Airways Business Class review
The inventor of
business class continues to improve their already excellent
The new Qantas Skybed
seat makes an already excellent airline experience even
Part 1 of a two part review of Qantas
Business Class -
click for Parts One
See also the
Qantas Joke. :)
Qantas understands long haul
flying better than perhaps any other airline. With the
exception of 'short' three hour flights to New Zealand, its
entire international network involves lengthy travel times.
Accordingly every aspect of
their service is designed to make long flights as comfortable
and convenient as possible.
I test out a 3 hour, 11 hour
and a 14 hour flight to see how successful Qantas is.
Flying Qantas in general
Qantas is a rare example of
an airline that does everything right. It
operates nearly new planes that are maintained to a fanatical
standard - both in terms of visible onboard cabin cleanliness
and amenities, and in terms of the less visible mechanical
and safety components.
This underscores the famous claim made in the Rainman movie that
Qantas has never had an accident involving passenger fatalities.
Although this 'legend' is slightly contradicted by the facts,
that is hardly surprising when you consider Qantas is the
world's second oldest airline, and for much of its early life in
the 1920s and 1930s was involved in pioneering flying in outback
Even the most nervous of fliers will feel an immediate
sensation of comfort and reassurance upon boarding a Qantas
plane, being greeted by the generally helpful and friendly cabin
crew, and sensing the competence in everything Qantas does.
Qantas is a member of the
oneWorld alliance, with major airline partners including British
Airways and American Airlines.
The following review draws
from the dozens of flights I've enjoyed on Qantas over several
decades, happily including many in both first and business
class, but focuses specifically on three business class flights in July and
August 2005, traveling Los Angeles to Sydney, Sydney to Auckland
and then Auckland back to Los Angeles.
Checking in from Seattle
My journey started
in Seattle, flying to Los Angeles on a separate ticket with Alaska
Airlines. To my delight, Alaska was not only able to check
my baggage all the way through to Auckland but they could even
issue the Qantas boarding passes.
There was no
need to re-checkin for the Qantas flight at allm but I chose to do so because I wanted a Qantas lounge invitation
for the stopover in Los Angeles
(one thing AS couldn't arrange from Seattle).
Probably this was
unnecessary, and I expect if I'd simply turned up at their
lounge with the Alaska issued boarding pass, I'd have been
welcomed in. On the other hand, I was subsequently told by
the Qantas checkin people in Los Angeles that the Alaska issued
boarding passes don't work in the Qantas boarding pass
readers at the gates, so they reissued the boarding passes onto
official Qantas cards. Needless to say, this detracts from the value of Alaska issuing boarding
Departing and arriving in Los Angeles
Like many other airlines
flying in and out of LAX,
Qantas has moved a lot of its international flights out of the
Bradley International Terminal. Qantas now operates most of its
Terminal 4, sharing facilities with its code-share and oneWorld
partner, American Airlines.
As has usually been the case
when checking in for any Qantas flight, the check-in lines were
very short, the counter staff friendly and helpful, and there was no wait at all for Business Class
Upon arriving back into Los
Angeles, the experience of going through Immigration and Customs
and getting one's bags at T4 was vastly preferable to the often
terribly congested mess that prevails in the International
Terminal. There was no delay waiting for Immigration, bags
arrived on the carousel very quickly (due to being tagged as
business class priority bags) and there was no delay in going
through Customs either. A very quick and pleasant
The combined AA Admiral's Club
and Qantas lounge in Terminal 4 is very much nicer than the
smaller facilities Qantas shares in the International Terminal.
The Terminal 4 lounge is spacious and well served
with plenty of comfortable seating and amenities.
There was only a
minor amount of cold 'finger food' on offer. As for
drinks, because Admiral Club members must buy their drinks, QF
passengers are given two free drink coupons when checking into
the lounge, with a sometimes extended offer of more if needed.
(Note to Australian/NZ readers : The barmen expect
tips, even with free drink coupons....)
