The purpose of this trip was to return to Hong Kong to study another semester at the CityU University after having previously completed a semester there during the summer last year. At the time I booked, Qantas was having a sale on flights to HKG one way which suited me perfectly because I’d be in HKG for at least 6 months. And only a few months prior, QF had switched its HKG service ex-SYD from tired unrefurbished 747’s and A330’s to a daily A380 service. Making things even better, both seats 80A and 80K were available. These are by far the best seats in Y on QF’a A380, as they are just behind an emergency exit row, but with no seat in front. Unlimited legroom, at no additional cost. These are usually snapped up by savvy flyers pretty quick so I was lucky to snag one.
Usually, Qantas’ sale fares are not upgradable using points, which meant that this was definitely going to be a Y flight for me (unless I got an op-up… chance in a million with QF). BUT 2 weeks after booking the flight, Qantas ran a promotion where usually un-upgradable fare classes became available for points upgrade. 40,000 FF points for a business upgrade, 25,000 for a premium economy upgrade. A little trick unbeknownst to most is that you can actually put in for 2 upgrades (ie. Premium economy if a business upgrade fails), but not through the website. A quick call to the QF call centre and it was all sorted.
Two days prior to the flight, I got this text message..
This was shaping up to be a perfect flight. $400 one way + 40,000 points, on a Qantas A380 in business. And they wonder why Qantas International is losing money.
Check in was a bit stressful. Well, not check in itself, just getting to the hotel. Having stayed overnight at the Ibis Sydney Airport, I had to make my way from the hotel to the airport. Each of the hotels around the airport aren’t really within walking distance to either the domestic nor international terminals (which aren’t connected in any logical or convenient way at SYD). Each hotel offers a shuttle service (which is chartered out to one bus company) that charges $6 to get from the hotel to the airport. It’s a total rort, and this bus company has a bit of a monopoly. It would probably be cheaper to take taxi if you could find a willing driver :/ To add insult to injury the bus driver was late, and then started swearing at some poor European couple when they couldn’t understand his heavy aussie accent.
Unpleasantries aside, checkin was a breeze when I finally got to the desks. Qantas have a dedicated row of business desks, distinguished by their carpet, flowers, and small sit down areas (no drinks or magazines provided… not that you really need it, but some airlines do like MAS). The checkin agent was lovely and we made light small talk about Hong Kong, and the Qantas First Lounge. I asked the checkin agent whether or not the flight was very full, and got a ‘errr its not that full’ and asked if the seat next to me could be blocked. Usually I don’t like to ask, but I was travelling alone and didn’t particularly feel like having a seatmate today. I was told that they can no longer block seats. No problem, boarding passes printed and immigration express cards given, I was off.
Immigration out of Australia can be a bit of a nightmare due to the rather militant attitudes of border security staff at Australian airports. I find the officers at Sydney to be much more pleasant than the ones in Melbourne (who I swear purposely hires racist, foreign hating impatient losers who yell and scream at those passing through who don’t look Australian – but that’s another issue). This time around, with the express passes, the customs and security process was rather quick. The passport check took a little longer cause they had to see my Hong Kong study visa, etc, but really the whole process took less than 5 minutes.
Only travelling in business and being OneWorld Sapphire would only permit me into the rather lackluster Qantas business lounge in Sydney for this flight. Fortunately enough I had a one time pass for the Qantas Sydney First lounge. The First lounge is Qantas’ flagship lounge, seconded only by its first lounge in Melbourne, which while having a similar style isn’t held in the same regard.
The lounge is designed by Marc Newson, that rather famous Aussie architect and designer. The lounge is consistently regarded as one of the best lounges in the world, and frequent visitors will often remind you to spend as much time in the lounge as possible. With Qantas, that’s 3 hours (when international checkin opens), unless you only have carry on baggage (or have a domestic flight with through-checked bags). I didn’t fall into either of those categories, so it was going to have to be the standard three hours for me.
As you come into the lounge on the mezzanine floor, you walk past a living wall (basically a wall full of plants, and yes they are real and not plastic), which looks awesome before going up some escalators past the service desk, and into the lounge.
The lounge features a sit down restaurant with the menu designed by famed Aussie chef Neil Perry. A lot of the dishes on the menu are taken from his Rockpool or Spice Temple restaurant menus, each executed quickly and faithfully. The restaurant section takes up the middle section of the lounge, which is just up from the escalators and service desk. You’re approached by a waiter who will quickly find you a table, and sit you down with a menu. Since I was there in the morning, the breakfast menu was in swing, which is a shame because the lunch menu has far more interesting options.
