jboudreau@mercurynews.com

SAN JOSE -- They call it "The Club," an enclave of civility at Mineta San Jose International Airport that aims to take the turbulence out of air travel.

This respite from the frequent indignities of modern air travel -- its mushroom-colored leather seats are cushy, the shower is equipped with designer soaps, the bar is well-stocked with spirits and local beers -- opens Thursday.

The lounge is located on the third-floor in Terminal A across from Gate 15 and was built specifically to meet the demands of All Nippon Airways, which begins its five-day-a-week Dreamliner 787 San Jose-Tokyo flight on Friday. But The Club also is available to all San Jose International travelers who buy a $35 day pass or are members of Priority Pass, which provides worldwide lounge access for an annual fee. Other airlines may also add access to the lounge as part of premium-class tickets in the future.

"It's definitely not a holding room," said Tom Esch, a civil engineer in the airport's planning and development division.

Indeed. The sage-hued 7,400-square-foot facility provides views of the airfield and eastern foothills, an array of food and a staff who speak in soft tones, as in, "Would you like a refill?"

Behind the good vibrations is a business model.

The $1.6 million club was built by the airport to lure more international departures from Silicon Valley. The airport previously had a lounge, which was operated by American Airlines, which shut it down in 2010 as American reduced its services in San Jose.


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Bill Sherry, the airport's director of aviation, said he slashed many other planned construction perks, such as a people mover and international arrival hall, as the recession hit and airline industry woes dramatically reduced flights at the new airport. But he tucked away money to build a top-class lounge, which Sherry said was critical in landing the ANA flights.

Airlines usually pay for lounges at large airports, such as San Francisco International, which has 18. Midsize airports like San Jose International don't usually have them, experts say.

Not having a lounge, though, can be a deal-breaker for an international carrier considering landing at a medium-size airport, said Alan Bender, professor of aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"If there were no lounge, some business travelers would say, 'I'm gonna use SFO,' " said Bender, who travels 200 days a year. "You show up hours before an international flight. A lounge makes a significant difference. The (San Jose-Tokyo) service won't succeed if they have to fill that plane with leisure passengers or those visiting relatives."

Travelers with elite status and those paying business-class fare expect special treatment when they arrive at the airport, he said.

"These people pay the freight for the plane," Bender said. "You can't have them sitting in a plastic chair in front of Burger King for an hour or two. And what if the flight is delayed?"

The Club at SJC, open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, will cushion the blow of any flight delays. The lounge's driftwood tile floor in the reception area invites guests to pause from the pressures of hurtling across the sky. There are no loud public address announcements or long lines for coffee. The rooms include areas for cocktail socializing or on-the-go working: A long Corian table that can seat at least eight people is equipped with a long power strip.

The Club has Japanese design flourishes, including a wall made from Sentousai porcelain mosaic tiles from Japan.

Masamichi Nagasaki, ANA's Tokyo-based assistant manager of products and services strategy, said the airline coached San Jose International on the kind of lounge it wanted. "Fine food and beverages, Wi-Fi and shower services are minimum requirements," he said. "The lounge is no longer just a place for waiting for a departure."

The Club's goal is to make life easier for business travelers by offering services such as strong Wi-Fi, work stations and a conference room for private deal-making. Power plugs are aplenty so digital travelers aren't groping desperately for a place to power up. Flight information panels and big-screen TVs mounted on walls blink silently. There are magazine and newspaper racks and a buffet.

The Club is operated by a private company, Dallas-based Airport Lounge Development, which is subcontracting the day-to-day services to Gideon Toal Management Services, headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas. Airport Lounge Development operates four other VIP lounges: two at Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport, one at Dallas/Forth Worth International Airport and another at Raleigh Durham International Airport.

San Jose International will receive a $75,000 annual fee, or 10 percent of The Club's revenue, whichever is larger.

"What we are trying to do is get people to think about incorporating something pleasurable into the experience," said Graham Richards, director of operations for Airport Lounge Development. "That's where the lounge comes in."

Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496; follow him at Twitter.com/svwriter.

Ten Things About The Club at SJC
Mineta San Jose International Airport on Thursday is set to open its first lounge since 2010.
Hours: 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily
Location: Third floor, Terminal A across from Gate 15
Cost: Premium travelers on ANA flights have free access to The Club. The lounge is available to other passengers who purchase a $35 day pass or are members of Priority Pass, which provides worldwide lounge access for an annual fee. Other airlines may also add access to the lounge as part of premium-class tickets in the future.
Food: Freshly made sandwiches, buffet dishes and other snacks are available.
Beverages: Coffee and soda are served, as well as an array of spirits, local beers and California wines.
Personalized service: Passengers can reserve a conference room in advance of their visit, where they can discuss business and eat a private meal. For information, phone The Club at 408-441-4550.
Shower: A spacious shower facility supplied with Kiehls and Aveda designer shampoos, conditioners and soaps is available to visitors.
For business travelers: The Club provides plenty of places to plug in electronic gadgets, work stations, PCs with printers.
Capacity: 128 people
Views: The lounge offers some of the best views of the airfield.
Website: www.theclubairportlounges.com