- Qantas recently completed the first nonstop flight between New York and Sydney, dubbed “Project Sunrise,” and Business Insider was on board.
- For the flight back, I had a very different experience – flying in coach on Qantas’ one-stop from Sydney to New York, via Los Angeles.
- I expected to be happy for the chance to stretch my legs during the short break, but it actually wasn’t quite the case. Read on to see what the flight home to New York was like, and how it compared to my 20-hour nonstop flight to Sydney.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Earlier in October, the Australian airline Qantas tested the first-ever nonstop flight from New York to Sydney, the longest flight in the world. While it won’t launch commercially until around 2023 – if at all – Qantas plans to use data gathered from the flight to lobby Australian regulators to allow the flight, which would be scheduled for longer than is currently allowed.
I was on the test flight, and, although it was definitely a far cry from a normal commercial flight, I found the nonstop business-class seat appealing – even if it meant 20 hours on a plane without a break. You can read about what the flight was like here.
After a few days working from Sydney (and sneaking in some exploring around the city), I flew back home to New York. And this time, I flew coach.
Here’s how my journey went:
Checking in for the flight was nice and easy, despite the airport buzzing with the usual weekday morning activity. You simply scan your passport at a kiosk which prints out your boarding passes and baggage tags.
I also briefly spoke with a security agent, a necessity for passengers headed to the US, who put a sticker in my passport indicating that I’d answered her questions.
Security ends in the duty free shop — always be selling.
I walked around duty free for a bit, then went to check out the first-class lounge. This is open to passengers flying in first class on Qantas, as well as frequent flyers with Oneworld airlines who hold the highest levels of status. My frequent flyer status is with a Sky Team airline, but Qantas’ PR team offered to arrange access so I could take a look.
There’s an incredible — and functional — split-flap Solari board near the check-in counter.
The lounge is huge, with plenty of seating and natural light.
There are comfortable couches and restaurant-style seating — all the food, which is made to order, is complimentary.
There’s even a library.
I had a quick bacon sandwich and a cup of coffee.
After checking out the lounge, I headed back to the terminal, grabbed a bottle of water for the flight, and killed time until I walked over to the gate.
Boarding started at around 9:45, and began with first class, business class, premium economy, and elite frequent flyers. I was none of the above, but snuck in with the first group to check out the coach cabin for photos. No one seemed to mind.
Qantas is in the process of retrofitting its A380s with new interiors, but this was one of the older cabins — it’s still comfortable, though, with a 10-abreast 3-4-3 configuration.
The seats offer a generous amount of padding, and more legroom than you’d expect from looking at them.
The lower part of the seat in front of you is set a bit forward, making more room for your knees — this is especially noticeable when the person in the seat in front of you reclines. Your knees don’t get crushed! At least, not as much as with other seats.
It may not look like much, but I was surprised that there was as much room as there was.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an economy seat, but still.
It felt more comfortable than Delta’s extra-legroom seats.
There’s also a unique footrest — it’s more of a foot “cradle,” but it definitely makes the seat more comfortable.
The padding is decent, too. The coach seats, which are similar to the ones in the 787, are decent, but I’d miss these thicker, more cushioned chairs.
Each seat also has an in-flight entertainment screen. This is loaded up with movies, TV shows (complete seasons, which is a treat), and flight maps.
You can also tap into a video feed from a tail-mounted camera.
It’s the best. One of my favourite features of the A380.
Each passenger got a pillow, a blanket, and a set of headphones to use for the flight.
The headphones came with a two-prong adaptor that worked with Qantas’ seats …
… although you could pull the adaptor off and use your own headphones. The third socket in the last photo is to power certain kinds of noise-cancelling headphones.
There’s no full-sized power outlet, but each seat has a USB port for charging smaller devices like phones. There was no Wi-Fi on board either, so I ended up not needing to worry about running out of battery on my laptop.
There was an individual air vent for each seat — a real relief. It’s always tough on long-haul flights when they don’t have these vents, I tend to get hot really quickly.
The flight seemed about 75 to 80 per cent full — I got extremely lucky and had an open seat next to me. I was happier about this than I look in the photo.
Shortly before takeoff, a flight attendant came by with a menu …
… And an amenity kit.
The bag is probably the most substantial I’ve seen in a coach amenity kit before, and it was filled with the standard essentials for a long flight.
After the safety video …
… We were on our way! Flight time to Los Angeles was ultimately about 13 hours and 12 minutes, plus taxi time at the beginning and end.
About an hour into the flight, the captain got on the PA to give an update and share some details about the flight, like the flight path, planned altitudes, some cool views we could expect, and more. It was a friendly gesture, and interesting to hear.
A little more than an hour into the flight, lunch was served. I preselected my meal the day before (you can do this at least 24 hours before your flight by checking your reservation details online).
I went with the braised beef, which, although a bit heavy on the sauce, was tasty. It was served with carrots, onions, mushrooms, and polenta, plus a focaccia.
Dessert was a lamington cup — lamington is a type of Australian cake.
