For many Qantas travellers – especially those holding Platinum or Platinum One status, or equivalent Oneworld Emerald status - a visit to the airline's first class lounges was the perfect way to start any international trip.
Enjoy a few à la carte dishes from the seasonal Rockpool menu, sample some wine or cocktails and, at the flagship Sydney and Melbourne lounges, visit the day spa for a little preflight pampering.
Of course, Qantas closed its international lounges in late March 2020 when the airline grounded all overseas flights as the coronavirus took hold.
But as we approach the 12-month milestone, the prospects of a gradual return of overseas travel hover on the horizon.
While Qantas has optimistically put almost all of its international flight back on sale with departures from July 1, Australia's Health Department chief and former Chief Medical Officer, Professor Brendan Murphy, suggests that widespread international travel is unlikely until 2022.
All the same, that leaves a window open for COVID-safe travel to at least a handful of countries, and with it the return of Qantas' best lounges – and not just those quiet first class havens but popular business class and 'premium' lounges such as Hong Kong (below) and London.
So how's the Qantas loungescape shaping up?
Sydney and Melbourne first
While almost all overseas travel appears off the agenda until at least March, New Zealand remains a ray of hope for cabin fever escapees, due to plans for a trans-Tasman bubble where passengers won't need to enter 14-day quarantine at either end of the journey – by and large, it'll be just like 'the good old days'.
(We won't mention the embarassment that is the Qantas' first class lounge at Auckland, which the airline has long intended to overhaul and combine with the adjacent business lounge to form an all-new premium lounge.)
Qantas still lists flights to and from New Zealand through to July, and the airline is eager to unlock the doors of its international lounges as part of welcoming overseas travellers back into the skies.
"We'll reopen our international lounges as soon as there's enough commercial demand, particularly at Sydney and Melbourne, if they're the likely Australian ports" for travel bubbles, Qantas Chief Customer Officer Stephanie Tully told Executive Traveller in December 2020.
Other countries cited as potential travel bubbles include Fiji, New Caledonia, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, with Qantas even contemplating launching flights to Taipei and Seoul should those COVID-safe corridors open up.
The especially good news for business class travellers, Gold-grade frequent flyers and potentially even Qantas Club members is that the Qantas First lounges may reopen before their Qantas Business counterparts, with all loungeworthy travellers invited to luxe it up.
"We might open one of the international lounges to start with – and that doesn't mean necessarily the business lounge, it could be the first lounge because the size is smaller," Tully said.
(This was how Qantas rebooted its domestic lounge network, with most capital cities seeing the Qantas Business Lounge open before the Qantas Club and become the single shared lounge for all passengers.)
"It will depend on what the demand looks like. If the commercial demand is is not large, because the bubble is more contained, it makes sense to open the more premium lounge."
However, while Tully expects the day spa at the Sydney and Melbourne first class lounges will also return for some preflight pampering, it's likely that bookings would prioritise Platinum-grade passengers.
Qantas Singapore first class lounge
That same 'First lounge first' approach could extend to Singapore, where Qantas cut the ribbon on its chic Singapore First lounge mere months before COVID saw to is abrupt closure.
"It breaks my heart," Tully said, "it's such a beautiful lounge and it had such a short life."
While the Qantas Singapore Business lounge has more than twice the capacity of the Qantas Singapore First lounge, at almost 600 guests against the first class lounge's 240 guests, the First lounge's smaller footprint could – at least in the short term – be a better fit for the reduced number of Singapore-bound travellers on Qantas and its Oneworld partners.
Qantas LAX first class lounge
The final piece to slot into the Qantas First Lounge puzzle will almost certainly be the Los Angeles first class lounge, which opened in January 2015.
The USA, like the UK – which is of course home to a Qantas 'premium' lounge at Heathrow Terminal 3 – is unlikely to be seeing any red-tailed Qantas jets for some time, despite the proposed July 1 restart of Australia-LA flights, due to the need to have the majority of not just Australian but US residents vaccinated.
However, given that the adjacent business class lounge is shared with British Airways and Cathay Pacific, there's always a chance that could reopen earlier depending on those airlines' demand for US flights.