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American Express announced on Monday that it will continue the process of reopening its popular Centurion Lounges, with airports in Dallas, Charlotte, Houston and San Francisco opening their doors by the end of October. The Seattle and Philadelphia locations reopened on October 5, and the remaining lounges are expected to follow in a phased format.

The issuer has also implemented a set of new health and safety protocols and practices meant to protect travelers in its lounges. Called the “Centurion Lounge Commitment,” the procedures include the option for contactless mobile check-in, capacity restrictions and reconfigured seating to allow for social distancing. Guests and employees are also required to wear masks while in the lounge, and surfaces are cleaned more frequently.

All Centurion Lounges were closed on March 21 due to the coronavirus pandemic and its drastic impact on travel demand. Alexander Lee, the vice president of travel experiences and benefits at American Express, says that Amex has been working closely with state and local health authorities in the interim to open its lounges safely.

“Our principal aim has been reopening when we feel we can create a safe environment for our employees and customers,” Lee tells CNN Underscored. There will also be enhanced screening requirements for employees, including temperature checks and coronavirus tests as needed.

Contactless mobile entry will be employed as part of the Amex Centurion Lounge safety protocols.
Contactless mobile entry will be employed as part of the Amex Centurion Lounge safety protocols.
PHOTO: American Express

Under the new safety protocols, buffets in the Centurion Lounges are temporarily eliminated. However, the issuer still provides its premium food offerings to guests using servers. This should be welcome news to Centurion Lounge regulars, as American Express has led the way in food quality at domestic airport lounges in the United States.

The famous Centurion Lounge bars remain open but feature a shorter cocktail menu in order to reduce wait times and bar crowding.

When it comes to spa services and showers, it will be a while before the full experience returns. The lounge spas are limited to services without person-to-person contact. Theragun massages are taking the place of traditional massages for now, and treatment areas are sanitized between appointments. Unfortunately, showers remain temporarily closed as well.

Implementing a Centurion Lounge waiting list

One new policy that’s sure to cause concern is the need to reduce capacity in the Centurion Lounges due to social distancing requirements. Many lounges already had issues with overcrowding, and while travel volume is still down significantly, reduced seating capacity may lead to some card members getting turned away.

Lee tells CNN Underscored that the issuer is utilizing a waiting list tool for customers who cannot be immediately accommodated due to capacity restrictions. “The tool allows us to make sure we log them and notify them as soon as there’s capacity in the lounge” via a text message sent to their phone, he explains. Upon check-in, card members will be given guidance on how long to expect to wait.

The Amex Centurion Lounge in Seattle had overcrowding issues even before the pandemic.
The Amex Centurion Lounge in Seattle had overcrowding issues even before the pandemic.

A significant reduction in travelers may also help reduce wait times, depending on the situation. “It’s going to vary a lot by airport, it’s going to vary a lot by time of day, it’s going to vary by travel season,” says Lee. But, he adds, “we feel comfortable that we’ll be able to accommodate customers as we have in the past.”

Additional Centurion Lounge reopenings

Opening dates for the other Centurion Lounges are not yet set, and “will depend on the metrics and conditions in each city,” explains Lee. But due to the unique service levels of the Centurion Lounges, permission by state and local jurisdictions to reopen may not be enough in and of itself to welcome guests. “There’s nothing that absolutely precludes us from operating a lounge,” says Lee. But, he adds, Amex wants to be able to provide a true Centurion Lounge experience.

So if, due to local regulations, a lounge was only able to offer food for customers to take with them instead of eating it in the lounge, American Express would likely keep it closed until it was able to provide a more aspirational experience.

Lounge expansions in Las Vegas and New York

Earlier this year, American Express announced it was expanding the Centurion Lounge at Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport. In September, the issuer also confirmed that joining Las Vegas in expanding will be the Centurion Lounge at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, which will move to an entirely new location.

A rendering provided by American Express of the relocated and expanded Centurion Lounge at New York
A rendering provided by American Express of the relocated and expanded Centurion Lounge at New York’s LaGuardia airport.
PHOTO: American Express

Located beyond security in the airport’s new Terminal B, the relocated lounge will double in size, adding much-needed workstations, a family room and views of the New York City skyline. Both expansions are expected to be completed in 2021.

The Centurion Lounge in Las Vegas will be able to reopen while the expansion is underway, with brief closure periods. However, the LaGuardia Centurion Lounge will not reopen until the new expanded lounge is completed.

In the meantime, the issuer says it remains committed to its Centurion Lounge network, and still expects to open its previously announced new lounges in Denver, London and New York’s JFK airport, though the timing will depend on the guidance and protocols of local health authorities.

Related: Get a sneak peek at New York JFK’s new Amex Centurion Lounge.

According to Lee, the pandemic also won’t stop Amex from pursuing future Centurion Lounge expansions in new cities. “We’re still committed to our lounge proposition and to our customers,” he says. “The pandemic has changed travel for the immediate term and will have lasting effects, but as customers come back to travel, they’ll be looking to us” to be a part of their travel experience.

How to access the reopened Amex Centurion Lounges

Access to the Centurion Lounges is one of the key benefits of both The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express as well as the invitation-only Amex Centurion cards. The personal and business cards carry annual fees of $550 and $595, respectively, and are geared toward road warriors and small-business owners.

Related: Get 75,000 bonus points and extra perks with the American Express Business Platinum card.

Folks paying those fees each year will be happy to see the lounge network reopening. American, Delta and United Airlines have kept a number of their own lounges open throughout the crisis, and as of late, those airlines have also increased the pace of reopening and the services being offered.

American Express has been more deliberate about reopening its own lounges, which has been a loss for those road warriors still traveling. That makes the reopening of the Centurion Lounges extremely welcome, even if it comes one or two lounges at a time. And for everyone who’s still staying home, the current limited-time benefits on American Express cards may take some of the sting out of that annual fee until you’re able to relax with a craft cocktail at a reopened Centurion Lounge.

For more information on the reopening of the Amex Centurion Lounges, visit thecenturionlounge.com/reopening.

Read CNN Underscored’s complete guide to the American Express Centurion Lounges.

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