The new Qantas Sydney, Melbourne first class lounge experience

With Qantas reopening its flagship lounges, what's changed – and what can travellers expect ahead of their flight?

By David Flynn, April 16 2021
The new Qantas Sydney, Melbourne first class lounge experience

When Qantas welcomes its first overseas travellers for more than a year, with the start of the Australia-New Zealand 'bubble' on Monday April 19, many of them will make a beeline for the Sydney and Melbourne first class lounges.

Those highly-regarded havens have lain dormant since late March 2020, when the airline shuttered all domestic and international lounges in the face of the first wave of COVID-19.

Now that international travel is making a tentative return, so too are these flagship lounges – but with a few differences behind their frosted doors.

For starters, they'll be the only Qantas lounges at the Sydney and Melbourne international terminals for the next six months, with the business class lounges expected to remain closed until Qantas restarts the bulk of its international flying – a significant step that's currently slated for October 31.

"I don't think the business class lounges will reopen until more of our international network opens, hopefully at the end of October," says Qantas' Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully.

Rolling out the welcome mat

As a result, the normally-exclusive Qantas First lounges will welcome travellers who'd usually head for the downstairs (and downmarket) business class lounges – and yes, that even includes Qantas Club members.

"If you're making a comeback, you should do it in style," reckons Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.

The first class lounge will also bait the status hook by encouraging Gold-grade frequent flyers to ascend to the higher Platinum tier before they are relegated to the reopened business class lounge.

After this, will Gold frequent flyers ever want to go back to the business class lounge?
After this, will Gold frequent flyers ever want to go back to the business class lounge?

"The First Lounge is one of the most important parts of the Platinum value proposition," Tully tells Executive Traveller.

"If we can get our Gold members and Qantas Club members that normally go to the Business Lounge to have a taste of what the First Lounge experience is like, we expect they are going to be highly motivated (to stay there), so it's a great way for us to stimulate that demand for Platinum."

The Qantas First Lounges are sure to be a welcome treat for trans-Tasman flyers: here's the complete door list.

  • business class passengers
  • Qantas Frequent Flyers with Gold, Platinum or Platinum One status
  • the equivalent tiers of partner airlines (such as Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald, Emirates Skywards Gold and Platinum)
  • Chairman's Lounge members (of course!)
  • Qantas Club members

Single-use complimentary Qantas lounge passes – which are included with QFF Silver membership and often bundled with credit cards – should also be accepted from early May, Tully tells Executive Traveller.

"The passes have to be linked to (an international) booking, and we had hibernated that, so I'd estimate about three weeks until that is re-activated and comes back." 

A fresh take on Qantas First Lounge dining

The seasonal menu of the Qantas First lounges has long been a highlight of any visit – along with the space's elegant design by Marc Newson, the spa (still closed) and the overall ambience, the restaurant-inspired à la carte meals, wines and Champagnes were cornerstones of the lounge's allure to 'outsiders'.

Dining has long been a crucial part of the First lounge's appeal.
Dining has long been a crucial part of the First lounge's appeal.

Qantas' consulting chef Neil Perry tells Executive Traveller that several First Lounge perennials were "non-negotiable" to return on this latest menu.

"We had to do some of the signatures – the pav, the squid – and the Spice Temple lamb shoulder with chilli paste and noodles is a real favourite of mine."

A must-have: the popular 'deconstructed pavlova in a glass'.
A must-have: the popular 'deconstructed pavlova in a glass'.

At the same time, Perry approached the menu to make it "more of a premium lounge menu, like we have in London and Hong Kong, while also recognising the importance of the First experience."

The result is a mix of familiar First Lounge favourites alongside some other offerings drawn from previous seasonal menus, plus several 'crowd-pleaser' newcomers.

Salt and pepper calamari with green chilli dipping sauce and aioli.
Salt and pepper calamari with green chilli dipping sauce and aioli.

As before, there's a breakfast menu which runs from when the Sydney and Melbourne lounges open through to noon, and then an all-day menu until the lounge closes.

Breakfast

  • Seasonal fruit salad
  • Croissant
  • House made muffin
  • Neil’s healthy Bircher muesli with apple, cranberry and hazelnuts
  • Buttermilk pancakes with cinnamon yoghurt, berries and maple syrup
  • Brunch bowl with goats’ cheese, avocado, cherry tomato bulgur and green tahini
  • Brioche, leg ham and Gruyere toasted sandwich
  • Scrambled eggs with bacon, pork chipolata, spinach, tomato braised beans

All-day dining

  • Brioche, leg ham and Gruyere toasted sandwich, rocket and lemon
  • Salt and pepper squid with cabbage salad, green chilli dipping sauce and aioli
  • Roast cauliflower with carrot and almond hummus, zucchini, preserved lemon and hazelnuts (GF, VG)
  • Tamarind chicken with eggplant, jasmine rice and lime pickle yoghurt (GF)
  • Red braised lamb shoulder with chilli paste and noodles
  • Signature pavlova with seasonal fruit, mascarpone and Persian fairy floss (GF)

Beer, wine and spirits are available, along with mimosa cocktails – and while Champagne isn't listed on the menu, Executive Traveller understands a glass of French bubbles (Pommery) will be poured on request.

Click here to view and download the new Qantas First Lounge breakfast menu

Click here to view and download the new Qantas First Lounge all-day dining menu

The personal touch trumps QR codes and smartphone apps.
The personal touch trumps QR codes and smartphone apps.

Qantas also opted to retain the personal service of the First Lounge rather than adopt QR codes and a smartphone-based ordering system, with Tully considering the quality of the staff and the value of their interaction with travellers as another cornerstone of the experience.

