Virgin Blue is hoping that the offer of free wireless Internet access in its newly revamped business lounges will help it lure more customers away from arch-rival Qantas, but the discount carrier hasn't quite worked out how it's going to keep everyone else off the network.
The discount carrier today relaunched its business traveller facilities in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane under the unimaginative branding "The Lounge".
Amongst the features of the new lounges is free wireless Internet access, provided by Telstra.
While airport lounges commonly tout wireless access as a benefit of membership, stopping passengers who aren't in the lounge from using those services is more of a problem -- and one which Virgin Blue apparently hasn't yet fully resolved.
"We are working with Telstra to limit it to The Lounge only and making that area an envelope in terms of being able to access it," a Virgin Blue spokesperson told CNET.com.au sister site ZDNet Australia in response to queries about how access would be restricted.
Some airlines rely on giving users one-time passwords as they enter a lounge to ensure freeloaders can't latch onto the network.
Another possibility is to try and limit the wireless signal purely to the lounge area, but in practice that's likely to also create black spots with no signal inside the lounge.
The simplest option would be to abandon the free option and charge customers.
That's the route taken by Qantas, which offers wireless Internet access via Telstra in its rival Qantas Club lounges. Customers must pay access fees for the service, with casual access starting from 20 cents per minute.
The Virgin Blue facilities formerly operated under the moniker "The Blue Room", and relied largely on a pay-per-visit model.
While passengers can still pay AU$30 for a one-off visit, Virgin Blue is assuming most business travellers will instead pony up AU$349 for annual membership, plus a AU$199 joining fee. The Qantas Club charges AU$685 for a first year member, including joining fee.
Virgin Blue officials said the relaunch was designed to attract more business and government travellers. However, prospective members in Melbourne still have to endure the inconvenience of a non-airside lounge, meaning visitors will have to clear airport security after leaving the facility to board their flight.
While Qantas' lounge charges are higher, it can also point to a more extensive network, with domestic lounges in 18 Australian cities.
Visitors to Adelaide can avoid the entire problem, since local ISP Internode offers free wireless access throughout the airport building.