How coronavirus has changed Qantas lounges for the better

Executive Traveller visits the newly-reopened Sydney Domestic Business Lounge to see what’s different in the preflight experience.

By David Flynn, July 2 2020
How coronavirus has changed Qantas lounges for the better

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.

Qantas' domestic lounges began reopening this week.
Qantas' domestic lounges began reopening this week.

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 of hand sanitiser on arrival.
Take a spritz of hand sanitiser on arrival.

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.

These sanitiser stations are located all around the lounge.
These sanitiser stations are located all 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’.

Some chairs have been removed to encourage physical distancing.
Some chairs have been removed to encourage physical distancing.
Reminder signs and stickers keep the need for physical distancing front-of-mind.
Reminder signs and stickers keep the need for physical distancing front-of-mind.

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.

Self-serve is replaced by this 'serviced snacking station'.
Self-serve is replaced by this 'serviced snacking station'.

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.

The tray-around service delivers lounge guests a personal touch.
The tray-around service delivers lounge guests a personal touch.

This personalised service, combined with an array of dishes which couldn’t be out of place at those 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.

Breakfast at the snacking station: plenty of healthy ways to start the day.
Breakfast at the snacking station: plenty of healthy ways to start the day.

A few sweet treats sat temptingly off to the side – chocolate and blueberry muffins, and coconut hummingbirds – plus a savoury ricotta and tomato muffin.

Sweet treats to go with your morning coffee.
Sweet treats to go with your morning coffee.

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.

A breakfast tray-around: decent and delicious serves.
A breakfast tray-around: decent and delicious serves.

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)
  • crudités 
  • 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
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.
Part of the all-day dining selection at the snacking station.

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.

One of the all-day tray-around selections.
One of the all-day tray-around selections.

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.

Nibbles are available on request.
Nibbles are available on request.

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.

The Perth domestic Business Lounge's Pizza Bar is back, too.
The Perth domestic Business Lounge's Pizza Bar is back, too.

"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.

Also read: Here are Australia's best Qantas Frequent Flyer credit card sign-up offers

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

07 Dec 2016

Total posts 34

We know all this, it is common knowledge via Qantas announcements and mainstream media. What I ,as a Business traveller paying J fares want to know is: are fine wines available in the lounges apres noon as per usual, since they are not available on flights. And if not why not, as they can be served safely (or bars and restaurants would not be open.)

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2425

Hi Merry - wine and beer are available post-noon :)

07 Dec 2016

Total posts 34

Thanks dear David, that is good to know for the many of us, who like yourself, enjoy a good glass! Cheers, Merry

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2015

Total posts 78

It's a shame that they are only serving coffee in takeaway cups when they are using reusable crockery for just about everything else. Apart from the aesthetics of drinking coffee from a disposable cup, the waste is also tremendous.

QF Gold

29 Jun 2020

Total posts 2

Merry = not very Merry

07 Dec 2016

Total posts 34

Chuckles: Well I am now, see David's reply! Now all we need is to persuade inflight service is that handing a glass of vino in a gloved hand carries no more risk than passing a glass of H20.

QF Gold

29 Jun 2020

Total posts 2

Lol.. yep! I am with you don't worry. Bring on the Vino!

13 Feb 2015

Total posts 61

When people inevitably flout the social distancing guides, will staff have the discipline to enforce them?

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 66

There go breakfast and anything after 11 a.m.

I do NOT expect to be the ultra-fussy I need-to-be-waited-on customer. Unfortunately there are far too many plates containing leafy green stuff and very little meat (if the pictures above are symptomatic of the "new lounge".) Looks like I'll have to bring my own food - and reusable coffee cup. I refuse to add to the land fill with those non-recyclable cardboard things. It beggars logic why ceramic cups and saucers won't be used when everything else is served on/in ceramic ware.

I understand the need for 'hands off' and keeping apart and am a good practitioner of both, but I do have a problem regarding those pump bottles containing hand sanitiser. I have to touch the pump. Why not use those sanitiser stations similar to those in supermarkets? You don't touch but put your hand under and the liquid squirts out. (They can be a bit messy). I'll keep others safe from me and I'll bring my own little refillable bottles of sanitiser which only I will touch.

The "new lounge" will be an interesting experiment! I do hope my friends are back at work. It will be good to see them again.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Mar 2019

Total posts 14

God forbid you have to eat a small side salad!

