Airport lounge review: Qantas First Class Lounge, Sydney

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The Qantas First Lounge in Sydney is hands down Australia’s best lounge, and it is easily in the top 5 worldwide and as you would expect lays claim to being Qantas’ flagship airport lounge. Having been lucky enough to travel in Qantas’ First Class cabin and qualifying as a Platinum Frequent Flyer I have been lucky enough to experience this amazing lounge on a number of occasions, and I wanted to share with you what I thought, and what you can expect if you will be passing through before your Qantas or American Airlines flight to Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco or Dallas Fort-Worth.

The Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney is hands down the best airport lounge in Australia and is one of the best (if not the best) worldwide.

How to get in to the Qantas First Lounge

Gaining entry to the plush surrounds of the First Lounge in Sydney, or any of the Qantas First Lounges in Melbourne, Brisbane or Los Angeles, is restricted to Qantas passengers travelling in First Class or any passengers flying in First Class on its strategic partner Emirates. Additionally passengers flying in First Class on its One World alliance partners, can access Qantas’ award winning First Class lounge

Access to the fantastic lounge is also available to the Qantas’ most loyal Frequent Flyers holding either Platinum or Platinum One level as well as those of its partner airlines. One World Alliance Emerald level fliers and members of Emirates Skywards who hold a Platinum card can also access the lounge before their departing flight.

Entry is limited to the day of departure, which generally means you can access the lounge for up to 3 hours before your flight. If you are departing Sydney on Qantas you can take advantage of their all-day check-in and take even more time to enjoy the luxurious surrounds of the lounge, and hopefully secure one of the coveted complimentary spa sessions.

The Qantas First Lounge is open from 5am to 10pm daily. To enter the lounge make your through security and the recently refurbished Duty Free hall and heads towards the left hand side of the terminal. Just pas the Duty Free shops a red sign will indicate where to go to visit both the Qantas First and Business lounges. Proceed up the escalators directly next to the sign, at the top of the escalators you will find the entrance to the First Lounge and if you continue past the First Lounge to the left you will find the entrance to the Qantas Business lounge.

Sign directing passengers to the Qantas First & Business Class lounges at Sydney’s T1 terminal

As with all Qantas international lounges you will be asked to present your boarding pass upon entering the First Lounge. This will be asked for first at a podium on the lower level. After you have presented your boarding pass and been welcomed into the lounge you make your way past the First Lounge’s signature vertical garden wall which has drawn praise from designers worldwide. Once you have made your way up via the escalator or elevator you will come out on the top floor of the lounge and be greeted with the team of First hosts from behind a large marble reception desk. Each passenger again need to present their boarding pass where this time they will be scanned and recorded to ensure that any special requests that you have made will be confirmed.

Entrance to the Qantas First Class Lounge at Sydney International Airport
The living wall as you enter the Qantas First Loung

Passengers travelling in First Class will generally receive a call the day prior to confirm any transfers and to make a booking at the First Spa, and it is upon arriving at the lounge where your spa treatments will be confirmed. Any Platinum frequent flyers who are not travelling in First or who have received an upgrade to First during the night prior to the departure can enquire as to what spa services maybe available during their stay in the lounge.

Reception & vintage departures board

VisitingNewYork.com.au recommends getting to the First lounge in Sydney as early as possible to secure any remaining spaces in the spa prior to your flight. I have been lucky enough to secure multiple different services (30 minute Bliss back massage, facials and a reviving neck, shoulder & scalp massage – which are without a doubt the perfect pre-flight ritual for any one about to jump on a plane for 13+ hours – no matter what class you are travelling in.

After checking-in at reception guests have the option to either sit in the restaurant section of the lounge or head to one of the lounge areas to relax before their flight is called.

