Qantas A380 review: London to Australia
Let’s start with a little bit of trivia. Did you know that the third busiest air route in the world is between Sydney and Melbourne? About 7.8 million passengers fly between the two cities every year. (The two busiest are Seoul – Jeju with about 10.5 million passengers and Tokyo – Fukuoka with about 8.3 million.)
A large share of the Sydney to Melbourne route is on Qantas, Australia’s national airline, and that keeps the company busy. But, of course, Qantas is also famous for its long haul routes – something that’s inevitable when it’s based in one of the most geographically isolated countries.
Until recently, Qantas flew the longest flight in the world between Sydney and Dallas/Fort Worth at 16 hours and 55 minutes. The airline’s flight between Melbourne and London Heathrow, as another example, takes about 23 hours of flying (although it has a stop in Dubai).
Today I want to write about these ultra long haul flights – particularly between London and Australia – because it’s a really interesting travel situation. Passengers are obviously taking these trips because they want to get from one place to another. But when you’re in the air for that long, the experience on the plane is much more important than a short domestic hop between cities. So airlines like Qantas have to give much more thought to comfort and amenities.
I flew on Qantas for my recent road trip in Australia between Melbourne and Sydney. The first thing I should point out for anyone considering something like this, is that Qantas offers ‘open jaw’ flights which allow you to fly into one city and then out of the other. So, if want to visit Australia and do a road trip, you don’t have to backtrack to catch your return flight. Fly from London to Melbourne and then out from Sydney back to London. That’s pretty much what I did.
But let’s look at the actual flight between London and Melbourne or Sydney. Qantas uses A380s for all of these flights, which stop in Dubai for about 2 hours. This is for operational reasons (refuelling, etc) but it is also really nice as a passenger to be able to get out and stretch your legs for a while. If you’re flying in business or first class, you can also use the showers at the Emirates lounge in Dubai – and this is something I always do (and feel so much better for it!).
I flew on business class, which makes the long trip much more manageable. I’ll tell you a little bit about that – but I also want to give you a broader picture of what’s going on. And that’s why I’ve also spoken to one of the bosses at Qantas to get some inside information.
Phil Capps is the Head of Customer Product and Service Development and he’s in charge of the whole passenger experience from the moment you arrive at the airport until you walk out with your bag at the other end. He thinks that all Qantas passengers are looking for something in particular when they fly:
“Choice and control is something that everyone needs,” he tells me.
“I think that the experience of flying itself is one where, as humans, we feel like we’re losing a bit of control. There are a lot of things happening that we don’t experience every day, even if we’re frequent travellers. So we look for ways we can return choice back to customers – whether it’s ‘I want to eat in the lounge or onboard, I’d like to go to sleep now, I’d like to change my seat from an aisle to a window’. Any time we can do that we’re putting choice back in the hands of customers.”
In business class on the A380 between London and Melbourne, you get a seat that can be converted into a fully flat bed when you need to sleep. Before the flight, you can go online and choose where you want to sit in the cabin – there are 64 business class seats. I think the seats are really comfortable and it’s easy to sleep. My only issue is that the configuration is 2-2-2, which means you’ll always be sitting next to someone and can’t be guaranteed direct aisle access. (For comparison, the A380 on Emirates, which has a partnership with Qantas, has a configuration of 1-2-1.)
I have flown economy on the Qantas A380 as well and the size of the plane means it actually feels quite roomy. It can sometimes be hard to sleep in the seats if the flight is full but it’s more comfortable than many other airlines. As Phil Capps explains, that’s one of the things Qantas has worked on.
“What we do pride ourselves on is maximising our seat width on the aircraft to try to provide as much lateral separation as we can,” he says.
“We know that a sense of space is one of lateral separation – across the aircraft – so introducing things like wings on our seats or generous pillows that give a bit of visual separation as well.”
Now, obviously there are differences between the classes on an A380. When I get to go to the upper deck, I sing a little song in my head. But I find it interesting that Qantas is actually trying to make them more similar.
“Each class stands on its own and has a very defined product experience,” Phil Capps explains.
“But where you don’t need that differentiation, we’re removing that and offering more to our customers who are travelling in economy or premium economy than we would have ever before.”
The entertainment offering is pretty much the same, even though the screen size and position might be a bit different. And even the meals are getting closer to each other.
“Last year,” Phil tells me, “we completed the roll out of the new economy service where we removed trays from our long haul international product which meant we could increase the meal size by about 50 per cent from where it was before, giving more of a table setting experience than a traditional plastic enclosed economy meal experience.”
I’m really impressed with the food in business class. It’s all been designed by famous Australian chef, Neil Perry, and the emphasis is on healthy but tasty meals. There’s a good choice for each course and a selection of wines to match them.
“We’re loading increasing levels of raw and fresh ingredients on the aircraft and the crew will actually be preparing them on board,” Phil Capps says.
“So, for example, we blanch our greens in our premium cabins to make sure that when they get in front of you on a plate they look fresh and vibrant, they don’t look flat and brown.”
I fly regularly between Australia and London and I’ve experienced quite a few airlines. Qantas is usually not the cheapest (often Malaysia Airlines is). I don’t think it’s the most luxurious (Qatar Airways or Emirates probably is). And it’s probably not even the trendiest (I think Cathay Pacific is). But Qantas has quite a few advantages – the total flight durations are short, the planes are large and comfortable… and there’s the staff.
One of the biggest things that Qantas prides itself on is the friendliness of the crew onboard. I notice it every time I fly with Qantas and this trip is no different. They come and introduce themselves, they’re always willing to chat if you’re bored, and there’s a casual (but professional) attitude to everything they do. Even when one of the crew admits to me she doesn’t know where the glasses are and it’ll be an extra minute until she brings me a drink, I love the sincerity and instantly feel like I’m in Australia.
When you’re in the air for almost 24 hours, you want the whole experience to be pleasant. That’s not simply a matter of comfortable seats or fresh food. Feeling like you’re with friendly people who enjoy looking after you, that’s what I enjoy the most.