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Qantas was the first airline to develop a business class cabin, and since that time have regularly upgraded their business class product.

The new Skybed concept sees Qantas joining a small number of other airlines that offer sleeper bed type seats not just in first class but also in business class.

 
 
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Qantas Airways Business Class review

The inventor of business class continues to improve their already excellent product

The new Qantas Skybed seat makes an already excellent airline experience even better.

Part 1 of a two part review of Qantas Business Class - click for Parts  One  Two

See also the Qantas Joke. :)

 

 

Qantas understands long haul flying better than perhaps any other airline.  With the exception of 'short' three hour flights to New Zealand, its entire international network involves lengthy travel times.

Accordingly every aspect of their service is designed to make long flights as comfortable and convenient as possible.

I test out a 3 hour, 11 hour and a 14 hour flight to see how successful Qantas is.


Flying Qantas in general

Qantas is a rare example of an airline that does everything right.  It operates nearly new planes that are maintained to a fanatical standard - both in terms of visible onboard cabin cleanliness and amenities, and in terms of the less visible mechanical and safety components.

This underscores the famous claim made in the Rainman movie that Qantas has never had an accident involving passenger fatalities.  Although this 'legend' is slightly contradicted by the facts, that is hardly surprising when you consider Qantas is the world's second oldest airline, and for much of its early life in the 1920s and 1930s was involved in pioneering flying in outback Australia.

Even the most nervous of fliers will feel an immediate sensation of comfort and reassurance upon boarding a Qantas plane, being greeted by the generally helpful and friendly cabin crew, and sensing the competence in everything Qantas does.

Qantas is a member of the oneWorld alliance, with major airline partners including British Airways and American Airlines.

The following review draws from the dozens of flights I've enjoyed on Qantas over several decades, happily including many in both first and business class, but focuses specifically on three business class flights in July and August 2005, traveling Los Angeles to Sydney, Sydney to Auckland and then Auckland back to Los Angeles.

Checking in from Seattle

My journey started in Seattle, flying to Los Angeles on a separate ticket with Alaska Airlines.  To my delight, Alaska was not only able to check my baggage all the way through to Auckland but they could even issue the Qantas boarding passes.

There was no need to re-checkin for the Qantas flight at allm but I chose to do so because I wanted a Qantas lounge invitation for the stopover in Los Angeles (one thing AS couldn't arrange from Seattle).

Probably this was unnecessary, and I expect if I'd simply turned up at their lounge with the Alaska issued boarding pass, I'd have been welcomed in.  On the other hand, I was subsequently told by the Qantas checkin people in Los Angeles that the Alaska issued boarding passes don't work in the Qantas boarding pass readers at the gates, so they reissued the boarding passes onto official Qantas cards.  Needless to say, this detracts from the value of Alaska issuing boarding passes.

Departing and arriving in Los Angeles

Like many other airlines flying in and out of LAX, Qantas has moved a lot of its international flights out of the Bradley International Terminal.  Qantas now operates most of its services from Terminal 4, sharing facilities with its code-share and oneWorld partner, American Airlines.

As has usually been the case when checking in for any Qantas flight, the check-in lines were very short, the counter staff friendly and helpful, and there was no wait at all for Business Class check-in.

Upon arriving back into Los Angeles, the experience of going through Immigration and Customs and getting one's bags at T4 was vastly preferable to the often terribly congested mess that prevails in the International Terminal.  There was no delay waiting for Immigration, bags arrived on the carousel very quickly (due to being tagged as business class priority bags) and there was no delay in going through Customs either.  A very quick and pleasant experience.

Lounge

The combined AA Admiral's Club and Qantas lounge in Terminal 4 is very much nicer than the smaller facilities Qantas shares in the International Terminal.  The Terminal 4 lounge is spacious and well served with plenty of comfortable seating and amenities.

