Enter The United Airlines Private Suitethat recently opened at LAX. It is not just a lounge for departing passengers, it is entry to a way of life well known to those of celebrity and fortune. For United Airlines, it is an exclusive opportunity those not flying in the company Gulfstream G650 can have on a United commercial flight as long as that flight is heading to or returning from Aspen, Cabo San Lucas, Hawaii, London Heathrow, Melbourne, New York/Newark, Shanghai, Singapore, Sydney or Tokyo Narita and flying in the front of the plane.
“The Private Suite takes the whole airport out of the equation,” says Anthony Toth, managing director western division for United Airlines.
Here’s what that looks like:
Passengers bypass the airport “horseshoe” of arrival and departure terminals – a scene that often looks more like a U-shaped parking lot than an airport throughway. Rather, they head to an area beyond LAX on its south side flanking the city of El Segundo. It’s a strange park of spacious aluminum hangars that house smaller craft and offices associated with the airport, such as a separate and private customs facility. Who knew?
Passengers can park or valet and are immediately met by a Suite escort who takes their luggage, checks them in and shows them to the private suite where, chances are, they will not have much company. The decked-out dedicated United suite – all of 17 steps from the parking valet — offers a day bed, television, decent wine, beer, quality snacks, and all manner of coffee for the asking.
Those with kids in tow get a bit of a boost from a toy menu and they can play in a little mini park made of grass and climbing sets in strip at the end of the parking area. Flying pets are welcome in the suite find the patch of grass enjoyable as well. Passengers who forget to bring a charging cord or need an extra carryon bag have no worries. The suite is well stocked with anything and everything that could possibly be in need.
Your Own Private TSA
When it is nearly time to board the flight, passengers will be escorted to the dedicated TSA facility in the hangar area for a quick check, and then be driven on the tarmac by BMW series 7 transport to the stairs or elevator to access their seat on the plane. There may be 70 steps in all from valet to suite to TSA to car to seat.
Passengers returning through this service will be personally greeted on landing and ushered back into a luxury car for the tarmac taxi back to the The Private Suite facility for a quick whisk through U.S. customs by a dedicated agent. Luggage will be hand delivered on the other side or rerouted to the connection.
The Price of Privacy
As privacy is such a big part of the lure of United’s partnership with The Private Suite, there are rarely other parties in the suite and if there are to be other joiners, they will be few and booked on a first come first served basis. That is because the addition of a The Private Suite experience to these flights comes at a price.
“This is something that’s never before existed in commercial air travel,” said Joshua Gausman, Co-Founder of The Private Suite.
The Private Suite is actually a membership service for those who fly often and in private jets. The membership uses other suites within the hangar and offers other benefits to its members. The annual fee is $4,500 plus an extra $2,700 one way each time a member flies. United Airlines is the only commercial airline partner for The Private Suite and so far, the only place it’s available is at LAX. For United Airline premium passengers, The Private Suite amenity is an add-on that, when requested, becomes another fare tier for the seat and adding some $1,200 to $1,500 one way to the price of a ticket. However, it is the only way to get a high-end service like this without incurring the cost of annual membership and even more pricey one-way bookings. The airline does not currently have plans to mix The Private Suite experience into any airline rewards benefits.
“It’s like anything else when reserving a seat on an airline,” says Toth. “If you book far enough in advance or at a certain time of year, that seat may cost you a lot less than other times. So, an add-on experience like The Private Suite might actually be cost effective and make sense. It can be added to any price point.”
Because the elected service is folded into the price of the ticket, however, it is under similar change and refund policies as the seat itself and can only be purchased with a Polaris Class seat. The Private Suite amenity, though, can be added on some time after booking the ticket as long as it is at least 48 hours before a scheduled flight. The risk is in the popularity of the amenity. Like Polaris Class itself, there is a tight limit to the number of people the suite will allow in at any one time.
The Private Suite experience is a cut above what United Airlines is already offering celebrities and VIPs with its curbside Signature Service. With that service, passengers must negotiate “the horseshoe” or traffic throughout of cars dropping off and picking up flyers. They are met and escorted to a private check-in desk and can be escorted all the way to TSA if needed but after that, they are on their own for getting through the snaking lines and conveyer belt crash sites.
United Airlines The Private Suite Experience
“We are already seeing a lot of interest in The Private Seat service and it has only been available since May. Celebrities love it because the paparazzi can’t get at them and C-suite executives love the quiet and privacy, especially when flying our LAX to London routes,” says Toth. The Private Suite amenity remains exclusive with United as the service’s only commercial airline partner. The partnership will remain in place as The Private Suite expands to other airports.
United’s Luxury Line-up
And there’s more to come. Scheduled this fall at LAX, United Airlines will be opening its Polaris Business Class lounge in Terminal 7. Polaris is United’s premium cabin on intercontinental flights. The airline is rolling out planes over the next two years that will the new Polaris upgraded lie-flat seats including a bed outfitted by Saks Fifth Avenue, a personal cubby space and customized wine-tasting menu.
For more information, visit united.com/privatesuite.
By Lark Gould
Lark Gould is a frequent contributor to Business Traveler and Business Travel Executive. She also publishes Travel-Intel, an industry news journal, and eTravel.news.