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.
"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'.
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."
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.
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.
- Seasonal fruit salad
- 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
- 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
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.