There was only a minor amount of cold 'finger food' on offer.  As for drinks, because Admiral Club members must buy their drinks, QF passengers are given two free drink coupons when checking into the lounge, with a sometimes extended offer of more if needed.  (Note to Australian/NZ readers :  The barmen expect tips, even with free drink coupons....)

In terms of food and drink, the lounge is not as good as the Virgin Atlantic Airways Clubhouses.

T-mobile Wi-Fi was promoted at the lounge front desk.  Although some airline lounges provide free access to Wi-Fi service, this was not the case here and if you wanted to access the Wi-Fi, you need to pay the full T-mobile rates.

Departing Los Angeles

Some lounges don't make announcements about flight departures at all.  Others make announcements at almost the last minute, the reasoning being that premium cabin fliers would prefer to spend as much time as possible in the lounge and as little time as needed in the plane.

The T4 AA/QF lounge follows a third strategy, calling passengers for their flights as part of the early boarding call, meaning first and business class passengers arrive at the gate at the height of the general boarding confusion with up to 400 other passengers all pushing and shoving to get on the plane as soon as possible.

This was particularly unnecessary because the T4 lounge is inside the secure part of the airport and close to the gate.  A much better strategy would be to call lounge passengers late to the flight rather than early.

Fortunately a separate boarding line for business and first class passengers made getting through the line reasonably easy, but then you had to take your turn slowly moving down the jetway with everyone else.

Sydney lounge

As you'd expect, Qantas has an absolutely enormous lounge in its home city of Sydney.  It also has a separate lounge for first class passengers, and still more facilities becoming successively more private and difficult to find for ultra-elite VIPs.

The business class lounge facilities were comprehensive and comfortable.  The first class lounge is slightly nicer still, and (alas!) I've never qualified for the ultra-elite lounges.

On this occasion I was there at breakfast time, and a good range of fresh fruits, breakfast breads, cereals and juices were on offer.  And if you wanted to partake of an early morning harder beverage, they too were freely available in self-serve abundance.

Surprisingly, there did not appear to be any available Wi-Fi service in the lounge.

Auckland check-in and lounge

The long arm of the TSA reaches as far as Auckland.  I arrived early for my flight back to Los Angeles and was told I couldn't check in yet because I had to wait until the extra security people started their shift and checked my luggage.

These 'rentacops' were very pleasant, and did a hand search through the bags I wished to check while I waited and watched.  It was a laughable travesty of a check - for example a large heavy and previously opened box (containing three bottles of whisky) was ignored entirely.  As far as they knew, anything could have been inside.

Qantas have a very nice private checkin area for its premium cabin passengers.  You are welcomed into a private room, making your experience right from the arrival into the airport feel special.  They also have their own Customs/Immigration official to pre-clear your departure, making everything quick and painless.

I was pleased to see Qantas could check me and my bags all the way to Seattle, even though my flight from Los Angeles to Seattle was on a separate e-ticket, flying Alaska Airlines.  Not only could they issue the AS boarding pass, but by checking my bags all the way through I avoided having to pay the penalty fee my overweight (60lb) bag would otherwise have been charged by Alaska in Los Angeles (the Qantas international weight allowance is greater than the Alaska domestic allowance).

The Qantas lounge in Auckland is not nearly as grand as its Sydney or Los Angeles counterparts.  But it is still very pleasant, and they were serving a nice salad selection for lunch when I arrived, complete with some reasonable Cream of Asparagus soup, and had an open 'help yourself' bar.  I enjoyed a nice NZ microbrew beer.

None of the general seating had power alongside, but there was a small separate business center.  This quickly filled with businessmen.  Some of the little work carrels had computers in them, others just had power and phone and data lines, a few had power and no phone lines, and then there were a couple with a phone line but no power (confused, yet?).

I went into a carrel with a phone and data line so I could call out using my laptop.  Alas, the chair was broken.  The replacement chair was also broken, but a third chair was satisfactory, although Qantas had taken the castors off all their chairs, making them somewhat uncomfortable and awkward to move around in.

