TALKING POINT | Do you remember when the Qantas First Lounge first opened its doors in May 2007? I do, and it is no understatement to say that it was by far the world's best airport lounge.
Many would say that is still the case, but I disagree. The Qantas First Lounge seems to have lost a bit of its shine over the past 11 years.
The Rockpool menus are no longer outstanding, especially when it comes to the seasonal dishes. Spa appointments have been cut back to only 20 minutes and that is if you can get them at all, because only three of the five treatment rooms are ever in use.
And too often the lounge is just too crowded and too busy to feel like it is an exclusive luxury travel experience.
Of course there are worse places to be than the Qantas Sydney First Lounge. The Qantas Sydney Business Lounge is "just one floor below but a world apart" as one of my colleagues says.
Thankfully the Qantas Sydney Business Lounge is getting refurbished. Should Qantas take notice of suggestions from AusBT readers like a dedicated room to better seating options for solo travellers to fewer noisy TVs and an outdoor terrace, the result will be a world-class business class lounge.
And if that happens then Qantas will have a golden opportunity to rethink its approach to the first class lounge and return to the Qantas First Lounge's original potential.
Here are my suggestions for that. I am writing from a point of balance. I am a longtime QFF Platinum member and I fly almost exclusively first class with Qantas on its A380 routes, most of the time using Qantas points to upgrade from business class although sometimes there is no contest for booking straight into first class when a First Sale fare is just $1,000 more than a Business Flex fare.
Most of my non-QF flights are in the premium cabins of Oneworld partners, unless I have no choice but to book a QF codeshare on Emirates.
So I use the Qantas First Lounge a lot and I care about it a lot. I also care about the 'value proposition' it adds to my premium travel with Qantas. So if Qantas should care to bring back exclusivity to the lounge to make it a special experience like it used to be, here is where it should start.
Make the Qantas First Lounge a truly exclusive lounge
Restrict entry to first class passengers on Qantas, Emirates and OneWorld partners with their own first class out of Sydney, namely British Airways and Qatar. Apart from them, only Platinum One and Platinum Qantas Frequent Flyer members and naturally Chairmans Lounge members would be allowed in as a 'reward' for their loyalty.
"What about Oneworld Emeralds who are not flying with Qantas or not in first class with BA or QR?", I hear you ask. They should be sent to the new Qantas Business Lounge. Well, why not? After Qantas finishes its renovations it'll be the best business class lounge in the Qantas lounge network.
Emirates Skywards Platinums already have their own Emirates lounge anyway, and as for BA Golds and CX Marco Polo Diamonds and the rest, it's not as if you will be tossed out into the cold. There'll still be a great lounge for you, and as long as there is a lounge at your disposal Oneworld won't complain.
And while we're at it: are you travelling on the domestic leg of an international Jetstar flight, such as those Sydney-Melbourne or Sydney-Brisbane hops? You're having a lend of Qantas, and you know it, so it's off to the business class lounge with you too.
This will immediately alleviate over-crowding in the Qantas First Lounge especially around morning and lunchtime peaks plus, shudder, school holidays, and when there are delays of course, which has a knock-on domino effect where the lounge almost becomes 'standing-room only'.
Longer spa sessions (and more of them)
Another benefit of this is that the spa suddenly becomes less crowded so Qantas can bring back longer sessions, 30 or even 45 minutes instead of today's 20 minute sessions.
Even if Qantas chooses not to redirect the bulk of Oneworld Emeralds to its business class lounge there's no good reason those passengers should still receive free spa treatments.
After all, why should somebody who has paid their money to Cathay Pacific for example be entitled to everything in the first class lounge for free, including taking a spa booking which a loyal Qantas customer might otherwise enjoy?
The solution is to make spa treatments free for Qantas passengers and maybe first class travellers on partner airlines, but everybody else can pay for them. This will weed out the freeloaders, open up more slots for Qantas' own passengers and maybe even make it possible to hire more spa staff to provide sessions in those other unused rooms.
OneWorld makes provision for this by stating that as a Oneworld Emerald accessing a first class lounge "Spa and Pre-Flight Dining facilities are excluded". This is called the 'Concorde Room Clause' because it is what allows British Airways to restrict Oneworld Emerald access to its Concorde Rooms, the Elemis spas and preflight dining at JFK.
A dedicated first class space
If Qantas still decides to keep the first class lounge as 'open' as it is today, at the very least the airline should partition some space for first class passengers.
I would suggest getting rid of the Library area which is rarely used and convert that and nearby space into an exclusive 'first class lounge within a lounge' with its own dining area and casual seating.
I know these will be controversial and maybe inflammatory ideas to many Australian Business Traveller readers but I believe they are seriously worth consideration if Qantas wants to bring back the glory days of the Qantas First Lounge. What do you think?