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 190

@Ladtsmt

In theory, and in practice for all healthcare situation, unless the handle is visibly dirty or contaminated, any contact of bacteria or virus on the pump handle should be killed by the sanitiser gel if you used it properly with the right hand hygiene movement (look up any friendly website or the WHO video)

The issues with reusable coffee cup are 2 fold

1. Liability of any health risk related to the assumption your cup is properly cleaned and you take full responsibility of any food poisoning

2. Potential contact and transmission from you handing over the cup to the barista to the next person down the line (this is the reason why they stop the self service salad bar with the public tongs)

Sure some people and coffee business had no concerns about issue no 1 but not all have the same risk appetite, and hence not every coffee shop will be ok with BYO coffee mug (same with being at the butcher shop when some people want their butcher to put the meat directly into their BYO Tupperware)

With the compromise the airline already have to make to minimise risks of transmission between pax (with that conflicting “its impossible to social distance in the plane and make money” and “it's just as safe flying a full plane with our super duper HEPA filter and (entirely voluntary) mask and wipe accessories) the last thing they needed was the headline that says the Qantas Lounge was the centre of a COVID-19 cluster to their high-value customers.

And yes I do hope the catering is more than just rabbit food, although I expect the business lounge should serve better grub than the Sydney Qantas Lounge on a regular day

13 Dec 2019

Total posts 11

So when the lounges start to become full, are they planning to turn away people based on a system? Eg free passes first, then qantas club members, then gold etc.... or how would this work(have they said as much yet?)

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2425

As we noted in the previous article (https://www.executivetraveller.com/news/qantas-reopens-domestic-airport-lounges), use of complimentary lounge passes is currently suspended. Unaware of any 'pecking order' in place but would suggest that if the Business Lounge begins to get near capacity that'd be the time for the Qantas Clubs to open and spread the load.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 995

"On entering the lounge, a ‘care concierge' welcomes you with a smile and a hand sanitiser pump."


So they are going to dump sanitiser on people, even if they medically can't use it?

06 Sep 2019

Total posts 8

Any word on Virgin lounges re-opening? I finally have some flights coming up in a couple of weeks.

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2425

No word yet, David.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2017

Total posts 74

LOL. The comments section here should be renamed "pessimists paradise" or whinge & whine"

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 778

It is a whole lot of first world problems,

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 190

@ reeves35

Yeah, but that the lounge experience is going to be the only premium aspect of the business class service if anyone is silly enough to pay good money for that token mid-air service they are getting in a pack no better than the infamous American Airlines cattle class experience.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 120

Looks good, hopefully the tray around service of more substantial options is something that is not hit and miss (found this sometimes with island dining).

Seems to be an overemphasis on either vegetarian options and cakes. I guess this is to keep cost down for now by not having meat options.

Still looks good for a domestic lounge offering overall.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 190

It's a business lounge offering which for the moment tolerates unworthy beings like me (Gold tier) until there is too many of us around, when they either keep us out or partially or fully open the Qantas lounge

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Feb 2020

Total posts 7

Great news. Sounds much more inviting. I wonder if this will see the end of “the trough” for good. Hope so!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Nov 2014

Total posts 362

Excellent. This makes me want to fly QF more.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

31 Jan 2016

Total posts 79

Looking forward to next flight/trip when ever it is (sometime FY21, maybe). I'll just want space and no Victorians... LOL.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 190

Ironically MEL lounges IMO are far better than SYD in terms of catering and seating despite being smaller

MEL, like BNE, also has the advantage of that 'signature' dining, at MEL it's the Spice Bar, BNE ditched the 'Mexican Cantina' concept for a broader 'bistro' but either way, they normally have more flexibility and variety than SYD.

This looks so much better than the usual SYD J lounge fare! Normally you can only get a proper plated meal in that 60 minute 'breakfast' window. I think it will be hard for QF to continue doing this as the lounges become more popular because it's a lot more load on staff but it is definitely a big improvement over what the lounge used to be.

Qantas

01 Jun 2016

Total posts 26

I'm impressed with the pictures. Looks great. Thanks for the Article.

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 98

I'm sorry, you lost me at no pancakes! ;-)

05 Jul 2020

Total posts 1

I am on BVB for AAT and never been out of Australia since july last year. Do I need to apply for travel ban exemption? Reason for travel is to apply for new visa offshore as I can't apply onshore because of barred s48.

23 Jul 2017

Total posts 66

Looking at the pictures of the food, there're far too many bearing LEAFY GREEN THINGS. Thanks but no thanks. I'm sick of having to take the stuff off. That's waste. Each to his/her own but I can't wait to be able to get a roll, etc without the stuff.


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