Route: Sydney to Bangkok
Flight: QF1. As with most airlines, flight numbers 1 and 2 are generally reserved for the flagship routes, however in the second half of 2011 Qantas announced that the traditional Qantas Flagship routes, QF1 and 2 will move from via Bangkok to via Singapore before continuing to London. Thus this will be the last chance for me to report on the current QF1 route to Bangkok before it is renamed QF 31/32 in March 2012.
Terminal: As a Platinum Frequent Flyer I tried out the Qantas First Lounge at Sydney International and was pleasantly surprised. This flight review is quite detailed and long so I’ll post a First lounge review separately.
Departure: The boarding call was made on schedule and without much ado we took the escalators down past the living wall of the First Lounge and the short walk to gate 10 where boarding was already well underway. The layout of the gate is very well set up, with designated First/Business/Premium Economy boarding lanes and a pair of economy boarding lanes. Unfortunately despite the good layout, the execution of boarding was somewhat poor with staff rushing all passengers with the mindset of a motor registry office queue, snatching boarding passes, quickly scanning them and then corralling everyone into the aerobridge line.
The lane to the aerobridge had a rail separating premium cabins from economy, however as only one aerobridge was in use it was rather ineffective as both lines were full, making the rushing to scan the boarding passes rather pointless. Once on board the aircraft there were two crewmembers greeting all passengers at the door and advising which aisle each passenger should use. The staff asked if I knew where the stairs to the upper deck were and welcomed me on board in a noticeably more polite way than the boarding passes were scanned.
Once upstairs and settled we were advised that we would be delayed as we waited for some passengers to connect from Brisbane. Shortly afterwards the pilot announced that he had been told that the passengers were somewhere in the terminal and that staff were trying to locate them as their bags had arrived, and that it would be quicker to wait for the passengers than try and find and offload their bags (probably predicting that some people on board would be suggesting to leave without them).
During the delay the pre departure drinks were served as well as a packet of mixed nuts. I chose the champagne which although was nice, after having Bollinger in the lounge it wasn’t the best bubbles I’ve ever had #firstworldproblems. Departure was, according to FlightTrack only delayed by 15 minutes with a 6:20pm push back.
The captain again apologised for the delay and advised that due to our gate location it was only a short taxi to the runway and that he would try and make up some time during the flight. He also introduced the crew and advised who would be flying which sections of the flight, which for the flight enthusiast was interesting. After my recent flights on China Southern, I must admit it was somewhat comforting to have the captain speak to the cabin and be able to understand the announcements.
Taking off to the south off 16R we made a short turn to the right then climbed out to sea before circling around and heading towards Port Headland, Denpasar (Bali) over the top of Ho Chi Min City and then into Bangkok, at least that’s the plan for tonight.
Seat: 13A. Ironically the last time I was on the upper deck of a 747 I was also in 13A, so am pretty comfortable in this ‘unlucky’ numbered seat. Arriving at the seat there is a blanket, pillow and pair of noise cancelling headsets waiting for me and plenty of storage options for my carry on items. The best feature of the window seats on the upper deck is the storage boxes under the window that are a great place to store your blanket, pilot, headset and amenity bag while not in use. The overhead lockers are a little small, but given the 2-2 configuration, and all the extra storage in the side boxes, they do the job.
There is no floor storage in any of the Mk1 Skybed seats, but with the side storage and overhead bins you shouldn’t need it (especially if you follow the carry on rules). The magazine rack is in the seat of the chair, which an iPad easily fits into for easy use and there is a wallet/phone/camera compartment at seat level in the centre console. Thus there is room for all the gadgets any travel blogger needs.
The seat itself is the Mk1 Qantas Skybed, an angled flat bed that seat guru measures in at 60” long and 21.5” wide. The first time I flew on one of these seats I thought they were a little hard, but the seat has grown on me and when compared to some other seats around, it’s not too bad. The angled seat in sleep mode is, as any frequent flyer forum will tell you, annoying when you try and sleep as your pants inevitably stay still as you slide down the seat causing some rather uncomfortable clothing positioning. A trick that the passenger next to me shared to avoid this is to use the side storage boxes as a footrest when the bed is in its flat position. Even though your feet end up a little higher than you (so still not fully flat) it is a great solution to the pants riding up a little high dilemma.
Not that having people behind you matters in business class, but the exit row and crew exit seats are behind this seat so there is no chance of unexpected bumping of the back of the seat during flight.
