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Air New Zealand's new Koru Express lounge in Christchurch seems ideal for the business traveller on a regional flight -- somewhere to pop in, have a drink, grab a quick bite to eat, check email and then head out to the plane.
But what strikes us about the idea is how quickly and easily the idea could be brought across the Tasman as part of the continuing Qantas-Virgin Australia tussle for business travellers' loyalty, especially in the lucrative mining sector markets.
For business travellers who spend a lot of time outside the decent lounges at Australia's major airports, a mini-lounge concept like Koru Express could well be a draw.
The concept and how it works
Koru Express is a mini-lounge that sits inside the newly built departures gate area for regional turboprop flights departing Christchurch, and is part of the FlyThru cafe. (Staff, food and drink in the lounge all come from the cafe, not from Air NZ.)
The main Koru lounge is a ten minute walk through security (and back), all the way on the other side of the airport's terminal.
Since you only need to check in 30 minutes before domestic flights, there's not an awful lot of point heading up to the main lounge if you're on a regional flight.
That's especially true since there's no security checkpoint for non-jet flights in New Zealand: you just walk up, drop your bags, swipe your boarding pass and board.
The Koru Express design and concept is interesting: it's a partially separated island between the regional flight baggage claim belt and the main departures seating area, blocked off by vertical slats that make it feel semi-private.
Entry is via a Smartgate-style automated gate. There's no Air NZ staff member inside the lounge -- food and drinks are served by the staff in the FlyThru cafe that backs onto the lounge.
So if your boarding pass doesn't have your frequent flyer membership number or lounge program affiliation, you'll need to head back to the check-in area a minute's walk away to sort that out -- you can't just show your (say) Virgin Australia Velocity frequent flyer card at the entry.
Koru Express has a pretty good range of food and drink, in some ways better than the main Koru lounge past security.
You'll find bacon rolls and baked cheese bites at breakfast, various muffins, cakes and bread for toasting, a range of juices and fizzy drinks, and a small selection of beer and wine (but it's Steinlager and Matua, so not as upmarket as in the main Koru lounge).
Signs prohibit pocketing a can of Coke for the flight -- you're only likely to see tea or coffee on domestic flights, and then only on the larger planes -- but there's nothing to stop you doing that.
Tea and Barista coffee is available all day (since the lounge is basically the back side of the FlyThru cafe). The flat white was decently drinkable, and better than the flat white from the main Koru lounge.
There's not a lot of comfort in the lounge: seating is on high stools facing a high work surface for the most part, except for a table of low stools. So you're basically perching at a breakfast bar.
The lack of better seating isn't necessarily a big problem -- if you had more than 45 minutes or so you to wait then you'd probably head through security to the main Koru lounge, which is more comfortable.
You'll find plenty of power points, though, although you'd struggle to plug in an Apple laptop adaptor without the longer cord attached.
Wifi is available, with a decent speed of 5Mbps down and 1Mbps up. Not enough to slurp down a movie before your flight, but more than adequate for email, web browsing and voice-over-IP services like Skype.
Also on offer are the local newspaper and Air NZ's in-flight magazine if there's nothing to read on the Internet.
All in all, Koru Express is a great option for the time-pressed business traveller, and Australia's airlines could well consider something similar for smaller Australian airports where they have significant flights but no lounge facilities.
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