BACKGROUND Qantas took delivery of its first A380 in September, and the aircraft is now in service between Melbourne and LA. Three more superjumbos are due to join the fleet by the beginning of next year, and one will appear on the London-Singapore route (where it will go head to head with SIA’s A380 service, see page 16) from January 16. As this was the delivery flight (from Airbus in Toulouse to Singapore’s Changi airport, then on to Sydney), boarding, onboard service and arrival were not normal, so this review focuses on the seating product.

THE SEAT Qantas has placed its business class on the upper deck of the A380, with premium economy behind it (SIA opted for business class and an economy cabin on the upper deck, while Emirates has located first and business upstairs). Seats are configured 2-2-2, as opposed to 1-2-1 on SIA’s and Emirates’ superjumbos. The seat was created by Australian designer Marc Newson, and has a stylish curved fixed shell with dark grey mesh design, and light red upholstery.

The seat converts electronically to an 80-inch (203cm) fully-flat bed, which makes it the longest business class bed on an A380 (SIA’s is 76 inches across the diagonal, and Emirates’ is either 70 or 79 inches depending on which seat you sit in). There are several massage functions, adjustable lumbar support and headrest, and a recall feature so that you can save your favourite reclining position. The seat also has plenty of storage options, including a pouch on the back of the seat in front (large enough to take a laptop), shoe storage, two cubby holes, and further storage bins by the windows.

The 12.1-inch (31cm) TV screen pops out from the armrest (on the front of which is the power socket, plus USB and wired internet ports). The table also slides from the arm and folds out – it’s not as sturdy or as large as SIA’s version in its A380 business class cabin, but it does the job. Other features include a swivel reading light, coat hook, socket for noise-cancelling headphones, and a privacy divider which moves up and down electronically.

ONBOARD LOUNGE Qantas has admitted that is hasn’t gone for the “wow” factor like Emirates (with its onboard showers) and SIA (with its first class double beds), but it has allowed itself one indulgence in the form of a lounge at the front of the business section. This is positioned to the right, next to the main stairs, and has a five-seater red sofa, magazine rack and flatscreen TV (large in airline terms and with a connection point for laptops). There is also a mysterious-looking black box in one corner, which designer Marc Newson says will contain a “3D hologram”, once it has been loaded into the system. It will be interesting to see how this area is managed in the future – Qantas says only five people will be allowed in at any one time, and it’s not clear if it can be booked for meetings.

THE IFE As we’ve come to expect with new planes these days, the in-flight entertainment choice is excellent, with hundreds of movies, TV programmes, music albums, radio stations, language courses and Lonely Planet guides. Worth mentioning is the touchscreen control, which I found so easy and intuitive to use that I didn’t even bother to remove the wired handheld option from its holder.

Qantas also offers email capability (from users’ existing web-based email accounts) on board its A380s, through provider OnAir. There is wired and wireless access, and passengers can get emails from accounts such as Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL. Note that you are not accessing the websites themselves – the system simply calls up the latest unopened emails and displays them on its own screen. You can’t access address books or old emails, and work accounts through a VPN (virtual private network) will also not work. (Qantas says it will have full internet access on board next year.)

Passengers pay a fixed log-on fee of US$6 for the duration of the flight, plus a charge per email depending on what is being sent/received. I sent a 1KB text-only email (about the length of an SMS) and this cost nothing, while a message containing a 48KB image and sent to two people cost US$0.46. There is also the option to use instant-messaging accounts.

THE LAYOUT There are three sections of business class seating on the upper deck. Working from the back (where business class starts after the premium economy cabin), the first section consists of two rows of 2-2-2. Next, divided by a partition wall but no curtains, is the main business class cabin, with seven rows of 2-2-2 seating. These are followed by the galley area, self-service bar, and four toilets, then there are another three rows of 2-2-2 (making 72 seats in total, compared with 60 on SIA and 76 on Emirates), and past these is the main staircase down to the lower deck, and the lounge area to the right-hand side.

WHICH IS THE BEST SEAT? As it is 2-2-2 throughout, the window seats do not have direct aisle access. They do, however, have the storage bins under the windows, which are useful if you’ve got a fair bit of hand luggage. The first block of two rows has a private feel to it, and the window seating at the front of these two rows has extra legroom because they are next to the emergency exit. In the main cabin, the front two rows can be noisy, due to the coming and going of passengers and crew from the galley and toilets. As for the front cabin, it depends how you intend to spend the flight – if you want access to the lounge these are a good bet, otherwise you’ll potentially be stuck between the two noisiest areas of the upper deck.

THE FLIGHT The nature of the flight meant we did not receive normal service in terms of food, but I was able to get an idea of how it will work on a scheduled flight. Meals have been created by Australian chef Neil Perry, owner of the Rockpool restaurant in Sydney, and a typical menu might include herb-crusted turbot with wilted spinach and peperonata, and slow-roasted Charolais beef rib with red wine jus, potato purée and asparagus. There will also be a selection of dishes available at any time, including freshly made baguettes and toasted panini. There is also a self-service bar area with snacks and soft/alcoholic beverages.

This was a night flight, so I tried out the bed. It converts electronically without the need to get up, and is long enough for a six-footer like myself to stretch out. It felt comfortable, and I was able to get a few hours’ sleep, despite the hubbub of a delivery flight. A pillow, blanket and pyjamas are provided, as is a male/female amenity kit.

VERDICT Smart, modern and stylish – Qantas has taken its tried-and-tested Skybed offering and evolved it into a competitive fully-flat product.

Fact file

CONFIGURATION There are 72 seats in business class (configured 2-2-2) in three cabins on the upper deck. Premium economy is also on the upper deck, with capacity for 32 passengers in a 2-3-2 configuration. On the lower deck, first class has 14 seats (1-1-1), and economy has 332 (3-4-3).

SEAT STATS Business class beds are fully-flat. Length is 203cm/80in, with a width of 52cm/20.5in (61cm/24in as a bed).

IFE SCREEN 31cm/12.1in.