Air New Zealand's new Auckland Airport regional lounge will open to customers this weekend as part of $60 million investment in lounges throughout the country over the next two years.
The construction comes at a good time as the airline does more flying to the regions after Jetstar's withdrawal and demand for more comfort at airports shows no sign of slowing down.
The airline has revealed it is about to start work on refurbishing its Auckland Airport domestic lounge and, although it has no details yet, pressure on its international lounge at the airport is set to ease.
Access to the international lounge has been restricted at times because of overcrowding and the airline says in regards to a second lounge, it is working with Auckland Airport to increase space.
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"We hope to make a positive announcement on this soon."
The current lounge upgrade will include main trunk flight domestic lounges at Auckland and Wellington airports, which can also get tight around peak travel times, and new regional lounges in Nelson and New Plymouth where the airline no longer faces competition from Jetstar.
At Auckland, the new regional lounge at the eastern end of the domestic terminal will open on Saturday and cater for up to 265 customers – three times the seating of the previous space.
On Level 1 of the terminal above the airline's old regional lounge, the new lounge offers wide views out over the runway.
A new valet service area has also been constructed as part of the project.
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The integrated design features a new and expanded undercover drop-off zone directly below the lounge, providing valet customers with an easy transition from the drop-off area to the lounge and to regional departure gates.
Air New Zealand chief marketing and customer officer Mike Tod said the expansive new space was fantastic.
"Our regional lounge at Auckland Airport has always been extremely popular with both business and leisure travellers so it's great to be able to welcome customers to this brand-new space and have it up and running ahead of the busy summer travel period."
There are a number of different zones in the new lounge including a bar/barista, buffet and light refreshments, a self-service drinks station, as well as business, lounge and quiet areas.
House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said the old regional lounge at Auckland had been frustrating for some passengers because it was too small and the new one would provide a level of service that customers expect given the price they pay for Koru membership.
"Just because someone is travelling from Napier to Auckland on a regular basis shouldn't mean that they're missing out on half the services in the regional part. It has to have certain minimum standards," he said.
"We all know that we have to get to the airport well in advance of our flights and to make it productive time people use those lounges to work in, and often with those late flights it's the place where you have that meal before you get home."
He said there had been negative feedback from customers about the lounge experience.
"One of those things between the airlines and the airport in Auckland is they don't plan far enough ahead. We know Auckland Airport is in catch-up mode on a number of fronts."
Air New Zealand says its Auckland domestic lounge will undergo refurbishment soon and it will be completed in mid-2020.
The refurbishment will involve a refresh of the café and bar/barista, self-service food and drinks station, children's play area, as well as business lounge and quiet areas. There will be 10 per cent more seating and more showers.
Refurbishment of its Wellington domestic lounge is underway and expected to be completed late next month.
Seat numbers in that lounge will increase by 10 per cent to 374. There will also be six different zones in the new lounge to meet the needs of customers: a café and bar, barista station, business, lounge and quiet areas as well as a self-service food and drinks station.
In August 2019, the airline expanded the regional lounge in Wellington, adding 56 seats, while the domestic lounge was under construction.
"Next year we'll begin to reconfigure that space to align with our signature design."
The new regional lounge at the redeveloped Nelson Airport terminal is expected to open before Christmas and a new regional lounge at New Plymouth Airport is scheduled to open early next year.
Demand for regional lounge space at Air New Zealand will grow as it adds hundreds more regional flights to its schedule at the start of next year after the withdrawal of Jetstar's regional services.
The airline announced this week it will operate an additional 586 one-way flights from January to March on services it operates between Auckland and Napier, New Plymouth, Nelson and Palmerston North, as well as between Nelson and Wellington.
Late last month the airline said it would add an extra 253 one-way services on the same routes in December, reflecting an increase of more than 15,500 extra seats in that month alone.