Last month, Qantas began reopening many of its domestic airport lounges as states eased their COVID-19 restrictions for indoor venues. With fewer people travelling, a need to control costs and government-mandated health restrictions, it was always going to be a challenge for Qantas to reopen its lounges while still offering an excellent experience to guests. But it seems Qantas may have actually pulled it off.
Over the past week I’ve visited a domestic Qantas Club, Qantas Business Lounge and Qantas Regional Lounge. The experience at all three lounges was very good. In fact, in many ways the new Qantas domestic lounge experience is even better than before.
Although I am sometimes critical of airlines, I believe it is equally important to give credit where it’s due. And I would have to say that Qantas has done an excellent job with reopening its airport lounges.
The new Qantas lounge experience
COVID-19 has changed many aspects of our daily lives, and the Qantas Club experience is no different. Tables are now further apart, to allow for social distancing, and the buffets are gone. There are no longer any newspapers or self-serve drinks available, and the showers are all out of service. The self-serve bar nuts and random buckets of kale have been removed too. But one new thing that’s now readily available is hand sanitiser.
In short, Qantas has removed opportunities for customers to touch lots of things and come in close contact with other lounge visitors – which is exactly what it should do.
At the same time, Qantas has managed to maintain the premium experience that lounge guests expect.
There are still plenty of food and drinks available – you just have to ask a staff member now to get it for you. I have to admit that this takes some getting used to, but it’s not a problem at all. The staff at each of the lounges I’ve recently visited have been really friendly, and were regularly walking around the lounge asking people if they wanted anything.
Although there are no longer magazines on display, these are still available on request from the service desk.
Changes to Qantas Club food & drinks
Qantas may have recently “enhanced” its lounge menus, but I actually think this is for the better. I did like the old self-serve pancake machines, but the various soups and toasted sandwiches have been around for as long as I can remember. If anything, Qantas has taken this as a good opportunity to refresh its lounge catering… in a good way.
I was recently at the Brisbane Business Lounge for breakfast, and there were four plated options available on request:
- Scrambled eggs with toast
- Baked beans with toast
- Pastries including chocolate croissants
Visual samples of each menu item were on display. Yoghurts and fruit were also available. You just had to queue up at the all-day snacking station and ask a staff member to serve you.
This was the scrambled eggs with toast:
I also tried the pancakes and bircher muesli:
All of the food was excellent. My only complaint about the Brisbane lounge was the length of the coffee queue at 6am. With self-service coffee and tea machines no longer available, I waited almost 10 minutes in the snaking queue for a cup of coffee. If you wanted a drink from the bar (even just water), you would have also been in for a wait.
Later on the same day, I visited the Qantas Club in Adelaide. There was a similar but different menu available in that lounge, and I tried the frittata which was hot & tasty:
Wine and beer is also once again available in Qantas lounges in the afternoon and evening.
The Qantas Regional Lounge I visited in Emerald did not have any hot food available. But it still had things like cheese, crackers and drinks. This is fairly consistent with what was already on offer at smaller regional lounges before the pandemic.
Due to social distancing requirements, there are now fewer tables and chairs available in Qantas lounges. This was particularly notable in the Adelaide Qantas Club, with dozens of unused tables and chairs stacked up in the back corner of the lounge.
On one hand, this means lounges are currently less crowded. (Of course, there are also fewer people travelling in general.) On the other hand, it means Qantas has had to introduce new capacity limits at some lounges.
At present, Qantas is only allowing eligible visitors to bring in guests if they are travelling on a Qantas or Jetstar flight on the same day. Normally, Qantas Club members may bring guests into domestic lounges even if they are not travelling (or are flying with a different airline).
Qantas is also no longer guaranteeing that it will accept complimentary lounge invitations (such as those given with some credit cards or to Silver frequent flyers) at some lounges, due to capacity constraints. This has resulted in some issues for customers with lounge invitations that have been unable to link them (something that must be done in advance before the flight).
However, this should depend on how busy the lounge is at any given time. When I visited the Adelaide Qantas Club, for example, it was nearly empty. In this case, I can’t imagine any reason for lounge passes to be rejected. Qantas should probably revise its policy at some point because it cannot continue to reject lounge invitations and limit guests indefinitely.
Qantas still has not reopened all of its domestic lounges. At some airports, for example, Qantas Clubs remain closed with all visitors sent instead to the Business Lounge. Qantas expects to gradually reopen more lounges, including in Darwin, Gold Coast and Rockhampton, from next month.
Still no opening date for Virgin Australia or Rex lounges
Overall, I think Qantas has done a great job with reopening its lounges while maintaining the premium experience for guests. The improved food and friendly staff have been particular highlights, and hopefully this will continue long after things return to normal.
By comparison, Virgin Australia and Rex have not even announced a date yet when they will reopen their airport lounges. Virgin Australia still officially blames government restrictions for its lounges remaining closed, even though the same restrictions have not stopped Qantas (except in Victoria).
With this in mind, there’s now a huge difference in the airport experiences offered by Qantas and Virgin. If you’re flying Business class, or have status, you’ll now get a distinctly better experience when flying Qantas.
You can discuss the reopening of Qantas lounges on the Australian Frequent Flyer forum: Qantas lounges reopening 1 July 2020