Last month I took a dive to the land down under on a big QANTAS 747-400 in business class on its recently restored nonstops between San Francisco International and Sydney.
Highlights of this 14-hour flight include:
- A business class lounge that exceeded my expectations
- One of the best nights of sleep I’ve ever had onboard a plane
- A spin through an empty 747 including the secret crew rest area
- Bottled water that helps with jet lag
- Pajamas worth changing into
- Dramatic view from the cockpit on approach to SYD
- A raucous greeting in Sydney that will make you smile
- One of the easiest train rides from airport to city I’ve experienced in a while
Currently, QANTAS economy class roundtrip fares between San Francisco and Sydney are in the $1,400 range (but can dip as low as $1,000 during periodic fare sales). Premium economy fares are about $3,000 round trip, and business class roundtrips run from about $8,000 to $10,000. QANTAS does not offer first class on its SFO-SYD flights. United and QANTAS offer the only nonstops between SFO and SYD and their fares are identical.*
QANTAS covered the cost of my flights, but TravelSkills paid for hotels, meals and transfers related to this five-day trip.
Checking in at SFO for an 11:25 pm departure was fast and easy. My ticket did not allow me to select a seat ahead of time, so I was worried that I’d be stuck in one of the few middle seats in business class. So I arrived at the airport early planning to spend a couple hours working in the lounge. Lo and behold, at check in there was one seat left upstairs in the “business class bubble” so I snagged it! Seat 14B is an aisle exit row, so I had miles of legroom. How much? See this.
At SFO, QANTAS passengers must use the Air France / KLM lounge. While I was hoping that I might be able to slip into the lounges of Oneworld partners such as British Airways or Cathay Pacific, I learned that due to crowding issues at night, QANTAS passengers are only provided access to the Air France / KLM Lounge.
My expectations for the lounge were set low– I had heard that there was nothing special about this lounge. But when I entered, I was greeted nicely by two fun and interesting agents who explained to me that I had to be sure and see BOTH rooms in the lounge. Apparently, many lounge visitors think the lounge is just the first room you see (above). But there’s a somewhat hidden door that leads to a much larger room with a big buffet, and plenty of tables and chairs. The back room was definitely where the action was.
This lounge used to belong to Northwest Airlines. Remember when most NWA lounges had fireplaces? This relic (not working) is still there, which adds a homey feel to the space. Apparently the fireplace will be removed next time this lounge is updated.
What the Air France / KLM lounge lacks in atmosphere is made up for in the service you get once inside. As I said, the door agents were fun and friendly (we joked about feeling French when flying to Australia). Inside the lounge, servers were all over the place, passing snacks, cleaning up and interacting with travelers. I arrived early, and the place was pretty empty, but as flight time approached, seat space became scant– it was a good thing that they had staffed up for the crunch.
I was impressed by the amount and variety of food and drink on offer at the KLM / AF lounge that QANTAS uses. The lounge also had a noisy and convivial feel– mostly Australians enjoying a beer and time with friends and colleagues on their way home.
Due to my status as a travel writer, I received a special favor– I asked if I could board five minutes early so I could get some good photos of the plane before it filled up with passengers. At the last minute my wish was granted, so I scrambled on board, up the “stairway to heaven,” threw my bags down and took off with flight attendant Jerry for a quick tour of the plane INCLUDING a look at the secret crew rest area in the aft section of the “bubble” with access via a special stairway from the main deck. See that here or scroll to the bottom for the video. This big bird has a crew of 14 flight attendants and four pilots and on a 14+ hour flight, they need a place to hide!
There’s not a better place in the world than upstairs in business class on a Boeing 747-400. On QANTAS there are 18 seats up here configured 2-2 with a galley in the back and a lavatory and door to the cockpit up front. I was seated in 14B- the seat (seen below) with the suitcase in front of it. Not only is it in the cosy confines of the business class bubble, it’s an exit row seat. Upside of this seat: limitless legroom and no interference from your neighbor getting up. Downside: In seat storage is almost nil– window seat passengers get those nice big bins along the windows, but aisle seats don’t. Another downside with this seat: it’s tough seeing out the windows.
QANTAS 747-400 business class seats are the same ones you’ll find on its A380s– fully flat, lumbar controls and with a nice massage feature. The massage was nice, but controlling it via these buttons was difficult.
There is no wi-fi onboard QANTAS 747s.
While upstairs is nice, downstairs in the nose of the 747 is a pretty nice space, too. Especially if you are seated in row 1– these seats are super private and quiet and insiders say that this is usually where QANTAS seats its superstar VIP guests.
