Trip Report: Premium Economy on Qantas

I’ve been meaning to post this here for a while now, and finally getting around to it. Most of my FlyerTalk posts are dumb questions so it’s about time I made a proper contribution—hopefully of some value for anyone considering a similar itinerary. This is my second trip to Australia but my first on Qantas; here’s how it went down:

Dates Flown: August 2nd, 9th & 14th, 2014
Full Itinerary: YYZ-JFK-LAX-MEL-BNE-LAX-JFK-YYZ

My Travel Habits:

My SO and I are falling into a pattern where we travel at least twice a year; every winter we fly Cathay Pacific to visit family in Hong Kong, and every summer I endeavour to keep my Marco Polo status with a long-haul flight on a oneworld partner airline. Last winter we tried Premium Economy on CX for the first time and loved it. I got curious to see how the equivalent product on Qantas would compare, but more than anything else I’ve wanted to fly an Airbus A380 for the longest time. So when the “Walkabout” sale showed up on the the airline’s Canadian site last spring we decided to book.

YYZ-JFK on AA3618

I was fairly pleased with myself for coming up with this little travel hack. Qantas tried their best to route us from YYZ to LAX on an American Airlines flight in Economy Class, but there was no way we were going to pay for PEY tickets and suffer through a transcontinental flight in Y. So our itinerary began with a short hop to JFK on this Embraer something-or-other:

AA3618 to JFK

It was a pretty dreadful experience, to be honest—both there and back. At least we got points for it…

BA Galleries Club Lounge at JFK

I guess we’ve been spoiled by Cathay’s amazing lounges in Hong Kong. It didn’t help that we had more than three hours to kill before our first flight on Qantas proper, even after switching Terminals and going through security, again. Suffice to say, we didn’t think much of this lounge. BA passengers here at least get a free supper in a separate room; meanwhile, my girlfriend gets snapped at for asking about food.

I managed to find a more helpful employee who brought us some hot noodles and bottled water. Maybe we were at fault for expecting too much—lounges in North America seem to be all about the free booze, and we don’t usually partake.

JFK-LAX on QF108

QF108 to LAX

Finally, the moment had arrived… After leaving the lounge we turned a corner and saw this. The setting sun behind the plane almost made it seem not real, like some gigantic painted mural. But the crowds around the gate reminded us that it was.

I don’t know if it was the Premium Economy Tickets or my oneworld Emerald status, but whatever the case we got to board the plane pretty quickly. The PEY cabin was fairly empty for our next hop to LAX. Achievement unlocked!

Qantas Business Class Lounge at LAX

We had about an hour and a half layover at LAX; I wanted to use the lounge to brush my teeth and wash my face. We might as well have stayed in the terminal. There were at least three Qantas flights leaving at around the same time—one to Sidney, one to Brisbane and ours to Melbourne. “Bedlam” is the only word I can think of to describe the Qantas lounge; if people weren’t fighting for seats they were certainly defending them with vigour.

Fortunately, the improvements made to the Tom Bradley Terminal are significant. I hadn’t passed through there since 2007, and it’s a lot more spacious now. So why is the lounge so relatively tiny?

LAX-MEL on QF94

QF94 to MEL

And finally, the main event… We sat in 39J&K, just behind the wing on the upper deck on the side of the plane you’re looking at above. About my only complaint with the A380 may be more to do with the flight path; there was a lot of turbulence in the early part of the flight (between LA and Hawaii, if I remember correctly) and this big bird buffeted us about more than I would have expected. But the cabin was quiet and our section alone had twice as many washrooms as the 747 we took before it. As an added bonus, each one had one of those air-blasting nozzles like you’d find in the ceiling panel above your seat. Perfect for, er… extended stays.

On to some thoughts regarding Qantas’ PEY product… TL;DR  We’ve clearly been spoiled by Cathay.

