Virgin Australia has laid out the roadmap for the future of its domestic airport lounges, having emerged from administration under the ownership of US private equity firm Bain Capital.
The question most travellers are asking is "When will Virgin's airport lounges open again?" – and the answer depends on which lounge they have in mind.
Virgin's home base lounge in Brisbane has already unlocked its doors this week.
Lounges in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth (T1) and the Gold Coast remain closed for now, with the airline saying each will reopen as demand grows, which in turn will depend on the relaxing of domestic border restrictions.
The newly-built Adelaide lounge – originally primed for an early April 2020 opening before Covid forced the closure of all airport lounges Australia-wide in late March – will roll out the welcome mat "in the first quarter of 2021", Virgin says.
Virgin has also confirmed that its lounges in Cairns, Darwin and Mackay will be permanently shuttered. These join the previously-reported closures of Alice Springs, Perth T2 and Wellington.
The airline's lounge in Canberra is also "under review" and may or may not return. Likewise, the fate of Virgin’s invitation-only The Club lounges remains unknown.
Premium Entry to stay
Virgin Australia says it will keep the Premium Entry facilities at its Sydney and Brisbane lounges, which offer a direct path into the lounge via a dedicated security checkpoint for business class passengers and top-tier Velocity Frequent Flyers and Lifetime Lounge members.
However, a source inside Virgin Australia management – who declined to be named, as they were not authorised to speak directly with the media – tips that Virgin Australia's Premium Entry facility in Brisbane would spring back to life in December.
Due to the high staffing costs in keeping this feature open, the airline’s initial plan is said to make Premium Entry available “only for a few hours in the mornings” across December and January for now, the source advised.
Virgin has not advised if the 'Premium Exit lane at its Melbourne lounge will also resume.
A new look for Virgin lounges
When the Adelaide lounge opens in early 2021, it'll also serve as a preview of a fresh new look which Virgin intends to roll out to all other domestic lounges.
The airline says this "reimagined" design "will provide customers with an experience and aesthetic more aligned to the Virgin brand they know and love."
To date, all of Virgin's lounges have drawn from a template created by Sydney’s Tonkin Zulaikha Greer Architects in 2010-2011 and which debuted at Virgin’s Melbourne Airport domestic lounge.
Lounging in Covid-19 era
Virgin says that as its lounges reopen they will initially "offer guests an interim food and beverage menu, which will be reviewed as the lounge network gradually re-opens and passenger volumes return."
"The offering will adhere to COVID-safe protocols and will include fresh and pre-made food, including sweet and savoury snacks, sandwiches and fruit, along with barista-made coffee, juices and premium sparkling, wine and beer."
Shortly prior to the March shutdown, the airline had already implemented a set of revised policies around how food and drinks were served in its lounges.
These procedures are expected to remain in place for some time to come.
The lounge’s usual salad buffet – requiring guests to handle communal serving utensils – had been replaced by a selection of individually wrapped single-serve salad bowls, pre-made bread rolls and pre-assembled sandwiches, which staff could place on the toaster.
At dinnertime, hot dishes such as soup and pasta remained available, but were plated on request by lounge staff.
Self-service wine, soft drinks, tea and water had also been removed, with all beverages ordered via the bar counter or the barista station.
Of course, Virgin Australia lounge guests shouldn't expect hot food for the time being, with sandwiches being one of the more substantial options at present.
Since re-opening its own airport lounges, Qantas has provided a similar 'hosted' experience.
Rather than helping themselves, Qantas lounge guests advise staff of any food and beverage requests, either at the counter where queueing is allowed under local regulations, or from their seat.