As Bain Capital’s vision for Virgin Australia 2.0 begins to unfold, the question on many frequent flyers’ minds is whether Virgin Australia will continue to have airport lounges going forward, and if so, when those lounges might re-open.
Firstly, don’t panic – the airline has committed to maintaining a “network of domestic lounges” in “key” locations: but some lounges will close permanently, and others may not re-open for some time, depending on how long it takes for passenger demand to recover.
Executive Traveller spoke with both the airline’s Chief Executive Officer Paul Scurrah, and its Chief Experience Officer Danielle Keighery, to find out more.
Three Virgin Australia lounges get the chop
While all Virgin Australia lounges remain shuttered on a temporary basis, three of those facilities will be closed for good.
These include the domestic lounges in Alice Springs and at Perth Terminal 2, along with the international Virgin Australia lounge at Wellington Airport, which opened just last year and was Virgin Australia’s first own-brand lounge overseas.
For Perth passengers, the airline’s flagship lounge in Terminal 1 will be retained – Terminal 2 being the lounge primarily used by travellers taking regional flights – although in Alice Springs, no alternative lounge is available to Virgin Australia guests.
It remains to be seen whether Virgin Australia flyers will have access to another lounge facility in Wellington when trans-Tasman flights resume.
However, given the only two available lounges are operated by Virgin’s rivals Qantas and Air New Zealand, the prospects of gaining access to these would be remote.
Virgin Australia passengers previously used the AirNZ lounge in Wellington, and in many other international ports, but were given the boot when the partnership between the two airlines ended, which saw Virgin construct its own 32-seat lounge at Wellington Airport.
Some other Virgin Australia lounges may also close
While Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah affirms to Executive Traveller that “we haven’t decided (on) any other (lounge) closures,” it remains possible that some of Virgin Australia’s other lounges may also no longer be required.
The airline says it will continue to operate lounges in “key” locations, making it highly unlikely that lounge facilities would disappear in places like Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or indeed, in Perth Terminal 1, following the closure of Perth Terminal 2.
When questioned whether those “key” locations would include both capital cities and regional lounges, however, Virgin Australia Chief Experience Officer, Danielle Keighery, confirmed that “a number of the regional lounges that don’t get a large (passenger) footprint,” are up for review.
Outside of lounges in the major capital cities (with the notable exception of Hobart), Virgin’s remaining facilities are found in Cairns, at the Gold Coast and in Mackay.
It’s unclear what approach Virgin Australia will take with its lounge at Adelaide Airport, which remained under construction when the first batch of domestic travel restrictions came into effect, and government prohibitions on dining and indoor gathering venues forced all other lounges to close.
As part of the redevelopment of Adelaide Airport, Virgin Australia had relinquished the space it formerly used as a lounge and had set up a temporary ‘summer pop-up’ facility nearby, while construction of a new-build lounge in a brand new location was underway.
When will Virgin Australia’s lounges re-open?
With Qantas having re-opened many of its domestic Qantas Club and business class lounges across the country, frequent flyers are fairly wondering when Virgin Australia’s lounges will once again welcome travellers: at least, those lounges that remain on the map.
Both Scurrah and Keighery confirm that lounge re-openings will be triggered by demand, which is currently being significantly hampered by domestic travel restrictions and border closures.
“As soon as the borders are open, and business traffic returns, then that’s the trigger” to re-open lounges, Scurrah tells Executive Traveller.
Keighery elaborates that “we really need to start seeing reasonable traffic coming through before we will (re-open lounges).”
Border closures “continue to have an ongoing impact on demand, and until we start seeing the right numbers coming through the airports, we will keep them closed: but we’re monitoring that closely.”
This week, Queensland’s hard border with the entire state of New South Wales will be reinstated – an extension of the previous ban on travellers from Greater Sydney – with the added disincentive of mandatory hotel quarantine for Queensland residents returning from NSW from Saturday.
Queensland is also closing its border to the ACT from the same date, and forcing QLD residents into 14 days of hotel quarantine at their own expense upon their return from the Australian Capital Territory – despite the fact the ACT has no active cases of COVID-19.
What’s the future of The Club?
Virgin Australia’s new owner initially expected to make the airline more of a mid-market carrier, with the airline's invitation-only The Club – created by former Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti as his answer to the Qantas Chairman's Lounge – widely speculated to close under Bain Capital’s reign.
When quizzed on the repositioning of Virgin Australia and its future plans for The Club, Scurrah initially quipped that “people aren’t meant to know about The Club… but of course, we all do!"
"We don’t have any updates on that today," he continued. "The only thing I will say about it is that we know our customers, particularly high-tier customers, want a differentiated level of service, and we're working through exactly how that will look once the demand comes back."
Virgin Australia’s The Club lounges are located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth.