After months of renovations and standing at over 100 metres from end to end, the revitalised Virgin Australia Melbourne lounge now boasts space for 608 guests, along with new espresso and wine bars.
With the previous Melbourne lounge having only been renovated in 2011, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller last year that “the problem with Melbourne – and it's a good problem to have – is that when we built it with 80 or 100 percent more seating capacity than the old one, we were expecting it to last us for another two or three years.”
So come in, take a look around!
Location & Impressions
Awkwardly positioned in the ‘landside’ space between two departure piers (below), the lounge itself remains before security screening.
However, from July, lounge lizards will gain a new 'Premium Exit' – offering two dedicated screening lanes for passengers bound for gates 1-10 on the northern pier.
When you first enter the lounge, you'll notice its spaciousness – vivid colours and timber finishings avoid the near-'clinical' appearance of its predecessor.
Travellers are catered for at all times and stages of the day – the winding table above has AC and USB power for charging devices and sending those all-important emails, while the stools below (located behind the morning espresso bar) are great for a quick coffee while catching up on the latest news.
Virgin Australia's business class passengers can access the lounge before their flight, while Virgin Australia lounge members are also granted access with a guest in tow.
Velocity Gold and Platinum flyers can enter the lounge before or after a flight with Virgin Australia – Gold-level flyers may bring a guest, while Platinum-grade members can bring three, and in any either case these additional guests don't need to be travelling.
Eligible members of Virgin Australia's partner airline programs can also access the lounge, as follows:
- Air Berlin: Topbonus Gold and Platinum members, plus one guest
- Air New Zealand: Koru Club and Gold, plus one guest. Gold Elite members, plus five guests (subject to space)
- Delta SkyMiles: Gold, Platinum and Diamond Medallion members, plus one guest
- Etihad Guest: Gold and Gold Elite, plus one guest
- Singapore Airlines: KrisFlyer Elite Gold, PPS Club and Solitaire PPS Club members, plus one guest
- Virgin America: Elevate Gold members, plus one guest
- Virgin Atlantic: Flying Club Gold members, plus one guest
Once you've got your access sorted, you can enter by using the self-service machine (below), or by speaking to one of the friendly staff at the front desk.
As these machines provide no physical barrier to lounge entry, we're told that the staff at reception receive a visual queue when an eligible membership card or boarding pass is scanned.
With that in mind, if you were planning to attempt a sneak in, put your efforts to good use and just pay for entry instead – travellers without lounge access of their own (including guests beyond the published frequent flyer limits) can pay $65 to enter no earlier than two hours prior to departure.
Cornerstone to the expanded lounge is a new espresso and wine bar, pumping out an astonishing 1,500 coffees each weekday morning.
Although the barista staff in Melbourne are more than capable of cranking out a cappuccino, here's one crafted by yours truly under the expert guidance of Grinders' Arch Giotopoulos and Shae Macnamara:
Espresso coffee remains available throughout the day, with alcohol service kicking in at 11am.
Selections of red, white and sparking are rotated quarterly, while Peroni Nastro Azzurro and Peroni Leggera (light) are available on tap.
With no espresso machine in the normal buffet area, it's much easier to grab a drink in the afternoons – people aren't constantly bumping into one another, which makes for a nice change in such a busy lounge.For lunch, it's a choice of salad ingredients and dressings... ... while more substantial options of pasta, rice and sandwich ingredients (along with a toasted sandwich maker) are found in the adjacent buffet. If Peroni's not your thing, you'll find plenty to choose from in the well-stocked bar fridge: Between 3pm and 4:45pm each day, 'pass arounds' are on offer throughout the lounge, with today's option a hearty party pie with tomato sauce.
Tucked away at the far end of the lounge is the business zone, although frequent flyers could be forgiven for confusing the subtle entryway with a staff access door.
Inside, users are greeted by a number of Windows XP computers featuring Microsoft Office software, along with a combined copier/printer.
With Microsoft officially ending its support for the dated operating system on April 8, Howard Mitchell, Virgin Australia's Manager, Lounges, confirmed to Australian Business Traveller that all computers on the airline's national lounge network are slated for operating system upgrades later this year.Two meeting rooms are available for hire, with the boardroom offering 14 seats at the table and space for 16 more around the room: I've dubbed this room the sanctuary of the Melbourne lounge – once the door is completely closed, the boarding calls and delay announcements disappear completely, making it easy to be super-focussed on the task at hand.
If you were planning to give a presentation, you'll find a connectivity station arising from the centre of the table, with HDMI, VGA and 3.5mm connections available for presentations and video conferencing – while a power point is conveniently located in the middle. In true Australian Business Traveller fashion, we tested that this nifty gizmo actually worked – HDMI output from the laptop was quick to appear on the screen after pressing the 'laptop' key, and audio could easily be adjusted or muted from the same panel. The result: If you're going to call shotgun, we'd definitely suggest a seat directly facing the windows – what a view for a meeting room! Wi-fi is available throughout the lounge, with no noticeable change in speed throughout my day-long visit.
Connectivity-wise, AC and USB power outlets are available throughout the lounge, while a well-designed standing area near the wine bar provides travellers with space for a drink, along with juice on tap for their portable devices:
Whether it's by the windows with a beer or on the social, winding benches with a nice glass of wine, you'll find it easy to relax here.My only gripe is that the boarding announcements seemed excessively loud, which meant pausing conversation whenever a flight was called – not ideal if you're having an important yarn with the boss or a client.
If reading material is what you seek, you'll find a good selection of magazines and newspapers available, along with thousands of other titles through the free PressReader app. On the other hand, if you'd prefer to perch yourself close to the buffet (hey, we won't judge!), then you have that option too. You may have noticed the frosted glass behind the stools in the coffee area at the top of this review...
Inside, you'll find a dedicated function space – a first for a Virgin Australia lounge:
Although nothing is currently on the agenda, performances by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, dining events and viewing parties for the FIFA World Cup were all mooted by Mitchell during a recent tour of the newly-extended Melbourne lounge.
With more than double the capacity of the previous space, the lounge expansion is Virgin's latest attempt to pry more of the lucrative corporate travel market from the Red Roo – and they appear to be succeeding.
From a traveller's perspective, you don't feel that you're "missing out" on a better lounge experience as you sometimes can in Qantas Clubs – knowing that there's a better lounge within metres of your table doesn't make anyone feel great!
Travellers at the Gold tier will find a better coffee experience in the Virgin Australia lounges than in the Qantas Clubs... given that the Virgin Australia lounge serves up lattes in glassware and has the new, dedicated espresso bar, it's definitely a cut above the Qantas Club's disposable cup experience.
Seemingly designed as a hybrid of membership and business class lounges, the Melbourne facilities are well-pointed to satisfy business travellers, while still meeting the needs of lounge members jetting off with families down the back of the bus.
Qantas Clubs and its domestic business lounges and have a distinct advantage in the alcohol department, with spirits noticeably absent from Virgin Australia's lounge network.
When quizzed on this aspect of the service, Mitchell revealed that "spirits are always on the radar", although admits that any introduction in the short term would likely be through "(temporary) promotions with spirit houses looking to develop and promote their brand".
Overall, the lounge now feels much more spacious and inviting, and should serve the airline well for at least a few years (or so John Borghetti would hope!).
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Virgin Australia.
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