Revised opening hours

Wth the only international flights of Qantas (and low-cost sibling Jetstar) being to New Zealand, the opening hours of the Sydney and Melbourne first class lounges will match that timetable.

"We have a number of morning services, then there's a gap until the afternoon and evening, but the lounge will stay open (during that gap)," Tully says. "We'll be open to cover all the New Zealand services."

Update: Qantas has since advised it will be closing its lounges during significant gaps in the daily schedule – at the time of writing, this means for example that the Sydney First Lounge will close between the morning and evening flights. The lounge opens three hours prior to each Qantas flight, and its hours will be revised on a rolling basis according to the Qantas flight schedule.

While any passenger on a partner airline's flight who would usually be eligible for access to the Qantas lounge can still visit during that time, flights departing outside of Qantas' NZ schedule – such as Sydney's evening services of Cathay Pacific, Qatar Airways and Emirates – will need to fend for themselves.

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.

06 Sep 2019

Total posts 14

I'm looking forward to spending some time there in a few weeks.

I must admit I do like this lounge, normally I prefer not to stay in lounges for to long but the QF First Lounge is very pleasing. Nice range of drinks, right size portion control.

It's disappointing to see that Qantas is still not going to offer any hot gluten free options at breakfast, even in the first class lounge.  This has been the situation in the business lounge since Covid.  Fruit salad and yoghurt are as good as it gets for those of us who have to eat gluten free for medical reasons.  Not even the scrambled eggs are gluten free, which makes me wonder how they are making them and from what.  To add insult to injury on a recent flight from Melbourne to Adelaide my special gluten free meal had not been loaded.  All they had that I could eat was more yoghurt!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Mar 2017

Total posts 21

Great for all the people who haven't earned their entry - does nothing for those who have, like me.  I'm not supportive of using this exclusive lounge for almost anyone whose flying.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1293

As it is only for the three A330 NZ flights and a few load limited Emirates and Cathay flights, they need the numbers to open them. So it is with the hoi polloi or no one.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 288

And your suggestion is....? There simply won't be the numbers of people flying or the revenue being generated to support opening both the first AND business lounges. Should Qantas have only opened the business lounge and sent Platinums down there? I think you'd find that even worse than what they're doing now. I like this approach, it's a 'best of both worlds' in terms of the lounge and the menu. But if you think about the pretty low number of flights, the low number of 'premium' seats with higher fares than economy and the fact that these are just short flights with low fares and not a lot of margin compared to flying say Boeing 787s or Airbus A380s to the US, London and Asia etc, what would you have Qantas do?

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 288

Fantastic write-up, thanks David and ET! Can't wait to be back here again. The menu looks better than I was expecting, most of the dishes I recognise in some form or other from over the years. I wonder if Qantas will change things up in a few months and make this more of a winter menu, bring in some other faves like the corn fritters plus some other dishes from past winter menus?

22 May 2011

Total posts 72

Will platinums get any hidden gems/benefits Eg better champagne?

I noticed the menu lists Seppelt's The Drives NV as the Aussie sparkling but article did say Champagne is available on request, so it's not something Qantas is advertising. And it's Pomm, which is not a bad drop.

It'll probably be like it was in the old Singapore business lounge, if you are Platinum One or Chairman's Lounge they bring you a glass of Champagne, but as Qantas was happy to reveal for this article that Champagne is available on request then I suppose it'll be something for the "in the know" frequent flyers.

30 May 2018

Total posts 6

Ive got an 8am flight to Auckland next week! Is the champayne flowing at 6am??

I believe the bar opens when the lounge opens, as I've seen people having champers with breakfast, but there's one way to know for sure and that's to ask for a glass when you arrive!

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 238

I think this is a decent middle ground. Not as good as the old F Lounge menu, but this is a lounge serving flights that are shorter than many domestic flights. 

Very true, the menu is a good 'middle ground', and if this was being served in say the London or Hong Kong lounges which are shared 'premium' lounges it would be getting rave reviews, "amazing business class lounge menu!" etc.

That's also a good point about the length of flights, not as if these are 8 hours to Asia or 14 hours to the USA, we're talking 2-3 hours!

I think this new menu really hits the spot, nothing too fancy but it's all good. I wonder if they'll change it up every few months like they used to every season, especially as the business lounges won't be back until maybe November? This is essentially an autumn menu, so maybe in July we'll see some dishes go off and new ones come on. I'd definitely like to see the corn fritters back for breakfast and they used to an an amazing beef ragu for all-day dining.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

12 Apr 2017

Total posts 101

Fantastic, I am flying Cathay Pacific in a week but not the evening flight, so as a gold member I can visit the First lounge for the first time!

13 Nov 2020

Total posts 4

My last international trip was February 2020.  While the stated goal was to visit New Zealand (I had two AA systemwide upgrades on AA I wanted to use in the best possible way), the secret agenda was to hit the Qantas First Lounges since I had become One World Emerald in 2019.  I refer to that trip as my 'salt and pepper squid tour' and thoroughly enjoyed my stops at LAX, SYD and MEL (no squid at AKL as you already know).  Glad I had that opportunity and nice to see the first class lounges in Australia re-opening (I don't think the LAX lounge will re-open anytime soon if at all).  Special places when you are doing long haul travel.

Etihad - Etihad Guest

21 Jun 2019

Total posts 2

Great for the customers and the airline to have the opportunity to re-open, I'm  gutted there are no corn fritters on the breakfast menu.


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