The next problem was no dial tone on the data line in the work carrel.  My Plan B had me taking the phone wire out of the phone and using that line instead.  There was something strange with the phone line - I could dial out, but my modem wouldn't synch up with the ISP's modem.

So, determined road warrior that I am, I went into one of the carrels with a provided computer, and pulled the data cable out of that and plugged it directly into my laptop.  Success! At last, with a very fast (and free!) data line, I worked happily for the balance of my time in the lounge.

The lounge issued a curious boarding announcement, telling passengers the flight to Los Angeles was ready for boarding, and ended the announcement with 'final boarding call will be in three minutes'.  This motivated me to move quickly to the gate, only to find they were still in the middle stages of general boarding with mass confusion everywhere and no priority line for premium class passengers.  And rather than 3 minutes, final boarding seemed to finish 30 minutes later.

Welcome Aboard!

Friendly cabin crew welcome each passenger by name onto the plane, and help them find their way to their seat.  Once arriving into the oasis of calm that is the upper deck business class cabin (I generally prefer the upper deck because you're not bothered by through-traffic), one is quickly made to feel comfortable; a crew member hangs up one's jacket and subsequently offers a drink.

The plane pushed back ten minutes late from Los Angeles due to delays loading the cargo, but I wasn't at all worried.  It managed to make up the lost time during the almost 14 hour flight and arrived slightly early in to Sydney at the other end.  Almost without exception, all Qantas flights give you an on-time or early arrival.

One of the delightful things about a Qantas flight is you're not held a prisoner of your seat by ridiculous extended use of the 'Fasten Seat Belt' signs.

It is rumored that captains on some airlines use the Fasten Seat Belt sign as a control device to force people into their seats to make it more convenient for the flight attendants to go up and down the aisles with their carts (this happened on my Alaska flight LAX-SEA).  This is absolutely not the case with Qantas.  The seatbelt sign goes off within a minute or two of taking off, and stays off until the plane is well into its descent at the other end.

Normal chop and turbulence usually doesn't see the seatbelt light go back on, and if it ever does, it stays on for the barest minimum of time.

The Cabin

Qantas planes are invariably clean and in excellent condition, and these three flights were no exception.  There is a reassuring impression of their planes being well cared.

The upstairs cabin is always a bit problematic because the overhead bins tend to be very shallow.  The bins on the Qantas 747 were larger than on other 747s I've flown, but still much smaller than the bins downstairs, and full sized carry-ons won't fit in them, as some of my fellow passengers found out.  Fortunately there is a communal bag locker at the back of the cabin for placing oversized bags.

There are also bins alongside the window seats - again too small for full-sized carry-ons, and impractical for aisle side passengers to conveniently access.

Seating in the business class section upstairs is 2 - 2 (with a single aisle) and downstairs is 2 - 3 - 2 (with two aisles).  If you want lots of overhead space, downstairs is your better choice, but if you prefer a quieter environment with fewer people coming and going, then upstairs is much better.

The best seating upstairs is row 16, which is the exit row.  Qantas won't pre-assign this, but if you'd like the massive increase in forward space, ask for it when you get to the airport.  The only downside to this row is that occasionally passengers might stand around in the space in front of your seat - it is a more public part of the cabin than the rest of the seating.

As part of its latest cabin upgrades, Qantas has introduced a system of mood/ambient lighting.  In the evening it is colored purple, and at night it is colored blue, during the day it gets brighter and yellower.  This allegedly helps combat jet lag and makes you feel more refreshed; I found its effects too subtle to notice.

The toilets are well appointed, and even have various hand lotions and other 'smelly things'.  They remained clean all trip long, with the supply of fresh cotton handtowels never running out.

Amenities kit

Like other airlines, Qantas now hands out a branded amenities kit, and has both his and hers versions of their kits.

The kits are branded L'Occitane.  Inside my male kit were some of the usual things - toothbrush and toothpaste (Colgate), disposable razor and shaving creme (Shick), socks and eye shades (unbranded), and - hey, where's the L'Occitane stuff?  Oh, perhaps this is it?  A one third of an ounce of 'Energy Face Gel' (no, I have no idea what this is or what the energy it refers to may be) and a little stick of lip balm.

