In pre-pandemic times, the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney consistently rated amongst the world’s top airport lounges. From travel bloggers to hot-shot hedge fund managers to the casual flyer, it was a place coveted by all. Then happened COVID-19 and the much loved facility went into hibernation, it would take over 12 months and a two-way Australia – New Zealand quarantine-free travel bubble for Qantas to bring back it’s pride & joy to life.
On a recent trip to New Zealand, I spent some time in the lounge prior to the flight checking out how this pre-flight experience has changed.
Ordinarily, the lounge is only accessible to guests flying First Class with Qantas, Emirates or other oneworld member airlines, as well as top tier Qantas elites such as Qantas Platinum & Platinum One members flying Qantas or Jetstar, Emirates Platinum members & oneworld Emerald members in any Class.
But since the Qantas International Business Lounge in Sydney is closed, the First Lounge is awarding expanded access. For a limited time, in addition to the above, the following members are also eligible to access the facility prior to their flight:
- Guests flying Business Class with Qantas, Emirates or other oneworld member airlines.
- Qantas Gold, Emirates Gold and oneworld Sapphire members.
- Qantas Club members.
The Qantas First Class Lounge is located inside Terminal 1 of Sydney Airport. Once you clear customs turn left and keep walking until you reach the set of escalators. Along the way you will pass Heinemann duty-free, which was one of the few shops open on this day.
Arrival & Check-in
As I came up the escalator, I was enthusiastically greeted by a pair of staff who escorted me to the entrance. Like everywhere else these days, there was a QR code check-in poster and a hand sanitising station prominently displayed at the entrance.
There is a small space on this level which was closed, with the actual lounge located a further level up. Take the lift or jump on the escalator and you are there.
The check-in desk is straight up as you come off the escalator. I presented my boarding pass to the staff which was scanned and handed back to me.
I also noticed the older-style flight display board in the check-in area. Unsurprisingly, it was dominated by flights going to New Zealand.
These display boards are fast disappearing from airports around the world, being replaced with electronic one’s, so it’s nice that Qantas have retained it at their lounges.
With official proceedings out of the way, I was free to explore the lounge.
While not quite cavernous, this is still a pretty large facility. Commissioned in 2007, the space is characterised by generous use of white marble and wood throughout the lounge.
On one side, the long and at some places narrow space is split into multiple, well-defined sitting and dining areas.
I will let the pictures do the talking.
The dining area features cafe-style seating and is positioned in the centre of the lounge, closer to the kitchen.
But no matter where you sit, you are never far from the gorgeous apron & runway views, thanks to the large floor to ceiling angled glass windows.
Away from the hubbub of laughter and loud chatter, there is a small library;
plus a couple of meeting rooms for wealthy head honchos (or points & miles bloggers 😉) to seal the deal before they jet-off to their private island paradise.
On the other end of the corridor, you have a small business centre.
It features a limited number of desks and chairs, a printer and copier.
There are no desktop computers though, so you will have to BYO.
The lounge also features a spa, which sadly remains closed for the foreseeable future.
This was an experience immensely loved by the Frequent Flyer Community, it brought travellers early to the airport, so lets hope Qantas brings it back as soon as it is safe to do so.
The male & female bathrooms are located back near the check-in area, next to the flipping display board.
It looked clean & appeared to be serviced regularly.
There are showers in the bathroom, but they are not currently operational.
I was welcomed by one of the servers as soon as I entered the lounge. The dining area was busy with most window seats occupied, but I was happy to grab a table closer to the bar.
The kitchen is located few paces next to the bar, masterly run by a team of chefs and an army of spotlessly dressed servers in white coat, marching up and down the hallway bringing food & drinks to hungry guests.
I ordered a cappuccino which was quickly delivered to my table, my server George also handed me a laminated copy of the rather limited breakfast menu.
George returned a few minutes later, I ordered the brunch bowl which I had heard frequent flyers rave about. I also asked for a second cup of my favourite brew to go with the food.
The brunch bowl did not disappoint, although not quite filling, it was sumptuous. The ingredients gelled together well, with the richness of poached egg, tangy cheese and cherry tomatoes nicely offset by the blandness of quinoa and tahini.
Once I was finished eating, I asked George if they were serving any champagne? While not on the menu, George was only too happy to comply & brought me a glass of happiness I thoroughly savoured 😉
Breakfast menu operates until mid day, at which time the all day dining menu takes over. Although I didn’t stick around in the lounge long enough to sample the offerings, Qantas have been kind enough to post the menu on their website which I have reproduced below.
As you can see, the all day menu is a huge improvement on the breakfast menu. I was delighted to see the all time popular dish of salt & pepper squid make the cut. That alone is worth taking another flight to New Zealand, or wherever else Australians will be free to travel in months ahead.
Shortly afterwards, a call rang around the lounge announcing my flight to Wellington was boarding. At this point, I gathered my stuff and made my way to Gate 55 from where my flight was departing. Along the way I passed sections of the terminal still wearing a deserted look, a reminder that the travel world is still a long way from being normal.
Temper your expectations next time you come visit the lounge. Travel has changed and so have airport lounges. At the present time, Qantas First lounge in Sydney is somewhat of a no-frills facility. It’s a place to drop-in for a drink and a quick bite before jumping on the plane.
There’s none of the lavish self-serve buffet spread travellers have been spoiled with over the years, replaced by much more limited offering. Personally speaking, I quite like it. I know many people absolutely love buffet style dining, somehow though, queuing up for food amongst hoards of diners, hanging around the food stations while servers refill the empty containers isn’t quite my idea of a relaxing pre departure experience anymore. So I really hope the sit-down table service sticks around long after COVID-19 becomes history.
Not everything is diminished though, the service for instance remains absolutely top-notch. From the staff that ushered me in, to the servers who fed me & fussed over me, I found every single member of the team to be 100% devoted to their cause. There was this glint in their eyes that told me they were genuinely thrilled to be back at work, serving the guests, fulfilling their needs. Nothing ever was too much hassle, and that is what really matters in the end.
Have you visited Qantas First Lounge recently? Leave a comment below.