The Koru Lounge is not as exclusive as Air NZ would have us think, says Kate Haywood.
Don't go to Disneyland during the Mexican school holidays. I picked up this travel tip almost two decades ago from family friends who had spent a fair bit of their time at the Happiest Place on Earth rather unhappily standing in insanely long queues, thanks to the influx of visitors from south of the border.
As travel tips go, it's not an overly helpful one. Though the Mexican school holidays are probably a particularly bad time to visit due to the relative proximity of Mexico, Disneyland is oh so crowded no matter when you visit.
It has much in common with the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge in the international terminal at Auckland Airport. I challenge anyone to "relax, refresh, or get some work done before they fly" at this lounge during the (New Zealand) school holidays.
Chances are you'll be hard pressed to find a seat to relax in, let alone two or more together if you're travelling with others, and you'll need a great deal of luck indeed to find a free power point to charge your laptop.
Even if you do manage to find a seat, it will probably be next to some kids playing games on their iPads with the volume at full blast in the general seating area, despite the existence of a two-storey (and enclosed) children's play zone. Or behind some grown-ups practically yelling into their cellphones while simultaneously doing their best to drink the bar dry.
Even outside the school holidays it's often packed to the rafters, so it's crazy to think the lounge is actually 40 per cent bigger than the old space from which it was moved just over two years ago in a $14 million refurbishment.
In its current form, the lounge has seating for 375 people, approximately 1 per cent of the some 30,000-odd international passengers who travel through Auckland International Airport every day on average.
So who exactly are the travellers lucky enough to be granted access to this "haven" (Air New Zealand CEO Christopher Luxon's word, not mine)? According to Air NZ's website, access to the Koru Lounge is available to Airpoints Elite and Gold members, Elite Partner members, Koru members, and Business Class passengers departing on Air New Zealand flights. So far, so restrictive.
But access to the lounge is also available for the guests and children of these travellers. Airpoints Elite members can bring one guest when travelling on Star Alliance flights and up to five guests when travelling on Air New Zealand flights.
Airpoints Gold, Elite Partner and Koru members can bring one guest when travelling on Air New Zealand flights.
Last but certainly not least, children under the age of 12 travelling with an Airpoints Elite or Gold member, or Koru member, have complimentary access. This is supposed to be subject to space being available, but appears to be rarely enforced in practise, which perhaps explains why the lounge can sometimes resemble a kids' club more than an exclusive lounge.
If you removed all the guests and children — the "hangers-on" as I affectionately refer to them — I suspect the lounge would suddenly feel a lot more spacious, comfortable, and relaxing. More of a haven, so to speak.
Unfortunately, as a 20-something who can barely afford to brunch twice a week, I am only ever in the Koru Lounge as a guest, so I am one of the very "hangers-on" I'm suggesting should probably be removed.
But if I get annoyed when the Koru Lounge is more crowded than the gate area outside, imagine how a business traveller who needs to get some work done or a Koru club member who has paid a lot of money to relax away from the masses must feel?
Are the crowds (and the behaviour) getting to the point where once-loyal Koru members are rethinking annual memberships, or considering newer options, such as the pay-as-you-go Strata Lounge, where there is no complimentary access for children?
At the 2017 Air New Zealand annual meeting, Luxon told the company's shareholders he thought the airline would probably need two or three lounges at Auckland Airport's international terminal. One for the premium and business travellers, one for their guests, and one for their children I wonder?