Although the kit contained energy face gel, it did not, alas, have a comb, being, I think, the first amenities kit I've ever received that lacked this vastly more useful item.

I asked for a female kit on the way back.  Strangely, Qantas' female kits have generally been better than their male kits, and this continues to be the case.  The female kits have five different 'smelly things' in them from L'Occitane and an emery board, but no razor.  It used to be that Qantas gave a wooden hairbrush in its female amenity kits, but now they don't even include a plastic comb.

Service

Perhaps Qantas' greatest strength would be its cabin staff and the in-flight service they provide.  I've enjoyed some excellent journeys with Qantas flight crews that are unquestionably the best in the world.

But, Qantas' matching weakness is the lack of quality control over its staff.  I've also had other experiences where the service failed to meet any reasonable expectation at all.

By way of partial explanation, Qantas flight crew are generally Australian, and always unionized.  The very egalitarian Australian approach to life is reinforced by their strong union, and so it is fair to observe that if a Qantas crew member likes you, they will go out of their way to do much more for you than they are required, but if they decide they don't like you, they'll do much less than normal, and their strong union makes it difficult for Qantas to discipline staff who aren't performing to expectation.

Most of the time, you can expect excellent service from Qantas staff, which makes it all the more disappointing and regrettable when you strike it unlucky and get a bad crew.  And I use the term 'crew' advisedly.  It seems the complete crew are either excellent or bad.  I've seldom experienced only one bad crew member, or only one excellent member.  They all seem to perform to the same level, be it either very good or very bad.

On these three flights I had one very good flight crew (Sydney to Auckland), one outstandingly excellent crew (Auckland to Los Angeles - thank you, Lucas, Carolyn, and Chief Flight Attendant Adrian),  and one utterly dismal experience (Los Angeles to Sydney).

On the two good flights, the cabin crew were always on hand, and gifted with an almost telepathic sense of anticipating whenever you might possibly want something.

Long night flights, on any airline, are always a temptation for the crew to slope off and get some rest, hoping that their passengers are asleep.  But on the long night flight from Auckland to Los Angeles, there was a crew member almost constantly walking through the cabin, and any time I tossed or turned so as to give the impression of being awake rather than asleep, they'd come over and ask if I'd like a cup of tea or a glass of water or anything else.  Eventually - as much to please them as me! - I said I'd take a cup of tea, whereupon they offered all sorts of choices of different teas, and seemed quite disappointed when I said I'd be happy with a simple cup of plain ordinary tea.  They ended up getting the last word, however - in addition to a nice freshly made cup of tea served in a fine china cup, they provided a couple of fancy biscuits (cookies) on a side plate too.

Another hallmark of a good flight crew is how generous they are with their employer's drinks cabinet.  It is not an unfair expectation, when you're paying many thousands of dollars more than a coach class passenger, that you should be able to have ongoing access to drinks on the flight (assuming you remain reasonably sober and sensible, of course).  Qantas crew generally are very generous with the fine range of wines, beers, spirits and liqueurs they carry, being quick to refill half empty glasses, and pouring large measures.

I often like to sample the full range of different wines on a flight - all the reds and all the whites.  I don't do this as a way to drink lots of wine, and ask for only very small measures of each wine, but more as a way to try wines I'd otherwise not come across.  The Qantas crew are usually very positive about this type of request which of course means more work and hassle for them.

Good crews also demonstrate their own personality and take the time to talk individually to each passenger.  I (and all other passengers) had several visits from the Chief Flight Attendant, first to introduce himself and thank me for flying with Qantas, then to discuss what I might need in the way of immigration paperwork, on another occasion purely for a lengthy personal chat (eg about where I live in Seattle and related matters), and finally to shake my hand and thank me for having been a passenger on the flight.

