If you've visited Air New Zealand's international lounges in Auckland, Brisbane or Sydney recently the new Air New Zealand lounge at Melbourne's Tullamarine airport will feel very familiar. A welcome upgrade to the former NZ lounge that once occupied the same space, and light years ahead of the cozy (perhaps too cozy) temporary lounge Air New Zealand staged in the former United Airlines space for nearly a year while renovations took place. But for those of you (this author included) who might have found the temporary lounge at MEL not quite as comfortable as Air NZ has let us become accustomed, it was worth the wait. The new lounge opened in May 2017 and is, quite simply, a very nice place to be.
Location and Access
Frequent travellers will be familiar with the location of the old New Zealand lounge, and the new (and vastly improved) lounge can be found in exactly the same place. After winding your way through duty free, past the construction zone of the 'coming soon' Luxury Precinct, down the long walkways towards the gates, head for the middle of the concourse and down the escalator. A further escalator will take you down to the Air New Zealand lounge - right where it was prior to the renovation.
If you visited the NZ lounge between June 2016 and May 2017, note that the temporary lounge that occupied the old United Club space a floor above is no longer in use. The temporary lounge was actually quite well appointed despite the relatively small space - and miles better than the United Club that once resided there.
As you head down the second escalator, the lounge entrance with it's beautiful Koru is unmissable. Head through the glass door and scan your boarding pass at the desk. A beautiful New Zealand landscape greets you as you enter the lounge - one of several canvas pieces in the lounge that will be refreshed quarterly.
Access is of course available to business class passengers on an Air New Zealand flight, as well as business class passengers flying Thai Airways, United Airlines, Air India, Air China, Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia.
Airpoints members holding Gold, Elite, Elite partner or Elite Priority One (EP1) status are of course welcome, as are Star Alliance Gold anointed passengers flying on any Star Alliance flight. Thanks to the alliance with Virgin Australia, Velocity Gold, Platinum or 'The Club' members have access to the NZ lounge prior to trans-Tasman flights only when flying with Air New Zealand or Virgin Australia.
If you're not fortunate enough to hold a qualifying business class ticket or frequent flyer membership, paid lounge members of Air New Zealand Koru Club, United Club and Air Canada's Maple Leaf Club are welcome, as are Virgin Australia Lounge members prior to VA trans-Tasman flights only (including code share flights with a VA flight number).
Air New Zealand no longer offer paid access to their domestic or international lounges.
Sit and Relax
With space for 250 guests, the new Air New Zealand lounge in Melbourne is significantly roomier than the former space, thanks to additional floorspace acquired from the former bus terminal adjacent to the old lounge. I visited the lounge around lunchtime on a weekday, and with no imminent flight departures on NZ or partners, the lounge was very quiet. I have heard a number of reports of even the new lounge becoming very busy and crowded during morning and evening peaks. Fortunately, while not yet in use, additional space is available to Air New Zealand to expand the lounge even further in future if required.
If you're not yet ready for something to eat, stick to the right as you head into the lounge. There is plenty of seating throughout the lounge, but the quieter spaces will be away from the dining area. If you're after some extra peace and quiet head towards the barista station (straight ahead as you enter the main lounge area) and then to the right. Past the small refreshment station you'll find the unofficial ‘quiet zone’, which is a little more spacious and private.
If you're lugging around some excess carry on baggage, stop by the luggage storage to the right as you're heading towards the barista station and offload (just don't forget to collect it again before your flight!).
If you phone or tablet is a little low on juice before your flight, or you just want to top up the charge, around 80% of the lounge seating has access to power plugs and USB ports. The best place to find these is on the inside of the white tables between chairs, although there are others scatters throughout the lounge, including Qi wireless charges in the business centre for anyone with a compatible phone, and at most of the seating in the dining area.
If you need to refresh, right next to the quiet zone you'll find the 8 very spacious and well appointed shower suites. During busy times a dedicated staff member will be on hand with towels and supplies, but quieter periods should see towels replenished in the suites themselves. Each private suite has a very modern and spacious shower as well toilet and large well lit mirror and sink area. You'll find Antipodes amenities throughout and the pleasant scent of the airlines 'signature' fragrance in the air.
If you're after some natural light - or like me, just like to look at planes, there are large windows with apron views spanning the walls to the left and right of the barista bar. While not quite the view you get from the Qantas International First Lounge and Emirates lounges (both elevated above the main concourse rather than below it), it's far preferable to the cave that was the temporary (former United) lounge and even the Qantas International Business lounge on the floor above.
