CHECK-IN I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 4 at 2010, about two hours before my flight. I found the Qantas desk in Zone D, with one specific desk for premium economy and only two people in the queue. I was through security quickly and airside within 20 minutes of arriving at the airport.
BOARDING At about 2120, I noticed the board change to “go to gate”, so I slowly made my way to Gate 5. Boarding had already started when I arrived and I got on the plane immediately via the premium lane – this being one of the perks of being in premium economy class. As I entered the cabin, my initial impression was of a modern version of the old cradle-style business seats. My jacket was taken from me, and as I sat down I was offered water, juice or a glass of champagne followed by a hot towel. On the seat was an amenity kit with socks and an eye mask (but no earplugs) in a pouch with a long strap.
THE SEAT Premium economy is a new class for Qantas. The seats, designed by Marc Newson and manufactured by Recaro, were designed for the A380 but with the delay to its introduction have appeared on the B747 first. On the 747-400, the seats are fitted in a 2-4-2 configuration (2-3-2 on the upper deck of the A380) over four rows, and I was sitting in 35G (an aisle seat in the middle bank of four). The seat is 19.5 inches wide with a pitch of 38-42 inches and a recline of nine inches. It’s easy to operate, with just two buttons – one for the back and one for the footrest.
It’s hard to pick the best seat in the cabin as they are all very similar. I would tend to keep away from the front row (34) as it is nearest the galley and really has no more legroom than the others. The main difference in terms of legroom is placement of the IFE boxes under the seat. There was plenty of space under my seat in G, but B and J have more room between the seat uprights and the boxes, so I would choose rows 35, 36 or 37 in seat B or J, unless, of course, you want a window. (The boxes are not supposed to be a problem on the A380 as the IFE is wireless.)
THE FLIGHT The aircraft pushed back and was airborne just before 2230. Shortly after take-off, the cabin service supervisor introduced himself to all passengers in premium economy, explained about the flight and handed out immigration forms. The cabin has two dedicated members of staff for the 32 passengers.
Once airborne, the crew offered a selection of English and Australian newspapers, followed by dinner. This consisted of a green leaf salad with mangetout and olives, followed by chicken in a ham and mushroom sauce with rice or roast pork, and cheesecake for dessert. (All were served on crockery and were very tasty.) You can also request a snack such as a baguette, fruit, cheese, biscuits or chocolate at any time during the flight. (When the A380 starts flying these items will be available in a fridge so passengers can help themselves.)
The IFE had a few problems and needed to be restarted a couple of times. It’s an impressive system 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 8.4-inch touchscreen. The noise-cancelling headphones provided made listening a pleasure. There is also the option to send or receive SMS/emails at a cost of US$1.90 each and make calls at US$5 per minute. The seat has 110v AC power outlets for laptops but if you are from the UK you will need an adaptor for the socket.
After dinner I went to sleep, aided by a large cotton-covered pillow and generous sheet-backed blanket. I was impressed by how far the seat reclined compared with other similar products, and by nice touches such as the integral footrest, double-width armrest and large headrest, which can be adjusted in height and has two large wings to stop your head from falling to either side. While I was a little too tall to make use of the footrest, there was plenty of space under the seat in front to stretch out, and I probably had one of the best night’s sleep ever in a non-business class seat.
About one and a half hours before landing, breakfast was served. There was a choice of continental (fruit platter and muesli) or hot (cheese omelette, with rosti potatoes and tomatoes), both served with a mini fruit loaf.
ARRIVAL The plane touched down at 0539, 16 minutes ahead of schedule, and was at the gate about eight minutes later. Luggage retrieval was swift and I was out of the airport within 40 minutes of touching down.
VERDICT A superb product and excellent service – the closest thing to business class you will get without paying a business class price.
PRICE Premium economy return fares from London to Singapore, departing the UK between August 16 and November 30, start from £1,613 for bookings made at least 21 days in advance.