I recently shared my story of flying Qantas economy, premium economy, and business class cabins. Today, we cover the first class experience.
When my girlfriend Molly and I first started planning our trip to Australia, I was skeptical that we would find any award availability in a premium cabin. With flights from the west coast to Australia averaging 15+ hours, premium cabin awards are extremely difficult to find, especially for more than one seat. During the several weeks that I searched, I rarely found any coach availability on desirable flights, and no premium cabin award space at all. Finally, one fateful Saturday afternoon, I hit the jackpot. I found two seats in First Class on Qantas, using Alaska Airlines miles. Score!
Our flight to Sydney departed from LAX, and we arrived at the airport three hours early, in order to allow plenty of time to visit the Qantas First Class lounge. Unlike some lounges where there’s just snacks, the Qantas lounge offered a la carte full meal service. While I knew we would get a meal onboard, we wanted to try some food here. The famous Qantas salt & pepper squid was delicious, as was the toasted meatball sandwich. Overall, we found the lounge to be large, and thoughtfully designed. The staff was very attentive, as one would expect for this caliber of a lounge.
Before long, it was time to head downstairs to board our A380 bound for Sydney. I’d only previously flown on an A380 once, in British Airways’ First Class. I enjoyed that experience a lot, and I could only wonder if this Qantas ultra-premium flight could top the BA flight. Molly and I chose two seats on the right-hand side of the aircraft; one in front of the other. Upon arriving at the seat, the flight attendants distributed a nice Martin Grant amenity kit, containing pajamas, slippers, and the usual toiletries. They also brought us a glass of champagne, a caviar tartlet, and a roast duck tostada. The caviar was sweet and delicious and the duck was really delightful as well. Our cheerful flight attendant told us that once we were airborne, she would break out the really good bubbly.
Our Qantas A380 (registration VH-OQD) was nearly nine years old, but certainly did not show its age. Qantas does a nice job maintaining their international fleet, and this was no exception. The Qantas First Class cabin contains 14 suites laid out in a 1-1-1 configuration, meaning the seat is incredibly spacious (BA has a 1-2-1 configuration). While their suites do not have a door like some other carriers, there was a nice amount of privacy, as you could turn your chair to point toward the windows. Speaking of windows, if I had one gripe about the seat, it’s that you are quite far away from them.
The Qantas First Class menu is curated by chef Neil Perry, who is a famous Australian chef and restaurant owner. For the first course, I selected the prawns with grilled chorizo, which did not disappoint. The prawns were grilled to perfection and the chorizo had some spice and was quite flavorful. Molly went with the buffalo mozzarella with chargrilled radicchio, green bean pistou, and hazelnuts, which was also quite tasty.
For my main course, I chose the beef fillet with potato gratin, sauted spinach, mushrooms, and green peppercorn sauce. I’ve found that one of the most difficult airplane catering tasks is to ensure beef is tender and not overcooked. More often than not at 35,000 feet in the air, beef tastes too well done and lacks flavor. Qantas, however, did an incredible job, as the fillet was flavorful, surprisingly tender, and delicious. It was easily the best fillet I’ve ever had in the sky. Molly had the herb-crusted salmon with corn puree, broccolini, and king mushrooms, which was also cooked to perfection. For desert, we both selected the vanilla madeleine cake with lemon curd and blueberries, which was good but a little rich for me.
Qantas is well-known for having an excellent wine list, having won multiple awards for wines offered onboard. We enjoyed the Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2006 vintage champagne, as well as a couple different red wines from Australia. Of the reds, the Voyager Estate Cabernet Merlot 2009 was my favorite. If I had one complaint about the drinks offered, it would be the lack of a premium whiskey or scotch. I was spoiled when I flew British Airways First Class, as they had Johnny Walker Blue Label, so perhaps I’m a bit biased. The only relatively high-end whiskeys they had were Woodford Reserve Bourbon, and The Glenlivet Small Batch Single Malt Whisky. Not bad options by any means, just a little lacking for a First Class cabin.
Once we were done with dinner, Molly and I went upstairs to the lounge area, located at the front end of the upper deck. The lounge area is designed so that Business and First Class passengers have an area to congregate and relax. While the area seemed a little small, with room for around five people, we were the only ones in the lounge for the entire 30 minutes we spent there.
I really didn’t want to sleep too long, as not to miss out on the incredible experience, but I decided it was time for some rest. The flight attendants converted my seat to the bed position, which I found to be comfortable. To convert the seat to a bed, the main chair is turned about 45 degrees towards the window and extended to connect with the ottoman. Qantas provides a memory foam mattress pad, blanket, duvet, and your selection of a pillow via their pillow menu (yes… a pillow menu). Overall, the bed was very comfortable, wide, and long, and allowed me to get several hours of good sleep.
The flight attendants came by around 90 minutes prior to landing to start their breakfast service. For my meal, I ordered some fruit, yogurt, and ricotta pancakes with caramelized berries and maple cream. The cream was a little rich, but I found the entre overall to be delightful.
The A380 is certainly a very revolutionary plane, but one that made the wrong bet. While initial orders were relatively strong when the plane debuted, it has struggled to gain much traction over the years. This is largely due to the fact that many twin engine planes can fly the same distances, with significantly better economics. From a passenger perspective, the A380 is one of the best aircraft around, with a wide cabin, quiet engines, and a very good overall experience. While the plane will continue to operate for years to come, it was announced just recently that Airbus is ending the program. It seemed an inevitable conclusion, but was a sad day for many AvGeeks (yours truly included).
While I was very sad to have this flight end, I can easily say it was one of the best I’ve ever been on, if not the best. Many carriers are eliminating their first class cabins, in favor of an upgraded business class, but Qantas seems to be bucking that trend. They have continued to update their first class cabin, and it consistently receives positive traveler feedback. Both the soft and hard products excelled, and I arrived into Sydney feeling refreshed.