Tables are set nicely with Alessi designed crockery, cutlery and stemware. All very lovely.
Either way. I ordered Sweet Corn fritters with Avacado, Tomato Relish, Sour cream and coriander without the bacon. Noticing that most other diners were quite happily enjoying alcohol, despite it being 9 in the morning, I had no compunction about ordering champagne to go with my meal.
The first lounge at Sydney offers FOUR (!) types of champagne by the glass, most other lounges only offering one. All are non vintage, but are great choices. Bollinger Special Cuvee, Taittinger, Vueve Cliquout and a recent addition of Delamotte. The delamotte, being a blanc de blanc was probably best suited to eating a meal with, being relatively medium bodied, low residual sugar and being all chardonnay. Did I mention I’m a wine geek as well?
The corn fritters were great, but still I felt a little peckish, I asked to see the menu again and ordered a fruit salad with a glass of Bollinger and a café latte. The coffee was great (Qantas use vittoria coffee in their lounges), and the Bollinger was as always excellent. The waitstaff were generally great, most seemed to pander a little (probably because of the attitudes of some do-you-know-who-I-am guests), but it comes with the territory I suppose.
The lounge also features a Payot spa with various massage treatments. Usually this is extremely hard to get into unless you’re travelling in First, where first guests are called the day before their flight to organize a spa appointment. However regular guests are able to try their luck at the door. No luck for me unfortunately, fully booked.
Shower rooms feature a mixture of Payot and Kevin Murphy amenities, great for a quick shower before the flight.
The lounge also features a small library area. The architecture of the whole lounge is great.
Seemingly, the three hours seem to float past and it was time to board. A shame since I was enjoying myself so much in the lounge. After visiting I’m definitely convinced that the Qantas First Lounge’s reputation as one of the worlds best is totally deserved.
Flight Time: 08h40m
Boarding was called on time, and I made a beeline for the shared premium economy/business line. I think the gates at SYD are a little small for A380’s, they are very close to being uncomfortable as can be seen in the pictures, and the flight wasn’t even full. Boarding pass scanned, it was down the jetbridge.
The business jetbridge leads to the forward left door of the upper deck. Another brief glance at the boarding pass, a warm welcome on board, ‘on your left, down the back’. I was seated in row 25K, the last row of business, in a small mini cabin of 2 rows, just in front of premium economy. The original layout of Qantas A388’s has business separated into 3 cabins, a small cabin of 3 rows at the front separated by a large galley to the middle main cabin, and then a small 2 row cabin at the back.
The boarding seemed to take a while, but actually it wasn’t long at all. Because J load was less than 50% and economy and premium economy was 100% downstairs, it seemed to take longer than it did. The friendly attendant offered to take my jacket and store it in the closet.
Welcome drinks were served, which was a glass of excellent Billiecart-Salmon NV. Qantas use either Billiecart or Heidsieck NV on international flights. Billiecart is my favourite of the two, but because of Billiecarts quite prominent and racy acidity its better to be served as cold as possible, which wasn't really the case. But then again, i've never received a glass of welcome champagne that has been super cold so it's totally forgivable. Hot towels were distributed, doors closed and we pushed back
Take off had us making the long taxi out to runway 34 left, before starting a long takeoff roll and climbing out over sydney. The views were quite pretty, and the smooth and quiet climb carried out effortlessly by the airbus.
Passing a CX A333 bound for HKG as well.
How great is a tail cam?
The seat is Qantas second generation Skybed lie flat seat, contained in all its A380's and refurbished B747's. It's a definite improvement over the Skybed Mk.1 which i've used a few times. Unlike the Mk.1 it's actually lie flat instead of being at a garish angle, and the IFE comes out of the centre console rather than being on the back of the forward seat. The Mk.2 has other improvements like a bigger divider between you and the seat next , as well as a few more clever storage pockets. All the Skybed Mk.2's make advantage of the side bins on the upper deck of the A380 too.
Taken from the back of the main cabin
In regular upright mode the seat is quite comfortable, and has a comfortable width. The seat adjustment is easily carried out by straight forward controls, though I found the relax seat preset to be a little uncomfortable. The whole seat is adorned in a grey/silver carbon fibre-like mesh material, and the seat cushions are in a muted red. The seat was originally designed by Marc Newson and gives the whole cabin a very modern and sleek feel
The massage feature was a bit useless, you can hardly real feel anything and it makes the whole seat a little more uncomfortable when its on. Maybe some people like it, but it wasn't for me.
