A new concept in regional airport lounges: Air NZ Koru Express

A new concept in regional airport lounges: Air NZ Koru Express

Air New Zealand's new Koru Express lounge in Christchurch seems ideal for the business traveller on a regional flight -- somewhere to pop in, have a drink, grab a quick bite to eat, check email and then head out to the plane.

But what strikes us about the idea is how quickly and easily the idea could be brought across the Tasman as part of the continuing Qantas-Virgin Australia tussle for business travellers' loyalty, especially in the lucrative mining sector markets.

Virgin Australia opened a lounge in Mackay last month, and is planning new lounges for Sydney and Gold Coast, while Qantas has a new regional lounge in Emerald and plans another for Mackay.

For business travellers who spend a lot of time outside the decent lounges at Australia's major airports, a mini-lounge concept like Koru Express could well be a draw.

Koru Express is inside this island of vertical slats, with the food and drink area of the lounge on the other side of the public cafe.

The concept and how it works

Koru Express is a mini-lounge that sits inside the newly built departures gate area for regional turboprop flights departing Christchurch, and is part of the FlyThru cafe. (Staff, food and drink in the lounge all come from the cafe, not from Air NZ.)

The main Koru lounge is a ten minute walk through security (and back), all the way on the other side of the airport's terminal.

Since you only need to check in 30 minutes before domestic flights, there's not an awful lot of point heading up to the main lounge if you're on a regional flight.

That's especially true since there's no security checkpoint for non-jet flights in New Zealand: you just walk up, drop your bags, swipe your boarding pass and board.

The Koru Express design and concept is interesting: it's a partially separated island between the regional flight baggage claim belt and the main departures seating area, blocked off by vertical slats that make it feel semi-private.

At Koru Express, everyone outside gets to see what they're missing out on.

Entry is via a Smartgate-style automated gate. There's no Air NZ staff member inside the lounge -- food and drinks are served by the staff in the FlyThru cafe that backs onto the lounge.

The plethora of laminated notices in ALL CAPS explain how to use the smart gate. It's like the "how to do up a seatbelt" part of the safety video, but less amusing.

So if your boarding pass doesn't have your frequent flyer membership number or lounge program affiliation, you'll need to head back to the check-in area a minute's walk away to sort that out -- you can't just show your (say) Virgin Australia Velocity frequent flyer card at the entry.

Koru Express has a pretty good range of food and drink, in some ways better than the main Koru lounge past security.

Yes, those are full-sized cans of Coke, Sprite, Diet Coke and Kiwi favourite L&P.

You'll find bacon rolls and baked cheese bites at breakfast, various muffins, cakes and bread for toasting, a range of juices and fizzy drinks, and a small selection of beer and wine (but it's Steinlager and Matua, so not as upmarket as in the main Koru lounge).

Try the baked goods: the muffins are really, really good.

Signs prohibit pocketing a can of Coke for the flight -- you're only likely to see tea or coffee on domestic flights, and then only on the larger planes -- but there's nothing to stop you doing that.

Tea and Barista coffee is available all day (since the lounge is basically the back side of the FlyThru cafe). The flat white was decently drinkable, and better than the flat white from the main Koru lounge.

The coffee comes in biodegradable go-cups, which you're allowed to take on the plane.

There's not a lot of comfort in the lounge: seating is on high stools facing a high work surface for the most part, except for a table of low stools. So you're basically perching at a breakfast bar.

Avoid the bench/island space in the middle of Koru Express: it's a recipe for getting bumped into during busy times.

The lack of better seating isn't necessarily a big problem -- if you had more than 45 minutes or so you to wait then you'd probably head through security to the main Koru lounge, which is more comfortable.

A better option is the long bench facing the windows and the tarmac.

You'll find plenty of power points, though, although you'd struggle to plug in an Apple laptop adaptor without the longer cord attached.

(No, we don't know any designers who don't use Apple laptops either. So why do so many lounges have power points that don't work with MacBook power adaptors?)

Wifi is available, with a decent speed of 5Mbps down and 1Mbps up. Not enough to slurp down a movie before your flight, but more than adequate for email, web browsing and voice-over-IP services like Skype.

Also on offer are the local newspaper and Air NZ's in-flight magazine if there's nothing to read on the Internet.

A wider selection of newspapers -- especially to take on regional flights with no entertainment -- would be an area to improve on.

All in all, Koru Express is a great option for the time-pressed business traveller, and Australia's airlines could well consider something similar for smaller Australian airports where they have significant flights but no lounge facilities.

John Walton

John Walton (John Walton)


Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.


  • am


    11 Jan, 2012 05:10 am

    I like. QF should have something like this every 5-6 gates at SYD to alleviate some of the crowding in their main lounges upstairs.

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  • AirportAddict


    25 Feb, 2012 10:47 am

    i agree... do you think they could give silver FFs some access into these?

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  • wilsoni


    12 Jan, 2012 09:02 am

    I was in this mini-lounge early December 2011. Air NZ usually get things right, but on the Sunday afternoon I was there it was a train wreck. The smart gate entry didn't recognize my wife's boarding pass, and on exit the system jammed. What little food we found on offer was unappealing and the place looked like a flock of vultures had picked over it. Barista coffee was a plus, and the stools actually aren't too bad compared to the rock-hard benches in the new regional departures area. Vertical wooden slats closely spaced to enclose the lounge did remind me of being in jail - visiting clients I should add, not as a personal guest of Her Majesty. A great idea, but more attention to detail needed.

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  • John Walton

    John Walton

    12 Jan, 2012 09:39 am

    Yes, the lack of staffer there is a drawback. It strikes me that the person doing boarding for the regional gates nearby could double as a lounge attendant. Out of interest, how did you get the boarding pass issue sorted?

    On the food issue, I've been through there twice in the last week or two and the first time was breakfast (bacon baps, cheese pastries, both warm and tasty, plus little pots of muesli, fruit & yoghurt, as well as two sorts of mini-bagel and cakes) and the second time was evening (mini-burgers and mini-corn fritters on a bun, plus the bagels, little pots and cakes).

    Compared with the often paltry offering in the main CHC Koru lounge (my least favourite of the domestic NZ lounges) it's actually remarkably good. Perhaps they've pulled their socks up since December?

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  • wilsoni


    13 Jan, 2012 07:51 am

    Luckily we tried my wife's boarding card first. When it didn't work and mine we both squeezed through. The advantage of not having Air NZ staff present!

    It does sound like the food has improved, and/or our culinary experience may have had something to do with it being 4.30 on a Sunday afternoon.

    I'm interested in your observation about poor food in the main Koru lounge. In the "old" domestic Koru the food used to be quite good and I wonder what has happened since. New caterer? Cost-savings? Let's hope Air NZ doesn't catch the Qantas disease - diminishing lounge quality (including bad food and squeezing more people in) to the point where I think it's better out in the public areas sometimes.


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  • John Walton

    John Walton

    13 Jan, 2012 11:18 am

    Well, this is still pretty "old" domestic Koru -- it's in the ancient 1950s block. It's a good step down from WLG domestic, with just the sort of salads you can get in the deli counter. No matter how lovely I'm sure the rice salad with watercress and miso aioli is, I kind of want something more varied.

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21 Jan, 2018 05:47 pm


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