After visiting a friend in Adelaide, I had to make my way back to Auckland, New Zealand to catch the first segment of my return trip to Vienna. American Airlines Aadvantage charges 25,000 miles for a one-way business class ticket within Australia and New Zealand, which is quite a steal, considering that one could fly from Perth, Australia, to Auckland, New Zealand in business class, which is a distance of roughly 3,300 miles. After redeeming 25,000 miles and about $130 in taxes I was all set to travel from Adelaide to Sydney and then on to Auckland.
I was particularly looking forward to Qantas' famous First Class lounge at Sydney, and I can honestly say, it did not disappoint.
I loved the lounge setup with a sitdown restaurant, bar area and they even had an old-school departure board similar to the one found at Frankfurt. It is simply amazing that Oneworld Emeralds can use this lounge even when flying in coach. Throughout my long-ish stay, the amount of people visiting the lounge never reached uncomfortable levels.
Alas, after a nice meal and a drink, it was time to leave the lounge to catch my flight from Sydney to Auckland on a Qantas' B737-800 operated by jetconnect, a New Zealand based subsidiary wholly-owned by Qantas. Interestingly, all Qantas flights to and from New Zealand are operated by jetconnect, as this allows Qantas to pay lower wages to pilots and cabin crew. The planes, however, are branded in Qantas livery and to a non-aviation person, the only hint to this peculiar setup would be the "operated by jetconnect" remark on the boarding pass. Jetconnect planes are also registered in New Zealand - my plane's registry was ZK-ZQA, as opposed to Australian-registered planes which would have a registration number starting with VH.
This about seven year old B737-800 would bring me to Auckland this afternoon.
While the boarding pass indicated a relatively early boarding time of 45 minutes before departure, the process really started about 25 minutes before departure, which I always find very annoying - how about you give passengers a more accurate boarding time? Boarding commenced with wheelchair passengers. Shortly thereafter, business class and Oneworld Emerald passengers were invited to board.
Qantas B737-800 business class cabin has a total of 12 seats in a 2 by 2 configuration. For longer flights, Qantas provides pillows and blankets to its premium passengers. The pillow was very nice, so was the blanket. Also at the seat waiting for me was the menu for today's flights.
The headset provided by Qantas was certainly better than most coach headsets, but I still preferred to use my Bose QC25s.
The seat controls were manual, and unlike most North American domestic First Class seats, there was a footrest. The buttons were a little bit dirty, but the seat was otherwise in OK shape.
There was also a remote for the personal IFE system, which as far as I know, all of Qantas B737-800 feature in business class. I didn't really need it, as the IFE screen was also a touch screen. Power outlets were also available but I forgot to take a picture.
Obviously, Qantas is very proud of its Australian heritage and the Kangaroo, which is featured in Qantas' logo, is also prominently featured in the cabin, visible to all passengers when entering the plane.
While boarding was in progress, the flight attendants asked passengers if they cared for a pre-departure beverage. I just went with a water and it was served in a glass with a Qantas-branded napkin.
I appreciate the fact that Qantas still provides a paper menu - certainly beats having to wait until the flight attendant comes by. I was impressed that Qantas offers five main course options - that is much more than I expected.
We soon pushed back and were on our way to the runway. Sydney certainly sees a number of very nice planes. Since I was scheduled to fly on a Qatar A380-800 just on the following day, I was very happy to see the aircraft landing as we were taxing out - what a big plane!
Excluding myself, the entire front row remained vacant. I hate having to step over someone else to get to the restroom so I was happy to have no one next to me, but I was still kind of puzzled, considering that both other rows were completely full with, as far as I could tell, solo passengers.
During our departure roll, I had the chance to take some pictures of the international terminal - the sun was about to set over Sydney.
I was initially disappointed that I was seated on the left side of the aircraft, since the passengers on the right-hand side had a wonderful view of downtown Sydney. Luckily, we made a 180 degree turn and flew over the Sydney CBD once more.
The highlight was having this view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, the Sydney Opera House and this cruise ship leaving Sydney harbor - stunning for sure.
Needless to say, I was glued to the window during the first 20 or so minutes of our fight. What a beautiful view of Sydney.
One last shot of the coast as our aircraft left Australia.
Once we reached about 15,000 feet, the seat belt sign was switched off - nothing of that nonsense keeping it on for 40 minutes or more. I was really impressed with Qantas' IFE offering - the entertainment system contained a large number of movies and shows.
My favorite content was a show called "Ready for Takeoff", which is a TV show about behind the scenes operations at Qantas. As a side note, the show features a lounge attendant who has his own Twitter hashtag and interestingly enough I met him the very next day in the Qantas First Class lounge - and I am happy to confirm that he is as cheerful and professional as shown on TV.
After takeoff, Qantas features a drink service. The snack package distributed has roasted cashews and pretzels in it - the pretzels are as bland as the ones distributed by American Airlines in coach and I don't really like cashews so I did not even open it (after I have had it on a previous flight and did not enjoy it much).
Dinner service commenced and I have to say I quite like Qantas' setup - passengers first receive a small plate, which contains a mixed greens salad, butter and a dressing. Next comes the appetizer course, which was served with grissini. I still was able to get an additional piece of bread and the bread was truly delicious - crispy and fresh - it went wonderfully with the butter provided. The appetizer itself, prosciutto and cabonata, was decent.
I think I have written about it before, but in general, I am big fan of soups on planes - in my experience, soups keep their flavor much better in the air. I had high expectations when I ordered the sweet and sour soup as main course, but unfortunately, I did not like this soup at all - I was very glad that I had some food in the first class lounge.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the dessert however. There were no options and all that was offered was a container of vanilla ice cream - a bit boring and the ice cream certainly did not have a premium feeling to it.
Dinner service concluded and I have to say that once more, Qantas shined with professional service and decent food. It was unfortunate that I picked the soup as main course, as the other entree options seemed to be better.
Another nice touch was that the flight attendants distributed some Lindor chocolates about an hour prior to landing, along with a drink service.
Finally, the flight attendant distributed a hot towel so that passengers could freshen up a bit before arrival.
We touched down in Auckland and after an about 15 minute wait at immigration, I was on the way to my hotel.
This Sydney to Auckland flight was just one out of five domestic/trans-tasmanian business class flights I was able to take on Qantas. I have to say that Qantas offers a very competitive premium product. The flight attendants on all of my flights were polite and extremely professional and even on the shorter segments, hot food was offered. The IFE is more than sufficient for these no longer than four hour flights and Qantas even provides decent pillows and blankets on longer segments.
All in all, an excellent value, particularly considering the wide open award seat availability and low price point when using AAdvantage miles.