Main dining area and bar area
Lounge area where passengers can relax and still enjoy a full meal from the kitchen

The Food

Without a doubt one of the biggest draw cards of being eligible to visit any of the fully-fledged Qantas First Lounges in Sydney, Melbourne or Los Angeles is that you can dine in a Neil Perry inspired restaurant without the price tag. As Qantas’ consulting Chef at large, Perry is responsible for all the food that goes before passengers on Qantas flights and lounges around the world, and the First Lounges are no exception, in fact, it can be argued that they form the most important cog in the Qantas culinary wheel as it has the most reach across some of its most important, and highest yielding, passengers.

Sydney was the inaugural First Class lounge refurbished by Qantas and the first to offer the quintessential Neil Perry dining concept, and it has remained the flagship since its inception.

My usual routine when arriving into the First lounge, generally prior to a flight to Los Angeles or Dallas, will be to check to see if there are any spa sessions available, and if confirmed or denied I then make my way across the hall of the lounge and find an empty seat in the restaurant section and wait for the impeccable service to begin.

As I normally choose an early morning departure to Los Angeles I am usually dining in the lounge for breakfast. After being politely greeted by an attentive waiter I am offered a drink to start while I peruse the seasonal menu. For breakfast I will more often than not simply start with an cappuccino and an apple juice. Whilst waiting for my drink to arrive I take a moment to have a look through some of the staples and seasonal varieties of the Rockpool inspired menu.

On this occasion I chose to have the Signature Breakfast which consists of eggs (poached), bacon, pork chipolata, hash brown and roast tomato with a side of sourdough toast. As usual the food was near perfect, the poached eggs were the perfect combination of well cooked whilst still being running, the bacon and chipolata tasted great and the roasted tomatoes were delicious.

The Signature Breakfast offered in the Qantas First Lounge

The only faults, and I am really nit-picking here, was that I asked for ice with my apple juice and the sourdough was slightly over toasted, but nothing that would really detract from the overall meal. Once I asked if I could get some ice in my apple juice I was offered a fresh glass with ice, so the service well and truly was top notch.

The service is what you’d expect in a 5-star hotel

The only downside to predominately visiting the lounge in the morning (when leaving for Los Angeles and New York) is that I don’t often get to experience the full variety of what’s on offer for their full day menu which is available from 11:30am.

One previous occasions when I have had to travel to New Zealand or South-East Asia I have been lucky enough to experience one of the greatest creations the culinary world has ever known – the deconstructed Pavlova in a glass – a Qantas First Lounge specialty that is now almost as famous as the lounge itself.

The world famous deconstructed pavlova with raspberry sauce
These things are a work of art, and the taste is incredible

One of the other classics that when time permitting allows me to enjoy is the salt and pepper squid which is absolutely delicious and makes for a perfect entrée before a main meal.

Salt & Pepper Squid with chips is a must when visiting the lounge
Delicious

One thing that I have noticed over the past couple of years is the increasing number of guests who are using the First Lounge in Sydney. I assume some of this can be attributed to Qantas’ new partnership with Emirates who run flights around the clock and the partnership allows their Platinum frequent flyers access to the lounge as well. I also believe that with more passengers travelling for business, and particularly on more expensive fares which generate more Qantas Status Credits there are more Platinum grade Qantas Frequent Flyers than ever. The biggest downside of this is that it is becoming more difficult to actually get a seat in the restaurant section of the lounge. On many occasions I have had to eat my meal in one of the adjacent lounge areas which certainly isn’t a major inconvenience given how comfortable the seating it, it is still not the same as being able to enjoy a meal and the view from a nice Marc Newson designed table, with far more attentive table service.

Spaghetti Bolognaise in the Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney

To bring some relief, in recent months Qantas have begun converting some of the lounging areas directly next to the existing restaurant area into additional restaurant seating to help ease the congestion, particularly during peak times, when Qantas, Emirates and other partners have A380s & 747s departing within a hours of each other.

The lounge provides for some amazing #AvGeek views

In addition to sitting within the restaurant zone itself or in the lounge zones, guests also have the option to sit up to a 20-foot custom marble bar overlooking the open kitchen as the Rockpool group chefs work their magic to create some amazing meals.

