Last week I sat down at SFO with Gareth Evans, Qantas’s CEO of international operations. He was in the U.S. to meet with American Airlines and celebrate that carrier’s launch of new nonstop between Los Angeles and Auckland, a further expansion of its joint venture with Qantas on transpacific flights.
Here are a few bits and pieces from that conversation:
>If you’ve been flying to LAX much lately, you may have noticed a huge white hangar being built on the airport’s southwest corner. Later this year, that will open as the largest A380 maintenance hangar in the U.S. and house all of Qantas administrative offices. Since Qantas aircraft spend so much time on the ground in LA, the airline does a lot of maintenance work on the big birds there.
>Qantas re-launched its SFO-Sydney nonstops last year, and since then, San Francisco has emerged as the #1 destination for Australian business travelers to the U.S., beating out both New York and Los Angeles. (See our Trip Report: Qantas 747-400 business class SFO-Sydney)
>While business travel is big business for Qantas, Evans said that the recent strengthening of the U.S. dollar has resulted in a lot more leisure traffic with passengers responding well to the carrier’s message that Australia is not as far away as many people may think. The “Eat, watch a movie, have a sleep and wake up in Australia” pitch seems to be working.
>Qantas still operates 11 747s, and plans to keep the graceful old planes flying “into the beginning of the next decade.” In the meantime, the carrier is focused on rolling out its new fully flat, forward facing “business suite” seats on its A330s and eventually its 787 Dreamliners. Currently it has eight firm Dreamliner orders, and will get the first one in October 2017. Will Qantas eventually replace the 747s with Dreamliners on the SFO-SYD route? Evans said that the potential is there, but it’s too early to say. Plus, Qantas 747s now carry about 360 passengers, vs the 200 passengers a Dreamliner can accommodate.
>The new “mini-suite” seat is currently on Qantas’ A330s only (none of which fly to the U.S.). Evans pointed out that the new seat is allowed to take off in a partially reclined position, which means passengers can relax and get to sleep faster. Business class passengers will be able to request that the seat be made into a bed prior to boarding, too. Because sleep is so important to long-haul business travelers, Evans said that those on an overnight flight departing Sydney could arrive at the airport, eat a meal in the lounge, change into pajamas, board and get to sleep almost immediately. (Check out the Australian Business Traveler review of the business suite seat.)
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>The new behind-security connector between American Airlines Terminal 4 and the new Tom Bradley international terminal has made life much easier for passengers transiting between Qantas and American. Within about two weeks, both arriving and departing passengers will have a seamless connection.
>At SFO, it appears that Qantas business class passengers will continue to use the Air France/KLM lounge. Due to overcrowding issues, only a handful of super-elite passengers get access to Oneworld partner Cathay Pacific’s lounge. Evans said that the AF/KLM lounge was recently upgraded, so we reached out to Air France’s Thomas Walsh for details on that. Here’s what he said:
We are still finishing up the renovations but they are almost complete. We’ve replaced the darker, library look with a more bright, modern finishes with approximately 145 seats (previously 108). This week we will complete the addition of over 130 power and usb power outlets. We’ve added a new granite work-top counter all the way around the lounge, where clients can take in the views, while using their laptop, enjoying a snack and sipping a glass of champagne. We will add a smaller footprint reception desk in a few weeks, as well.
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