Tried & Tested

Flight review: Qantas A380 first class

4 Jan 2019 by Craig Bright
Qantas A380

Background

Qantas doesn’t regularly fly its Airbus A380 on its Sydney-Hong Kong service; however, on December 1, 2018 it began deploying the aircraft on one of its two daily flights (QF127/QF128) on the route for a period of four months, giving passengers the ability to fly first class between the two cities. The A380 is scheduled to continue flying between Sydney and Hong Kong until March 28 this year, after which the airline’s new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner will take over the route.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific recently reviewed Qantas’s business class on its 787-9, which is currently operating select flights on the airline’s Hong Kong flights from Melbourne and Brisbane.

Qantas First Class check-in, Sydney Airport

Check-in

24 hours before my flight, I was sent an email reminding me of my trip and that I could arrange a few perks ahead of my flight the following day. Among these was kerb-side assistance for my luggage at Sydney Airport with the airline’s Porter Service – something I didn’t end up opting for, considering I was travelling with just a laptop bag and a small carry-on suitcase – along with the ability to pre-book a complimentary spa treatment at the Qantas First Lounge Aurora Spa, which I did opt to do. This is a service restricted to Qantas first class passengers, and I thoroughly recommend using it if you want to ensure you have a spot at the spa, which gets booked up quickly.

The woman on the phone was incredibly helpful, not only booking me in for an 8am slot at the spa the following day but also suggesting I add an extra 30 minutes to my journey time to the airport since Sydney traffic on a Sunday morning “can be a bit of a joke”.

As such, I departed early the following morning and arrived at Sydney Airport about two and a half hours ahead of my scheduled 0930 departure time. Unfortunately, Qantas does not offer its complimentary chauffeur services for first class passengers on this route.

Qantas has an enclosed, lounge-style first class check-in area located at the far end of Counter D in the main check-in hall, complete with lounge chairs and small tables. Check-in was swift and I was given an express departure card, which allows select passengers to get expedited access through security – the lane is to the left of the departure area after immigration, which has e-passport scanning and facial recognition.

Qantas First Lounge, Sydney Airport

Lounge

The entrance to the Qantas First Lounge is up the escalators beyond the Heinemann Duty Free store just after you clear security. This is a lovely space with ample seating options and an abundance of natural light flooding into the concourse – I also had a nice view out onto the tarmac of two Qantas A380s, one bearing the airline’s old livery and the other the newer design.

Large, wooden dividers separate the lounge and run the length of the space giving it its distinctive design. The areas in the middle are allocated for dining, while those towards the left- and right-hand sides offer lounge-style seating. At the right-hand end of the lounge is a small, quiet library-style space with secluded seating, while at the left-hand end is the spa, located behind a door.

As I was a little early for my appointment, I sat down for bit of breakfast. Qantas offers table service in the lounge, and members of staff are prompt in ensuring your order has been taken and food delivered to your table. I chose the eggs Benedict, which were delicious. Qantas also serves T2, an Australian tea brand, at its lounge, which is a must-try if you’re an avid tea drinker.

Qantas First Lounge Aurora Spa, Sydney Airport

The spa offers several different treatments, all lasting 20 minutes and conducted in individual treatment rooms. These come complete with massage beds, showers and plenty of flora adorning the walls, and truly feel like you are in a dedicated spa rather than an airport lounge. The Sydney spa also offers a Sydney Signature treatment exclusive to this lounge, with the Melbourne Signature being exclusive to the Qantas First Melbourne lounge. I selected the Men’s Purifying Facial, which did a great job of waking me up and refreshing my skin.

If you’re looking to have a drink, the lounge also has a manned bar located just behind the reception desk, though waitstaff are also very good at making sure you are suitably plied with beverages wherever you are in the lounge. I found myself on more than one occasion being offered a glass of champagne, which I duly accepted.

Business Traveller Asia-Pacific will be publishing a separate in-depth review of the Qantas First Lounge shortly.

Boarding

Boarding was a little late for the flight, and I found myself with an extra 15 minutes in the lounge before the information board showed that it was time to walk to Gate 8, about a five-minute walk away. The Qantas First Lounge does have announcements; however, there didn’t seem to be one when the information board changed – perhaps these only go out when boarding officially starts. As it turns out, boarding didn’t begin for another 12 minutes (0920) after I arrived at the gate and seating by that point was minimal, so it may be better to wait in the lounge until boarding officially begins.

It’s also worth pointing out that there wasn’t a dedicated first class boarding queue, meaning you’ll have to line up with business, premium economy and eligible Oneworld members.

Qantas A380 First Class

The seat

Qantas positions its first class cabin on the A380 on the lower deck with 14 seats configured in a 1-1-1 layout. Seats are positioned at a 45-degree angle, with window-seat passengers facing the windows. For passengers in the centre seats, the layout means you can only access your seat from the right-hand aisle. I was in the centre seat of the bulkhead row, 2F.

Seats on the A380 function much like a swivel chair, facing forward when in the upright position for take-off and landing, and rotating when reclining to form the fully flat bed.

Qantas A380 First Class

In a seated position, the product offers ample space both in terms of legroom and width, and at 81 inches (206cm) when reclined to a fully flat bed, even I at 6”5’ (195cm) had little issue stretching out when lying down – a true rarity, even with many modern fully flat business class seats.

Qantas A380 First Class

There are a number of pre-set seating positions available – take-off/landing, dining/working, lounging/reading, entertainment, reading in bed, and sleep – making adjusting the seat for particular purposes easy.