The best seats on the main deck are row 1 (for privacy) and also row 5 if you are traveling alone- that’s because these two seats (B&J) are solo seats– there’s no one seated next to you. See what I mean here on the 747-400 V2 three class layout on SeatGuru. Seats to avoid if possible would be the three middle seats on row 5, 6, 7 and 8.
There are 270 economy class seats on this big bird. One cabin is green (pictured), the other is pinkish maroon. The best seats are those in the mid-cabin area. Avoid seats at the front or the rear of the cabins due to lines that form near lavatories.
QANTAS also offers a distinct premium economy section with 26 seats configured 2-4-2 with wider seats and arm rests. Premium economy passengers also get a special menu, noise canceling headsets, preflight champagne, and special amenity kits.
Back upstairs in business class… we took off on time at 11:25 pm. Shortly thereafter, a mad rush for the lavatory ensued as everyone was eager to change into pajamas for the long night ahead. This was also the time that flight attendants helped passengers position nice quilted cotton seat covers over cushions that really helped with the coziness factor of the cabin. (See below)
I’m usually not one to fuss over pajamas, but on a 14+ hour flight it was very nice to change into a shirt I’d not spent the night in. Plus, you get to keep the PJs for use at home (or for gifting those who did not get to go on this trip).
I was disappointed that we did not get any menus on this flight… I usually like to peruse and photograph them. But on this flight there was a snafu due to the change from February to March, and the menus did not get loaded. So my choice was made based on a description provided by the flight attendant. I chose to go with salmon and was not disappointed. It tasted delicious, and was a right sized portion. Not pictured is the bread– flight attendants roll out two big loaves of warm bread (sourdough and whole wheat) which they offer while serving the main course. Warm bread is always nice.
Since I knew I’d be trying to sleep on this flight, I ate about half my entree and a few bites of this cool and velvety vanilla custard. After that, it was time to hit the sack on my cozy quilted lie flat seat.
I tried to watch “The Intern” after my meal, but started to doze off. Once I put my seat down, Jerry was there with a bottle of flower-enhanced Balance water– supposedly to help with jet lag. You know what? It worked! No jet lag at all on this trip. But that might have more to do with the fact that I slept for 8 hours on this flight…. amazing because I rarely get 8 hours at home!
Here’s what worked for me: First, of course is the true lie-flat seat upstairs on a 747. Second, I made it a point to eat lightly and only had one glass of wine with dinner. Third, on this flight I tried using Mack’s Moldable Silicone Earplugs– each one is a small plug of translucent putty that covers up your entire ear canal and truly blocks out all sound. That, along with my Bucky eyemask and I was down for the count!
On this flight I slept for nearly 8 hours — I remember falling asleep as we approached Hawaii and I woke up with only about 2-3 hours flying time left! Wow!
I could not believe my eyes when I woke up and looked at my watch at around 6 am Sydney time. Perfect time for a flat white!
I strolled back to the galley to find the second of two flight attendants plating breakfast and making toast in a big toaster– that burnt bread smell reminded me of breakfast at my Canadian Granny’s house!
After a full night of sleep and a flat white, I was raring to go. In that sharpened state, I asked our flight attendant if I could pass my camera to the pilots to take some shots of the approach to SYD. They agreed and took about 30 shots- the best of which I posted below. Very cool!
Arrival at Sydney was quick and easy via kiosk. No lines at all at 8 am.
Now this was a surprise: Sydney’s big Mardi Gras festival was taking place during the week I was there… and the airport had drag queens welcoming flights– which caused quite a stir as we filed past them. One of them looked at me and said, “Sir, you must have flown in business class because you are looking fresh as a flower this morning!” I had to agree– and pose for a few selfies 🙂
Getting into the city for my meetings was a cinch using the quick and easy Airport Link, which takes about 20 minutes to reach the Central Business District or “CBD” as Sydneysiders say.
Fares run about US$13 each way for the 20 minute ride to town– that’s pricey for two, but definitely beats the morning traffic. Taxicab fares run about US$35.
The train dropped me just a couple blocks from my Sydney hotel- easy! By the way, did you see my post: Trip Report: newest business class hotels in Sydney? Read up!
And stay tuned for a follow up post to this one where I’ll explore QANTAS’ flagship first and business class lounges at SYD!
Here’s the video of the crew rest area:
*(Fares checked for May flights using Google flights on March 28 and subject to change)
Disclosure: QANTAS covered the cost of Chris’ flights. TravelSkills paid for related hotels, meals and transfers.
NOTE: Be sure to click here to see all recent TravelSkills posts about: Should I tip my Uber driver? + Boeing 747 nearing its end? + Bargain hunters travel guide for 2016 + World’s best airline lounge? + Fares to Europe tumble