If you're travelling with kids, the children's area is to the left of the barista, near the window in the far corner. There is a TV running kids programming to keep them entertained, or views of the tarmac for the junior AvGeeks. There is a good number of seats close by for parents to keep an eye on things. A living wall has been planted between the kids area and a row of seating behind the main dining space but understandably has some growing to do given the lounge only recently opened.
A notable omission from the seating (perhaps due to space constraints) is the lounger bed seats present in the Auckland (and possibly other) NZ lounges. Those seats are a particular favourite of my wife, who likes to lie down and rest, particularly if we are travelling on a very early flight. In any future expansion of the lounge, I'd love to see a few of these seats introduced.
Overall, the lounge is a great place to relax before your flight. It has good acoustics, soft lighting and thoughtful design. I particularly liked the retro TEAL posters around the lounge, a couple of which I actually have hanging on the wall at home.
Eating and Drinking
If you have a flight before 12pm, the coffee counter which is straight ahead as you round the corner into the lounge will be open, serving barista made espresso coffee. Like other Air New Zealand lounges with barista coffee, you can order either at the counter, or through the Air New Zealand app. If you've arrived for an early flight and there is a queue, putting in an order through the app can help get you caffeinated faster.
Unfortunately, after 12pm barista coffee is no longer available, and you'll need to use one of the automatic espresso machines either near the main dining area or at the beverage station to the right of the barista counter to get a fix.
Unlike Air New Zealand's flagship lounges in Auckland and Sydney, the Melbourne lounge does not offer a tended bar service - all alcoholic beverages are self-service. I can't help but think that the barista counter seems a little too large for just serving coffee, and hopefully Air NZ are open to considering a proper bar service in the future, particularly as the whole area is currently not used after 12pm.
The main dining area is to the left as you come into the lounge and has a decent amount of table seating if you want to sit at a table and eat. The bench seats on the outside would be my pick, as the long bench running down the middle with relatively high stools compared to the bench height looks incredibly uncomfortable to me - but may be a good place to park the kids to eat. The good news is that most of the dining area seating is also serviced by power and USB ports, and a flight information screen is easily visible on the wall near the toilets.
The food selection in this lounge is excellent - way ahead of offerings in the nearby Qantas International Business Lounge and a better range than what was available in the temporary lounge (which is understandable given the temporary lounge was smaller). The self-service buffet has a range of canape style snacks, salads, fresh fruit, gourmet desserts, cheese and crackers and bakery goods in addition to a hot dishes and soup. A number of the food items were vegetarian but all looks very appealing, even to my carnivore self. The quality of the food was incredibly good for an airline lounge, with dishes prepared on site, not externally catered like many lounges.
A long self-service drinks area can be found just to the side of the dining area, with a decent range of hot and cold beverages. Two automatic espresso machines are ready for your hot drink needs, one at each end of the bench. A very decent range of (mostly) New Zealand beer, wines, and ciders is available as well as a basic range of spirits, including the very drinkable New Zealand 42 below vodka (thought a shame it's not the Feijoa flavour).
On the opposite side of the lounge, a smaller drinks area is available, with most of the beer, wine and coffee options covered, but lacking the spirits or soft drinks.
Work and Connectivity
If you need to get back on top of emails, or finish off that last minute presentation, the lounge has a number of good spaces to get things done. With power outlets and WiFi access throughout the lounge, getting powered up and online is easy. If you're in the dining area having a drink or a bite to eat, relaxing in a comfortable chair, or seated at the large table in the business area you're sorted.
Air New Zealand have made connecting to the wireless network much simpler, with a password no longer required. Just connect to the 'AirNZ Lounge' network and accept the terms and conditions. Air NZ have done a fantastic job of simplifying the connection experience across their lounge network in recent times, with your device being remembered by the system for up to 90 days, meaning you don't have to manually reconnect or accept the terms each time during subsequent visits - making getting online effortless. For those who still do it, a printer is available with copying facilities. Again, Air New Zealand have done a great job making the technology easy to use, with no need to install or configure anything to print, just email the documents you need to print to the address sign posted next to the printer and you’re done.
The dedicated business area has a number of low seats at a large table if you need somewhere solid to sit down and be productive. As with the rest of the lounge, there are plenty of power outlets and USB ports, as well as a number of Qi wireless chargers in the middle of the table for phones that have wireless charging capability. Like the dining area however, the low table and stools may make sitting and working for any length of time uncomfortable. This seems to be a common setup across airport lounges, but I'd personally prefer a higher table with some seating with back support.
The new lounge is a huge improvement on what it replaced and Air New Zealand have gone to great lengths to improve their international lounge experiences in recent years. While there a couple of elements missing like the bar and "Food Theater" found in the Auckland and Sydney lounges, the Melbourne lounge is otherwise well appointed and well worth arriving at the airport a little early for your flight to enjoy.