Virgin Australia's new lounge at Darwin Airport shakes up the Qantas 'lounge monopoly' in the Northern Territory, with passengers now free to choose between the dominant duo while still enjoying the perks and comforts of an airport lounge before taking to the skies.
Australian Business Traveller visited Darwin for a stickybeak at VA's newest lounge, now open to business class passengers and eligible frequent flyers – here's what we thought.
Location & Impressions
You’ll find Virgin Australia’s new lounge directly adjacent to the Qantas Club, both of which are opposite Gate 4 at Darwin Airport.
Travellers are greeted by the airline’s signature Flying Maiden as they enter the space, which is large enough to house 130 seated guests.
Virgin Australia Chief Commercial Officer Judith Crompton told Australian Business Traveller that "this region is incredibly important to us: we believe there is a great opportunity for growth from both the corporate market, and the leisure market as well.
"We’ve been through a major transformation over the last four years – we’ve gone from what was predominantly a low-cost carrier to a full premium airline, and every time we enter a new market, we typically see that airfares will decrease between 20 and 30 percent," she added.
Riling up the competition against long-time solo Darwin lounge operator Qantas, Virgin Australia passengers will now find different areas for work, rest and play in their new lounge.
The following guests are welcome in all Virgin Australia domestic lounges, including Darwin:
- Passengers flying onwards in Virgin Australia business class
- Gold and Platinum members of Velocity Frequent Flyer, either before or after their Virgin Australia flight
- Gold-grade frequent flyers (and above) of Airberlin, Air New Zealand, Delta, Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines, Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic when the member is flying onwards with Virgin Australia
- Silver Velocity frequent flyers when redeeming one of their yearly lounge passes
- American Express Platinum and Centurion charge card holders who are flying with VA
- Paid-up Virgin Australia Lounge members
Not on that list but travelling with Virgin Australia? You can also pay $65 at the door within two hours of your flight’s departure time or can redeem 10,000 frequent flyer points for a one-off lounge pass via the Velocity website.
As in VA’s other lounges, guests can admit themselves by scanning their boarding pass or presenting their Velocity card at the self-service entry point (below), or can stop by the more traditional service desk.
The doors are open from 6:30am to 7:30am on days with early morning flights to Alice Springs and then again from 12:30pm to 6:30pm ahead of all Virgin Australia services to the east coast and Perth, plus or minus half an hour as variations in the airline’s daily schedule dictate.
There’s no access for Velocity members or business class passengers bound directly for Singapore with Virgin Australia partner SilkAir, although if connecting from a same-day Virgin Australia domestic flight, Gold and Platinum members can utilise their ‘on arrival’ perks to relax before their onward flight.
Much as you’d find in Virgin Australia’s other domestic lounges, the morning essentials include pancakes, cereal and toast with various spreads…
… freshly-ground barista coffee whenever the lounge is open…
… and a tea-making station with milk on the side.
As we've also found in Canberra, the lounge staff will occasionally bring around snacks and take coffee orders from seated guests when it's quiet – a nice touch and great if you've got some serious work to plough through and don't have time to leave your seat.
Joining the necessary ingredients for an easy ham, cheese and tomato toasted sandwich are salads, salami and soups later in the day – more than fine for a regional lounge, but lacking the pastas and hot dishes that often appear in VA’s major lounges.
But there’s nothing lacking in the beer department, with a well-stocked fridge open any time from 11am – but only when the lounge itself is open, of course…
… joined by a choice of red and white wines and plus a sparkling:
Spirits, however, remain absent from the menu.
It’s easy to remain productive with several dedicated laptop benches…
… including a smaller triangle table that’s great for colleagues travelling together who want to talk business but without being overheard by all and sundry:
Both come equipped with AC power outlets, each of which packs in two dedicated USB slots for charging smartphones and tablets.
You’ll also find somewhere to recharge when seated at the purple chairs that line the wall – again, with both AC and USB power…
… or can use two new but Windows XP-powered computers in an open plan business centre, complete with printing and copying facilities.
A convertible room in the far corner doubles to offer extra space when the lounge is reaching capacity, or can be booked for meetings or sealed off for members of The Club – Virgin Australia’s invitation-only frequent flyer tier.
Free wireless Internet blankets the lounge, although maxed out with download speeds of 1.92mbps and uploads of 1.45mbps: useful to send and receive emails and for general Web browsing, although insufficient for more bandwidth-hungry tasks such as videoconferencing and live streaming.
If you’re off the clock, head over to the chairs nearest the windows to take in a little natural light and a garden view…
… or snap up one of four solo plush chairs nearby, which allow you to relax but without the chance of an awkward seatmate if the lounge fills up.
Back towards the entrance: brown leather chairs against a purple feature wall…
… with magazines and the day’s newspapers not far behind:
Particularly useful for frequent flyers connecting to or from international flights are showers with an en suite bathroom, although there's no separate area for children to play and make noise away from business travellers who are trying to work, as you'd find in the neighbouring Qantas Club:
But all things considered, Virgin Australia's new Darwin lounge brings with it choice for the business traveller – no longer must Darwinians fly Qantas on the four-odd hour flights to the east coast and Perth in order to perch themselves in a comfortable lounge beforehand.
And for passengers returning home after a productive trip on the company dime, there's now the promise of a nice cold beer at the end of the journey.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Darwin as a guest of Virgin Australia.
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