Going, on what, for how long?
Sydney to Dallas, Qantas flight number 7, Airbus A380-800, scheduled duration 15hr 25mins
Flight frequency: one flight per day
Economy from $1,500 return
Premium economy from $4,700 return
Business from $9,200 return
First class from $16,968 return
Where am I?
Premium economy, seat 25A on upper deck
14 first class suites
64 business class flat-beds (2-2-2)
35 premium economy recliners (2-3-2)
371 economy (3-4-3 lower deck, 2-4-2 upper deck)
Economy and premium economy: 2 pieces up to 23kg each
Business and first class: 3 pieces up to 32kg each
This is the stuff. I’m about to fly the third longest commercial route in the world (for two years it was the longest) from Sydney to Dallas and am fortunate enough to be in premium economy on a modern Airbus A380. And I’ve really lucked out, getting a window seat adjacent to a vacant aisle seat.
Premium economy is a vaguely defined term that can mean wildly varying experiences on different airlines. The only thing the airlines agree on is that you pay more money than standard economy. However, Qantas has traditionally had one of the better premium economy experiences and the A380 elevates it to an even higher level.
Seats are nice and wide (49.5cm), the extra leg room (up to 107cm pitch) is enough to fully stretch out (but not lay flat) and the smaller upstairs location gives the cabin an air of privacy. There are double armrests plus a small cocktail drink table in between seats for a more comfortable demarcation with the adjacent passenger. The amount of space is comparable to business class on smaller planes on other airlines.
The cabin is strikingly spotless – much more so than economy. Perhaps there’s more room for the vacuum cleaner to reach all the nooks. The window seat has very generous personal cargo bins, taking advantage of the shape of the wall in the top half of the plane. If you have a bag thin enough, you don’t even need to put anything in the overhead compartment.
The economy class blanket is upgraded to a doona in premium, providing warmth but letting your body breathe. One AC outlet and two USB ports are provided per pair of seats. Typing on a laptop computer might get a bit squeezy but certainly not impossible, unlike in cattle class.
The bathrooms are shared with business class, meaning you get all the expensive toiletries and cloth hand towels that the very wealthy folk enjoy.
It is also worth noting that Qantas will be introducing improved premium economy seating for its new Boeing Dreamliner 787 aircraft in October this year.
Crew and service
Service is exceptional in premium economy. The attendant introduces themselves by name and addresses you by name before the flight, offering a pre-takeoff drink. After takeoff, the head attendant introduces themselves to offer their services for any special requests or feedback.
These are small touches but they elevate the journey that much above economy for passengers on a very long journey. I have been on business class flights where the crew is not as attentive.
Qantas also provides a separate boarding lane for premium economy, making the airport experience more pleasant for those that have forked out extra for the privilege. Premium economy, however, does not include airport lounge access.
The headphones in Qantas premium economy are properly padded noise-cancelling ones. It’s a massive step up from the flimsy ones in economy that may or may not work in both ears. The sound is crystal clear and balanced between both ears — you don’t have to turn volume all the way up to hear above the aircraft din.
The touchscreen is a foldout from the armrest, as having them on the back of the seat in front would be too far for comfortable viewing. The screen seems to be much more responsive to touch than in economy, and it’s a relief to tap away at the entertainment options without worrying about disturbing the person in front.
The actual entertainment content is the same as economy, which is always a good range on Qantas – including HBO shows and recent release films.
Food and drink
The lunch/dinner consisted of three courses. To start, a chicken salad with udon noodles, Asian-style slaw and sesame soy dressing was served. For main, I selected the citrus-glazed chicken with thyme roasted potatoes, carrots and broccoli, served with a balsamic vinaigrette garden salad. The meal was finished off with a rhubarb and apple trifle. All three courses were excellent, and reminds you how much plane food has improved over the years on some airlines.
During the middle of the flight, snacks were served. I selected the chicken and coleslaw rye sandwich with mustard dressing, which was enjoyable but a little on the bland side. A mango Weis ice cream bar satisfied our sweet tooth, while a public area had banana bread, fruit and cookies available for people to self-serve throughout the night.
Breakfast was the letdown among the three meals. I chose the hot breakfast, consisting of leek and parsley frittata with pork sausage, bacon, creamed spinach and tomato relish. It was greasy and heavy, and perhaps the alternative option of fruit salad may have been more enjoyable.
As with other Qantas classes, the drinks menu is extensive. In premium economy, alcohol can be served right from the pre-takeoff drink. Australian wines are featured — including a chardonnay pinot noir, dessert wine and fortified wines – as well as a variety of spirits, cognac, Contreau, Irish cream, beers and soft drinks. There are not a lot of holes to pick, unless you’re extremely fussy – in which case you really shouldn’t be on a 15+ hour flight.
Of course, premium economy can end up more than three times the price of an economy fare. But if you or your employer can afford it, it’s an excellent option for a long journey such as the Sydney to Dallas leg. In this age of corporate cost cutting, it’s a more palatable option for accounts payable as well as the business traveller that wants to feel that much less weary upon arrival.
The journalist travelled to the USA courtesy of Sonos.
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