Review: Dallas to Sydney in Qantas First

Qantas introduced the world’s largest passenger plane on the world’s longest non-stop scheduled passenger flight by distance on September 29, 2014. QF7/QF8 was previously operated by a Boeing 747-400 aircraft, which needed to stop en route from Dallas to Sydney as it lacked the range to fly the route in that direction non-stop on the return QF8 leg.

The Airbus A380 is the only plane currently operated by Qantas which offers first class. This product, introduced in 2008, is the flagship of Qantas’ in-flight offering – which makes the service we experienced on this flight all the more concerning.

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Lounge facilities

At DFW, Qantas use a third party lounge, ‘The Club’ (not to be confused with Virgin Australia’s domestic competitor to Qantas’ exclusive Chairmans Lounge).

Also available is the American Airlines Admirals Club, which can be accessed by oneworld Sapphire/Emerald members and business/first class passengers, as well as Qantas Club members.

American no longer offer its Flagship first class lounge at DFW (although the space is still there in Terminal A behind the elevators you come out of when entering the lounge, should Qantas passengers have a bit of time to kill and want to ride the Skylink over there).

While the Terminal D Admirals Club is marginally better than ‘The Club’, our recommendation at DFW Terminal D is the AMEX Centurion lounge. This lounge is free to access for holders of The Platinum Card ® (a specific American Express product) or Centurion®. However, for the rest access can be purchased for US$50.

Boarding

Boarding was punctual at 1925 for a 2010 departure. Upon arrival at the plane we were shown to our seat and offered a glass of champagne.

We then waited 20 minutes for this glass of champagne to arrive. This unfortunately set the tone for the flight. Even though the flight attendant was very apologetic, this is not the service we expect whilst flying in business, let alone first, class.

When eventually a glass of 2004 Veuve Clicquot La Grand Dame did arrive, it came with an unrequested canapé. This was no mean feat to eat. Grissini are poor vehicles for something like Moroccan eggplant in a bowl, however the single piece of artichoke was very pleasing. The champagne was also excellent – light and fruity with a pleasing aftertaste.

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Of note is that Qantas offer three different champagnes in first class, but only two each of still red and white varietals. Not to say that different a selection of champagne isn’t appreciated, but we would ordinarily expect a greater variety of wines. On similar length flights, Qatar Airways offer at least 6 different wines in business class.

The seat itself is, as far as we’re aware, unique to Qantas. This we feel is a wise move on the part of other airlines.

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The seat is not a fully enclosed suite like Qantas’ partner Emirates and so does not offer quite the same amount of privacy. Seated in 1K, we could very easily look back into the aisle to see the passengers seated in the middle row.

Incidentally, we would not recommend 1K to prospective passengers given the position of the toilet which makes the seat feel smaller to the rest in the cabin – even if it’s purely a perception issue. The overhead compartment is also thinner at row one due to allow for the position of the toilet.

The IFE screen is standard for what most airlines are offering in modern business class cabins today. Installed on board is Qantas’ standard ‘Select On-Q’ system, which has a very comprehensive selection of entertainment. We had no trouble enjoying a viewing of the classic James Bond film, Goldeneye, though the actual quality of the video (definition) was a little questionable.

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This touchscreen screen next to the seat is where every aspect of the seat can be controlled, along with the obligatory light and call attendant buttons. Displaying the time on it by default is an interesting choice, as sometimes on these ultra-long haul routes it’s nice to not know exactly how long is left to go.

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The seat controls however are extremely comprehensive. There are some preset seat options, which we would recommend as it can take quite some time to get the seat into a comfortable position when you are adjusting every little aspect individually.

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The ‘flight info’ screen here is also very detailed.

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The placement of the USB port and power socket in first class leaves us bewildered. It is in an exceptionally inconvenient location. In order to leave a phone charging whilst sleeping, only the safety card compartment is available to place it in. Similarly, when wanting to charge a laptop on the side table, the power cable ends up strewn across the floor (or your legs if you had the seat reclined).