In terms of food and drink, the
lounge is not as good as the Virgin Atlantic Airways Clubhouses.
T-mobile Wi-Fi was
promoted at the lounge front desk. Although some airline
lounges provide free access to Wi-Fi service, this was not the
case here and if you wanted to access the Wi-Fi, you need to pay
the full T-mobile rates.
Departing Los Angeles
Some lounges don't make
announcements about flight departures at all. Others make
announcements at almost the last minute, the reasoning being
that premium cabin fliers would prefer to spend as much time as
the lounge and as little time as needed in the plane.
AA/QF lounge follows a third strategy, calling passengers for their
flights as part of the early boarding call, meaning first and business class passengers arrive at the gate at
the height of the general boarding confusion with up to 400 other passengers all
pushing and shoving to get on the plane as soon as possible.
This was particularly
unnecessary because the T4 lounge is inside the
secure part of the airport and close to the gate. A much
better strategy would be to call lounge passengers late to the
flight rather than early.
Fortunately a separate
boarding line for business and first class passengers made
getting through the line reasonably easy, but then you had to
take your turn slowly moving down the jetway with everyone else.
As you'd expect,
Qantas has an absolutely enormous lounge in its home city of
Sydney. It also has a separate lounge for first class passengers, and
still more facilities becoming successively more private and
difficult to find for ultra-elite VIPs.
The business class lounge facilities were
comprehensive and comfortable. The first class lounge is
slightly nicer still, and (alas!) I've never qualified for the
On this occasion I was there at breakfast
time, and a good range of fresh fruits, breakfast breads,
cereals and juices were on offer. And if you wanted to
partake of an early morning harder beverage, they too were freely
available in self-serve abundance.
Surprisingly, there did not
appear to be any available Wi-Fi service in the lounge.
Auckland check-in and lounge
The long arm of the TSA
reaches as far as Auckland. I arrived early for my flight
back to Los Angeles and was told I couldn't check in yet because
I had to wait until the extra security people started their
shift and checked my luggage.
These 'rentacops' were very
pleasant, and did a hand search through the bags I wished to
check while I waited and watched. It was a laughable
travesty of a check - for example a large heavy and previously
opened box (containing three bottles of whisky) was ignored
entirely. As far as they knew, anything could have been
Qantas have a very nice private checkin area for
its premium cabin passengers. You are welcomed into a
private room, making your experience right from the arrival into
the airport feel special. They also have their own
Customs/Immigration official to pre-clear your departure, making
everything quick and painless.
I was pleased to see Qantas
could check me and my bags all the way to Seattle, even though
my flight from Los Angeles to Seattle was on a separate
e-ticket, flying Alaska Airlines. Not only could they
issue the AS boarding pass, but by checking my bags all the way
through I avoided having to pay the penalty fee my overweight
(60lb) bag would otherwise have been charged by Alaska in Los
Angeles (the Qantas international weight allowance is greater
than the Alaska domestic allowance).
The Qantas lounge in
Auckland is not nearly as grand as its Sydney or Los Angeles
counterparts. But it is still very pleasant, and they were serving a nice salad selection
for lunch when I arrived, complete with some reasonable Cream of Asparagus soup, and
had an open 'help yourself' bar. I enjoyed a nice NZ
None of the general seating
had power alongside, but there was a small separate business
center. This quickly filled with businessmen. Some
of the little work carrels had computers in them, others just had
power and phone and data lines, a few had power and no phone lines,
and then there were a couple with a phone line but no power
into a carrel with a phone and data line so I could call out
using my laptop. Alas, the chair was broken. The
replacement chair was also broken, but a third chair was
satisfactory, although Qantas had taken the castors
off all their chairs, making them somewhat uncomfortable and
awkward to move around in.
The next problem was no dial
tone on the data line in the work carrel. My Plan B had me
taking the phone wire out of the phone and using that line
instead. There was something strange with the phone line
- I could dial out, but my modem wouldn't synch up with the
So, determined road warrior
that I am, I went into one of the carrels with a provided
computer, and pulled the data cable out of that and plugged it
directly into my laptop. Success! At last, with a very fast (and free!) data line,
I worked happily for
the balance of my time in the lounge.