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400 RR (VH-OJM). What has been the mainstay of the Qantas International Long Haul fleet, the non ER 747-400’s days are numbered as the fleet are gradually replaced with new Airbus A380’s. Thus, like being on QF1 it was good to get to fly on the 747 before things change forever. Entering the upstairs cabin I was pleasantly surprised as to the overall feel, cleanliness and maintenance levels of the aircraft, as it didn’t feel like the 20 year old aircraft that it is. Of course in that 20 years she’s had a few makeovers but the cabin felt fresh and comfortable despite the Mk1 Skybeds.
From nose to tail this configuration has 14 fully flat First seats, 52 Mk1 Skybed Business Seats, 32 Premium Economy Seats (similar to domestic business class) and 255 Economy class seats in the back. The upper deck is definitely the place to be in Business class with the smaller private cabin and 2-2 seating of only 24 seats unlike the shorter 2-3-2 with its dreaded middle business seat, 28 seat cabin downstairs.
Just behind the main business cabin at the bottom of the stairs to the upper deck there is a self service snack bar with chocolates, fruit, wine beers and soft drinks for business class passengers. Even without any seating available, this turned out to be a great place to just relax and chat to people on the flight and helped pass the time. Also its nice to just grab a little snack and drink while you chat.
The temperature is kept at a comfortable level when compared to some Asian carriers, however the personal air vent is available should you want an extra breeze. However unlike the newer A380, I did notice that the air felt dryer on the 747 compared to the A380 and even the A330 series aircraft.
IFE: Each business class seat is fitted with a 21cm seatback IFE screen controlled by either the touch screen (if you can reach it) or by a handset in the centre armrest. Unfortunately the Rockwell Collins IFE system that runs on the 747’s (with the exception of those with MK2 Skybeds which have the Panasonic system) is somewhat unreliable. Although prior to take off the cabin crew advised that the IFE was now active and ready for our entertainment, the system failed to load any content.
When we notified the crew they initially tried resetting our pair of seats, which we advised would take about 20minutes. After our reset failed an announcement was made that the full aircraft needed to be reset which would take 25-30 minutes and would work faster if no one pushed any buttons during this period. I thought to myself what is the likelihood that the 353 passengers on board could all go 25 minutes without someone pushing a button. Despite repeated attempts it was about 1.5 hours into the flight before the IFE was functional.
Once the system was working I was somewhat disappointed at the navigation and menu layout when compared to the Panasonic IFE on the A380’s and A330’s in the fleet. Although it appears that there are many movie choices, many titles are repeated for each language that they are shown in (e.g. If it is in English, Spanish and French, the movie appears 3 times, clogging up the menu). Additionally TV shows are in sets of 3 or 4 episodes so you can only choose the program you want to watch and not the actual episode which is frustrating if you want to mix up your TV viewing.
The variety of music was also a let down with very little new music available and very little that suited my taste. The worst part of the music is that you cant browse other albums while listening to another album as it just exits the song and returns to the background music. In comparison to having no IFE, or IFE only in another language the IFE does the job but it is leaps and bounds behind the newer Panasonic Qantas IFE. Overall the IFE was disappointing and I reverted to watching come fly with me episodes on my iPad (even though they were available on the IFE) as the picture and sound quality were better and much easier to navigate.
Meal: Menu’s were distributed throughout the cabin prior to take off however the meal and beverage service took a reasonable amount of time to commence with about 40 minutes passing after take off before the pre dinner drinks orders were taken. Drink orders were taken from the front of the cabin to the rear before being served in the same order.
The menu for the Sydney to Asia flights were as follows:
Roasted Tomato Soup with Thyme Croutons
Chinese Style Roasted Duck Salad with Pickled Cabbage
Potato Gnocchi with Braised Italian Vegetables, Petso and Parmesan Cheese
Pan Fried Blue Eye with Spiced Eggplant, Gai Lan and Ginger Glaze
Chicken Kapi Kapitan with Fragrant Rice, Fried Eschalots and Snake Beans
Rangers Valley Grain Fed Skirt Steak with Potato and Leek Gratin, Asparagus and Red Wine Sauce
Seasonal Cheese hand-selected by Calendar Cheese Company served with accompaniments
Nice Cream Strawberry and Mascarpone Ice Cream with Berry Compote
Sliced Fresh Fruit
Once dinner orders were taken the crew directed us to pull the tray table from the armrest and passed a white cloth for which we could set the table with. The entrée was served on a tray with a glass of water and a small green salad with a vinaigrette dressing. A selection of fresh bread or rolls was also offered shortly after the entrée was served. As I’m not a fan of soup in general and whenever I eat on planes we always seem to hit turbulence for which soup isn’t a good option I choose the Chinese Style Roasted Duck Salad as my entrée. The duck was delicious and I would highly recommend it as an entrée selection should you have the option.
