The only non-stop services between the largest city in Australia and South Africa respectively is operated by Qantas as QF63 on the outbound, returning as QF64. We flew up front on one of these services, seated in Qantas’ old first class cabin.
In an era of high oil prices, Boeing 747 aircraft have been rapidly exiting the fleets of airlines around the world. Not so for Qantas, which still has an 11-strong fleet of 747 aircraft. Furthermore, two of these aircraft have not had their cabin refurbished. This means they operate with Qantas’ old first class seats in the nose and otherwise only have angle flat (as opposed to fully flat) seating in the business class cabin – although these two aircraft are expected to exit the Qantas fleet in 2016. The flights between Sydney and Johannesburg are one of the few routes to commonly receive these planes.
Given that Qantas do not sell first class services operated by its Boeing 747 fleet, the old first class seats form part of the business class cabin. We snagged one of these seats at time of booking using our oneworld Emerald status. Interestingly Qantas’ oneworld partner, British Airways have a nearly identical ‘old first’ product which they sell as business class on certain Boeing 747 routes too.
These seats are seriously showing their age. That said, they are still very comfortable for long haul flying.
While on this flight, we reflected on Qantas having at least two, sometimes three, different seating configurations within each of their mainline aircraft types, with the exception of its Airbus A380 fleet. Qantas has made drastic improvements to its fleet of late, exiting its entire Boeing 767 fleet (something its competitor across the ditch Air New Zealand could learn from) and has programs underway to refresh the cabins right across its Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 fleets.
The direct aisle access from every seat makes these old first class seats vastly preferable to the regular business class seating further back, which is Qantas’ older Skybed Mk I seating (as we reviewed on our Auckland to Perth flight earlier in the year).
Each of these old first class seats is completely lie flat and more than comfortable to sit and sleep in, though they don’t quite afford the same amount of privacy as Qantas offer on their latest flagship A380 first class product. Its worth noting that the crew that served us on this flight had been with Qantas for some time and we found that they were very professional.
We had a stunning view of Sydney during our take off.
The in-flight entertainment screen is stored in the armrest and must be stowed away during take off and landing. The content, whilst not as varied as on some of their modern fleet, has just enough variety to last out the flight, assuming you haven’t flown Qantas that same month.
Basic controls are available at the seat and easy to use, allowing the seat to be put into a fully flat bed mode with a single button push. The electric motors that drive the seat are quiet, thankfully.
Shortly after take off, the crew offered the meal service. We had already pre-ordered our meals using Qantas’ ‘Select on Q-Eat’ service. For international flights departing Australia, all passengers including those in economy class are able to pre-order meals using this service (whereas for flights to Australia, this offering is restricted to premium cabins). Qantas also offer an ‘online exclusive’ meal through this service so we tend to take a look at this where available. Qantas have a full list here of the routes where ‘Select on Q-Eat’ is available.
The ‘Rockpool inspired’ menu was quite varied and had quite a number of meal options available, more even than our Qantas first class flight from Dallas to Sydney.
A variety of premium champagne offerings is always appreciated. This is something Qantas does tend to do very well. On this flight they were offering four different champagnes: Tattinger, Charles Heidsieck, Billecart-Salmon and Duval-Leroy. We went with the Tattinger.
We had ordered the ‘Steamed duck buns with hoisin and pickled cucumbers’ as our starter. This turned out to be an excellent dish. The buns were soft and warm and the filling was well flavoured.
For our main we selected the ‘Murraylands lamb rack with roast tomato, white beans, sugar snaps, anchovy and rosemary vinaigrette’. Qantas tend to do lamb quite well and this meal was no exception. The lamb was perfectly cooked and not dry at all, which is something that commonly happens with beef when it’s prepared onboard.
On both their international and domestic services, Qantas serve the same ice cream. It tends to have some interesting flavours but is generally unremarkable.
After the meal service, the flight attendant offered to recline our seat into bed mode and fit a thin mattress cover so that we could catch some sleep on this 14 hour flight to Johannesburg.
We can certainly attest to the comfort of the seat given the amount of sleep we managed on the long flight to South Africa’s capital city. The timing of the flight is tricky though given it arrives at 5pm, so if you were to sleep the whole flight that could work against getting accustomed to the time difference.
Prior to arrival, we were offered a selection from the ‘Dinner’ menu. The ‘chicken schnitzel and Swiss cheese toasted sandwich with coleslaw’ was nothing special but hit the spot before our arrival.
The ‘chocolate and cherry torta di Verona’ was excellent and made us wonder why it wasn’t offered as a dessert with the main meal!
Qantas compete on this city pair with one-stop services offered by Virgin Australia’s partners Singapore Airlines (connecting in Singapore), connecting between Virgin and South African Airways in Perth or even going through Abu Dhabi on Etihad (an indirect route if ever we saw one). Indeed, as we reported earlier this year, Virgin Australia have extended their loyalty partnerships with South African Airways.