The lounge issued a curious
boarding announcement, telling passengers the flight to Los
Angeles was ready for boarding, and ended the announcement with
'final boarding call will be in three minutes'. This
motivated me to move quickly to the gate, only to find they were still in the middle
stages of general boarding with mass confusion everywhere and no
priority line for premium class passengers. And rather
than 3 minutes, final boarding seemed to finish 30
Friendly cabin crew welcome
each passenger by name onto the plane, and help them find their
way to their seat.
Once arriving into the oasis of calm that is the upper deck business class cabin
(I generally prefer the upper deck because you're not bothered
quickly made to feel comfortable; a crew member hangs up one's jacket and
subsequently offers a drink.
The plane pushed back ten
minutes late from Los Angeles due to delays loading the cargo, but
I wasn't at all worried. It managed to
make up the lost time during the almost 14 hour flight and
arrived slightly early in to Sydney at the other end.
Almost without exception, all Qantas flights give you an on-time
or early arrival.
One of the delightful things
about a Qantas flight is you're not held a prisoner of your
seat by ridiculous extended use of the 'Fasten Seat Belt' signs.
It is rumored that captains on some
airlines use the Fasten Seat Belt sign as a
control device to force people into their seats to make it more
convenient for the flight attendants to go up and down the
aisles with their carts (this happened on my Alaska flight
LAX-SEA). This is absolutely not the case
with Qantas. The seatbelt sign goes off within a minute or
two of taking off, and stays off until the plane is well into
its descent at the other end.
Normal chop and turbulence
usually doesn't see the seatbelt light go back on, and if it
ever does, it stays on for the barest minimum of time.
Qantas planes are invariably
clean and in excellent condition, and these three flights were no
exception. There is a reassuring impression of their
planes being well
The upstairs cabin is always
a bit problematic because the overhead bins tend to be very
shallow. The bins on the Qantas 747 were larger than on
other 747s I've flown, but still much smaller than the bins
downstairs, and full sized carry-ons won't fit in them, as some
of my fellow passengers found out. Fortunately there is a
communal bag locker at the back of the cabin for placing
There are also bins
alongside the window seats - again too small for full-sized
carry-ons, and impractical for aisle side passengers to
Seating in the business
class section upstairs is 2 - 2 (with a single aisle) and downstairs is 2 - 3 - 2
(with two aisles).
If you want lots of overhead space, downstairs is your better
choice, but if you prefer a quieter environment with fewer
people coming and going, then upstairs is much better.
The best seating upstairs is row
16, which is the exit row. Qantas won't pre-assign this,
but if you'd like the massive increase in forward space, ask for
it when you get to the airport. The only downside to this
row is that occasionally passengers might stand around in the space
in front of your seat - it is a more public part of the cabin
than the rest of the seating.
As part of its latest cabin
upgrades, Qantas has introduced a system of
mood/ambient lighting. In the evening it is colored
purple, and at night it is colored blue, during the day it gets
brighter and yellower. This allegedly helps combat jet lag
and makes you feel more refreshed; I found its effects too
subtle to notice.
The toilets are well
appointed, and even have various hand lotions and other 'smelly
things'. They remained clean all trip long, with the supply of
fresh cotton handtowels never running out.
Like other airlines, Qantas
now hands out a branded amenities kit, and has both his and hers
versions of their kits.
The kits are branded
L'Occitane. Inside my male kit were some of
the usual things - toothbrush and toothpaste (Colgate),
disposable razor and shaving creme (Shick), socks and eye shades
(unbranded), and - hey, where's the L'Occitane stuff? Oh,
perhaps this is it? A one third of an ounce of 'Energy
Face Gel' (no, I have no idea what this is or what the energy it
refers to may be) and a little stick of lip balm.
