Thursday, November 14, 2013

Australia September 2013 - Qantas Airways 94 First Class (LAX → MEL)

***This post is part 3 of a full trip report. The index can be found here***

After a leisurely stroll from Terminal 4, I arrived at Tom Bradley International Terminal and found my way to the Qantas check-in area. With more than five hours to go before departure, there was hardly anybody in line. In fact, there was no one manning the first class counters. Once they saw me, however, an agent from the business class check-in area came over to assist me.

Tom Bradley International Terminal

Qantas First check-in

Technically, I didn't need to check in again since my large backpack had been tagged all the way to MEL, and I already had my boarding pass printed out on AA stock at SFO. Still, I wanted to have a keepsake Qantas First boarding pass for posterity's sake. The agent seemed a little weirded out by that fact, and actually asked me again, "you want me to just reprint the boarding pass?" I nodded with a mixture of certitude and shame.

Security always seems to be a mess at LAX, and it took a long wait in line before I got through to airside. I noticed the departure gate for Qantas 94 was located in the brand new south wing of the International Terminal that had just opened, so I took a quick detour and headed over there to check out the space. While it didn't necessarily blow me away, I must say the design and facilities were about a million times better than the current dump.

Brand new south wing

Sadly, the new OneWorld shared lounge that will be operated by Qantas had not yet been completed, so it was back to the old lounge by taking an elevator up to the fifth floor just after security. With a quick look at my boarding pass, I was directed to the entrance on the right, which led to the first class lounge. Business class passengers entered through the doors on the left.

There really is no difference between the two besides some premium wine and spirits. In fact, the business class lounge is slightly larger and has a nice full bar at the very back. It does, however, get a lot more crowded there. The first class lounge is essentially one long and narrow hall filled with comfortable chairs and tables. In the center is the dining area with a buffet-style self-service counter, where you can find hot and cold entrees, beverages, and snacks.

OneWorld shared lounge

First class lounge

Dining area

There wasn't a huge variety of hot entrees, but there was certainly enough to tide me over before the flight. Options included a chicken stew dish, string beans, pasta, rice, and a roasted garlic soup. There were also plenty of cold dishes, including salads, dips, cheeses, and crackers. I really liked the dessert selection, which featured chocolate cake, peanut butter chocolate coconut bars, and cookies.

I didn't partake in any alcohol, but there was a good variety of top and mid-shelf liquor for self-service and more than a dozen bottles of wine. Beer, Pellegrino, ginger ale, and other beverages were also available in the small refrigerators. Service was friendly and efficient. It never took longer than a minute or two before someone came by to clear an empty plate or glass.

Cold selections and desserts

Hot entrees

Soup, bread, and fruit




There was WiFi throughout the lounge, and it worked very well when I first arrived. Although, to be clear, there were maybe only five other guests milling about when I walked in. By the time 8:30 pm rolled around, the space started to fill up quickly, and as expected, WiFi speeds slowed down considerably. There was a nice business center with a number of iMacs for passenger use as well.

Business center

I wanted to take a shower before the long flight, so I approached one of the lounge attendants, who directed me to the doors at the very end of the hall. Surprisingly, it led me into the back of the business class lounge, which I was quite familiar with. I suppose I had expected the first class lounge to have its own showers, but obviously, I was mistaken. I left my boarding pass with the shower attendant and was directed to one of the available rooms.

The space looked exactly the same as my previous experience there about a year ago. The large walk-in stall was very clean, and a pile of fresh towels was left on the counter. The Molton Brown bath products smelled nice, and I appreciated the rather minor amenities such as the hair dryer and lotion. After getting changed and feeling refreshed, I headed back into the lounge and prepared to go down to the gate.

Shower room

Boarding for Qantas 94 was called in the lounge approximately an hour before departure, and I headed downstairs for the long stroll over to Gate 134. During the ongoing construction, there is a temporary passage connecting the old terminal to the new, with clear signage for visitors. By the time I arrived at the gate, multiple boarding lines for all classes of service had already formed.