The bar and open kitchen of the Qantas First Lounge

The Rockpool group refreshes the menu for the Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles First Lounges each season to introduce new items to take advantage of the best produce that is available for that season. That being said it only rotates a certain number of items on its menu to ensure that crowd favourites always remain available.

Relaxing in the Qantas First Lounge

The Qantas First Lounge in Sydney offers passengers multiple different locations and options if you would prefer to grab a drink and just relax in a very comfortable lounge recliners designed exclusively for Qantas by Marc Newson.

The northern end of the lounge is often one of the quieter spots in the lounge

Flanking the restaurant area of the lounge to the South and North ends of the lounge are different zones each made up of different seating options for singles, couples or groups of people travelling together to relax prior to their flight.

At each end of the First Lounge, each zone has its own self-service facility where customers will find cold drinks, tea and coffee making machines as well as a great array of food options depending on the time of day you are visiting the lounge. In the morning you will find pastries, breads, muesli, fruits and yoghurts. Later during the day and in the evening the bar will be replaced with different options including brownies, cakes, sliders, cheeses & antipasto items, fresh fruit and other top quality items.

Self service bar and drinks areas are located at each end of the lounge
Sliders, treats and pastries were available throughout the day
Cheese and antipasto also available

The lounge areas also include full wait staff service who, in my experience, are not quite as attentive as the restaurant zone staff (mainly given that they have that little bit further to travel to the kitchen), but nonetheless are still very attentive compared to other lounges in Australia and worldwide.

The seats themselves are wonderfully comfortable, and it is not unforeseen to see passengers either accidently or on purpose drift off to catch a couple more ZZZZ’s before their next departure, particularly those returning from North America and continuing to New Zealand or Asia.

Recliners overlooking the Sydney Airport tarmac were incredibly comfortable

What is not immediately clear is that each of the single chairs which face the windows at the very front of the lounge actually recline even further. These chairs are obviously highly sought after for their view, and the fact that they recline.

If you have forgotten some last minute duty free that you need to pick up or just want to kill some time in the terminal before your massage or facial, the lounge offers a secure bag check facility whereby you can take your carry-on luggage to the reception desk and they will hold it for you, and provide you with a claim check while you visit the other parts of the terminal. Its a great feature particularly if you have an extended layover and want to stretch your legs and go for a walk around the terminal.

The entrance to the Spa
The design and aesthetics of the lounge are beautiful

How about a massage?

For most newly minted Platinum Qantas Frequent Flyers the allure of a spa treatment before their next long-haul flight is one of the greatest perks of joining the ranks, well it certainly was one of my first realisations when I got to enter the lounge as a Platinum Frequent Flyer. If you are ticketed to fly First Class on a Qantas A380, a member of the Qantas advance team will call you the day before to organise any transportation that you may require (if you are a paid first class ticket holder, rather than using points to upgrade) or to book in any spa treatments you may wish to undertake.

This basically means that anyone who is not travelling in First Class is left to a first in best dressed arrangement to hopefully snapping an available spot when they arrive at the lounge. I have heard of Platinum One Frequent Flyers being called the day before their flights to book in a session if there is a high availability of spots, but this is a very rare occurence.

The spa offers passengers a complimentary session for those travelling in First Class or those who have access to the First Class lounge (availability pending). I have secured a couple of different treatments but without a doubt the best way to spend 20 – 30 minutes prior to your flight is to get a back massage. The highly trained and professional staff will welcome you into the spa and if it is your first time ask you to fill in a pretty standard health questionnaire. After this you are escorted to your private room where I was asked to take my shirt and shoes off and to lie down on the bed.

The room was the perfect temperature, not too hold or cold with lovely soothing music. The main concern I had when I first used the spa was whether or not I could have a shower afterwards, which was not a problem, however my masseuse did inform me that I would get a full back rub down to remove any excess oils and that most passengers felt they did not need a shower, but I was welcome to if I wished.

