Review: Qantas Business Class

11 Aug 2016

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Introduced to Qantas in 2008, the Airbus A380 ‘super jumbo’ heralded a whole new era in long-haul travel for Australian passengers who, thanks to our relative isolation, typically fly longer routes than most other passengers in the world. In fact, it is often forgotten that Qantas actually invented Business Class when it was introduced on their 747s in 1979.

In 2013 Qantas reconfigured the 12 aircraft currently in the A380-800 fleet, adding 34 seats to make 484 total capacity for each. Business Class capacity was actually reduced by eight to 64 places, shedding niceties like some of the self-service bars and snack points.

If you have the wherewithal or the points, an upgrade to the forward upper deck is definitely recommended for routes that can see you in your seat for 12 hours or more. In fact the Dallas/Fort Worth route is currently the second longest commercial flight anywhere in the world and has become a winner with Australian passengers flying to the USA and wanting to avoid the unpredictable queues and nail-biting connections at Los Angeles (LAX).

Overview

Route: Sydney(SYD)  - Dallas(DFW) return QF7/8
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800
Class: Business (J) Class
Distance/Duration: 13,804 kilometres 15:35 hours (QF7) 16:50 hours (QF8)
Checked Baggage: 3 pieces up to 32kg each.
Carry-on: 2 x 115cm bags 7kg each

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Plane flies over landscape in sunset
Photo: Getty Images

Check-In

At Sydney, Qantas has dedicated check-in queues shared with high-tier Frequent Flyers and loyalty card holders from oneworld partners and is open until 90 minutes prior to departure. The process is prompt and cordial with typical Qantas courtesy and efficiency. Still, early check-in is recommended for the 99 places in Business and Premium Economy and be sure to have your ESTA (Electronic System Travel Authorisation) visa waiver certificate in your documentation.

Online check-in is available for all QF international passengers up to 24 hours prior to your flight, but mobile check-in is currently not available. In any case, it is alway good practice to have hard copies of all your travel documents handy for smooth processing. With your printed boarding pass, check your baggage receipt is correct and you’ve been given an Express Pass for speedy passage through passport control.

Unfortunately, Chauffeur Drive is not available for passengers on the DFW route.

When choosing a seat, there are really no bad ones. The window seats (A,K) have big, handy storage bins, but you still have to navigate around your neighbour. The aisles (B,E,F,J) all have unimpeded access for rapid loo access. Mid-section seats (Rows 16-21)  are generally better, away from galleys and toilets.

Lounges

Most Travel Associates customers will be familiar with the massive upstairs Business Class/Qantas Club Lounge in Terminal 1 (T1) at Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport. I still find it a pleasure to arrive early and relax in the award-winning lounge with its generous amenities. Even so, the lounge can get quite busy, making seats and table a premium for seated dining. I usually find myself on a stool at the long bench straight ahead after the entrance, mainly because I’m curious to see what excellent Australian wines are being offered.

Elsewhere you can enjoy barista coffee and hot beverages, cheese and crackers, ample glossy magazines and newspapers (yes, I still like paper), and simple hot food and snacks at either of the self-serve dining stations. There’s a family zone if you have kids (or grandkids) along, WiFi, a few Apple computers and a couple of large screen TVs. Make sure you meet the new, enforced dress standards.

Tip: When T1 is busy, shortcut to the lounge via the TRS counter to right after security.

DFW lounge is quite spartan by comparison. Instead of one massive ‘hangar’, lounges are divided into smaller suites with more modest offerings. These are not operated by Qantas directly.

Seat

The Business Class cabin on the A380’s upper deck is configured as 2-2-2 in zones E and F and share just four washrooms for the entire deck (previously six), so loo breaks need to be timed if you can.

The seats themselves are identical with those on the older B747-400s and not quite as fancy as the new ‘Business suites’ on the A330s, introduced last year. There’s oodles of leg space (78” pitch) with 21 inch width. The seat is infinitely adjustable, lies flat (important!) and has a soothing massage function that can be useful to combat those long haul aches and pains. There’s power for your laptop and a USB point as well. On an earlier trip I had a bit of trouble with the circuit breaker tripping on my outlet and found that if I removed the battery and just ran the laptop on direct power, I solved that issue.

At the very front of the cabin is a dedicated lounge that I fear is underutilised by passengers. I was a bit confused and not sure if it was for First or Business use, but have since learned it is for Business and features self-service refreshment bar, large sofa (with seatbelts), reading material and large entertainment screen with laptop connection. I think crew should remind passengers of this feature and actually invite them down to use it.