There is also a massage function with a number of different patterns, though personally I found the vibrations to be more tickly than relaxing. All this can be controlled by the detachable controls, though be warned this is a heavy metal box rather than a sleek handheld device. You certainly wouldn’t want to drop it on yourself by accident.

Qantas A380 first class

Storage within the seats is rather limited. While there is plenty of space beneath the footrest for a backpack, carry-on luggage would need to be stowed overhead. The side cabinet, which houses the tray table, does feature two storage spaces, but if you need somewhere to put your laptop you’ll need to settle for the side table.

A power outlet, along with two USB ports, are positioned at the base of the seat in front, though note that the power outlet is not a universal port, so you’ll need your adapter handy. There is also a port for a wired internet connection.

Qantas A380 First Class

Which seat to choose?

While I certainly enjoyed my time in 2F, the centre seats are definitely the least preferable of those available to passengers. For starters, the centre F seats are more exposed than the A and K window seats, though they do have an adjustable partition that provides some additional privacy.

Qantas has also laid out the cabin without overhead storage bins in the centre. Though this does mean the centre seats enjoy more open space above them, it also means passengers seated in these seats need to make use of the bins on the sides of the cabin. This wouldn’t be such a problem if they weren’t positioned quite so far from the aisle, such that you need to lean over the person seated by the window in order to access them. As in-seat storage is relatively limited, it’s likely passengers will want to store some items above them, so it’s better to go for a window seat yourself and have more direct access to your luggage.

Qantas A380 seat map - Credit: Qantas

With that in mind, seats in 1-5A are among the best. Since access to the centre F seats is on the right-hand aisle, it is unlikely these passengers will attempt to store their items in the bins above the A seats, giving you more space for your own items. There will also be fewer passengers passing through the aisle next to you. In order to avoid being directly next to the galley up front or the economy class cabin behind, seats 2-4A are arguably your best bet.

The flight

We pushed back from the gate just after 10am and took off just under 30 minutes later, putting our departure a little under an hour later than scheduled. This was a result of maintenance being done to the in-flight entertainment system, according to the pilot, and given the length of the journey I was glad to see it was up and running.

The cabin crew were, as to be expected, very professional. Members introduced themselves with a handshake, and made an effort to be conversational with each passenger in the cabin.

Qantas A380 First Class

Prior to take off we were offered hot towels, as well as a glass of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 accompanied with olives and a bowl of nuts. This was followed by a black amenity kit and a set of Martin Grant pyjamas and slippers.

Qantas A380 First Class

Amenity kits include a dental kit, earplugs, socks, an eyemask, roll-on deodorant, and Aspar moisturiser and lip balm.

Qantas A380 First Class

Orders for the main dinner meal were taken an hour and 15 minutes into the flight. I chose the Rockpool Bar and Grill style Cape Grim Beef fillet, which comes with coastal greens and a side dish of macaroni and cheese. The beef was a little dry and, to be perfectly honest, quite bland – the business class meal I’d enjoyed on the flight over, also with Qantas, was delicious and, surprisingly, this didn’t match up.

Qantas First Class A380

The best bits of the meal were the macaroni and cheese, which had a lovely, creamy sauce with a slightly crispy top…

Qantas A380 First Class

…and the canapés – a caviar blini with crème fraiche and a crostini. Meals also come with a salmon salad appetiser.

Qantas A380 First Class

For dessert, I chose the ice cream sandwich, which was very good, and I have to say that the Shaw + Smith Balhannah Vineyard Shiraz 2015 and Lillypilly Noble Blend 2015 wines were also delicious.

Qantas A380 First Class

One thing the seats are designed well for is two-person dining. The tray table is large, easily enough to fit two meals, and the footrest at the other end of the seat is able to serve as a seat for a second person. I saw at least two other passengers choosing to make use of this functionality during my flight.

Qantas A380 First Class

If you’re looking to stretch your legs a bit, the A380 comes with a small lounge at the front of the upper deck, which is shared with business class and offers a few sofa seats. Qantas has announced plans to revamp the lounge on board its superjumbos in order to give them more space, along with updating some of its seat products. All 12 of the airline’s A380s are expected to feature the new layout by the end of 2020.

Qantas A380 First Class

While this is a day flight, I did choose to recline the seat to its fully flat bed position and treat myself to a few hours of sleep, something the comfortable bedding and ample space makes thoroughly pleasant. The fact that the footrest is not an enclosed foot well inside the seat in front of you also makes sleeping feel very open and unrestricted.

With about one and a half hours remaining, the second meal service began and this time I went for the beef noodles, which were enjoyable.

Arrival

Our late departure saw us arrive in Hong Kong later than scheduled at 1615, though this 25-minute delay was notably less than the 55-minute wait we had departing Sydney. About 10 minutes later I was off the plane, and had picked up my bags by 1650.

Verdict

Qantas undeniably has a comfortable offering in its A380 first class offering, especially with its lounge. Though the seats are beginning to show their age a little they are certainly worth trying, even if it is as a treat through point redemption. The somewhat disappointing main meal was a shame, but not enough to tarnish the experience.

Fact file

  • Price Return fares in mid-March begin at A$6,588 (US$4,626) including taxes and surcharges
  • Configuration 1-1-1
  • Seat width 22.5 inches
  • Seat pitch 81 inches
  • Seat recline 180 degrees
  • Departure 0930
  • Flight duration 9 hours 20 minutes
  • Contact qantas.com.au
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