Spoiling Virgin Australia Velocity Platinum frequent flyers in Los Angeles is the Star Alliance first class lounge, complete with a choice of champagne, a dining room with full table service and access to an outdoor heated terrace that's reminiscent of a more casual Aussie BBQ.
Run by Air New Zealand on behalf of Star Alliance, it's normally open only to passengers actually flying in first class – yet the Kiwi carrier makes an exception for Virgin Australia, helping it compete with Qantas which opened its own first class lounge in Los Angeles late last year.
Australian Business Traveller put the Star Alliance first class lounge to the test on a recent visit to LAX: here's what we thought.
UPDATE: From December 19 2016, Virgin Australia Velocity Platinum members will no longer have access to this lounge, moving to the new Etihad Airways lounge instead.
Location & Impressions
After clearing security at the Tom Bradley International Terminal – or arriving on a connecting Delta flight and jumping on the airside transfer bus from Terminal 5 – you'll find the Star Alliance lounges on level six, accessible by lift or escalator from the terminal's main atrium area.
Compared to the open and inviting entrance to the terminal's Star Alliance business class lounge (below), the first class door is off to the side and much more subtle... ... so subtle, in fact, that we missed it the first time around: the only thing giving it away being the small Star Alliance first class logo on the side, if you know what you're looking for: That sets the tone for a relatively modest lounge that comes without the bling of day spas and cocktail bartenders, instead offering something else that many first class passengers hold dear: privacy, peace and quiet.
Continuing with the 'privacy' theme, if you wander through those doors but aren't welcome in the first class lounge, you still won't sneak a peek at who's inside – a great design feat for a smaller lounge.
We'd peg this as Los Angeles' most exclusive lounge, given that top-tier Star Alliance frequent flyers don't have access to first class lounges unless actually travelling in first class. On the guest list are:
- First class passengers of Star Alliance airlines departing from TBIT, currently including Air China, ANA, Asiana Airlines, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and SWISS
- Virgin Australia Velocity Platinum members travelling to Sydney or Brisbane with Virgin Australia (until December 19 2016)
As if that weren't restrictive enough, further secluded are two private rooms – practically 'lounges within the lounge' – available to VIPs, Air New Zealand Elite Priority One guests and members of The Club, Virgin Australia's by-invitation tier to rival the Qantas Chairman's Lounge.
You'll spot one of the doors blended into the blue wall below: Inside, they serve as quiet places to relax... ... watch TV or enjoy your favourite food and drinks, which the staff can have waiting for your arrival. A divider can also be opened to transform the two private rooms into one larger room as needed.
Lounge guests can help themselves to a modest buffet of snacks and nibbles – mostly consisting of desserts and fruit during our evening visit... ... and to a selection of soft drinks, spirits, wine and champagne. In the bubbly department is a choice of Beau Joie Brut (NV), and our preferred drop: G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut (NV). For more substantial meals and desserts, take a seat at the dining tables – conveniently close to the champagne... ... and place your order from the a la carte menu: The dishes are small enough that you can sample several in the one sitting, or can enjoy something little without feeling compelled to eat an entire plate of food: a fitting choice before Virgin Australia's 10:20pm departure to Sydney or the later 11:50pm service to Brisbane.
... followed by the Brittany crêpe for dessert – and yes, it's as scrumptious as it looks.
Top marks for service, presentation, taste, portion size and speed.
Wherever you look AC and USB power points are plentiful and pop out from the cocktail tables with a gentle press: There's also fast and free Wi-Fi, and plenty of space around each seat for your drinks and snacks – either on each side... ... or on the table in front:
The armrests on the chairs above are at a perfect height for laptop work, although there are no traditional desks and office chairs that are more comfortable during longer periods.
You could certainly use your laptop in the dining area, but the four dining tables would be more courteously kept for hungry travellers.
Enjoying a beverage in the Star Alliance first class lounge is quite a relaxing way to spend an evening, especially when it's quiet.
But to truly unwind, make a visit to the adjacent business class lounge and its heated rooftop terrace: offering a BBQ-like environment and views of the tarmac. Oddly, you'll also need to duck next door to use one of eight shower suites, available on a first-come, first-served basis. For a first class lounge that's otherwise so privacy-centric, having to leave that bubble and nip into the business lounge for a shower isn't the greatest setup, although there was fortunately no queue during our evening visit.
But once you're back inside, all that's left to do is nurse a glass of champagne or three until your flight is ready for boarding.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Virgin Australia.
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