Air New Zealand has boosted the strength of its Auckland hub with a new flagship international lounge designed to cater for the expected growth in tourists and international transfer passengers as the airline expands its network with new routes and additional capacity.
The 2,000 square metre lounge is 40 per cent larger than Air NZ’s existing Auckland international lounge and the second to have been redesigned in 2015, following the opening of a refurbished Sydney Airport lounge in May.
US-based architects Gensler have maintained the look and feel of the Sydney lounge, while adding a few elements unique to the Auckland facility such as an outdoor terrace with living wall garden, a “digital ceiling” over the bar and some hanging chairs for “a bit of fun”.
Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon says the new Auckland international lounge, part of a $100 million, four-year program to upgrade its lounge network, is a key plank in the airline’s investment in the future alongside its new aircraft orders and development of new technologies.
“As we go forward we are looking at expansion into South America, into North America and clearly having a strong lounge proposition for high-value leisure travellers as well as corporates that are doing business is really important,” Luxon told Australian Aviation in an interview during a media preview of the new lounge on Friday.
“Auckland is the home of Air New Zealand and it is the gateway to New Zealand because it is the genuine big city that we have in the country.”
Air NZ is planning to grow its international capacity 14-15 per cent in 2015/16 – the bulk of which will be two new long-haul routes to Houston and Buenos Aires, respectively, while domestic capacity is forecast to increase about eight per cent.
The Star Alliance member has focused heavily on boosting international transfer passengers in recent times, with a particular emphasis on capturing a larger share of Australians heading to the Americas.
That international-to-international transit experience relies not only improved Air NZ lounge facilities at its biggest hub, but also ensuring Auckland Airport has appropriate infrastructure to manage the increase in transfer passengers.
To that end, Luxon said the operators of Auckland Airport were fully aware of Air NZ’s plans for the period ahead.
“The airport has a great master plan around how to expand the airport, build one integrated terminal of domestic and international and make it a much better experience so we are dealing with massive amounts of growth and we are trying to ensure the infrastructure keeps up,” Luxon said.
“We share our plans very openly with the airport company so they understand that we are growing fast and they can see that we are turning on a lot of the taps of this tourism growth to New Zealand.”
Air NZ has three route launches planned for December.
The inaugural service to Buenos Aires is scheduled to take off on December 1, while the first flight to Houston launches on December 15 . Also, Air China’s new of Beijing-Auckland services, which will be operated under a joint-venture revenue sharing alliance with Air NZ that recently received government approval, is due commence on December 10.
Luxon said Air NZ was currently considering increasing the frequency of its Buenos Aires service, which is currently scheduled to run three times a week, based on ticket sales.
“At the moment we want to make sure we get off to a great start. We are doing better than we expected and we expect to grow capacity on the back of that,” Luxon said on the Buenos Aires route.
“That’s very much our focus.
“Our intention is to keep growing and building all our routes to daily services and we’ve been doing that internationally. You can see that with Shanghai and Hong Kong and in our US markets.”
Gensler Principal Architect David Loyola said the design effort focused on ensuring the lounge “reflected the Air New Zealand brand, responded to the unique sense of place and elevated the customer experience”.
“We are optimistic we have achieved these goals and it’s very exciting to see the project completed,” Loyola said in a statement on Friday.
Star Alliance chief executive Mark Schwab, who was in Auckland to attend the lounge opening, noted Air NZ operated the Star Alliance lounge at Los Angeles Airport and said the airline had done a great job with the new Auckland facility.
“We don’t have that much Star Alliance service directly into New Zealand but it is Air NZ that reaches out to connect into the rest of the Star Alliance network,” Schwab said.
“They are very much our anchor in this part of the world.”
The new lounge, which has 24 different types of seating and capacity for 375 passengers, will welcome its first passengers on Tuesday.