Unfortunately, it was impossible to see the aircraft from our departure area, so I walked further down the hall before finally finding a window with a good view of our Airbus A380-800. I snapped a few quick photos and returned to the gate, where I was one of the last few passengers to board.

Detour to the new terminal

Qantas 94 Airbus A380-800

Gate 134

Qantas 94
Airbus A380-800
Los Angeles (LAX) - Melbourne (MEL)
Sunday September 8, 2013
Departure: 11:30 PM (scheduled) / 11:36 PM (actual)
Arrival: 8:20 AM (scheduled) / 8:11 AM (actual)
Duration: 15h 50m (scheduled) / 15h 35m (actual)
Seat: 2A (First)

I entered the aircraft through the dedicated first class jet bridge and was welcomed on board by a friendly flight attendant and shown to my seat at 2A. Even before settling down, another gentleman came by, introduced himself as the attendant who would be taking care of me during the flight, and asked if I cared for some champagne. I was still a bit frazzled, with my belongings strewn about, but who was I to say no? :)

Qantas First suites

Qantas First cabin

After a third welcome, this time by the chief purser, I spent a few minutes taking some photos and getting my backpack stored, then finally sat down and took in my surroundings. It was a little surreal to be sitting in the Qantas First suite after nearly a year of planning, but here I was. I must say, the private pod was impeccably well-thought out, with a seat that was perfect in width and amazingly comfortable, even in the upright position.

There are a total of 14 first class suites in the Qantas A380 with a 1-1-1 configuration. The five suites on the left side of the aircraft have the most privacy since those in the middle and right side all open into the same aisle. Couples may prefer the greater ease of access and communication, however. There really are no bad seats in this cabin, although the first and last rows may experience slightly more noise due to the proximity to the galley and bathrooms.

Suite 2A

Center suites with privacy shades down

Suite 1A

Suite 2F

For takeoff and landing, the seat is put in the forward position and both the lap belt and shoulder restraints are required. However, for work, sleep, dining, and all other functions, the seat is rotated 45° to where the large tray table and ottoman are aligned. The 17-inch entertainment screen is just the right size at lounging distance and the AVOD system features a huge variety of movies, TV shows, music, documentaries, games, flight information, and just about anything else you can think of.

The suite has plenty of storage space, in addition to the massive overhead bins. There are two swing drawers that open up in the side cabinet, and both are perfect for the usual array of cameras, phones, and tablets. Just below the drawers is a small nook to store your shoes. I also used the space underneath the ottoman to place my carry-on backpack. There is even a cup holder built into the side table.

Ottoman and TV screen

Storage space

Flight attendants soon came by to hand out amenity kits, pajamas, and menus. The understated kit included a shaving set, toothbrush and toothpaste, eye mask, and some fancy skincare products for men from Japanese brand SK-II. Prior to take-off, I changed into my pajamas, which were actually quite thin, but decently comfortable, especially for sleeping. Compared to the sets I received from Cathay Pacific and Asiana, however, I would say the Qantas version definitely falls a notch lower in terms of quality.

A minute later, flight attendants passed through the cabin again, this time with warm towels and tasty canapés featuring artichoke dip with rosemary biscuits and Lugerian olives. In addition, he brought out a bottle of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2000 for me to inspect before pouring a glass. I had barely taken two sips before he came by again to refill the glass. I could tell this would be a great flight!

Amenity kit and pajamas

Amenity kit contents

Canapés and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2000

There were two remote controls, the first of which was mounted on the wall next to the seat. This one utilized an LCD touchscreen and contained all the functions for the suite, including seat position, windows and privacy shades, lighting, and massage controls. The second one was tucked away in the armrest at the edge of the table. This was a standard remote control for navigating the AVOD system.