The two flight attendants managing the cabin also were always pleased to stop and chat, and acted not as dispassionate androids, but as interesting individuals, and took the time to get to understand me and any requirements or needs I might have, too.

In days gone by, the captain used to come and personally meet passengers too, but that no longer seems to happen.  Doubtless a 'security precaution'.  Sadly, another former feature of Qantas flights - the chance to go up into the cockpit - has definitely been abolished for obvious security reasons.

The exception that proves the rule - Flight from Los Angeles to Sydney

Although two of my three flights were excellent and enjoyable in almost every way, this flight was not.  It started off poorly and just got worse and worse as the journey progressed.

In theory, passengers are offered a choice of water, orange juice, or champagne when they first are seated, prior to takeoff.  But by the time I was offered a drink, it seemed only the first two choices remained on the tray and the flight attendant was too lazy to go get more champagne.  So I was only offered water or orange juice.  I asked what happened to the champagne and so the flight attendant went off to get some, but without an apology for not offering it up front.

Service was generally slow or non-existent, and it soon became obvious why.  While I hope I didn't do anything to be disliked, it was clear that I was not as popular as the two young men in their mid/late twenties who formed an instant and close friendship with the two young lady flight attendants.  They enjoyed regular drink service and lots of refills; while I had none.

Indeed, most other passengers were similarly suffering.  The only two people to be offered a pre-dinner drink were the two young men; no-one else was offered either a drink or the snack mini-portion of nuts that would normally accompany the drink.  And champagne proved elusive a second time when it was not offered with dinner.  I asked, and so they went and fetched a bottle, poured a miserly portion into the bottom of my glass, and I noticed the rest of the bottle quickly make its way to the two young men.  No topups or other drinks were offered at all.

Yes, that's right.  On a 14 hour flight, I was offered wine once, given a bottle of water, and served a juice and coffee with breakfast.  I'd have been better treated in coach class than I was in business class.

As for overnight service, I was given a warm 1 pint bottle of water at the end of the meal service, and the flight attendants then disappeared for the next nine hours, not to be seen again until they started serving breakfast.

Being given a warm plastic bottle of water is very much less satisfactory than having iced water being passed around on a regular basis by helpful friendly flight attendants.

I don't mean to obsess about drinks (whether alcoholic or not), and I drink very little alcohol on long flights anyway, but it is a clear indicator of the level of service being offered.  A good crew offering good service is always offering drinks.

Confirming my belief that a bad crew is usually bad all the way through, the Chief Flight Attendant never appeared during the flight to say hello to passengers.  I should add that neither this cabin nor business class as a whole was full - there were plenty of empty seats, so the crew should have been able to provide at least a normal level of service.

An occasional Qantas failing on their long night flights is to set the cabin temperature too high - indeed, when I used to fly Qantas regularly I got to the point of traveling with a digital temperature probe so I could argue knowledgeably with the flight crew about the cabin temperature.  These days I fear the metal probe on the instrument would be impounded by TSA as a possible weapon, so I can't back up my feelings with numbers, but I do know the cabin was uncomfortably hot all flight long on the flight down from Los Angeles.

Usually I choose to wrap myself in the blanket when sleeping, but there was no need for extra warmth, even though all I had on were light trousers and a short sleeved shirt, and I was perspiring much of the night.  Some flight crews deliberately turn the cabin temperature up, because that tends to quieten down their passengers, but in this case the temperature - for me - was beyond the point that simply quietened me down and encouraged me to sleep, and instead was at a level that prevented me from sleeping.

Perhaps it was just as well I didn't need a blanket, because I couldn't find one.  And either most of my fellow passengers were similarly hot, or also couldn't find blankets either.

In marked contrast, on the flight back the cabin temperature was perfect at all times.  And finding a blanket was easy - individually wrapped pure wool blankets were waiting on the seats upon arrival.  Qantas has lovely high quality large sized full weight blankets.

