A recent trans-Tasman trip to Brisbane with Pacific Blue, Virgin Australia's trans-Tasman and Pacific Islands subsidiary, gave me the chance to check out Air New Zealand's international lounge at Wellington Airport.
(Pacific Blue will be incorporated into the Virgin Australia brand before the end of 2011, Virgin's CEO John Borghetti confirmed recently.)
Since check-in for Pacific Blue's international flights only opens two hours before departure, you'll have a maximum of about an hour and forty-five minutes to wait in the lounge by the time you get through the duty free maze and security.
Location & Impressions
Located after security in the international side of Wellington's single terminal, the Air New Zealand lounge is opposite the Qantas lounge. (The signage is a little lacking.)
The lounge itself is small: just one big room with chairs and a buffet area, overlooking a car park and with a fair bit of roof hanging over the windows so natural light is reduced.
The chairs are comfortable, though, and work well for using a laptop on your knees.
Unfortunately, there's no quiet zone within the lounge, nor even a corner to tuck yourself away like you'd find in the Air NZ domestic Koru lounge on the other side of the terminal.
Utterly baffling, though, are the placements of the power points in the lounge. You'll need to find one of the green-lighted pillars, which have grey boxes with the power points concealed under spring-loaded cover flaps.
But the hinges face downwards, and only swing up 90 degrees. So to plug something in, you either have to get down on your knees behind a chair and peer under the flap or feel around with your fingertips to find the power points. (This is deeply inadvisable, I hasten to mention.)
This is perhaps the most stupid design for airport lounge power points that I have ever seen. Did nobody from the designers or the airline think that passengers might want to plug something in? I'm truly baffled.
Top marks, though, for a mobile phone charging station with plugs from most major cellphone makers (including iPhones) so you can top up your devices' charge before heading across the Tasman.
I was flying Pacific Blue as a Virgin Australia Velocity Frequent Flyer Gold member and access was freely granted.
Pacific Blue's Premium Economy passengers don't officially have access to the lounge by the strictest reading of the access rules, but if you're a Velocity Frequent Flyer Gold or Platinum cardholder, you're definitely welcomed in.
Passengers travelling in Air New Zealand's trans-Tasman "Works Deluxe" premium economy-style seats (where you get a bit more legroom and there's a seat blocked off next to you) also have access to the lounge.
Star Alliance Gold members also have access when flying Air New Zealand.
It's questionable whether high-status Singapore Airlines and Etihad frequent flyers -- whose airlines have reciprocal benefits with both Air NZ and Pacific Blue -- have access when flying Pacific Blue.
The food options were okay and up to the standards Virgin Australia passengers could expect from Virgin's own domestic lounges, with a decent plate of sandwich triangles, quiche, rice salad, potato salad, cold cuts, beef and cookies.
When compared with other international lounges and the Wellington Airport-run Corporate Box, though, it was disappointing not to have a hot option, or even a microwaveable pie choice.
The coffee machine was out of order, which was also disappointing.
Air New Zealand's usually excellent wine selection was in evidence here, with three NZ wine whites (a Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris from River Farm, a Tohu Chardonnay) two reds (Te Waipo pinot and Clearview Merlot Malbec) plus a Hardys tawny port.
The Te Waipo was pretty good -- though if you have a choice go for an already-opened bottle that's had a chance to breathe. It's a little tight before it's had some air.
The liquor selection for cocktail fans was also very good, and the beer selection really outstanding, with several choice brews from local brewery Mac's in evidence.
Full-size cans of soft drinks (including sugar-free Sprite Zero and delicious Kiwi favourite L&P) were also in the fridge.
Frustratingly, the coffee machine was out of action.
The wifi was amazingly fast for New Zealand, land of the long white progress bar, at 14Mbps down and 1Mbps up. This is definitely enough to slurp down a movie before your flight.
There's a two-computer (Dells running Windows XP) business station in one corner of the lounge, which is as tiny as the huge printer-copier it contains is enormous.
Fortunately, the lounge's armchairs are comfortable for using laptops on your knees, although the stupid power points are ridiculous.
There's not a lot else to say about the relaxation options in the lounge.
On the plus side, there are plenty of chairs for a single flight's business class and frequent flyer passengers, but on the downside there's no place to escape a particularly rowdy group of fellow passengers.
For an international lounge in New Zealand's capital city airport, I was really underwhelmed by the Air NZ lounge. With no set quiet zone and essentially being one room, it doesn't feel particularly premium.
I can't believe that Air New Zealand ever installed the ridiculous power point covers in this lounge to begin with -- nor that the snap-shut covers weren't pulled out within a week of anyone trying to use them.
At the end of the day, although the wine, beer and spirits selection is great, and the wifi fast, the rough maximum time you can spend in the lounge -- an hour and forty-five minutes -- will be more than enough.