Wine was offered during the meal but I opted for another glass of champagne as it began to grow on me. For main I chose the steak, which was also chosen by my seat neighbour. Although the side accompaniments were nice, the steak itself was tough and the sauce didn’t seem to reheat well. Overall the steak was disappointing although after some post flight research I’m yet to find too many satisfied steak eaters at altitude; perhaps it’s just something that doesn’t fly well.
Although there are several dessert options listed, unlike many other carriers do not get confused by thinking you can have more than one of the selections or mix and match them. I’m not sure if this is Qantas catering policy or if the crew just didn’t feel like bringing more items out, but when I asked for a small serve of ice cream with some fruit on the side I was instructed that I needed to select one item from the desert list. I then asked if they had any left over fruit could I have that to which I was told they would have to check downstairs.
When my ice cream was served I was told that there was no fruit available. The Ice Cream was nice, but nothing sensational (although I wouldn’t really describe ice cream as a sensational desert anyway). A box of chocolates was passed around the cabin but I declined. The serving of the meal, and service overall during the meal was extremely disappointing which affected the overall satisfaction with all the courses.
There was also a refreshment option available prior to landing but as people were sleeping (myself included briefly) this wasn’t announced or offered widely and seemed to be an “on request” only sevice. For information the options were:
Lamb, Pea and Mint Pot Pie
Roast Capsicum, Confit Onion and Feta Tart with Green Leaf Salad.
Arrival: We ended up landing about 13 mins late into Bangkok after some circle work around the airport due to some congestion on the ground. The crew announced the gate at which the flight would be departing for London from and advised that passengers were welcome to leave their belongings on board if they didn’t want to take them through security screening again, although the aircraft would be cleaned so don’t leave valuables.
On arrival the premium immigration cards came in handy resulting in no queuing for passport control and we beat the bags to the carousel. In a first, my bag, appropriately tagged “first” was literally the first bag to come off the carousel however my colleagues bag took a little longer which took the edge off my victory of winning the baggage game.
Crew: In many of my trip reports I find that regardless of the quality of the hard product, the effort that went into preparing the menu or quality of the food, if the crew are not interested, on their game, in the mood for service or just plain rude, the entire flight experience is negatively affected. Again this flight lived up to what many online forum’s seem to agree on, that Qantas International Business cabin crew can be the weak link in their overall product and image. I will however add a disclaimer to this statement, as for this flight it only applies to the crew working the upper deck cabin.
These comments are probably going to sound a little elitist, however when you are travelling in a premium cabin, you pay for and expect a premium service to that of economy, which, despite what some crew seem to believe, extends beyond the “bigger seat” and to the way you are treated and served. So when meals come around the crew should help people get the tray table in and out when they are looking confused and don’t just stare at them impatiently, put the table cloth on it themselves instead of getting the passenger to do it and when the meal tray comes, place it on the table and not hand it to the passenger. How many top restaurants ask you to set the table and then pass you your dinner plate? Why should this happen for a premium Rockpool designed menu the air?
The upper deck’s crew’s complete disinterest in the service aspect was highlighted when a few hours after the meal I pressed the call button, wanting to order one of the inflight snacks available which I remembered to be a toasted ham and cheese sandwich. The call went unattended for about 5 or so minutes so I pressed it again. I then waited the full length of a modern family episode before pushing it again, again to no response. Giving up I thought I’d go to the galley myself and see if the crew were there, which I found reading a magazine. I decided not to disturb them further and proceeded downstairs and helped myself to some chocolates and a drink at the self service bar.
I began chatting to one of the crew downstairs who was friendly, bubbly and enthusiastic. After a few minutes of chatting I asked if they still did the sandwiches to which she said they did and that I should have just buzzed and she would have brought me one, although she said she hadn’t seen me in the cabin so asked where I was sitting. I told her the story about trying to order upstairs and she quickly apologised and prepared my sandwich. I ate it chatting in the galley and ended up spending most of the flight talking to the various crew downstairs from First and Business class. If it weren’t for the friendliness of the staff downstairs and in especially the First crew, this review would be a lot worse.
Overall: I’ll end the review by saying that the hard product complete with its not fully flat bed and the less than perfect IFE did the job and was at a business class standard and competes well against other airlines flying internationally out of Australia. I’ve spoken a lot about the crew upstairs to which I have only 1 final comment: it costs nothing to be friendly or even smile, we all have our bad days, but when you keep allowing them to affect the way you work, all the good hard product in the world wont make up for it. You can thank your colleagues downstairs for repairing some of your damage, but you do leave a lasting impression in the 23 other passengers on the upper deck who didn’t walk downstairs and meet your colleagues.