Why regional airports need a 'non-lounge' option

By Chris Neugebauer, March 21 2014
Why regional airports need a 'non-lounge' option

For those of us who fly frequently, taking a seat at a lounge is a pretty important part of our pre-flight ritual.

It's a chance to grab a bite to eat and something to drink, and to get online and get some work done before we're cut off from the world.

Access to a good lounge network is one of the few tangible benefits for that hard-earned frequent flyer status.

So travellers who often fly from regional airports without lounges are missing out on an valuable part of that membership package for many flights.

As an example, Virgin Australia has been talking about a Hobart Airport lounge since early 2012 but its opening has been repeatedly pushed back, with the latest forecast being sometime in 2015.

That's a long time wait for, well, a place to wait.

But is there a useful alternative to the conventional concept of an airport loung – something that meets the core needs of frequent flyers when an airline can't offer the full lounge experience?

When you get down to it, there are just three things that a passenger really needs.

Internet access

For me, the key to getting any work done at an airport at all is to get fast and reliable internet access.

At crowded places like airports, mobile networks don't cut it. They get slow, and the paltry data allocations on offer in Australia mean they're not suitable for extended use.

Most airline lounges solve this problem with fast and free (if password-protected) WiFi for guests.

The good news is that many airports are rolling out WiFi to passengers.

Even if the access isn't free for everyone, providing access to the top tier of access to frequent flyers would be a great
improvement to productivity while we're on-the-ground.

Dedicated seating

The worst part about waiting in an airport's main terminal has to be the mad rush finding a seat. There's normally just not enough seating to go around.

If you need to get some work down, not having a table to sit down at can be the difference between actually getting something done before your flight and wasting an hour of your time.

Reserving some seats for frequent fliers, close to the boarding gates, with a few tables for getting some work done would save us a bunch of time looking for free seats amongst a crowded terminal, and making the most of our time before the flight.

Food and beverage

This may be a somewhat controversial opinion, but for me the complimentary food and beverage is the least important part of the lounge experience.

I'm at the airport to fly, not to eat and drink.

That said, it's nice to have the choice before you get stuck with airplane food for a couple of hours.

Providing a complimentary voucher to pick up a coffee and a bite to eat wouldn't help us get work done before the flight, but it'd make a nice gesture of goodwill towards frequent flyers who are missing out on what they'd get if they were leaving from a bigger airport.

Solution: the 'express lounge'

Virgin Australia partner Air New Zealand is one of the world's more innovative airlines, and its Koru Express concept is a case in point.

Think of it as a 'pop-up lounge', except that it's not a temporary affair

Located at Air NZ's Christchurch's regional terminal, Koru Express provides a small enclosed area behind one of the terminal's cafés and is reserved for the same who'd have access to Air New Zealand's full-size Koru Club lounges.

The café provides a ready supply of coffee and snacks to keep travellers happy. Combined with some reserved seating and Internet access, it's almost everything you need from a lounge, but smaller.

Airberlin has adopted a similar concept with its Exclusive Waiting Areas found in six airports in Germany.

They offer frequent flyers hot and cold drinks, comfortable chairs and handy AC power sockets (the airport itself takes care of the WiFi).

What's your take: should more airlines be considering the 'express lounge' concept for regional airports?

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Chris Neugebauer

Christopher is a semi-professional nerd based in Hobart. When not writing code or in the air, his natural habitat is the specialty coffee house of the city he's in at the time.

AlG
AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

Great observations Chris, this is exactly what Virgin needs to roll out in Hobart and Darwin while travellers wait for a 'real' lounge. I think the idea of associating it with an airport cafe is very smart, it would be good for the cafe too.

bmc
bmc

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

22 Aug 2013

Total posts 169

I agree. I'm a HBA based VA Platinum so the lack of a lounge has been giving me the ....  I recently emailed them with this exact suggestion and sadly got the expected "corporate" reply

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2223

An excellent essay! The First Lounge it is not, but a simple 'express' lounge certainly caters to our needs.

Just wait until somebody starts a thread lamenting the loss of Vanilla Coke from the fridge...

09 May 2011

Total posts 294

Indeed, and certainly in Hobart's case, it would mean they'd stop waiting around for "the perfect space" to appear, and get around to actually serving their high-value frequent flyers. Something's always better than nothing!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2223

Actually, SYD T3 is a good lead on another thing - making the plug-points and WiFi available to damn near everyone. Seriously, the food court is one big laptop working station, and believe me this has been a godsend before.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2223

Why the long face? It's about making airports better for travellers all around, especially on the piers used by full-service carriers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Oct 2012

Total posts 150

Have any of you got to experience Virgin's "Lounge Cafe" at BNE airport? There's no reason they can't have one of these at alot of regional airports. I'm speaking about DRW, HBA, etc. 

am
am

15 Apr 2011

Total posts 586

My only concern would be that these express lounges are very small, and would become very crowded at an airport like Hobart. I think they're a brilliant concept, but I think they are useful as a supplementary facility rather than being in primary lounge offering in a major(ish) airport.

I'd love to see one of these pop up at the end of the Virgin pier in Sydney though.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Aug 2012

Total posts 2223

I think the better way to do it is to have multiple express lounges.

14 Nov 2011

Total posts 11

Because of FIFO, Lounges are becoming busier than the actual terminals themselves in Australia. I have membership for both Qantas and Virgin and have at times turned around and walked straight back out to find a quieter and more relaxed enviroment in the restaurants or cafe's or even just the gate areas where flights are not leaving from. A free beer or plate of food is just not worth it, elbow room only to plug your laptop in is not what I call a good lounge experience.

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 299

Firstly, how do you know that it's solely due to FIFO?

Second, true FIFOers are on rosters that mean most would never get Platinum status.  Many a daytripper/overnighter visit their sites each week.  So whilst they're in Hi-Viz gear they're not strictly FIFOers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Jun 2013

Total posts 7

Will be Interesting to see if NTL gets anything like this, ( as it has none at the moment) with a major expansion due to begin this year, that will incude facilities for Internations flights.

As its is mainly a Jetstar & Virgin port , maybe a Virgin version?? Can't see Jetstar doing anything....

VA

17 Dec 2013

Total posts 51

I'm voting for a lounge in Newcastle. Any airline that puts one in gets my business.

30 Mar 2014

Total posts 2

Chris, I fly Qantas to Tamworth in regional NSW several times a year. They have what they call  "Regional Lounge" there. You get a PIN on your boarding pass that gets you access to an unstaffed room with a basic self serve bar, with TV and Internet access. It's no first class lounge but it's  somewhere to wait and work before you board your flight. It's nice to be able to leverage my gold status at a regional airport where it costs more to fly to on an economy ticket on a dash 8 then a business class ticket from Sydney to Melbourne.

PS. Qantas is the only airline that flies into Tamworth.

30 Mar 2014

Total posts 2

Chris, I fly Qantas to Tamworth in regional NSW several times a year. They have what they call  "Regional Lounge" there. You get a PIN on your boarding pass that gets you access to an unstaffed room with a basic self serve bar, with TV and Internet access. It's no first class lounge but it's  somewhere to wait and work before you board your flight. It's nice to be able to leverage my gold status at a regional airport where it costs more to fly to on an economy ticket on a dash 8 then a business class ticket from Sydney to Melbourne.

PS. Qantas is the only airline that flies into Tamworth.


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