Virgin Australia's new upstairs lounge at Sydney Airport is now open, and it's a taste of things to come as the airline reshapes the current downstairs area to create what CEO John Borghetti has often referred to as the 'flagship lounge' in its network.
Virgin is quick to point out this is just ‘phase 1’ of its Sydney lounge project, and even now the space isn't quite finished – we're told there are still some "design elements" to come in the new year – but the airline opened the lounge this afternoon to give frequent flyers a bit of an early Christmas present.
In fact, the job as a whole won’t really be complete until 'phase 2' is done – that being a makeover for the downstairs lounge.
This is expected to be finished by the middle of next year, and that's when the two-storey lounge will hit its potential and match up to the chic styling and hip funkiness of Virgin’s other lounges.
For now, the upstairs area seems more about dramatically boosting the bums-on-seats capacity of the overall lounge.
Photo tour: Virgin Australlia's upstairs lounge at Sydney Airport
The entry to the lounge isn't blindingly obvious: it's behind the service desk near the lounge's exit into T2. But the shiny curved walls are a bit of a give-away.
Make your way up an impressive staircase (there's also an elevator nearby) to the upper level of the terminal, which was previously used for airport staff meeting rooms and general storage.
The upstairs area has been given over to a single open space and scores of chairs, which will come as welcome news given the crowding in Virgin's current lounge as the airline wins more of Australia's business travel market from Qantas.
The drawcard, of course, is the view afforded by this upper deck location.
Floor-to-ceiling windows run the length of the lounge, although they stop at the wall which seperates this from the invitation-only The Club (Virgin's equivalent of Qantas' exclusive Chairman's Lounge).
The view extends over T2's boarding gates and tarmac to Botany Bay in the distance.
If you're more interested in getting some work done than checking out the view, but your laptop's running low on juice, we suggest you settle in the seating nook to the left of the'stairway or head for the long padded seating area at the rear of the lounge.
The reason? These are the only places where you'll find AC outlets.
This upstairs lounge duplicates the food and drink servery already seen in Virgin's other lounges.
That includes a barista on duty whenever the lounge is open.
The food on offer is the same spread as you'll find downstairs, including the now-mandatory sandwich toaster.
Swish toilets complete the fitout.
Still to come...
2013 will see the downstairs lounge upgraded in stages and adopting some of the discrete zones such as the bar, workspace desks, quiet zone and 'short stay' area seen in the Melbourne and Brisbane lounges.
We hope that some of those elements – perhaps the snaking work desks? – make their way upstairs, because the space currently feels a bit too cavernous.
But as noted earlier, we suspect Virgin's focus right now is on maximum seating during the renovation of the downstairs space.
When that's complete around the middle of 2013 the two-storey space will boast a total capacity up to 560 passengers – almost double that of today's lounge.
Today also saw the opening of Virgin's upgraded T2 pier at Sydney Airport to handle handle more aircraft – and larger aircraft such as its Airbus A330s – from the terminal.
We're told there will also be a small transit lounge located above the pier, where a shuttle bus service will take Virgin's inbound domestic travellers to Sydney Airport's T1 international terminal for connecting flights on Virgin and its partners including Etihad, Singapore Airlines and Delta.
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About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.