After sitting closed since March, Virgin Australia's domestic airport lounge network is beginning to re-open.
(The fate of Canberra remains "under review", while Virgin has confirmed that its 'regional' lounges at Alice Springs, Cairns, Darwin, Mackay and Perth T2 have been scrapped.)
Virgin's Brisbane lounge should therefore serve as an example of what passengers can expect when its siblings roll out the welcome mat.
Currently, the lounge opens its doors from 7am to 7pm Monday to Friday, and 7:45am to 7pm on Sundays.
Passengers travelling on Saturdays continue to miss out on lounge access for the time being.
Virgin Australia lounge: arrival and entry
Glide through the now-unlocked doors and your lounge journey routes via a hand sanisiting station, as you'd expect in 2020.
Once that's taken care of, business class passengers and Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can admit themselves to the lounge in the usual way, by scanning their boarding pass or frequent flyer card at the self-serve podium.
Alternatively, staff at the service desk can process your entry. Regardless of how you're scanned in, you'll also need to 'sign in' by scanning a QR code at reception, for contract tracing purposes.
Virgin Australia lounge access
Travellers will be happy to learn that there are very few changes to the eligibility requirements for Virgin Australia lounge access, versus who made the cut prior to the shutdown.
The roster of those that still make the cut includes:
- Virgin Australia business class passengers, Velocity Gold and Platinum frequent flyers, members of The Club, and Virgin Australia Lounge and Lifetime Lounge members.
- Velocity Silver frequent flyers and various eligible credit card holders holding a single entry Virgin Australia lounge pass.
- American Express Platinum Charge Card and Centurion cardholders on presentation of their eligible card and a Virgin Australia boarding pass.
- Gold and Platinum-equivalent frequent flyers of Delta, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
Rules around bringing 'guests' into the lounge also remain the same.
For example, Velocity Platinum members are still entitled to bring three adult guests into the lounge, and most other travellers (except those flying business class without status) can bring in one guest.
However, elite frequent flyers of Alitalia Millemiglia and Fortune Wings Club (the loyalty program of Hainan Airlines and Hong Kong Airlines) no longer have access to Virgin Australia lounges.
For the time being, Virgin Australia is also not selling walk-in passes at the door (normally $65) due to capacity constraints, but Executive Traveller understands this will be reviewed as lounge capacity limits are increased over time.
Virgin Australia lounge: first impressions
A visit just after what's currently the morning rush finds the airline's Brisbane lounge peaceful and quiet.
Although the rear section of the lounge is currently off-limits, there's still no shortage of available seats, which are generally spaced quite widely apart.
For solo flyers looking for added tranquillity, pull up a perch over by the windows, which puts you as far away from the typical sources of noise as possible.
For shorter stays, plenty of seats aren't far from reception, with flight information screens brought back to life with more daily departures than the airport has seen in recent months.
However, some facilities of the lounge aren't available right now.
This includes what was the business centre, where the computers have been removed to avoid having travellers share communal keyboards and mice.
To accommodate social distancing requirements throughout the lounge, many of the tables and chairs have been removed from service for now, kept at the rear.
It's a strange sight, when you think that earlier in 2020, these seats would have all been full at peak times, with travellers jetting about the country – each empty chair now representing not just one, but many business travellers currently grounded.
Virgin Australia lounge: food service
When you're feeling peckish, there's a selection of complimentary food available: you'll just need to ask for assistance, as the staff will pass your choices to you.
Right now, the selections include pre-packaged sandwiches, cheese and crackers, biscuits, chips, and fruit.
With the buffet counter roped off, menus are positioned at each end, so you won't need to squint to read the writing on each packet.
Right now, there's no hot food being served, but the sandwich list caters for both meat eaters and vegetarians.
Those with vegan or gluten-free dietary requirements, however, will struggle to find anything substantial.
Lighter bites on offer include packaged biscuits and cookies, as well as various chips served individually portioned.
Fresh apples, as have been a staple of Virgin Australia's lounges for many years, are available too.
Overall, you won't go hungry here – and the lounge host didn't bat an eyelid when one traveller requested three sandwiches – but for anything more substantial, you'll need to explore the airport food court, for the time being.
Earlier in the day, more morning-appropriate bites like muesli bars are also on offer.
Virgin Australia lounge: barista coffee
Although the food offerings are currently on the lighter side, Virgin Australia's barista bar is back in full swing, with freshly prepared coffee served throughout the day.
Pleasingly, coffees come served in glasses and mugs, and are just as you'd have expected in the past.
Virgin Australia lounge: bar
One small change from Virgin Australia's prior lounge experience is that complimentary alcohol is now served from midday – the same time Qantas opens its own domestic lounge bars – rather than 11am.
As well, the list of available beers has been shortened for now, with other options like cider off the menu too: but you'll still find a choice of beer, as well as red, white and sparkling wine on offer.
These are all now served via the coffee counter.
Virgin Australia lounge: WiFi
Internet access is back, and as before, you'll find the latest WiFi password on signs throughout the space.
Speed tests revealed average downloads of 7.2Mbps and average uploads of 2.1Mbps – fine for basic browsing, email and social media, but not particular zippy for more data-intensive tasks.
As well as the lounge's business centre currently being closed, access to reading material via the PressReader app has also been suspended, with all printed magazines pulled from the lounge as well.
Restrooms remain available, but showers are not: the same approach Qantas has also taken in its own lounges.
Overall, it's great to see Virgin Australia take the first steps towards welcoming back business travellers, and all eyes will be on the lounges to see how the offering expands over time.