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Qantas' Chairman's Lounges have been called one of the world's most exclusive clubs, membership the ultimate status symbol, an acknowledgement of power and prestige – and money won't get you in (even if you're an Australian senator). What goes on inside and who may enter the discreet confines of those lounges is hush-hush but for those of us on the outside looking in, here's a primer.
CEOs and CFOs of large corporations, politicians, celebrity A-listers, high-profile media figures, sporting greats, eminent names from science and the arts – it's a mix of faces you'll probably recognise and their partners or best mates, since members get to bring in a plus one.
Qantas won't reveal who its members are but you can get some idea of who among our political leaders are by trawling through the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is in, as is Labor leader Anthony Albanese and the Green's leader Adam Bandt. On the Labor left, both Tanya Plibersek and Linda Burney are members. So too is former Labor leader Bill Shorten. Based on that survey, it seems safe to assume that a significant number of federal parliamentarians are members. Tony Abbott is said to be a member despite having lost his parliamentary seat to Zali Steggall, also a current member. Malcolm Turnbull reputedly never joined, possibly recognising the moth-to-a-flame endangerment of the 'gift' of membership.
But where are the senators? Far fewer make the cut, although Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and Penny Wong do, but Pauline Hanson's statement of registerable interests does not list her as a member.
How do you join?
There is no membership application, it's by invitation only. It doesn't matter if you're a Qantas Platinum frequent flyer with 15 years' worth of loyalty points and five-figure status credits, if you're not among the elite you're not getting in. Money alone won't get you in, nor will the lack of it stop you, and there is no membership fee. What it is about is that most desirable and intangible of all assets - influence. If you've got muscle – corporate, financial, political, sporting – you've got a chance.
Although Qantas operates its Chairman's Club at a loss, the payoff is leverage. For the chosen who are allowed to enter a world that few will ever know, the feelgood factor is off the dial. When a corporation or a government agency decides which airline to spend with, when federal government has to make tricky decisions such as helping the national airline through its current pandemic-caused downturn, having the decision makers onside is money in the bank for Qantas.
Where are they located?
Qantas Chairman's Lounges are currently open in Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Canberra and Adelaide. The Melbourne lounge is closed for the time being. Chairman's Lounges might identify themselves by a cryptic "Private Lounge" sign or else by no signage at all. If you don't know where it is, the suggestion is, you really don't belong. All Chairman's Lounges are found at the domestic terminals. At airports where domestic and international terminals are far apart, such as Perth and Sydney, Chairman's Lounge members flying international will have to slum it in Qantas' first-class lounge.
While you need to flash your boarding pass to prove you're on board the big red roo to get into any other Qantas lounge, a Chairman's Lounge member can get into their private domain regardless of which airline they're flying. Their black membership card alone opens the door.
It's red carpet all the way for members inside a Chairman's Lounge. They're hushed, there's heaps of space to work, private suites for taking phone calls or meetings and capacious showers with fluffy towels and bathrobes. There's a buffet table but also an a la carte menu. Alcohol is available any time of the day.
The staff ratio is high, service is more personal than you'd find even in most first-class lounges and those inside are cosseted like members of a dazzling and exotic species. At Brisbane's Chairman's Lounge which overlooks the tarmac, sound-dampening glass insulates those within from the hubbub of airside activities. There are no boarding calls. When your time comes, a Chairman's Host will advise you it's time to depart.
All the lounges are different, and in the case of Sydney – what were they thinking? Past the black-and-grey foyer is a series of waist-high partitions in high-gloss kiwi-fruit green. Furnishings consist largely of hippo-sized armchairs in caramel and lime. It's jangly, bizarre and anything but calming. Melbourne Airport's Chairman's Lounge features a Mondrian-style grid filled with Fruit Loop-coloured panes. Brisbane, most recent addition to Qantas' Chairman's Lounges, has a less grating tobacco and vanilla colour scheme.
For those who sense their position in life entitles them to admission to Qantas' Chairman's Lounges, finding the gilded gates barred can come as a cruel blow.
According to her Australian Senate statement of registerable interests, last updated on May 14, 2020, Senator Jacqui Lambie is not a member of Qantas' Chairman's Lounge. On March 25, 2021, Senator Lambie launched an expletive-rich tirade against Qantas staff who denied her admission to the lounge. Despite an act of contrition including a fulsome retraction and a fervent apology to the Qantas staff, Senator Lambie's tirade earned her a six-month ban from all Qantas flights.
Membership of the Chairman's Lounge is for two years, renewed at Qantas' pleasure. When Qantas refused to renew his membership in 2019, broadcaster Philip Adams was said to be miffed. Especially so since it was Mr Adams in his adman days who coined the phrase 'the spirit of Australia', widely used as Qantas' mantra. For those who have risen high, the axe of relevance deprivation falls swift and hard.