It’s hard not to feel sorry for Qantas lately. This great iconic national carrier with a global reputation for safety, operational excellence having been brought to it’s knees after years of decline in profitability in it’s international arm; cumulative bad press from a string of incidents, industrial disputes, the decimation of it’s international network to a single destination in Europe served by QF
metal, a CEO who barely speaks comprehensible English, a pleading advertising campaign listing all the reasons the public should fly Qantas, melancholic vacuous theme music from Daniel Johns, a humiliating alliance with enemy, Emirates; Dubai-sation of the kangaroo route and so on…..it’s a murky future for Qantas. But the flying kangaroo isn’t quite dead yet. Having flown them regularly a long time ago, I’ve switch over to my beloved SQ
years ago; easily seduced by consistency of their soft product and service. Anyway, I had a meeting to attend for 2 days in Los Angeles so it was a perfect excuse to reacquaint myself with Qantas premium cabins once again on the classic route MEL
return on good ol QF
93 and 94 in First and Business respectively.
A380 Lawrence Hargreave
The day began early as I left home for the airport. The usual morning traffic ensued but I got there and parked my car in plenty of time to arrive curbside for check in at 8.30 for the 11.20 am departure.
Qantas has it’s own entrance and separate check in lounge for First passengers tucked away in a discrete corner of the rather messy departure drop off area. I must say, it’s not particularly easy to find or impressive at all. Anyway, I walked through the doors and instantly, around 5 or 6 people virtually leapt towards me and ushered me towards one of 2 free check in counters. Before I knew it, I was checked in with my suitcase gone in around 30 seconds. Very quick and efficient. The check in agent hardly said a word to me apart from “enjoy your flight” after she handed me my gold boarding pass. A lounge agent then offered to escort me through to the first lounge to which I replied “of course, thank you”. Unlike the check in clerk, she was actually quite friendly and chatted as we walked through to security and immigration. There was quite an awkward moment when she pretty much just cut me right into the front of the queue ahead of a long line of passengers at security……I actually felt quite embarrassed; if someone cut right in front of me like that, I don’t think I would have been too happy! I felt the glare of many people behind me but thankfully, no one made a scene. I’m sure it has happened before.
After meandering through the compulsory duty free walk customary of most Australian airports, we ascended the escalator to the Melbourne Qantas first lounge.
First impressions were…WOW. What an amazing space. Tasteful. Incredibly stylish and oozing with design elements in every corner. Tranquil. Soothing. Spectacular. As soon as I walked in, 2 lounge staff welcomed me to the lounge and gave me a quick tour of the facility. I was also offered a slot for a massage and facial….why not?! After this initial encounter, I was pretty much addressed by name for the entire time I was in the lounge. Very impressive. Not just the physical aspects of the lounge, but the personalized service……unusual for QF
I didn’t want to fill up too much but the lounge attendant was so insistent I had something to eat from their breakfast menu I ordered corn fritters with tomato jam, avocado, crispy bacon and crème fraiche. Within 10 mins, it was served promptly to beside my chair. This was DELICIOUS. Easily the best lounge breakfast I’ve ever had. Crisp and light fritters with the tang of the tomato jam and the smoothness of the avocado and cream. Yum.
My ride to LA
, the Lawrence Hargreave. Beautiful. I think Qantas has the best looking A380s in the skies. I was secretly hoping to score Nancy Bird but oh well.
Soon, it was time for my massage and facial. This is not something I usually do but I thought I’d try it. I was ushered into a large room with very high ceilings and asked to undress to ‘whatever I was comfortable with’. I just took my top off and soon, a rather attractive blond woman began the massage and facial which lasted a good 30 mins. The masseur was very professional but chatty. She smothered my face with Payot products and recited ad nauseum all the benefits of using them. I felt completely relaxed and fresh as I emerged from the spa. My skin felt as soft as a baby’s bottom. Well, not quite. But what a way to begin a flight!
As I made my way out of the lounge down to the boarding gate, I was just blown away by this lounge experience. It was quite easily the most personalized and impressive airport lounge I have visited and proof that ‘bigger is not always the best’. At the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder how viable this operation is for Qantas. Qantas really only has 2 flights with first class ex MEL
93 and QF
9 in the afternoons, to LHR
. And that’s IT
. Yes, there are several (not that many) Qantas flights without FC where platinum members can still use the lounge but surely 2 flights day with revenue First cabins can’t be enough to justify such a major FC lounge operation like this. Something doesn’t add up. Perhaps this is one reason their international operation is hemorrhaging.
Gate 9 was a mess. Full flight, clearly, in all classes. Several queues snaked along with primary and secondary passport checks. At least the separate queues for First and business class passengers were preserved. There was a long wait to finally board the aircraft….it never ceases to amaze me how eager passengers are to board a confined space where they are going to spend the next 13-14 hours.
A close up of the beast.