Although the kit contained
energy face gel, it did not, alas, have a comb, being, I think,
the first amenities kit I've ever received that lacked this
vastly more useful item.
I asked for a female kit on
the way back. Strangely, Qantas' female kits have
generally been better than their male kits, and this continues
to be the case. The female kits have five different
'smelly things' in them from L'Occitane and an emery board, but
no razor. It used to be that Qantas gave a wooden
hairbrush in its female amenity kits, but now they don't even
include a plastic comb.
Perhaps Qantas' greatest
strength would be its cabin staff and the in-flight service they provide. I've enjoyed some
excellent journeys with Qantas flight crews that are unquestionably the
best in the world.
matching weakness is the lack of quality control over its staff.
I've also had other experiences
where the service failed to meet any reasonable expectation at
By way of partial
explanation, Qantas flight crew are generally
Australian, and always unionized. The very egalitarian
Australian approach to life is reinforced by their strong union,
and so it is fair to observe that if a Qantas crew member likes
you, they will go out of their way to do much more for you than
they are required, but if they decide they don't like you, they'll do much
less than normal, and their strong union makes it difficult for
Qantas to discipline staff who aren't performing to expectation.
Most of the time, you can
expect excellent service from Qantas staff, which makes it all
the more disappointing and regrettable when you strike it
unlucky and get a bad crew. And I use the term 'crew'
advisedly. It seems the complete crew are either excellent
or bad. I've seldom experienced only one bad crew member,
or only one excellent member. They all seem to perform to
the same level, be it either very good or very bad.
On these three flights I had
one very good flight crew (Sydney to Auckland), one
outstandingly excellent crew (Auckland to Los Angeles - thank
you, Lucas, Carolyn, and Chief Flight Attendant Adrian),
and one utterly dismal experience (Los Angeles to Sydney).
On the two good flights, the
cabin crew were always on hand, and gifted with an almost
telepathic sense of anticipating whenever you might possibly
Long night flights, on any
airline, are always a temptation for the crew to slope off and
get some rest, hoping that their passengers are asleep.
But on the long night flight from Auckland to Los Angeles, there
was a crew member almost constantly walking through the cabin,
and any time I tossed or turned so as to give the impression of
being awake rather than asleep, they'd come over and ask if I'd
like a cup of tea or a glass of water or anything else.
Eventually - as much to please them as me! - I said I'd take a
cup of tea, whereupon they offered all sorts of choices of
different teas, and seemed quite disappointed when I said I'd be
happy with a simple cup of plain ordinary tea. They ended
up getting the last word, however - in addition to a nice
freshly made cup of tea served in a fine china cup, they
provided a couple of fancy biscuits (cookies) on a side plate
Another hallmark of a good
flight crew is how generous they are with their employer's
drinks cabinet. It is not an unfair expectation, when
you're paying many thousands of dollars more than a coach class
passenger, that you should be able to have ongoing access to
drinks on the flight (assuming you remain reasonably sober and
sensible, of course). Qantas crew generally are very
generous with the fine range of wines, beers, spirits and
liqueurs they carry, being quick to refill half empty glasses,
and pouring large measures.
I often like to sample the
full range of different wines on a flight - all the reds and all
the whites. I don't do this as a way to drink lots of
wine, and ask for only very small measures of each wine, but
more as a way to try wines I'd otherwise not come across.
The Qantas crew are usually very positive about this type of
request which of course means more work and hassle for them.
Good crews also demonstrate
their own personality and take the time to talk individually to
each passenger. I (and all other passengers) had several
visits from the Chief Flight Attendant, first to introduce
himself and thank me for flying with Qantas, then to discuss
what I might need in the way of immigration paperwork, on
another occasion purely for a lengthy personal chat (eg about
where I live in Seattle and related matters), and finally to
shake my hand and thank me for having been a passenger on the
The two flight attendants
managing the cabin also were always pleased to stop and chat,
and acted not as dispassionate androids, but as interesting
individuals, and took the time to get to understand me and any
requirements or needs I might have, too.
