Executive Traveller was the first to bring you a review of the new domestic Qantas flight experience in a world reshaped by the coronavirus – and with Qantas’ domestic airport lounges reopening from this week, we’ve turned our attention to the preflight experience.
As you can imagine, it’s markedly different from the pre-pandemic loungescape.
Gone are the days of self-serve buffets, snacks and drinks. The DIY toasted sandwich press and the pancake machine have been packed away.
Visiting a Qantas lounge, at least in the short term – but stretching who knows how many months ahead – is all about minimising contact and touchpoints.
The surprise is, this has made for a better and ironically more personal lounge experience, as we discovered during a visit to Qantas’ Sydney Business Lounge.
The business lounges are the first to open in each capital city – at the time of writing that roster is Sydney, Canberra and Perth, with Melbourne and Brisbane due to follow as state-based gathering restrictions permit.
While Qantas Business Lounges are usually the domain of business class travellers and Platinum-grade frequent flyers, until the Qantas Clubs open up, the Business Lounges will also roll out the welcome mat for Qantas Club members and Gold-grade frequent flyers.
On entering the lounge, a ‘care concierge’ welcomes you with a smile and a hand sanitiser pump.
Take a spritz by all means, and top up as often as you feel necessary, using the other sanitiser dispensers strategically located around the lounge.
Some parts of the lounge, such as the raised ‘island dining’ bench, have had some seating removed to encourage and indeed remind travellers to maintain that ‘healthy distance’.
Everything else appears as you’d probably as you’d remember, except for a sweeping overhaul of the food & drinks service. This is now focussed on two areas.
The ‘serviced snacking station’ is for cold dishes and light bites, with staff standing by to hand your selection to you.
The ‘tray-around service’ features a trio of individually-plated dishes de jour brought around to travellers at their seat. Qantas says its aim is to always have one vegetarian and one gluten-free option in the tray-around selection.
This personalised service, combined with an array of dishes which wouldn’t be out of place at a favourite corner cafe, make for a pleasingly boutique club-like feel.
Breakfast is available from when the lounges open until 11am. When we visited, the morning spread included bircher muesli, chia with almonds, and fruit salad.
A few sweet treats sat temptingly off to the side – chocolate and blueberry muffins, and coconut hummingbirds – plus a savoury ricotta and tomato muffin.
The tray-around menu offered a bacon and egg roll with tomato relish; a healthy breakfast bowl with hummus, tabouleh, charred cauliflower and a soft-boiled egg; and a tart of roasted field mushrooms, kale and cheese with tomato relish.
We’d be the first to agree that sometimes nothing hits the spot like a toasted sandwhich, and these are available on request – although it’s more cafe-style, with the bread toasted and the fillings assembled between those two warm slices – and Executive Traveller understands that toasties could also appear as a morning tray-around.
The all-day menu comes on at 11am. During our visit, the snacking station switched over to a very appealing array comprising of:
- salad of roast carrot, pearl barley, rocket, walnuts and a balsamic honey dressing
- penne pasta salad with basil pesto, sun-dried tomato and baby bocconcini (a simpler mixed leaf salad is available on request)
- chicken, lettuce and mayo sandwiches (other staples in the sandwich range will include ham salad, tuna lettuce mayo and egg lettuce mayo).
- carrot walnut cake, lemon cheesecake and raspberry cheesecake
The tray-around selection is all suited to everything from late brunch to supper: we sampled a morish kumera roll with tomato relish, a cauliflower halloumi tart, and a carrot and coconut soup.
And yes, you can still indulge in those liquorice all-sorts, nuts and other drink-friendly nibblies, while the barista-pulled coffee is now served in take-away cups, with wine and beer once again available as before.
We should also point out that some of the Business Lounge signature dining – such as the Perth Business Lounge's Pizza Bar and the Melbourne Business Lounge's Spice Bar – will continue as normal.
"This is a new world for everyone as we introduce and evolve our services to the new travel climate,” suggests Qantas Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully, “but we’re very confident that we can make this work well for our people and our customers.”
We suspect that Tully’s right – this new approach definitely works for travellers – and it makes the experience so much better that she could find it a challenge for Qantas to go back to the old ways.