I boarded through door 1L on the lower deck. Received a lukewarm greeting at the door and was directed but not escorted to my seat, 4A. When I got there, I settled myself in. And then nothing for a good 10 mins or so. Eventually, a flight attendant (Andrew) came over and welcomed me aboard, offered to show me features of the seat and asked if I would like a drink. As it was still mid morning, I opted for OJ (boring, I know). Olives and warmed nuts were also served. Pyjamas delivered. Newspapers offered, but no magazines. No hot towel before take off.
More pics of the cabin.
First seat has been reviewed many times so I won’t go into the detail but I really liked it. The cabin environment was soothing and very understated but classy. Despite a full cabin, each seat felt very private yet spacious and well designed. I love the thick brick like metal console on the side where you can control everything including just about any seat position, window blinds, entertainment options, etc etc. Very cool.
Soon enough, the captain welcomed us aboard and announced an on time departure with a ‘short flight time’ of 12 hours, 45 mins. I love watching the skycam mounted on the tail (a feature strangely not available on SQ
A380s, even the new ones). Could also follow our aircraft position live on flightradar24 pro.
And we’re off!
I’ve flown the A380 now on so many occasions and I still marvel at how silent and graceful she is; one barely notices the climb as she effortlessly ascends to cruising altitude. Shortly after take off, I browsed the menu for today’s flight. Here it is:
Not a bad menu. Plenty of choice. I’m not a fan of Neil Perry though. Overhyped celebrity chefs are incredibly annoying. And Qantas markets him to DEATH. Seriously. There are so many better chefs.
I decided I didn’t really fancy everything on the tasting menu, so I just picked things that I like and Andrew, the flight attendant serving my section was more than happy to oblige.
Here’s what I had:
Canapés: Spanner crab and harissa tartlet and iberico jamon crostini with date and ricotta. Amazing flavour. Wonderful.
Fancy butter: a nice touch
Yellowfin Tuna with Moroccan eggplant: Another amazing dish. Excellent and bursting with flavour.
Main course was a Neil Perry signature dish: crumbed otway ranges crumbed pork cutlet with st John’s carrots and cabbage and potato gratin with a choice of mustard. Meh. Very average and more like a pub meal or Friday night dinner. I should have known not to choose this as pork is often dry, especially when reheated at 35,000 ft. And it was.
Another thing to mention was that I asked for matched wines to each course, as per their tasting menu and Andrew was very happy to oblige; I was particularly impressed by his extensive knowledge of each wine. He explained to me where each wine had come from and some interesting facts about the vineyard, etc. very impressive! Most flight attendants wouldn’t have a clue! I know on SQ
, they serve good wine, but if I were to ask them about each wine, they would have no idea. Good crew training, from QF
For dessert, I chose the hazelnut coffee syrup cake with double cream.
This is what arrived:
I sent it back as it was dry, without any moisture and quite unpleasant to eat. Andrew suggested the other dessert, the chocolate and orange pot with almond biscotti and this was a winner. Thick, rich chocolate mousse; very decadent.
Full to the brim, I changed into my pyjamas and resumed watching a movie I started over lunch, Argo. Very exciting film. At one point, at the climax of the movie when they were at the airport trying to escape, I paused the film and said to Andrew who happened to walk past “I can’t stand it……do they make it? Have you seen the movie? No, don’t tell me. But they’ll be ok right?”. He gave me a weird look and smiled. I can’t believe I did that.
After the film, I felt the beginnings of a food coma and asked Andrew to make the bed for me. Upon my return from the lavatory, a very comfortable bed was deployed, with sheepskin doona and bedspread. It was very comfortable and I slept soundly for a solid 6-7 hours.
I woke up around 1.5 hrs from LAX
and sat upright for a few minutes. Eventually, I had to ask for breakfast to be served. I asked for fruit and scramble eggs with the trimmings. This tasted ok, but I really miss the asian breakfasts on CX
Very soon, we began our descent into LAX
. On time arrival.
I changed out of my pyjamas and filled out my customs declaration. Loved watching the approach to LAX
on the skycam.
On arrival, we pulled up next to 2 QF
747s; presumably QF
107 and the flight from BNE
. Nice to see VH
-OJM next to us. This 747 was the very plane I proposed to my wife on, when we were on the upper deck 9 years ago….great to see she is still going with a new-ish coat of paint.
Got my bags and cleared customs in around 30 mins……quite impressive, for LAX
The return trip 2 days later will be summarized with just pictures and just a few general comments:
First class on this leg was full so I had to ‘slum it’ in Business.
The late evening departure from LAX
is very business friendly as it allows me to complete a full day in LA
and sleep to reset my body body clock on the long overnight flight to arrive in MEL
mid morning 2 days later.
Tom Bradley….what can I say; for decades it was been a mess but at least they are doing something about it now. The check in area was well staffed and uncluttered. Thankfully, they have done away with the stupid and rather ridiculous practice of getting passengers to bring their suitcases up for a security screening after checking in. This has significantly de-cluttered the departure hall.
