Qantas Business Class A330 Review - Perth to Sydney
Over the last 10 years I have made many flights from Perth to Sydney using Qantas’ Business Class, my favourite trips being in either the venerable 747-300, which was like stepping back in time to an earlier more glamorous period of air travel, to the occasional but brilliant 747-400 with an international configuration with lie-flat beds and international service.
Now up until the beginning of 2017 Qantas’ A330-200 offered a quality business class experience, however unless you were lucky enough to find an A330-300 with lie-flat beds you were left wondering why it was that Virgin Australia had a lie-flat business seat but Qantas did not. This all changed when Qantas introduced the Vantage XL seat. The introduction to the Perth Sydney route would have been late 2016 early 2017, as when I first experienced the seat back in January this year the cabin still had a new car smell about it and everything was very shiny and scuff free.
At Perth Airport – Terminal 4
Qantas has really raised its game as far as the whole domestic business class experience goes; something that I noticed last week (June 2017) when travelling from Perth to Sydney with my family. The first new improvement I noticed was that there is now a dedicated Qantas staff member asking all passengers entering the Business Class check-in line whether they are travelling Business or if they are a Platinum, Gold or Qantas Club member. In all my years travelling with Qantas I have never seen this active screening process before, and in its favour, I must say the line was running extremely smoothly. Also, a first for me on this trip was that the check in staff very kindly offered to help carry my oversized luggage to the oversized luggage drop off point; this was a level of service that I have never experienced on a domestic flight from any airline before and by which I was extremely impressed by.
As I said, I was travelling with my family, which currently consists of my wife and 18-month-old daughter; as such navigating security can be a protracted process as the stroller, diaper bag, computer bag, miscellaneous bags, shoes, belts, phones, etc. are all fed in multiple red trays onto the conveyer belt of the X-ray machine and then all have to be repacked on the other side. This process was made far easier by there being a designated line for premium passengers which meant that there were far less people to apologize to whilst juggling all our baby wrangling paraphernalia.
Once through security, we headed to the Business Class lounge; this is a relatively new addition to Perth airport as previously business class passengers used the Qantas Club lounge. The new Business Class lounge is located on the main concourse next to gate 14. We were warmly greeted by the Qantas reception staff and headed in. The first thing you notice about the lounge when compared to the Perth Qantas Club is that it is significantly smaller and less open plan, with even an occasional partition. I like this as while it is still bright and inviting it has a quieter more relaxed feel. There was also plenty of seating when we got there which probably has to do with the fact that it is less accessible. As you walk down the entrance corridor the first nice feature you come to is a tablet on a stand which you can use to place an order with the barista even before you get to the bar. Something else which is a striking difference to the Qantas Club and which was a new addition to even the last time I was there was the selection of all day hot pizza - now this was pizza oven cooked pizza with a proper base, not your typical microwaved lounge pizza; there were two options: a peperoni and buffalo mozzarella, and a chicken with artichoke. I have to say they were some of the best hot food I have ever eaten in a business lounge, very much proving the point that food does not have to be fancy to be great. As always, the wines were very good, I enjoyed a cabernet sauvignon which went very well with a chocolate brownie or two.
When it was time to head to the gate the fact that there is a dedicated boarding line for premium passengers makes boarding a pleasure as by the time our flight was called we walked straight on. This is a feature from their international service which has slowly been introduced and has now more or less become a standard policy on larger aircraft and it makes a big difference to the flying experience.
On the plane – the NEW seat!
As always, the crew were very welcoming and we were directed to our seats. The biggest difference you notice about the new business class cabin is the 1-2-1 seat configuration and the size of the Vantage XL seat. There is a real sense of space and even when sitting next to someone in the middle there is a distinct sense of privacy, well that was until my daughter poked her head around the divide searching for Peppa Pig. And the fact that now every seat has direct access to an aisle means you no longer have to be disturbed or disturb other passengers when you need to get up is great.
