Travel Review – Qantas International Business Class, A330

No I didn't take this photo. Next time :)

No I didn’t take this photo. Next time 🙂

When: 15th July 2016
Where: Brisbane to Tokyo

I’ve grown up flying Qantas. When I was younger, my father took the Flying Kangaroo everywhere for work, and I’ve been a Qantas Frequent Flyer member since I was ten or twelve years old. Qantas likes to boast it is the Spirit of Australia, and it does indeed reach deep into the collective Australian psyche, to the point where there’s a strange patriotic sense of pride and joy seeing the red and white aircraft tails around the world. To be honest, even before I did some work there, I almost never considered travelling with anyone other than Qantas when looking at flights, although admittedly the lure of Qantas Points has been a hard one to pass up, although I suppose that is the point of loyalty programs. I say this now because I’m likely biased in favour of what I do consider to be Australia’s national carrier, and you should keep this in mind while reading this review.

I don’t usually fly up the pointy end of the plane. Almost never in fact, and this flight is the first I’ve taken since Qantas brought in its new business class pods with lots of space, lie flat bed chairs with massage functionality and enough power to charge both your phone and keep your laptop powered throughout the longest of flights. I’d been hoping to get there to check it out myself one day and I finally managed it—through an upgrade. Basically, I took some travel last year, did my shopping on a Qantas linked credit card where I could and saved up so that when I did take my next international trip, I could click that little button saying ‘upgrade’ and hope to get lucky.

And I got lucky.

I didn’t spend any time in the lounge, although that’s a perk that normally comes with flying business class, as I was on a connecting flight up from Melbourne. That got in with barely forty minutes to get off the plane, get a bus to the international terminal, go through international customs, and get onto the next plane to Tokyo. The first thing that I noticed was the overhead compartment space. As in, there was some. As in, there was a lot. I had an entire baggage compartment to myself. I guess when you put less travellers in a fixed area and leave the same luggage storage room, everyone gets more by default. The next thing I noticed was not having to share an armrest with anyone. The pods are laid out in a 1-2-1 configuration, so there’s one seat by the windows, and two side by side in the middle. With a divider between them and the left hand side of my ‘seat’ turning into a small shelf with a storage area and enough space to store my laptop as well as place a beverage and some nibbles, there was definitely ample room for me to stretch out without bumping into anyone else. A pair of luxurious, over-ear headphones with a leather (or at least leatherlike) finish that would, I’m sure, be a take away souvenir target of everyone sitting in the cabin were it not for the fact that each one cleverly ends in 3 prongs that will only fit into an airline seat. They’re also branded, so they’ll know if you nick one and show up on another plane wearing them.

What you are allowed to walk away with is the small amenity pack, something that has shrunk over time and indeed, dropped off the radar of most airlines, especially down the ‘economy’ end of the plane. Containing moisturising lotions, socks and an eyemask, I’d toed off my shoes, stowed them in the cubby beneath the seat in front of me (also a good place to store your pillow if you don’t want it immediately) and pulled the travel socks over my feet, and started up with the entertainment system with a 16” touch screen panel that works straight away. Qantas calls it ‘gate to gate entertainment, and aside from interruptions and pauses for the obligatory announcements and safety videos, that’s pretty much what it is.

For me though, the important thing was the ability to work. I had a draft due in about 12 hours and while I valued the fact that I had near complete privacy while I rewrote two scenes of man smut on the plane, I also really needed to be able to get enough elbow room, power and headspace to look at the nitty gritty of active and passive voicing, characterisation and keeping track of what sort of pants my characters were wearing at any given time. And I got it. I don’t think I’ve ever been more productive on a plane. The fact that I had in seat power (something I’d only really experienced on Emirates before), and space to store my laptop off to the side when the meal arrived, it was much easier to keep working through the flight. Qantas serves its business class meals in courses, after laying a small tablecloth over your pull out table. Given you only have about one dish on your table at any given time, it’s a simple matter to finish a course, place the plate off to the shelf on your right, and go right back to working before the next course arrives. Or you could watch three episodes of DC’s Heroes of Tomorrow to enjoy Rory Williams step into the role of a Time Lord. I mean Arthur Darville step into the role of a Time Master, but semantics. The food itself was superb, and using the Q-eat online ordering site you can preorder your meal, and get access to some special options that can take longer to prepare, I guess, such the the confit ocean trout, which I immediately snapped up, along with an okonomoyaki pancake. Your third course is selected in flight from a dessert trolley, and I got a cheese plate, which was perfect for working and snacking, while the very helpful crew kept topping up my drinks.

When I got too tired to go on, with about 4 hours left to go, I was able to turn my comfy seat into a bed that if it wasn’t completely flat, was close enough to it to fool my body into thinking I was in an enclosed bed capsule—the seat having already been covered with a mattress topper by quick thinking flight attendants when I got up to use the restroom. Tugging the eyemask over my eyes and putting in the complimentary earplugs blocked out the external stimuli, and tugging the red Qantas doona over me meant I was out like a light for two hours and back to writing immediately afterwards. I’ve mentioned that Qantas had moved to blankets that didn’t crackle with static electricity the moment you touch them some years back, although not on this blog, but these mini doonas were truly luxurious, and I kind of want one for my couch. Mine was warm, snug and made the most of the narrow bed that I was lucky enough to have on the flight.

I should point out that when I say ‘narrow’, I mean narrow by ground standards. The business seat was easily comfortable to relax in, and just about wide enough that I was able to sleep on my side there—probably my preferred sleeping position. If you’re a back or front sleeper, you’ll have an even easier time of things.

I’d also like to give a big shoutout to the crew, especially Manda, who kept me supplied with water, juice and snacks while I was trying to balance description and action, and Donielle, who I noticed taking the time to speak with every single passenger in the business cabin before landing, many of which she’s obviously had regular chats with before. I don’t know if I’ll ever be in a position where I’m flying enough to know cabin crew on a first name basis through air travel, but I’m certain there’s a file somewhere with notes on the really frequent passengers. Still. Something to aspire to.

Just have to write another book first.

*Matthew flew Qantas off his own back and without any incentives or special treatment from the airline.