It’s generally agreed that the Qantas First Lounge in the T1 international terminal in Sydney is the best in Australia. Some even say the world.
I think there might be a rival.
Our almost pointless Double Status Credits Run to Auckland from Sydney involved transiting to another Australian capital city to maximise our Double Status Credit earn. On the way out, we flew from Sydney to Melbourne and planned our transit time so we could sample the delights of the Qantas Melbourne International First Lounge.
My companion 2A and I figured that a two-hour and 10-minute layover in Melbourne would be enough time to complete international transfer requirements and still have time for a meal in the lounge. With our flight running 20 minutes late on arrival, we still had time, but, our meal would be a little less relaxed.
The Qantas Melbourne International First Lounge is as intimate as the Sydney version is large and showy. There are no soaring airframe winged dividers here. The refinement of marble surfaces and vast floor-to-ceiling windows providing views of the tarmac and many boarding gates and waiting aircraft, gives this lounge its majesty. That, and much more attentive service than you tend to get in Sydney.
At the Airport
We arrived at Terminal 1 at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on our flight from Sydney and had to head to security and immigration.
Melbourne’s international terminal does not seem as spacious and light as Sydney’s T1. Where Sydney seems all curves, Melbourne seems modernist and boxy. Instead of an upward escalator almost curving from a light and airy atrium to the entrance of the Qantas lounge zone in Sydney, in Melbourne, it is almost hidden unless you are walking the windowed perimeter of the terminal. You arrive at the staircase that will take you up to the Qantas Melbourne International First Lounge, butyou have to be observant, and find the signage.
The Qantas Melbourne International First Lounge is located airside on Level 3, via an escalator on Level 2, near Gates 9 and 10. The escalator enters from the window side. There is also a lift.
Again, the entrance isn’t as grand as in Sydney, where you walk through a semi-circular windowed walkway flanked by a living wall. In Melbourne, the arrival is a little more demure than back in the Emerald City.
This lounge has the same design language as the Sydney lounge, but without the wooden wing strut forms that dominate and divide space usage in that curved structure. There is an abundance of marble, the same hexagonal etched glass and carpet design. The lounge incorporates the same furniture as Sydney, from dining and lounge chairs through to tables and waiter stations. Staff are dressed in the same crisp white jackets. There is even the iconic click-over electronic departures board.
Effectively, its like Sydney but without the curves. There is no circular aperture through which the escalator ascends, or ceiling light that resonates with the turbine of a jet engine as there is in Sydney. This, like the entrance, is more square, modernist, and boxy. Not quite as sinuous as Sydney’s curves. That’s no criticism. Just an observation.
There is not quite so much use of bright, lacquered surfaces, such as the deep read in Sydney. This central waiter station in the dining area is a neutral, warm grey. The bar and kitchen area appear a little more compact, not quite so much space as in Sydney. However, those floor to ceiling windows, some effectively double height, do make it seem more open than Sydney.
Food & Drink
The Sydney and Melbourne menus are the same. It contained many old favourites, and other than both ordering the Squid, 2A and I opted for different menu items.
We had limited time, given that we had arrived from Sydney 20 minutes behind schedule. 2A was determined to have a three-course lunch, so we started with champagne. Sorry for not recording the brand it started with ‘A’.
Our main courses were the Duck dish for 2A and the Beef Brisket for me. 2A was satisfied with the duck, but not wowed. Slow-cooked brisket with mashed potatoes. What’s not to like? And I liked it indeed.
All the portions are small, which, on the one hand, feels skimpy, given that we often judge hospitality by the size of the serve. But on the other hand, when you are about to spend 4 hours sitting largely immobile on a plane and also being fed, its actually appropriate.
And we even had time for dessert (after checking with the staff). Deconstructed pavlova, which didn’t disappoint, although maybe more a summer choice.
Honey poached pears and ginger yoghurt was a triumph, although we both decided we did not want to think about where the Qantas bees got the pollen, to make their honey, given that they live near an airport. Avgas anyone?
Overall, my feeling was that the service at the Melbourne lounge was more attentive. Now, there are a lot of factors that could affect that. The lounge was not very busy. The dining area was not too busy either. Obviously different staff, might make a difference. But overall, I just felt more attended to. Maybe it was the more intimate nature of the Melbourne over the Sydney lounge.
Besides the general unease I feel when photographing toilets, that I don’t think I need to explain, I have always been impressed by the design and attention to detail in the Qantas First Lounges. This is no different in Melbourne, where it is wall to wall marble, and individual bathrooms by and large.
They are also impressive since all the fittings down to the toilet roll holders seem to be bespoke designed.
There is wifi available in the lounge. Unfortunately, 2A and I were too occupied with stuffing our faces to bother to use it
There are a number of lounging areas withing the overall Qantas Melbourne First Lounge, but again we did not have direct experience of them, since we only occupied the dining area.
Overall, the lounge felt very welcoming given its more intimate scale.
The apron views
What it does have, even more spectacularly than the Sydney lounge, I think is gate views. Sydney has some gate views, but its the tarmac and runway views that are the most spectacular. In Melbourne you seem to have access to more gates to view
Staff knew we had limited time, and we were served promptly, with plenty of time to get to our next flight. Fortunately our departure gate was down one floor and quite close. Not being familiar with Tullermarine’s International Terminal and Gate arrangement, we could have spent another half hour in the lounge. Oh well.
Still, we had a great time in the Qantas Melbourne First Lounge, and were now completely relaxed and ready for the Melbourne to Auckland leg of our journey.
I really liked the Melbourne Qantas First Lounge. Although the food and beverage offering was essentially the same as in Sydney and the design language is the same, I felt the lounge was more intimate, had better apron views, with staff more attentive.
There aren’t too many downsides to the experience. However, I imagine that the space could get quite full at times, and that might provide a very different experience for the customer.
I’m scheduled to re-visit this lounge in early 2024. It will be interesting to see what a second experience brings.
If you are on an eligeable international flight from Melbourne, plan to spend some time in the Qantas First Lounge. You won’t be disappointed.
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