Qantas Premium Economy Seatback

So here’s what was directly in front of me for some fifteen hours. That carbon fibre look is cool and all, but I think the way Cathay does their PEY seatbacks is a lot more practical. Here’s a photo taken by someone else for the sake of comparison:

CX PEY Seatback

Note the extremely useful storage tray for personal items like your phone, and the close proximity of the USB charging port on the right side of the IFE screen. The placement of the screen, I think, is better too. I much prefer keeping my head up and eyes straight while watching a movie over looking down at a screen that pops out of the armrest, as it does in Qantas PEY. This for the very simple reason that after looking down at an IFE screen for more than an hour my nose in the dry cabin at altitude invariably starts running—A380 or not.

One thing the swing-out IFE screen seemed good for was to provide a brace against the passenger in front of me reclining their seat—or so I thought…

Qantas PEY Dins

Shorty after this photo was taken the water in those two cups ended up all over my tray… Good thing I didn’t have wine! I think the entrée was some kind of lamb stew, but I can’t honestly remember. I had already enjoyed a hot dinner on my previous flight so I really just picked at it. My girlfriend was already asleep by this, the first meal service of the flight.

Qantas PEY Snack

When she woke up a few hours later we had a pizza and hot dog delivered to our seat. They were amazing.

Speaking of service, the FAs working our cabin were… how can I put this delicately… Older? I only bring it up because their counterparts on CX seem younger and more willing to hustle. I wonder if this has something to do with seniority and/or their union, as I’ve made similar observations flying Air Canada in the past—it’s the older FAs who work the premium cabins on long-haul flights. At any rate the Qantas crew was friendly and helpful enough, but more often and not there was a perceivable twitch of panic when we asked them something. It got to be a bit unsettling.

Landing at MEL

It took us a full two and a half hours to get from touchdown at MEL to curbside for a SkyBus into town. First we had to wait on the tarmac for another A380 to clear our gate. Then, after disembarking we had to join a queue for immigration that seemed to back right up to our plane. I flew into Sydney in 2002 and don’t remember that being anywhere near as bad as this. It’s certainly no fault of Qantas, though, and in one way I can kind of understand it—Melbourne is an awesome city!

Departing MEL and The Qantas Club

After a fantastic five days in Melbourne we were a bit concerned about getting through the airport to our flight onwards to Brisbane. And sure enough, when we got there the departure level was packed. Fortunately we found a Qantas employee who got us in the short line through security.

The Qantas Club lounge was fairly busy but very spacious. The barista there was doing a brisk business whipping up gourmet coffees; by this time both my girlfriend and I had become fans of the flat white, so we added two more to our tally. And to think she wanted to eat at Hungry Jack’s…

MEL-BNE on QF620

QF620 to BNE

Not too much to say about this non-PEY leg of our journey, except that it was nice to get a hot meal, even if it was only a meat pie. Such perks have long disappeared from economy fares on domestic and trans-continental flights with North American carriers.

Qantas Business Lounge at BNE

Five days later our summer vacation was pretty much over, and it was time to board another 747 back to LAX. I would have liked very much to have been on an A380 one more time, but what can you do?

Once we check in at Brisbane’s much quieter airport we headed for the Qantas Business Lounge, which was of course packed. The Terminal itself was much quieter, so we went for one more walkabout on Australian soil.

BNE-LAX on QF15

QF15 to LAX

It was a nice day to be flying.

Qantas PEY Legroom

Here’s one more look at Premium Economy on Qantas. I will say that there’s no shortage of legroom, and the seat is plenty wide, even for a big guy like me. But I do prefer Cathay’s PEY product. In fact, the next time we visit Australia (or New Zealand) we’ll probably fly CX through Hong Kong from Toronto. The flight time is longer but when last I checked it was about the same price—and as an added bonus you get to spend a day in Hong Kong!

There’s not much else to say about our flight onwards to JFK or that final, excruciating hop back to YYZ. But since you made it this far here’s a photo of a Koala I took at the Lone Pine Sanctuary in Brisbane:

Koala