Well before bedtime, your crew member will deftly install your mattress and quilt while you duck off to don the oh-so-comfortable pajamas. After your Rockpool dinner, getting changed into your nightie is the last thing on your mind.

On the return leg and after a hectic trip to Louisiana and Texas, the fully-flat Skybed came to the fore and I swear I slept for ten hours straight.

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Qantas hostess hands guest a drink while inflight
Photo: Qantas

Entertainment (IFE)

The system is the familiar, if a little dated, folding and retracting touch screen, that unfortunately must be stowed for take-off and landing, depriving you of a few vital minutes that might mean the end of your show or not. The headphones are adequate, but if you have your own fancy noise-cancelling ones, I’d bring them.

Two year sago, Qantas made a huge upgrade to the IFE program offering, so now you are totally spoiled for choice. I didn’t count them all, but according to the website, there are “1500 entertainment options [with] over 150 movies, 700 TV programs, 800 music options, 20 radio channels and all the latest news”. You can even check out what’s going to be playing on your flight at the Qantas website.

Amenities

About the time of the IFE upgrade, Qantas introduced new his and her’s Jack and Kate Spade-designed amenity packs. Not exactly a bulging ‘showbag’ of goodies, it nevertheless contains all the essentials QF researchers no doubt found the most popular.

Australian-made spa products, ASPAR by Aurora Spa, are a feature along with earplugs, socks, eyemask and toothbrush kit. All in a very useful and reusable zip pouch.

And yes, you will get a set of the famous battleship grey Qantas jim-jams.  

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Qantas First and Business Amenity Pack
Photo: Qantas Newsroom

Service

As an Aussie, I have to confess a certain bias to the Qantas product and even though there is tough competition among all airlines for cabin kudos, I’ve always found Qantas the most consistent in terms of crew quality - and that’s across all classes.  

This was driven home when crew chief, Peter Jakel, immaculately dressed in suit and tie shook my hand, greeted me personally and exchanged some small talk. He even excused my mouthful of pretzels. Beyond that, all requests were cheerfully attended to by crew who seemed to genuinely enjoy their work without being gushy or fake.


Competition that means business: 

Consultant Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class

Seven Ways Qatar's A350 Has Changed Business Class


Food

Now we’re talking. Qantas’s Rockpool inspired menu is designed by celebrity chef, Neil Perry, and is a veritable cavalcade of delicious food from whoa to go.

On the outbound DFW leg, lunch was served soon after takeoff and I’ll never get sick of the moment the tablecloth is laid out on the table and the proper, all-metal cutlery clinks delicately into place.

Part of my peculiar fun, is to ask the crew “what would you have?” when orders are taken and see the reaction. “Oh, the braised venison is divine!” I’m told. Sold.

I start with lamb and rosemary pot pie with tomato relish before the delicious venison with chestnuts, celeriac puree and broccoli arrives on Marc Newson-designed tableware and accompanied by a crisp garden salad and dressing. Not a shred of kale in sight. Bliss.

As something of a wannabe wine buff, I was delighted by the 2015 Yarra Valley Pinot Noir followed by the rich Baileys of Glenrowan Muscat to go with my baked chocolate, wattleseed and almond tart with date cream. Somebody stop me.

If I were somehow still hungry, I could have called up a crab and vegetable savory pancake or toasted beef, mushroom and fontina sandwich at any time during the flight.

Breakfast is pre-ordered when boarding on a card that is so full of choices, it looks like a senate voting paper. It’s served after an extended ‘lights out’ a couple hours before arrival in DFW at 1pm local time. My only complaint was the weak plunger coffee which was quickly replaced by a satisfactory machine brew. “Made by a tea-drinker,” I quippied.

Last Word / Tips

If you’re a bit of a finicky eater, or just like the idea, visit Select on Q-Eat (under Manage your booking) to pre-select your meal when checking in online. You’ll even find a dish there that’s not offered on board. Bonus.

It’ll be dark soon after take-off, so even if you’re going to binge on a box set of Suits or season of Game of Thrones, change into PJs at earliest convenience.

It’s a long flight, so be extra vigilant with anti-DVT exercises and perhaps wear some pressure socks.

Roderick Eime

Rod began his adventures at the age of two, slipping his harness and making a run for it from his ever-suffering mother while in Adelaide’s busy Central Market. While she recovered him numerous times thereafter, he’s now been on the loose for more than four decades. His travels may be less haphazard, but they are still often driven by spontaneity and an inextinguishable quest for something. During his many escapades, he has flown, driven, walked, rode and sailed millions of kilometres across every meridian, every ocean, lots of rivers and more than 70 countries.