Suite functions remote control

We pulled back from the gate a few minutes late, and soon taxied to the runway. All the while, I was enjoying the view from the tail-mounted camera on our aircraft. This is simply one of my favorite features while flying, and it still makes my palms sweat and my heart skip a beat when I see the enormous body of an A380 lifting off the ground.

Waiting for departure

Down the runway we go

After take-off with window shades down

Before take-off, my order for supper service was taken. The Qantas First menu deviated slightly from what I had been used to on other airlines. Instead of defined options of set courses perhaps differentiated by cuisine, the Qantas version actually looked like a real restaurant menu, with multiple selections for each course where you could mix and match. I liked that they even had a small plates section in case you weren't too hungry.

Supper menu


White, red, and dessert wines

Hot beverages

Alcohol and beverages

Having eaten a bit in the lounge prior to departure, I wasn't starving, but I did want to sample as much as I could from the extensive menu. I decided to order the King Prawn and Moroccan Eggplant Salad for appetizer, and the Pan Fried Black Cod with Herb and Pine Nut Salsa for the main course. For dessert, I went with the Citrus Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream and Raspberries, in addition to the selection of cheeses served with accompaniments.

When the seat belt lights were turned off, the flight attendants immediately sprang into action. Being so late already, many of the first class passengers actually chose to skip the meal and go directly to sleep, so the cabin lights were mostly dimmed. In the middle of the service, the main lights were actually completely turned off. I felt bad shining the bright dining light in my suite, but I had no choice since the alternative was to eat in the dark!

Table setting and bread

King Prawn and Moroccan Eggplant Salad

Pan Fried Cod with Herb and Pine Nut Salsa

Three Seasonal Cheeses served with Accompaniments

Citrus Layer Cake with Vanilla Cream and Raspberries

The King Prawn appetizer was delicious, but I thought the Pan Fried Cod main course was slightly underwhelming. Unfortunately, the cod was somewhat dry and probably could have used a bit more seasoning. Service during the meal was definitely slow, and I got the sense that they usually expect most passengers to go directly to sleep. I hardly saw any flight attendants checking up on the cabin, and had to press the call button every time I was ready for the next course.

In that sense, I almost felt like I was bothering the crew whenever I needed something, but I doubt that was true. Personally, I prefer a more proactive approach to first class meal services, which is typically the case on Asian airlines. Whenever the flight attendant did come around, however, he was always friendly and more than willing to accommodate my requests. Regardless, I was a happy camper after the large supper and completely satisfied.

Bottle of water after the meal

After the table was cleared, I asked for my seat to be converted into a bed, and I decided to take a quick stroll around the aircraft in the meantime. Unfortunately, the two first class bathrooms were nowhere near as luxurious as those found on other A380s, especially compared to Emirates or Lufthansa. These were actually quite standard, and no different than any bathroom in the economy cabin.

I then walked upstairs to the business class lounge, which was a rather nice space. Unfortunately, on red-eye flights, it seems like very few passengers have the energy to take advantage of it. There were two long couches, perfect for socializing, and a rack full of magazines and newspapers. Opposite the lounge was a small bar with a few snacks laid out for self-service.

I made my way through the business and premium economy cabins, though I didn't take any pictures since the lights were dimmed and most people were sleeping. At the rear of the aircraft, I descended the curved staircase and walked the length of the economy cabin until I was back at my suite. 

Upstairs to the business class lounge

Business class lounge

Bar and snacks

Downstairs via the rear staircase

By the time I came back from my stroll, the bed was made up and ready for a good night's sleep. Qantas is known to have one of the most comfortable first class beds in the sky, and I am certainly not one to disagree. The thick mattress pad and soft duvet made me forget for a moment that I was actually flying across the Pacific. After turning down all the lights and putting in my earplugs, I got a good six hours of sleep, something that almost never happens to me on an airplane.

Bed in the sky

Unfortunately, I awoke to some slight turbulence about ten hours into the flight. Rather than try to fall back to sleep, I decided to put my seat up slightly and enjoy some more TV shows on the AVOD system. While lounging around, I thought about trying the famous Qantas Signature Steak Sandwich, but I was still quite full from supper service, so I decided against that idea.

