CHECK-IN I arrived at the airport at 2100 for my 2305 flight to London. Qantas’ check-in is in row five but first and business class passengers can check-in at the premium lounge at the rear of row four. This is a personal check-in area where you sit at a desk while being processed. There was no queue and within minutes I was in immigration and joining a line of eight people which moved quickly.
THE LOUNGE Qantas shares the lounge with British Airways and it is situated up the escalator immediately to your left as you clear security. The facility is spacious with plenty of seating and glass windows overlooking the shopping area below. It has 18 computer terminals, an area to watch TV, 20 private shower suites, and two areas serving drinks and snacks including pizzas, canapés, cheese, fruit, cakes, crisps and nuts. The lounge also has free wireless internet which you can access with a password provided at the desk.
THE FLIGHT Boarding was announced at about 2230, and after an eight-minute walk I was at the gate where there was a long queue, as for some reason there was not a separate line for premium passengers. Despite the wait, I cleared security and got to my seat on the top deck of the B747-400 within a further ten minutes. My jacket was taken and I was offered a drink almost immediately. Newspapers and magazines were available in a rack by the entrance of the cabin, and before take-off, sleep suits were given out along with bottles of water and amenity kits containing socks, eyeshades, earplugs, toothbrushes and a three tubes of Ultraceuticals moisturisers. (Razors and shaving foam were available on request.)
Menus hanging on the back of the seat in front were to be completed so breakfast could be ready for you when you woke up. (You can also opt to skip breakfast if you expect to still be sleeping.) There was a good selection of hot and cold items. I opted for a smoothie, juice and toast with Vegemite, and the menus were collected before take-off.
The plane pushed back a few minutes late at 2312 and was airborne at 2326. About 30 minutes after take-off dinner and drinks were served. The meal consisted of a salad followed by a choice of sea bass, chicken or snacks such as a beef and cheddar toasted baguette or minestrone soup. For dessert there was cheese, torte or fruit. Drinks were served at the same time, and as Qantas have been regular winners of Business Traveller’s Cellars in the Sky Awards, I broke my usual no-drinking rule and tucked in to a very nice Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are hungry at any stage of the flight there are biscuits, chocolates, cheese, fruit and made-to-order baguettes and sandwiches.
The in-flight entertainment system is impressive, offering hundreds of options including ten games, more than 60 films, 200 TV programmes and 150 CDs. The system is either controlled by the handset or directly on the 10.4-inch touchscreen with good-quality audio from the noise-cancelling headphones. There is also the option to send or receive SMS/emails for US$1.90 each or make calls for US$5 per minute. The seat has 110-volt power for laptops, but if you are from the UK, you need an adaptor for the socket.
After dinner I went to bed. The Skybed seat is lie-flat style and measures 152.4cm in length. While not a completely flat bed, the seat has been well designed and has many good features. These include storage for shoes under the seat in front, magazine storage built into the frame behind the passenger’s shoulders, a water-bottle holder, a reading light, a small glove box, A4 folio storage shared between the seats, a cocktail table and storage for the headphones.
The seat back, leg and footrests are all adjustable and there is also a massage facility. When sleeping, privacy is aided by a small privacy screen, and the seat shell which does not move when reclined. As the seat goes back, the armrest drops providing good space for the shoulders. A thick, soft blanket and a large pillow are provided to make you feel more comfortable. Service in the cabin was attentive and I woke about two hours before landing. Within about ten minutes I had been served my pre-ordered breakfast.
In my mind, the best seats are to be found on the upper deck, so your first choice should be a seat here. The upper deck is fitted in a 2-2 configuration while the lower deck is 2-3-2. If you can get it, I would choose row 16 as this is by the emergency exit and has much more legroom. If you go for a window seat in this row you also get the added advantage of the privacy of a window but with direct access from the front – so choose 16A or 16K for a window seat with all the benefits of an aisle.
ARRIVAL It was a straight approach to London Heathrow and we landed about 20 minutes early at 0505. After a short taxi, we arrived at the gate and were swiftly off the plane. Immigration was quick, as was the baggage, and I had a record exit from the airport just 40 minutes after landing.
VERDICT A very good service, as was the food and IFE. The seat was good but not the best (or the worst) on the route. A new fully-flat bed product is being introduced by Qantas soon.
PRICE 42-day advanced-purchase tickets for travel departing the UK with Qantas between September 1 and December 9 start from £2,890 including taxes.