Words by James Gregory Wilkinson
Qantas’ A380 First Class is the airline’s finest cabin and when you’re off on Qantas Flight 11 to Los Angeles, you’re on one of the two flagship routes.
The airline has spent a number of years perfecting the service, food, entertainment, lounges and wines to ensure passengers are getting what they paid for – which is an exceptional experience from door to door.
Few airlines offer what Qantas does, which is an international restaurant degustation experience in the sky before resting your head in a bed that’s better than what’s found at many of the world’s leading hotels.
- Route: Sydney to Los Angeles
- Aircraft: Airbus A380-800
- Class: First
- Seat Number: 2F (aisle)
- Duration: 13 hours, 40 minutes
- Baggage Allowance: 3 pieces up to 32kg per bag
Qantas has a dedicated First Class check-in area at Sydney International Airport. When you’re booked in First, this is where the experience truly begins (well after your chauffeured drive from home or a hotel of course). When you arrive you’ll be greeted at the car by a First Host and porter to carry your luggage. Then it is off to the check-in desk, after which you’ll be escorted through immigration and security and into the lounge where your pre-booked spa treatment and reserved dining table await.
When you are booked in First Class, many airlines drop the ball when it comes to check-in, but it’s this experience at Sydney Airport that gives Qantas a real edge when flying from Australia. Qantas has notoriously had very high service levels at the airline’s home port, but for First Class passengers they go above and beyond to ensure your journey is akin to a six-star hotel experience.
The flagship lounge for Qantas, the International First Lounge in Sydney, is nothing short of exceptional. There’s a restaurant operated by Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group – expect several signature dishes including favourites like the steak frites and salt and pepper squid alongside wines served on-board in First Class. This includes Vasse Felix Cabernet Sauvignon, Coldstream Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Perrier-Jouet and Taittinger bruts alongside the GH Mumm Rose.
There’s also a day spa, which is open from 8am to 6pm daily. There are several treatments available along with private suites, meeting rooms and comfortable furniture created by renowned international designer Marc Newson. There are views of the main runway, Qantas’ departure gates (where flagship A380s await departure) and across to the skyscrapers of the Sydney CBD.
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Qantas’ A380 First Class Suites designed by Marc Newson are spacious, comfortable and a significant step up from the Skybed seats in Business. Each of the private suites have a wide screen LCD video monitor, a unique touch screen control unit and a seat (manufactured by B/E Aerospace’s VIP jet group) that swivels and reclines into a comfortable armchair.
For those in the window seats (score one if you can), you’ll also find electronically controlled dual layer window shades. The suite also comes complete with a leather guest seat and a large dining table designed to accommodate two. This is ideal for one of the on-board degustation dinners matched with wines.
When it’s time for sleep, the seat reclines into a fully-flat 212-centimetre-long bed that’s akin to a luxury hotel experience thanks to the oversized cotton pillows, sheepskin mattress, cotton duvet, wool blanket and fitted cotton sateen sheeting.
You’ll hop into bed wearing 100% cotton First Class Sleeper Suits (that come with a pair of slippers and First class socks) and after having put on your SKII facial cleanser (as part of the signature amenity kits that also include a shaving kit for men or a compact mirror for women).
Since the introduction of Qantas’ A380s, the entertainment onboard (across all cabins, in fact) has been industry-leading, thanks to offerings such as the Oscar Classics movie section and latest TV shows from HBO.
In the First Class Suites, it’s ramped up even further thanks to the 17-inch touch screen TVs and noise-cancelling headsets, which are idea for watching films being screened in-flight. There are more than 1000 entertainment options on-board spanning movies, TV programs, CDs, interactive games and radio channels. If you want to watch from your own iPad or laptop, there’s a 110v AC power outlet to keep you charged up.
You can have a spacious, high-tech seat, great wine and top food from noted chefs, but the real flying experience comes down to excellent service. In Qantas First Class, you are getting the best of the airline’s highly-trained crew. From being greeted at the door when you board to having a glass of your preferred champagne waiting on a tray for you (expect three choices from the world’s top champagne houses) and refresher towel, staff are polite, prompt and efficient.
During the flight, you won’t be woken if you’re sleeping, nor will they intrude on you while you're awake. It’s a thin line when it comes to First Class service between too much service and not enough, but on this A380 flight to Los Angeles, it was impeccable.
If you’d like a newspaper, snack, a Pinot Noir or even an extra pillow, it’s simply a question of asking and the staff will happily oblige. Remember, the Qantas A380 First Class cabin is only 14 seats and with several crew on duty, you’ll have a response within seconds of pressing the call bell.
Food and Beverage
This is where Qantas truly excels – there’s an on-board menu that features food as good, if not better, than what you can find at the Rockpool restaurants. The airline embraces Perry’s paddock to plate approach.
Expect some of Australia’s top producers on the menu, including Cape Grim Beef, Maggie Beer jams and Pepe Saya butter. You’ll find canapés, soups and salads, small plates (including pumpkin empanada, salmon tataki and steak sandwiches) as well as larger meals, including duck leg, sea bass or lasagne. My flight also included a terrific warm caramel apple tart and vanilla cream.
As an added exciting bonus, Qantas offers an 8-course Rockpool tasting menu on-board in First, which highlights the best of the menu and updated seasonally. This will give you a real restaurant-style degustation experience complete with matching wines.
Speaking of, the flight starts with a glass of champagne. Not just any champagne but one of three of the finest drops in the world, which have recently included 2000 Taittinger Compt de Champagne blanc de blanc, 2000 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill and2004 Veuve Cliquot La Grand Dame. That’s just to start and when it comes to table wines. Expect the likes of a Tyrrells Vat 1 Hunter Semillon, or a Clonakilla Shiraz Voignier. These are two of Australia’s best wines.
When it comes to breakfast, there's fruit, cereal and selections from the bakery along with a hot meal choice. This includes items such as free range scrambled eggs on toast with smoked ocean trout, a fontina and herb omelette with mushrooms, baby spinach and tomato chutney or French toast with roast pears, maple and vanilla cream.
From Qantas’ First Hosts to the Rockpool degustation in-flight and the chauffer drive to the hotel in Los Angeles at the end of the journey, what the airline offers is a luxurious experience matched with great Australian service, design, produce and wine.
While many airlines have great seats and entertainment, few have been able to emulate what Qantas has achieved with First Class when it comes to food, wine and service, because it is impeccable.
Qantas recently teamed up with Rockpool for the in-flight beverage service for lounges and in the air, so expect more top Australian boutique producers onboard and word has it, soon some classic cocktails like Old Fashioneds and Negronis. Watch this space.
*Disclosure: The writer was a guest of Qantas.