Check in was smooth and efficient. No mention of any lounge invite so I had to find it myself. The Oneworld lounge at LAX
is just a disaster. It was PACKED! Barely standing room only full of QF
flights. It really wasn’t a relaxing or pleasant environment to wait in.
I did manage to sample this incredible spinach dip though…..very addictive..i had 3 plates.
After 45 mins, I couldn’t bear it any longer and left the lounge to make my way to the gate. The A380 flights depart from a new gate area at Tom Bradley which was a nice change from their usual small and completely inadequate gates. If I had known, I would have skipped the lounge and just come straight here.
Boarding commenced soon enough…orderly and efficient; our aircraft today was named after David Warren, the Australian (and Melbournian) inventor of the cockpit black box voice recorder. What a proud legacy and a suitable name for one of Qantas’s newer A380s.
I always thought the QF
business cabin from behind looked like a room full of those cocoons from Aliens. The rear J class cabin on the upper deck is huge and feels like a dormitory. Nevertheless, the seat is actually supremely comfortable with excellent leg room.
OJ before take off.
Menu for tonight’s flight
Breakfast menu card. I like this option; allows the crew to get it exactly right for breakfast.
Love the extra side storage on A380 upper decks.
, VERY annoying design flaw of the skybed…..the screen can’t be deployed for landing and take off…..which is the best part of the flight to watch the skycam. This feature is available to first and economy class passengers but not to J class pax because their screens have to be stowed away. What a waste of an excellent feature.
Departure was on time and we rolled down the runway after a short taxi. She used the entire length of the runway, almost immediately turning southwest across the vast Pacific ocean headed down under.
I was pretty tired, but, greedy as ever, I was keen to sample some Qantas J class food. Here are some pics.
No Entrée, just salad and bread. Usual for a supper service. Bread was a miserable dry piece of sourdough, salad was soso.
Main course was a winner: Seared Sea bass with skordalia, broccoli and tabouleh salad. The fish was incredibly fresh. Excellent dish.
After that satisfying main course, I asked for dessert and chose the ginger crème brulee with rhubarb compote. Another winner. Beautiful and flavorsome dessert. Accompanied with a glass of baileys.
I watched 2 movies, 1) The life of Pi and 2) Jack Reacher. Both good movies.
This crew were actually quite friendly and laid back; Several times, this particular attendant would walk past and stick his thumb up in the air and yell out “All good?”. Hilarious. At bedtime, the crew would ‘make your bed’ which was quite an elaborate affair: blanket and a padded sheet; I slept very well; almost for 7 hours straight.
Around 2 hours out from Melbourne, breakfast was served. Same ol generic eggs and crap breakfast. So boring.
Before I knew it, this incredibly long haul flight was coming to an end.
We approached from the south which afforded us a nice view of my beautiful hometown, Melbourne, officially named in consecutive EIU studies :the most liveable city in the world.
So how did Qantas fare in comparison to my regular SQ
I would have to say, the Qantas First lounge is by far the best lounge I have experienced. Smaller than SQ
’s changi lounges but superlative in design, coolness, spa facilities and personalized service. QF
Onboard Hard product:
I love the Qantas first class seat. It’s elegant, aesthetically very well designed and I would put it on par with both the SQ
suite and first class seat. Result: Tie.
Business class: Whilst the skybed is comfortable, I really prefer the 1-2-1 configuration of SQ
and the superior privacy the SQ
seat offers. SQ
Why hasn’t SQ
installed the skycam on their A380s? It’s an excellent feature available on most A380s.
I’m sorry, but SQ
wins HANDS down here. It’s not that Qantas service was bad. But in FC, they pretty much just left you alone. Nothing was really pre-emptive; you pretty much had to ask for most things. For the price of a first ticket, it all depends: do you want to be left alone in peace (if you were a celebrity flying out of LA
, then probably!) or do you want over the top service where they just go all out to please and pamper you? It all boils down to choice I guess. And the different service cultures of the 2 airlines. For instance, on SQ
first which I have flown many times now, the whole operation from the moment you board is rather spectacular; smiles, emphasis on details, constant hot towels (we only got 1 on the entire flight on QF
), newspapers, magazines, caviar, the list goes on. The service is just so much more polished. And on every flight, I have had great long chats with the flight crew (often initiated by them), about my trip, home, planes, all sorts. On QF
93 in First, not 1 crew member was even the slightest bit interested. Which is why I have to insist that when people say SQ
flight attendants are robotic and not ‘spontaneous’, this is such a great myth and not true at all. They provide a consistency of service that no other airline can equal.
Business class: The crew on QF
94 were great and in fact, much better than the FC crew on QF
94. Hence my point about inconsistencies.
At the end of the day, the service on both airlines is still an eternity above any US legacy carrier.
A tie. The food on QF
was good. Very good. Less generous portions than SQ
but the quality is there. I miss the wider choice of asian food on SQ
but this is just a cultural preference.
Thanks for reading!
Comments always welcome.