The new seats are a very pleasant place in which to find yourself with their use of stylish natural colours: black leather, silver trim and beech; you can really feel the quality of the materials used. The seat is bathed in a warm light which reflects off the faux beech wood divider, armrest and foot well. For those who would like to read, there is also a whiter focusable reading light. What I really liked was the sense of space provided by the large surface area of the armrest and availability of storage spaces, especially the storage bin at feet level, perfect for tucking shoes away. There is also a very handy storage compartment just above arm height that shapes to the contour of the seat divider that is great for phones and travel documents. The divider culminates at the seat with a USB charging hub, 240v mains power supply and headphone socket. I would also like to give a big tick of approval to the dining / work table, it retracts horizontally into the main armrest and is released by pushing a button. The table is a good size; is curved to your body shape and is very stable - it made dining and working a pleasure.
The width of the seat is a generous 24 inches and there are a multitude of adjustable seat options, including an unusually good lumber support. To achieve the bed setting the seat extends forward practically to floor level to meet up with a leather padded foot stool tucked into the foot well at the back of the seat in front. This worked well as when in bed mode the armrest facing out into the aisle is high enough over your head that is gives you privacy, shade and protection against being bumped by people walking around the cabin.
The seat also comes with a thick duvet and good sized pillow so sleeping in the new seats is very comfortable. One new feature which the seats have which I have never come across before is that the traditional lap belt has been augmented with the addition of a sash belt for take-off and landing. However, during flight the sash strap can be unclipped and it retracts out of the way. It is quite a strange feeling having a three-point restraint on a plane for the first time ever.
When you first sit down your eye is drawn to the generous sized entertainment screen which is accessible from the moment you get on to the time you disembark, de-plane for American readers. It is touch screen as well as being controllable through the remote found in the armrest. Also, hanging in easy reach are a good quality pair of headphones, which make a big difference to the entertainment experience. I used to travel with a pair of Bose Q15 noise cancelling headphones but the Qantas supplied ones are now good enough that I no longer bring them as they take up space.
There was a good selection of new release movies, with at least a dozen to choose from, as well as an impressive range of TV shows broken down into comedy, lifestyle, documentaries, drama, sport, HBO and Foxtel. As an aside, I am still trying to adjust to the new Top Gear presenters and can only watch so much of the first season at a sitting, though Matt LeBlanc has been a very pleasant surprise. There was a great range of music, either accessible as radio stations or artist specific albums in a selection of musical genres. For the Kids there was a great range of programs and games, unsurprisingly my daughter opted for Peppa Pig. A feature I thought was great is that when you want to exit the Kids menu you have to answer two questions to establish that you are probably not a child; the first one is you are given a selection of departure and arrival cities and you have to choose the correct ones for the flight you are on and the second question was what was your seat number. My fellow passengers probably wondered why I kept leaning out into the aisle to look at the side of my seat (that is where the seat number is).
The selection of drinks was as always excellent; I stuck with a chardonnay until my main course but I saw that the Shaw & Smith sauvignon blanc was a hit throughout the cabin. The meal was very good being one of the Neil Perry inspired ones I went with a smoked trout salad as a starter, lamb cutlets with a selection of greens for the main, the burnt fig Maggi Beer ice cream and a selection of cheeses to finish with. It was interesting to see on the menu that you could order the cheese plate at any time throughout the flight.
After dinner, the lights are dimmed and everyone works, sleeps or watches movies until an hour out when the lights are turned back on and the cabin is prepared for landing.
At the other end
We were travelling with a suit carrier which had been hung up when we boarded and which was returned in good time just before we disembarked. Which reminds me that due to the reduced number of seats in the cabin you pretty much have an overhead storage bin to yourself; this is brilliant, as some carry-on luggage really pushes the permitted size to the very last millimetre and can be quite bulky, especially when you have a few people trying to use one storage bin. The crew made sure that we exited first before opening the curtain so we had a good head start to the baggage carousel. When we got to the carousel the bags were just beginning to come out and ours were amongst the first, so the business class bag stickers were working well. I have mixed feelings about the Qantas Q tags as the previous time I travelled on the same flight the bags without Q tags came out much faster than the bags with Q tags; I am not sure how the Q tag identifies as business or economy on the day. This time I removed all the Q tags and it worked seamlessly.
All in all, I cannot fault the Qantas Business Class experience, their service has always been first rate but if anything, it has become even better with time and now with the Vantage XL seat flying between Perth and Sydney has never been a more enjoyable experience. However, word to the wise the A330-200 service only runs throughout the week, and on the weekends the route is handled by 737-800s, which do not have the lie flat seats, so if your itinerary allows I would strongly suggest a weekday flight.
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