Executive Traveller exclusive
Qantas is set to splurge on its lacklustre Sydney and Melbourne international business class lounges, spending millions of dollars to ensure the well-worn spaces finally live up to their flagship status.
It’s the domestic cornerstone of a $100-million investment in the airline’s lounge network, which will also include a dedicated first class lounge for London, the return of the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge plus an all-new Qantas Club for Hobart and regional Qantas Regional Lounge for Broome.
That cash splash comes ahead of what’s expected to a blockbuster set of financial results when the airline reveals its half-year update on Thursday February 23.
“Being back in profit means we’re back to making long term investments for our customers,” remarked Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce in announcing the airline’s lounge roadmap through to 2025.
“That started with the major aircraft order we announced last year” – that being for a future fleet of Airbus A350, A321XLR and A220 jets – “and now we’re building on that with a major investment in our lounges.”
“Millions of people a year visit our lounges and they are typically our frequent flyers who travel with us the most, so anything we do to improve them is a way of saying thank you to our most loyal customers.”
But those improvements will take time, especially as both the Sydney and Melbourne international business class lounges have to remain open throughout the upgrade process.
“It’s a big challenge,” admits Phil Capps, Qantas’ Executive Manager of Product & Service.
“The positive thing with both of those (lounges) is the actual space is quite large today,” Capps tells Executive Traveller, “so we can still accommodate quite a large number of customers, even when sections of the lounge are progressively closed off or hoarded off for the works.”
Hard details on exactly what we’ll see and when remain scant, but here’s what we know so far.
Melbourne’s Qantas international business class lounge is first in line for “a full internal refresh and a new signature food and beverage concept” – and that’s news to cheer regular visitors to what’s colloquially nicknamed ‘the dungeon’.
The lounge will expand into the adjacent Cathay Pacific lounge, with Cathay confirming to Executive Traveller that its Melbourne lounge will not be reopening.
This will allow Melbourne to increase capacity by up to 30% “to accommodate future passenger growth” – no doubt with an eye towards new routes including non-stop Project Sunrise flights to London and New York from 2026.
“We’re taking the opportunity to expand that footprint, and do a full interior refresh as well,” Capps says.
The redevelopment work will be carried out in stages beginning later this year, with the aim of the undefined ‘stage one’ opening in mid-2024 – but Capps is unable to say when the project will be completed.
“We’re still very early in terms of the engineering assessments, architectural assessments and work with the airport.”
Bigger and bolder things are planned for the Qantas Sydney international business class lounge, which is slated for a “complete refurbishment and expansion.”
The airline is reactivating a pre-pandemic plan – albeit one first promised for 2018-2019 – to deliver a make-over that the Flying Kangaroo's business travellers and Gold-grade frequent flyers have long been waiting for, with a centrepiece being “a new signature dining experience.”
That initial transformation saw “a completely new design” to be developed by Qantas designer David Caon – which we rate as a plus, because we're generally fans of his clean, fresh and understated aesthetic – in collaboration with Australian architecture firm Bates Smart.
“Our customers have told us that ample space, privacy and ambience are what they value most in their lounge experience, so the overall design of the new lounge will be tailored with this in mind,” Joyce said of the original plan.
Capps says the Caon design will remain the foundation of Sydney’s makeover “but we also want to take an opportunity to look at that with fresh eyes.”
“Obviously the network’s a little bit different, the shape of the schedule’s a little bit different, and we’ve had some other lounge programmes develop and evolve in the meantime... so we can incorporate a fresh perspective” into the lounge’s evolution.
Lounge capacity will grow by 40% “to more than 600 seats” through a combination of expansion and better use of the current footprint.
“We're working with Sydney Airport at the moment,” Capps tells Executive Traveller.
“There are opportunities to expand the floor plan beyond its current footprint, plus there is an opportunity to optimise all of the services – the bathrooms, the kitchen and back of house.”
However, this “full redesign and rebuild from scratch” is no simple task – Qantas says work is estimated to commence in early 2024 “with completion of stage one estimated by early 2025”, with the project and timeline “pending confirmation of Sydney Airport terminal upgrade plans.”