I also had a cup of coffee, which came with a chocolate.
After lunch, I flipped through the entertainment system and ended up watching Men in Black International (meh).
I woke up in time for a midflight snack, a lemon yogurt ice cream bar. That was about four hours into the flight.
I watched a few more movies, including Booksmart (excellent), and, while watching a Marvel movie I’d seen before, I dozed off. I’m usually not the best plane sleeper, and this was no exception, but I was in and out for a couple of hours.
The A380 is a double-decker plane with four classes (first, business, premium economy, and coach). At the front of the upper deck, there’s a lounge with a small bar for first and business-class passengers to use. The cabin manager — with whom I had been chatting about the Project Sunrise test flight — offered to give me a tour of the plane and show me the lounge.
The lounge is pleasant, with places to sit, bottles of water and wine, and snacks. Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has said that if the nonstop flights from New York to Sydney become a regular thing, they’d consider adding something similar for coach passengers, as sitting in a chair for 20 hours would be too uncomfortable.
I wandered back to my seat, and read for a bit before dozing off again.
About seven hours into my journey, the flight attendants came through with a hot snack for anyone who was awake and hungry.
Two tasty rolls, one with spinach and cheese, the other with meat.
Here’s that footrest net — doesn’t look like much, but it’s amazing how much the little things help in coach.
About 11 hours in, breakfast was served.
I got the leek and potato frittata, which came with sausage, bacon, and spinach. It was tasty, but almost as soon as I ordered it, I realised I would have rather had the fruit salad, just for something lighter. The yogurt and carrot cake were tasty though, and so was the frittata. I skipped the meat.
Soon enough, the lights came all the way on, and we began to descend.
I turned on the tail camera and watched as we landed at LAX after more than 13 hours. Flight number one was over … time to catch the second leg!
I — and many other passengers with tight connections — hurried off the plane and began the trek to customs.
Passengers with tight connections got an express pass to use the fast lanes on the way to the next flight.
Our first stop was passport control …
… Followed by customs …
… Followed by a series of long hallways …
… And more long hallways …
… A TSA security checkpoint …
… And more creepy, empty hallways …
… before we made it to the gate. I was hoping to get a cup of coffee before the flight, and there was a Starbucks by the gate, but the line was long and I only had about 10 minutes before boarding by the time I got through everything. So, I settled for a bottle of water.
Although the SYD-LAX and LAX-JFK flights share a flight number — QF11 — and are essentially a continuous service, the second leg is on a different plane, a smaller Boeing 787-9 that arrived in Los Angeles a few hours earlier from Brisbane.
That’s the same type of plane that Qantas used to test the Project Sunrise flight.
I was in seat 41C, an aisle, but I moved to the middle section in an empty bulkhead row once we took off.
The seat, which is newer than on the A380, had a few handy features, like a compartment where you can charge and store your phone …
… And two full sized power outlets per row.
There was also a nifty video walking through the seat features, including the same footrest-cradle thing that was on the A380.
Boarding was about an hour after we got off the first plane, and we took off about an hour later.
Flight attendants came through with lunch about an hour after we left the ground. I was feeling pretty exhausted and scattered by this point, and forgot to take a picture of the menu. There were a few choices, including the herbed chicken salad I ordered, which came with a piece of garlic bread and a slick of cheesecake for dessert.
I was in and out for the whole flight. I couldn’t get as settled in or comfortable as I had been on the first leg, and was antsy to get home, take a shower, and go to sleep. We landed after about four hours and 30 minutes in the air.
Because we cleared passport control in Los Angeles, we didn’t have to go through it again at JFK. So my first stop after getting off the plane was Starbucks.
Finally, more than 24 hours after I began my trip, I was just a quick taxi ride away from home.
So having flown nonstop to Sydney from New York, and back with roughly an hour to stretch my legs in LA, here’s what I prefer.
As we began our descent into Los Angeles, after 13 hours sitting in coach, I thought about whether or not I was looking forward to getting up and stretching my legs for an hour. And the answer was no.
Yeah, a direct flight would have been a long time to spend in coach. But the hour spent dashing through passport control and security, getting all unsettled after being relaxed, settled, and comfortable on the first leg of the flight, just wasn’t worthwhile. Rather than making me feel better, the break between flights made me feel more tired and worn out, and the last four hours of travel were less pleasant than they would have been if we’d just continued flying straight to New York.
There’s also the fact that, despite spending only two hours or so on the ground, total, the approach to LA, departure path, approach to New York, and all the time spent taxiing on both ends adds even more time.
The nonstop flight, if it launches, will be targeted to business travellers who will pay a premium to save a few hours, but if it’s an option whenever I fly to Australia again, I would absolutely choose that over a flight with a connection, regardless of where that connection is.
Stops aside, I was quite pleased with my flight on Qantas. The standard economy seats were more comfortable than what I’m used to in coach – even when there’s extra legroom. The food was also tasty and well-timed.
While there’s no way to get to Australia quickly, I’d definitely consider nixing the break and saving a few hours next time, should Project Sunrise become reality.
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