Approximately two hours before arrival, breakfast service started, and flight attendants came around taking orders from those passengers who were awake. I again went with a mix of different courses, starting with a Guava Energiser smoothie, a fresh fruit salad, and some cereal. For the main plate, I ordered the Free Range Scrambled Eggs on Toasted Brioche with Chorizo, Mushrooms, and Zucchini Fritters.

Breakfast menu

Fresh fruit salad and tea with milk

Free Range Scrambled Eggs on Toasted Brioche with Chorizo, Mushrooms, and Zucchini Fritters

Guava Energiser smoothie and cereal

Surprisingly, the flight attendant forgot both the Guava Energiser smoothie and the cereal, so I was served the main course immediately after the fresh fruit salad. Initially, I thought he was simply going to serve the reminder afterwards, but instead, he came by and asked to clear the table. At that point, I reminded him of my full order. He was extremely apologetic, and immediately went back into the galley to prepare the smoothie and cereal, both of which were delicious.

After breakfast, the table was cleared and the seat was returned to its upright position. We soon began our slow descent into MEL. One of the minor disadvantages of flying in an A380 is the fact that the windows are quite thick. There is a good couple of inches between the interior and exterior window panes, so when taking pictures, it becomes a slight challenge to focus your camera on the landscape outside instead of the specks of ice and dust in the foreground.

Cloudscape outside

I had been given a landing card, which I filled out at this time, as well as an express pass to expedite first class passengers through the immigration process. I changed the AVOD system back to the tail camera and watched as we quickly approached the outskirts of Melbourne. It was quite amazing to see the aircraft adjusting during the descent, lining up perfectly with the runway, and finally hitting the ground smoothly.

Watching our descent

Lining up with the runway

Smooth landing

Upon arrival at our gate, all the flight attendants lined up and bid us farewell through the doors at the rear of the cabin. First class passengers were allowed to deplane ahead of the others, and I quickly made it to rather empty immigration hall. The dedicated express line only had about three passengers waiting ahead of me, and in less than five minutes I was welcomed with a smile into Australia.

It took a while to retrieve my large backpack, mostly because it wasn't marked with the proper Qantas priority tags out of SFO. After customs, I exited into the arrivals hall, where I immediately noticed a row of Qantas chauffeurs holding up signs for first and business class passengers.

Only a few months ago, Qantas initiated the Chauffeur Drive service to align with its partner carrier Emirates. The private transfer is currently available on flights between gateway cities in Australia and London, Dubai, Los Angeles, and Dallas. It will be further extended to additional international routes longer than 12 hours in 2014. Interestingly, the service is also available in several connecting cities within Australia as long as you arrive/depart on one of the qualifying flights.

If my original departure city was Los Angeles instead of San Francisco, I could have actually booked the complimentary transfer service from anywhere within a 40-mile radius of LAX. Mileage limits for eligible cities can be found here. Chauffeur Drive must be booked at least 48 hours in advance of travel.

Once I found my chauffeur, I was led to the nearby parking garage, where a beautiful black Audi A8 was waiting. During the roughly 40-minute drive with traffic into central Melbourne, I had a very engaging conversation with the driver. He was a bit curious since I obviously didn't look like the prototypical first class passenger. The friendly chat quickly veered into our shared interest of the travel industry, and I found out that being a chauffeur was just his side job. He had also recently started a luxury tour company with a few partners.

Along the way, he also gave me a number of tips about Melbourne and Sydney, and wished me the best of luck for my journey through the country. After arriving at the Grand Hyatt Melbourne, I handed him a small tip, which he initially refused, but I insisted simply because I felt like he had been so friendly and helpful. From the relaxing lounges at LAX, to the 15 hours of pampering across the Pacific, to the wonderful chauffeur service to the hotel, I really couldn't have asked for a better welcome into Australia.

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