Monday, 9 July 2012

The Business End 2: MEL-SIN on Qantas

The Business End is an occasional (sadly too occasional) series in which I review airlines’ offerings in classes above Economy… on this occasion, Qantas Airways’ Business Class in its huge Airbus A380 aircraft.

I was on my way from Melbourne to London on trusty QF9 (a flight I’ve been on many times before), but was only in Business Class as far as Singapore so that’s the journey I’ll focus on here.

The lounge


Business Class travel starts, of course, with the lounge. Qantas’ international business lounge in Melbourne had recently had a makeover and was very impressive visually.

As you can see from the pic above, this “island” area to one side had a spacy look, lots of modern whites and browns with multiple spherical white lampshades. For some reason this put me in mind of the Pan Am spacecraft to the Moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

At this long table there’s a dish of the day served; on the day I was there it was a bratwurst sausage with creamy mashed potato and braised cabbage, accompanied by a Coonawarra cabernet sauvignon wine. 

Quite apt for a journey which would start me on my path to Central Europe, but by the time I discovered this dish I’d been enjoying the general buffet and was no longer hungry.

There were plenty of low comfortable chairs in the main area of the lounge. I would've liked more high tables by power points, but a long table at one end had plenty of points and this was a good place to plug in the iPad and work.

The buffet was fine, a nice mix of quality meats, salads and a hot dish (in this case curry). I particularly liked the hommus. 

Staff also walked around periodically offering alarmingly coloured cocktails, chips, ice cream and so on. There was no way any passengers were going to starve here.

On board


As expected, the biggest bonus of Business Class (upstairs in the A380) was space. The seats were wider than economy, and there was enough room for me and my seatmate to put our elbows onto our shared armrest, even with a divider slid up to shoulder height for semi-privacy.

A flight attendant offered to hang my jacket in a nearby closet, but I’m always slightly paranoid about losing things if they get separated so I declined. Curiously, the bins above my seat were quite small and shallow, but the nearby bins above the central seats were the usual proportions.

My seat, 24K (seen above), had a little less space than other seats as it was located at an area where the hull curved in to accommodate the exit door; so although I had the same elbow room, it seemed more closed in.

Configurations


The seat itself was an electronic marvel, with a set of controls which moved various elements into various configurations, right down to the point of becoming a completely flat bed.

Once we were up in the air, I decided to put my feet up to watch a movie, keeping the seat back up but extending the base out to recliner position. 

I couldn't get it to extend quite long enough for my legs; there's a flip-over panel at the end of the extension which should accommodate feet, but was a bit too short. It turned out that this section would flip over straight when extended as part of the bed.

Entertainment setup was great: a good-sized screen slid up automatically from within the armrest, It was a comfy seating arrangement and I could I imagine watching lots of films all the way through to Europe, interspersed with sleep.

Entertainment & dining

Headphones were sturdy and comfortable, though I could still hear some flight noise with them on. There was a good selection of Australian films - I've always thought this was a clever point of difference for Qantas - in addition to Hollywood's latest.

It was about this point I discovered the massage setting. So while watching Any Questions for Ben (better than its reviews suggested) I was being steadily and methodically massaged by little electronic fingers moving up and down my back. This, I could get used to.


Dinner involved a white cloth over the tray table, an excellent prosciutto entree equal of a restaurant (seen above) and a good main, though my salmon was perhaps a little drier than the ideal.

For dessert, in retro style the crew came through with what amounted to a dessert trolley, serving whatever was preferred from the selection. I went for the seasonal cheeses and a glass of port, a good fit for the Sherlock Holmes movie I’d moved on to.

(And though I didn’t notice this on the way out, on the way back from the UK a few weeks later I spotted a small lounge area at the front of the plane where one could sit, stretch out and watch telly. Here's a pic of it, below.)


The bed

Not usually one to sleep on flights in the middle of the day, I nonetheless reclined the seat toward its bed configuration, with the head still slightly raised, and had a go at reading a spot of PG Wodehouse.

It was relatively firm, but the relaxed angle still sent me a fair way towards sleep and so I reclined it a bit more and had a short nap (Six weeks later, on the way back from London, I got to try out the flat bed on the long London-Singapore leg, and managed a longer and satisfactory sleep).

The flexibility with the chair's configuration means I could keep adjusting it for comfort and variety the whole trip, very welcome on a longish flight; as was having a measure of privacy in my own little area against the hull.

The verdict

Qantas Business Class to Singapore was a very pleasant experience, with good facilities and quality service from the lounge and onboard staff. As I was coming straight from a stressful week at work, it presented an enjoyable way to have a bit of restful downtime from the Internet and work commitments, with a decent measure of comfort.

If money is no object I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this class of travel on Qantas’ A380 aircraft. If you have a budget to stick to but with some flexibility, Premium Economy would also be worthy of consideration; I flew in that class on the return leg from Singapore to Melbourne a few weeks later and it was also comfortable. Minus the ability to lie flat, however.

Disclosure time… On this journey Qantas Airways upgraded me to Business Class for review purposes. For other reviews of Business Class travel, click on The Business End link in the Topics section below, then scroll down.