The final insult was when we landed.  Normally the flight crew holds back the coach class passengers until after all the business and first class passengers have deplaned.  It seems silly to make a fuss over getting off the plane a few minutes before other people after 14 hours on board, but it is a small perk that premium cabin passengers fairly expect.  However, the cabin crew on this flight were determinedly egalitarian - not only did they give their business class passengers a level of service that would struggle to be adequate in the coach class cabin, but they let coach class passengers leave the plane without waiting for business class passengers to get off first.

Food

Qantas uses one of Australia's most noted chefs - Neil Perry, from Sydney's multiple award winning Rockpool Restaurant as a partner in developing their in-flight cuisine.

At the end of the day, airline food is inevitably airline food, and never as good as you'd wish for in a restaurant.  But Qantas does an excellent job of making it as palatable and well presented as can ever be fairly expected or hoped for.

From Los Angeles to Sydney

On the midnight departure from Los Angeles, I didn't expect the flight to offer a substantial dinner, but nonetheless a three course 'supper' of salad, entree and desert was served.  There were four choices of entree and three desserts.  I had a glorious marinated chipotle beef filet, and lovely fresh fruit for dessert.

The menu also hinted at chocolates being offered with dessert, but this did not happen.  Just another slackness on the part of the bad flight crew.  In contrast, on the return journey not only was I offered chocolates, but the crew came back twice to see if I'd like more!

We ordered our breakfasts shortly after boarding, so as to allow the flight crew to maximize our rest time before they woke us for breakfast the next morning, about hour prior to landing.  In comparison, I was walking through the main cabin 3.5 hours prior to landing and they seemed to be giving breakfast service already.  This extra quiet time was a much appreciated benefit of business class.

Qantas persists in providing plastic knives but metal forks and spoons.  This is no longer a TSA requirement and seems at odds with common sense and quality service.  Does anyone really believe that a blunt ended metal knife is any more a serious threat to a 747 with strengthened cockpit door than is a metal fork with four sharp tines?

Breakfast suffered another typical airline food shortcoming.  Although offering toast, the reality was the bread was barely warmed up and still moist.  Making toast should be a simple affair. According to toast experts, bread needs to be heated to around 120C, the point where it goes through a chemical change known as a Maillard reaction, with the sugars and starches caramelising, giving toast its brown hue and sweet, intense flavor.

I can only put this down to laziness on the part of the flight attendants, who save time by heating bread for too short a time rather than giving the bread a full toasting.  The early Romans could make toast.  But some modern Qantas flight attendants apparently can not.

From Auckland to Los Angeles

Another wonderful dining experience awaited.  After a lovely appetizer, there were three entree choices, a chicken, fish, and meat dish.  Interestingly, the meat dish (Beef fillet with braised mushrooms and steamed vegetables) was marked as being the healthiest option.  I'd have thought the fish or chicken would have been the healthier choice.  I enjoyed a lovely salmon fillet complete with a wonderful pesto coating, sauted potatoes, chorizo, and an onion and caper relish.

Several desserts were then available to tempt us, and while I thought about the Ginger Cake, settled for a nice selection of cheeses and biscuits.

Same as the flight down, we were able to pre-select our breakfast and then enjoy most of the flight without interruption.  For my breakfast, I chose a lovely 'fry-up' with bacon, tomatoes, potato/vegetable fritters, and other yummy things.  Plenty of healthier and lighter items were also available, of course.

Summary

Qantas is justifiably rated as one of the world's very best airlines.  It is a well managed and very profitable airline with an impressive safety record and a very high, albeit occasionally uneven, standard of passenger service.

If you're wishing to fly somewhere Qantas operates, you may well choose to be like me and preferentially select Qantas over its competitors.  You'll almost certainly be pleased you did.

Read more in Part 2

In Part 2 we talk about the part of the Qantas Business Class cabin you'll be most closely associated with - their new Skybed seat.
 

Note : See also my reviews of Virgin's Upper Class and Premium Economy class and of British Airways' competing Business and Premium Economy classes.

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Originally published 12 Aug 2005, last update 19 Dec 2013

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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