In days gone by, the captain
used to come and personally meet passengers too, but that no
longer seems to happen. Doubtless a 'security precaution'.
Sadly, another former feature of Qantas flights - the chance to
go up into the cockpit - has definitely been abolished for
obvious security reasons.
The exception that proves the
rule - Flight from Los Angeles to
Although two of my three
flights were excellent and enjoyable in almost every way, this flight
was not. It started off
poorly and just got worse and worse as the journey progressed.
In theory, passengers are
choice of water, orange juice, or champagne when they first are
seated, prior to takeoff. But by the time I
was offered a drink, it seemed only
the first two choices remained on the tray and the flight
attendant was too lazy to go get more champagne. So I was
only offered water or orange juice. I asked what happened
to the champagne and so the flight attendant went off to get
some, but without an apology for not offering it up front.
Service was generally slow
or non-existent, and it soon became obvious why. While I hope I didn't do
anything to be disliked, it was clear that I was not as popular
as the two young men in their mid/late twenties who formed an
instant and close friendship with the two young lady flight
attendants. They enjoyed regular drink service and lots of
refills; while I had none.
Indeed, most other
passengers were similarly suffering. The only two people
to be offered a pre-dinner drink were the two young men;
no-one else was offered either a drink or the snack mini-portion
of nuts that would normally accompany the drink. And
champagne proved elusive a second time when it was not offered
with dinner. I asked, and so they went and fetched a
bottle, poured a miserly portion into the bottom of my glass,
and I noticed the rest of the bottle quickly make its way to the
two young men. No topups or other drinks were offered at
Yes, that's right. On
a 14 hour flight, I was offered wine once, given a bottle of
water, and served a juice and coffee with breakfast. I'd
have been better treated in coach class than I was in business
As for overnight service, I
was given a warm 1 pint bottle of water at the end of the meal
service, and the flight attendants then disappeared for the next
nine hours, not to be seen again until they started serving
Being given a warm plastic
bottle of water is very much less satisfactory than having iced
water being passed around on a regular basis by helpful friendly
I don't mean to obsess about
drinks (whether alcoholic or not), and I drink very little
alcohol on long flights anyway, but it is a clear indicator of
the level of service being offered. A good crew offering
good service is always offering drinks.
Confirming my belief that a
bad crew is usually bad all the way through, the Chief Flight
Attendant never appeared during the flight to say hello to
passengers. I should add that neither this cabin nor
business class as a whole was full - there were plenty of empty
seats, so the crew should have been able to provide at least a
normal level of service.
An occasional Qantas failing on
their long night flights is to set the cabin temperature too
high - indeed, when I used to fly Qantas regularly I got to the
point of traveling with a digital temperature probe so I could
argue knowledgeably with the flight crew about the cabin
temperature. These days I fear the metal probe on the
instrument would be impounded by TSA as a possible weapon, so I
can't back up my feelings with numbers, but I do know the
cabin was uncomfortably hot all flight long on the flight down
from Los Angeles.
Usually I choose to wrap
myself in the blanket when sleeping, but there was no need for
extra warmth, even though all I had on were light trousers and a
short sleeved shirt, and I was perspiring much of the night.
Some flight crews deliberately turn the cabin temperature up,
because that tends to quieten down their passengers, but in this
case the temperature - for me - was beyond the point that simply
quietened me down and encouraged me to sleep, and instead was at
a level that prevented me from sleeping.
Perhaps it was just as well
I didn't need a blanket, because I couldn't find one.
And either most of my fellow passengers were similarly hot, or
also couldn't find blankets either.
In marked contrast, on the flight back the cabin
temperature was perfect at all times. And finding a
blanket was easy - individually wrapped pure wool blankets were
waiting on the seats upon arrival. Qantas has lovely high
quality large sized full weight blankets.
