Review: Virgin Australia Lounge Canberra

In May 2011, Virgin Blue relaunched its brand as Virgin Australia. This was part of CEO John Borghetti’s ‘Game Change’ program to reposition the airline as a more upmarket offering, one that would be attract the corporate dollar. Part of this was the introduction of a slew of new lounges across the country to replace its aging ‘Blue Rooms‘. We visited Virgin’s ‘The Lounge‘ Canberra, which opened in May 2013.

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Located up a set of escalators airside at Canberra’s rather impressive airport terminal, the Virgin Australia lounge is clearly signposted.

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The lounge entrance foyer is huge and looks impressive. The wooden accents in the ceiling are a nice touch.

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Approaching the clear glass sliding doors, visitors pass a door marked on the right ‘Private’. That is the entrance to ‘The Club’, Virgin’s equivalent to Qantas’ exclusive Chairman’s Lounge.

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We digress. Entering ‘The Lounge’, one passes a self-scan machine which can be used to validate entry credentials.

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Unlike The Lounge in Sydney, the use of this machine for lounge entrance is not actively discouraged by the staff on duty.

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Looking out at the entrance foyer from inside ‘The Lounge’ Canberra

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The Lounge Canberra reception (picture taken from inside the lounge)

Entering the lounge, one is struck by the size. When we visited it was quiet but we can imagine during the busy government travel week it would attract quite a crowd.

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In the corner of the lounge nearest the entrance are four very comfortable-looking chairs, complete with ottomans.

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These seats are very comfortable. They look expensive. We wonder why the four the lounge has are all clustered next to each other. Particularly in an empty lounge, guests are hardly likely to want to sit right next to anyone else. It would make sense to space these out around the lounge. Their current position is right next to the entrance and underneath a promotional screen with a speaker that pumps out audible promotional messages, which we find regrettable.

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The lounge also has a series of low, slightly reclined chairs. We find these comfortable. The natural consequence of the layout is that the opposite chairs becomes a place for solo flyers to park their carry-on luggage.

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The lounge has a number of high stools (a surefire way to crease your business clothes) at benches with powerpoints. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the alternating fabric on the stools.

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While the benches nearer to the entrance have wooden dividers, the benches snaked out further into the lounge do not. Instead, they are of the variety that are lit to change colour.

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The main seating located next to the windows reminds us of the old Virgin Blue lounges.

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The bathrooms have showers.

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In a pokey room near the bathrooms are two computer terminals. This room just feels like an afterthought.

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The bar / buffet is also backlit to change colour gradually. Out for most of the day is a soup of the day, which sits next to the popcake machine.

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There is also a salad bar, good for making sandwiches to put in the toasted sandwich grill. This is the same offering right across the Virgin Australia lounge network, so we find that this offering gets very boring day-to-day.

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The bar has a self-service soda fountain and from 11am wine is placed out and beer is available from the staff behind the counter. The wine is drinkable and we found it preferable to that offered in the Qantas Club Darwin. American visitors may be surprised to find it is complimentary.

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The lounge has speedy Wi-Fi. We do find the proliferation of marketing signage to remind us of a desk in a hotel room. The signage is dinky and clutters what are presumably meant to be sleek uncrowded surfaces.

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Virgin’s The Lounge in Canberra is modern and massive. It is very impressive compared to its predecessor. Visitors accustomed to lounges in the United States will be easily impressed.

The difficulty for Virgin Australia with its domestic lounges is that it has to compete with two different lounge offerings from Qantas: the Qantas Club (which they easily do) and Qantas’ Business Lounge (where we don’t feel they come close). We will consider this quandary further in future reviews of domestic lounges in Australia.

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3 Comments on "Review: Virgin Australia Lounge Canberra"

  1. Canberra International Airport is definitely one of Australia’s best airports now (and makes SYD and MEL look very sad), and both the Virgin and Qantas lounges here are a cut above.

    I’m a little surprised you find the Qantas Domestic Business Lounge as being markedly better than the Virgin Lounge – have spent a fair amount of time in both, I don’t find any real significant gap. Much gets hyped about the Qantas Domestic Business Lounge but in (its under)delivery it can be a bit sad. It’s fair to say it provides a few different food items over the Virgin Lounge, but none of it of any particular quality (if I want to eat something more than a bite, I always buy something outside the domestic lounges, rather than just eat notionally free but underwhelming lounge food), and certainly far below the food options at the SIN lounge (if only the Qantas Domestic Business lounges had a proper cafe style dish of the day option that was reliably available – unlike the rarely seen Island Dining bit of marketing).

    Really the Qantas Domestic Business Lounges are just aping what the Qantas Club used to be a decade or more ago, before they started dropping it’s standard.

    • Thanks Kieran. Agree with that last comment entirely. Perhaps it is that we slightly prefer the selected catering and fit-out (in particular the lounge chairs) of the Domestic Business Lounges that Qantas run.

      We don’t find the Qantas Lounge in Singapore very impressive and prefer to use the Emirates Lounge at that port as part of their partnership with Qantas, where the food and beverage offering is of much higher quality.

      • Emirates certainly are very competitive for their owned and operated lounges, particularly since they provide good consistency in lounge product across their own network (their lounges outside of DXB tend to be much the same, and aren’t as variable by airport as you typically find with other own airline operated lounges).

        The Qantas SIN lounge was referenced for its limited kitchen order menu (choice of two dishes – made on request), which is exactly what I think Qantas Domestic Business Lounges should offer in addition to the standard (and lacklustre) “ageing food under lights/bain marie” options – domestic CL lounges have this real food option, and given the joint kitchens in many locations, it could easily be extended. Food in premium lounges should be of a standard that approaches a semi-decent suburban cafe (that is worth eating), otherwise I conclude it’s just window dressing.

        Beyond short lived pop-ups, food in domestic lounges is rarely decent, although luckily we don’t have as low a standard here as experienced in many US and European domestic airline lounges (which is terrible).

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