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Two storage compartments are available to the right side of the suite. The upper compartment contains a set of headphones, whilst the lower one provides ample space for any personal items needed available at your seat.

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We decided to eat shortly after take off, but it seems that Qantas hasn’t factored this option into their service on this flight. In fact, the most disappointing part of this flight was the meal options. The menu was the same as for business class, albeit with an insert for the first class wine list. We were underwhelmed with the variety.

The menu read as follows:

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Having flown practically all of Qantas’ partners and competitors in first class, we feel it is important to highlight how far behind Qantas is when it comes to first class catering.

By way of comparison, take a look at two pages from the first class menu on Qantas’ partner Emirates for a New York (JFK) – Dubai (DXB) service.

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By our count there are five main course options available on Emirates, anytime during the flight. Qantas are bucking the trend and not offering anytime dining in first class. Qatar Airways already offer it in business class, as do Virgin Australia on longhaul flights in business class.

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Our table was laid. Then left empty for 30 minutes.

Admittedly we did not order any soup or salad, but surely it would make more sense to lay the table at some point closer to serving our first dish.

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We decided on a meal of Qantas’ signature steak sandwich, followed by a confit duck leg.

The steak sandwich is something Qantas generally do very well. The steak was well cooked and not too chewy or dry and the chilli and tomato relish was excellent. Our only comment on this dish is the severely charred section of the bread in the bottom left which did make part of it a little tricky to eat.

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The Clonakilla O’Riada Shiraz 2012 is not a wine we had sampled before and despite being served a little colder than we would generally expect, it had a full bodied, slightly spicy flavour which was very palatable.

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The duck confit was excellent. Warm, moist and full of flavour, the sweet pears complimented the flavour of the celeriac well. The thyme jus rounded off the meal perfectly.

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For dessert we had ice-cream. A far cry from the ice-cream sundaes served on airlines such as American or United, this offering from Qantas was rock hard and simple. We had to wait at least five minutes for the ice cream to soften enough that we could eat it.

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Where Qantas first class really stands out is the bedding. The mattress is thick and comfortable. After dinner, we managed at least 11 hours uninterrupted sleep on this flight, which is no mean feat.

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We do note that the seat is very noisy when it is moving between positions. The seat has a very irritating swivel, up to about 5-10 degrees, except when the seat is fully upright or fully reclined, when it locks in place. On this flight while we were trying to enjoy Pierce Brosnan’s best James Bond performance we hit some turbulence and felt like we were on a dance floor doing The Twist.

After an excellent sleep, we went for a wander to stretch our legs and look at how the difficult space in the front of the upper deck was being used.

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Upstairs is a small lounge area, in front of the business class cabin. Throughout several Qantas A380 flights we have never seen a single person utilising this lounge area. Contrast that with the bars available on Emirates and Qatar Airways which are popular places to hang out during the flight.

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Also next to the lounge is the office for the Cabin Services Manager.

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Breakfast was served an hour before landing

Breakfast was a mediocre affair, although the sausage was better than expected and the eggs were well cooked. Qantas have an excellent range of tea on board their flights, much like most of their competitors in this class.

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The cabin, with 14 seats, was full on this flight. With only two cabin crew attending to the whole cabin it’s possible that some of the shortfalls experienced earlier in the flight were due to the large ratio of passengers to available crew.

However given that first class on Qantas always seems to be full, this is really something the airline should look at. As it is, the service was underwhelming.

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It is clear that Qantas have the capability to provide one of the best first class experiences in the air. On previous journeys with Qantas in first class, we have been impressed with the in-flight offering. We regard the Qantas First lounges at Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles as among the best in their class.

It fees like some of the cutbacks made of late have been to the detriment of the in-flight service. For Qantas to have a competitive first class offering, we feel it needs to bring up the standard of its in-flight catering and service.

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