The final insult was when we
landed. Normally the flight crew holds back the coach
class passengers until after all the business and first class
passengers have deplaned. It seems silly to make a fuss
over getting off the plane a few minutes before other people
after 14 hours on board, but it is a small perk that premium
cabin passengers fairly expect. However, the cabin crew on
this flight were determinedly egalitarian - not only did they
give their business class passengers a level of service that
would struggle to be adequate in the coach class cabin, but they
let coach class passengers leave the plane without waiting for
business class passengers to get off first.
Qantas uses one of
Australia's most noted chefs - Neil Perry, from Sydney's
multiple award winning Rockpool Restaurant as a partner in
developing their in-flight cuisine.
At the end of the day,
airline food is inevitably airline food, and never as good as
you'd wish for in a restaurant. But Qantas does an
excellent job of making it as palatable and well presented as
can ever be fairly expected or hoped for.
From Los Angeles to Sydney
On the midnight departure
from Los Angeles, I didn't expect the flight to offer a substantial dinner, but
nonetheless a three course 'supper' of salad, entree and desert
was served. There were four choices of entree and three
desserts. I had a glorious marinated chipotle beef filet,
and lovely fresh fruit for dessert.
The menu also hinted at
chocolates being offered with dessert, but this did not happen.
Just another slackness on the part of the bad flight crew.
In contrast, on the return journey not only was I offered
chocolates, but the crew came back twice to see if I'd like
We ordered our breakfasts
shortly after boarding, so as to allow the flight crew to
maximize our rest time before they woke us for breakfast the
next morning, about hour prior to landing. In comparison,
I was walking through the main cabin 3.5 hours prior to landing
and they seemed to be giving breakfast service already.
This extra quiet time was a much appreciated benefit of business class.
Qantas persists in providing
plastic knives but metal forks and spoons. This is no longer a TSA requirement
and seems at odds with common sense and quality service. Does anyone really
believe that a blunt ended metal knife is any more a serious
threat to a 747 with strengthened cockpit door than is a metal
fork with four sharp tines?
Breakfast suffered another
typical airline food shortcoming. Although offering toast,
the reality was the bread was barely warmed up and still moist. Making toast should be a
simple affair. According to toast experts, bread needs to be
heated to around 120°C, the point where it goes through a
chemical change known as a Maillard reaction, with the sugars
and starches caramelising, giving toast its brown hue and
sweet, intense flavor.
can only put this down to laziness on the part of the flight
attendants, who save time by heating bread for too short a time
rather than giving the bread a full toasting. The early
Romans could make toast. But some modern Qantas flight
attendants apparently can not.
From Auckland to Los Angeles
Another wonderful dining
experience awaited. After a lovely appetizer, there were
three entree choices, a chicken, fish, and meat dish.
Interestingly, the meat dish (Beef fillet with braised mushrooms
and steamed vegetables) was marked as being the healthiest
option. I'd have thought the fish or chicken would have
been the healthier choice. I enjoyed a lovely salmon
fillet complete with a wonderful pesto coating, sautéed
potatoes, chorizo, and an onion and caper relish.
Several desserts were then
available to tempt us, and while I thought about the Ginger
Cake, settled for a nice selection of cheeses and biscuits.
Same as the flight down, we
were able to pre-select our breakfast and then enjoy most of the
flight without interruption. For my breakfast, I chose a
lovely 'fry-up' with bacon, tomatoes, potato/vegetable fritters,
and other yummy things. Plenty of healthier and lighter
items were also available, of course.
Qantas is justifiably rated
as one of the world's very best airlines. It is a well
managed and very profitable airline with an impressive safety
record and a very high, albeit occasionally uneven, standard of
If you're wishing to fly
somewhere Qantas operates, you may well choose to be like me and
preferentially select Qantas over its competitors. You'll
almost certainly be pleased you did.
Read more in Part 2
Part 2 we talk about the
part of the Qantas Business Class cabin you'll be most closely
associated with - their new Skybed seat.
Note : See also my reviews
Upper Class and Premium Economy class
and of British Airways' competing Business
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12 Aug 2005, last update
28 May 2011
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