In seat power provided by a universal plug, with 2 USB ports that both charge and provide external media to the excellent IFE system (it just doesn't support iDevices!). Who knows what the ethernet port is for.
Magazine slot on the side of the seat.
Buttons to raise IFE monitor and privacy screen.
In Flight Entertainment
Qantas' Q IFE system is relatively responsive and top notch. Definitely on par with the likes of CX Studio. Only having a brief flicker through the TV and Movie selections, it all looked fairly current and appeared to be wide in selection. The only complaint I had was the viewing angle on the monitor somewhat gave rise to having to periodically adjust the position of the monitor.
Amenity Kits were distributed, which used to be Peter Morrissey designed kits. Now, the kits feature Florence Broadhurst designs, an Australian artist famous for her prints. Also, she's dead. She died in mysterious circumstances in the 1970's. Can't decide if its a nice-paying-homage kind of thing or just a little bit strange? Anyway, inside the kit are nice Malin+Goetz ameneties
The meal service was started a few hours after taking off. Lunch first, followed by a snack service before landing. Menus were distributed along with another drink order. I stuck with the Billiecart.
Cool little wine guide in the literature pocket, has tasting notes on all of the wines Qantas serves. Great for winesnobs like me!
Roasted Carrot & Thyme Soup with Creme Fraiche (may have got this wrong in the video, sorry!)
The soup itself was really great. Not too big to fill you up, but nice and hearty and served with a fresh bit of sourdough. Great start!
Leafy salad served with a merlot vinaigrette.
Sichuan Pork w/ Snake Beans & Fragrant Rice
The main was pretty delicious too. It was a very classic Neil Perry inspired dish, seemingly straight out of the Spice Temple menu (Neil Perry's Chinese restaurant). The dish certainly wasn't as spicy as I would have wanted it to be, but not everyone is used to the Sichuan pepper taste and effect so I suppose they keep it to a bit of a minimum in the kitchens. The pork itself was a little rough in places with a fair bit of fat, but that's a minor complaint.
Vanilla & Preserved Apricot Cake with Cinnamon Full Cream
The cake was great! It went well with a perfect 2007 Noble One, one of Australia's more famous botrytised semillon sweet wines. It's a well balanced high sugar semillon with a punchy acidity and a very long and supple finish.
Valrhona French Chocolates served after the service.
Mushroom Hokkein Noodle
An hour before our descent into Hong Kong the snack service was started which today was a bowl of Mushroom Hokkein Noodles. These were really fantastic and tasted fresh, with lots of tasty shitake with a nice cold hokkein thick noodle. So good that I asked for another bowl, which the crew kindly obliged.
And another glass of Billiecart before landing of course...
On Board Bar
The Qantas A380's have a small bar/lounge area at the front of the upper deck cabin which connects with the staircase leading into First Class, so both first and business passengers can mingle and so business class passengers can pretend they're not jealous. The bar has a 23" AVOD screen, a magazine rack and a self-serve bar area (which wasn't really stocked when I went to visit). I went up to the lounge area twice and both times it had been "appropriated" by a couple who wanted to watch a movie together, so apologise for the lack of photos of the sofa area.
You usually here mixed reviews when it comes to service on Qantas. Sometimes people can't sing enough praise for the helpful Qantas crew they had on their last flight, and sometimes you'll here whinging about the 'surly grandmas' operating routes like the golden triangle in Australia. I'm quite happy to say that the crew on my flight up to HKG were nothing short of fantastic. They all seemed to be enjoying their job (which they said was partly due to the light load today), despite most of the crew admitting they had never worked with one another. The crew were always friendly, and were very keen to just have a chat. The crew made the whole flight one of the most enjoyable travelling experiences i've had in a very long time.
What made it even better was the bottle shaped 'present' the crew had left in my bag when I went to the lavatory before landing. I only discovered it when I got into HKG. A very nice gesture indeed.
After a flight like this, it upsets me that Qantas are losing so much money internationally. Of course I have pride in my countries national carrier and for that fact alone I want to see Qantas operate profitably well into to the future, but Qantas' high cost base means that big changes are afoot. Qantas' announced deal with Emirates the other week and reevaluation of hubs like Singapore mean that truly fantastic A380 product may not be available on routes to Singapore or Hong Kong as Qantas reshuffles its A380 cache to Dubai. Qantas is operating a truly great product here, from the fantastic First lounge in Sydney to a solid onboard hard product for business class passengers in the comfortable A380.
I hope for the worlds sake that Qantas soldiers on.
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