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American Express is now operating all but two of its domestic lounges so on a recent layover in San Francisco, I dropped into the Amex Centurion Lounge at SFO to take a look at how things are shaping up in the current environment and to see what Amex is offering travelers fortunate enough to have access.
Location & Hours
The Amex Centurion Lounge at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is located opposite Gate F2 in Terminal 3.
The F-Gate concourse is dominated by United Airlines (as is the nearby E-Gate concourse) and although under normal conditions it’s usually possible to use the lounge without needing to re-clear security if you’re flying from the International Terminal, the checkpoint between the F and G gates was very firmly closed during my visit.
Most Amex Centurion lounges are operating limited hours right now and the lounge at SFO is no exception. Right now the lounge is open between 07:00 and 18:00 but there are hopes that the lounge will be allowed to stay open to 19:00 from next week and possibly even 20:00 the week after next.
A key thing to note is that during busier times, the SFO Centurion Lounge is currently operating a one in, one out policy to ensure that it doesn’t breach social distancing regulations. I was fortunate in that I arrived at the lounge at a point in the day when few travelers were around, but by the time I left at around 17:20, a line of people was waiting to access the lounge.
The main entrance to the lounge is on the same level as the airport gates but the lounge itself is one level up and accessed via staircase or elevator.
As with all Amex Centurion Lounges, there’s a welcome desk at the entrance (the first floor entrance) where guests can check in with their boarding pass and eligible American Express card (more on those later)…
…but Amex also now offers guests the option of a mobile check-in via its smartphone app.
The SFO Centurion Lounge appears to have in place all the COVID-19 measures that Amex has been talking about for months so as well as having tables set aside for Centurion Cardholders…
…the lounge is also reserving some of the bigger tables for larger groups during peak hours (to ensure that a single person and social distancing measures don’t combine to seriously limit the number of guests the lounge can seat). Blue signs mark out the tables that have been reserved.
Just as you’ll find with the lounges in places like Dallas and New York, the SFO Centurion Lounge offers a variety of seating options including single-person booth-style chairs…
…and even seating at shared tables:
Despite the strict COVID rules in California, the lounge still offers printing options for guests…
…but the small “Family Room” can only be accessed by request (and presumably by only one family at a time).
The lounge’s bar and dining area are both open…
…but the wine tasting section is currently closed…
…and while the buffet is still visible and stocked with food,…
…all food is currently being served by one or more lounge attendants and guests are asked to choose what they’d like to eat from menus placed around the lounge.
A variety of hot drinks are also available in the lounge…
…but once again they’re only available from one of the lounge attendants as self-service is not an option.
The one thing that that really stood out on this visit was how friendly and hardworking all the lounge staff seemed to be. Every lounge worker I encountered was helpful and keen to do whatever they could to make my stay as comfortable as possible.
Tables were cleared quickly, areas were sanitized soon after they were vacated and it was clear that everyone there was getting on with doing the best they could under less than ideal conditions – after having just spent 11 hours in an aircraft with a less than cheerful crew on board, this was a refreshing change to my day.
It’s worth noting that the lounge isn’t particularly big so it’s going to get busy pretty quickly during peak hours – expect to have to get in line to get in if you’re not visiting in the middle of the day.
The food on offer was flavorful if nothing special, but it was still considerably better than the swill served up in most other domestic lounges. I’m led to believe that the bar is serving its usual complement of wines and beers but that the number of cocktails available has been reduced to help staff keep orders flowing (cocktails can take a ridiculous amount of time to make!).
It’s hard to form an overall opinion of a lounge when it’s working at reduced capacity, with reduced services (e.g. no showers), and when everything is far from normal so I can only really comment on how the lounge is doing right now and from that point of view, the lounge is doing well.
Who Can Access Amex Centurion Lounges?
Access is restricted to the holders of the following cards:
- The Platinum Card® from American Express (review)
- The Business Platinum Card® from American Express (review)
- The Centurion Card® from American Express
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve American Express Card (review)
- Delta SkyMiles® Reserve Business American Express Card
Holders of various American Express Platinum Cards and Centurion Members can access the lounges together with up to two guests regardless of what airline they’re flying with*.
Delta Skymiles Reserve Cardholders (both varieties) can only access the Centurion Lounges when flying with Delta.
For flyers originating at an airport with a Centurion Lounge, access is granted a maximum of 3 hours before their scheduled departure time. For flyers connecting at an airport with a Centurion Lounge, that limitation is waived.
*From 1 February 2023, Amex Platinum cardholders will be charged $50 for each guest they bring into a Centurion Lounge unless they spend at least $75,000 per year on their card in which case they will continue to receive complimentary lounge access for two guests. There is no proposed change to the Centurion Card’s guess access privileges.
I’m sure there will be dozens of people who are upset, angry, or annoyed by the fact that they turned up at the lounge to find a line of people waiting ahead of them or who don’t like the fact that the lounge’s services are reduced or who are disappointed that the wine tasting option is no longer available, but none of this is the fault of the lounge and it’s important to keep that in mind.
Under difficult conditions, the lounge is doing the best that it can and that gives me hope for what it will be like to visit when we’re finally looking at this pandemic in the rearview mirror – all things being equal, it should be a very nice place to spend some time.