The spa is very prompt with its timing. I arrived about 3 minutes early and was asked to come back right on time. I have had my fair share of good and bad massages over times (thanks to multiple old sporting injuries) and I can easily say that the Aurora Spa therapists were some of the best I have ever been to.

I highly recommend making use of the Qantas all-day check-in facility if you have access to the First Lounge to get in as early as you can to secure an appointment, you will not be disappointed.

Need to get some last minute work done

If you find yourself heading out of Australia for business and you need to get some last minute work done the Qantas First Lounge offers a couple of options. The lounge has some workstations available on the left hand side of the lounge just past the open kitchen and bar. These are generally the last to fill up so if you do need to get some work done, or your laptop or tablet are getting low on power, you can easily plug in and get to work or recharge the batteries.

Small alcove of workstations with access to iMacs and printers

The Qantas First Lounge in Sydney also offers small meeting rooms that can be booked. These rooms each come with a small couch, desk area (with phone) and a large television with a gaming console so they can be very handy if you are travelling with a family.

Sometimes you’ll find celebrities and other VIPs camped out in these meeting rooms

These can be notoriously difficult to book, as Qantas will often keep these available for any VIP / celebrity passengers that they have travelling with them. Especially international celebrities who may not already have an existing Qantas Chairman’s Lounge (the rarest form of) membership. In the past I have seen Nicole Richie and her entourage escorted straight into one of the meeting rooms prior to her flight back to Los Angeles.

My advice is that if you are travelling with your family and want to reserve one of the meeting rooms is to call Qantas about 5 days before your flight to see if you can reserve one of the rooms. If not you can always try your luck when you arrive at reception (after you have checked to see if there are any spa reservations available!).

Décor & Architecture

Since unveiling its flagship First Class Lounge in 2007, Qantas as been the recipient of the highest praise and multiple awards for the design and décor of the lounge. Designed by Marc Newson the Qantas First Lounge in Sydney is renowned architecturally for 3 of its major design components, these include:

  1. The vertical garden wall which greets all passengers on the lower level of the lounge as you enter the lounge (just past the welcome podium). The theme is continued throughout the spa where the walls of the day spa is covered with plants, which makes you forget that you are in the middle of Australia’s busiest airport
Living wall at the entrance to the lounge
Vertical garden inside the spa treatment room
  1. Airline wing design; one of the most striking aspects of the lounge is the unique design of interior which is made to look like the inside ribbing of an aircraft wing
  1. Marble bar; now a feature in both its Sydney and Los Angeles First Class Lounges, the marble bar makes a serious statement of luxury and opulence with the marble hand crafted in Italy before being shipped to Australia. As in Los Angeles, passengers can sit up to the lounge to enjoy a meal or a drink whilst waiting for their departure to be called.
Marble is one of the signature features of the lounge
  1. A throw back to the golden days of aviation, the Qantas First Lounge has 3 old-fashion “flipping” departure boards which provide updated information for passengers waiting for their flights. The main board is located next to reception and the main escalators while at each end of the lounge there are smaller versions showing condensed information
Old Skool airport departure board
Smaller version of the departure board

Overall impressions

The Qantas First Lounge in Sydney is truly a world leader in lounge design, function and appeal and it demonstrates the lengths that Qantas has gone to in the past, and continues to do so, to rewards its most loyal (and highest paying) passengers with amenities that are on par with most of the world’s leading hotels and restaurants.

As flying first class is on almost everyone’s travel bucket list, so should a visit to the Qantas First Lounge Sydney be. The response to the lounge has seen a major knock on effect in that Qantas has noticed a serious change in the habits of its passengers who are spending significantly longer time in the First Lounges than before their overhaul.

Jase is the founder and editor of VisitingNewYork.com.au. His passion for New York runs deep, after purchasing a New York travel guide while in high school, it's been a love affair ever since. Having visited over 20 times for work and pleasure he decided to start VisitingNewYork.com.au to help other Aussie's who are planning their own New York adventure to ensure they get the most out of their trip to the greatest city in the world.

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