to capacity. With full flights that day the agent correctly denied you access as experience showed the lounge would not have capacity. They were quite right to refuse your offer to let you in for now, and then to ask you to leave earlier. That isn’t the way it is done, and puts the agent in a difficult position when they are likely to be busy enough anyway. This whole post is a petulant fuss about nothing. Get over it!

  43. I’m star gold on united and Turkish. Would you advise the Swiss longe at ord?

    June 6th, 2013 at 7:37 p
    Flyng asiana first class out of ord. Is sas the lounge we would use?

  44. @ Dan ray — The Asiana flight leaves at around noon but the Swiss lounge doesn’t open till 2PM, so you’re stuck using their contract lounge unfortunately.

  45. BA’s F lounge at ORD is tiny. It can accommodate all F pax but it gets crowded with OW EMDs travelling to LHR in other cabins. The agent was being preemptive I think. It does not matter whether the lounge was empty at that time. There is no way that that lounge can accommodate pax from other OW flights.

  46. Lucky, your offer to leave is nice, but how would they enforce it? Approach you when the lounge starts to fill up and ask you to get out? What if you refused to leave and made a fuss? I’m sure YOU wouldn’t do that, but I’m also sure there are plenty of DYKWIAs who would. It just makes more sense for the policy to be a blanket exclusion. Again, I’m not saying that SHOULD be the policy, but it does make sense if the lounge is small and regular reaches capacity with BA’s own passengers.

  47. Let’s not be apologists for BA: FT etc. are loaded with stories of the “Lounge Dragons” at BA lounges systematically turning away OneWorld Emeralds (me included, most recently at JFK), and it is not an issue of capacity that date: It is systematic, every day, every request. They simply aren’t compliant with the letting OWE’s into the BA lounges in some cities. Period. “We don’t permit that here” is the most common explanation. They aren’t interested in printouts or lawyering of their rules.

  48. I know how you feel. I had a 7 hour layover in CDG. I showed them all the cards that get me access and they lied and said they didn’t. I argued with them for a while. I wound up sitting in a chair for 7 hrs outside the lounge.

  49. Not to pull this thread up from the dead but the same thing just happened to me in phl. Lounge opens at 3, I’m there at 3 and no one is there but agent says they actually sold more F seats than space in the lounge. There is a US lounge I should use…

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