This is part 15 in a series about my November 2016 trip to New Zealand, booked off a $215 mistake fare.
I had a momentary panic upon landing at SYD, as the monitors showed the flight to LAX as canceled. I soon realized, though, that it was the American flight that was canceled, not the Qantas one. It was a long walk from where my AKL flight landed to the Qantas Business Lounge. While the lounge is quite large, it was quite full. (Still, I didn’t bother with any of the Priority Pass or AmEx options.). The lounge staff actually made announcements asking people not to take seats up with luggage. I had hoped to start to adjust my body to US time, where it was around 6pm, but unfortunately I had traveled back in time, so it was still a breakfast spread at the lounge. The spread was basically a larger version of what I’d had on the plane and in the Qantas Club in Auckland, scrambled eggs, beans, tomatoes, sausage, hash browns – plus a bit wider variety of pastries. There was a full self-serve liquor and soft drink display, a juice bar, and a coffee bar- which was the most notable difference from AKL.
I got a flat white and some more breakfast nosh (breakfast #3). I finally found a place to sit with an outlet, and charged my laptop a bit, but not enough. About 10 minutes before scheduled boarding time I headed down to the gate area.
The flights to the US depart from special gates where there is security before the gate lounge itself. Apparently since the flight was delayed (no one had said anything at the lounge or on a sign), they decided not to open that up on time. So, of course, long lines of people formed, with people forming their own lines. It was very uncomfortable and chaotic, with no open seats. Since there was no information about the delay, I couldn’t go back to the lounge, but I should have.
20 minutes before scheduled departure, they finally let people into the gate lounge, with just a passport and boarding card check. Once into the gate lounge, Qantas staff made repeated announcements that people should remain seated, because it would be at least 20 minutes before we were boarding. You know how that went, and there was basically one long line from the moment people got through the security check. One guy drew my attention, who was ranting that this was all the TSA’s fault, and this was “OUR GOVERNMENT” and he is TSA precheck, and see, this is why we voted for Trump. (The delay was a Qantas maintenance issue.) I did not like him. Incidentally, he clearly was exceeding the carry-on baggage allowance, with two personal items.
When boarding did begin, it was a bit chaotic. They announced First/Business/Premium Economy/Priority Boarding all at once, and then 2 seconds later, Economy. I actually would have gotten on faster using the regular economy lane
The flight was on Qantas’s A380, which has four cabins of seating. I would have paid significantly to upgrade to premium economy on this flight, but that wasn’t an option. The only upgrade at all was exit row seating for 180 AUD, which isn’t worth it since the seats are narrower and people gather for the lavs there. I had also hoped to be able to snag one of the economy seats on the upper deck, but Qantas doesn’t make those available except to its own elites. I had adjusted my seat within the cabin a few times to emptier rows (in vain), but it didn’t really matter.
On boarding, each seat had a blanket and a pretty substantial pillow. The pitch definitely felt shorter than the Main Cabin Extra on AA I had flown out on. The interior was clean and relatively new, as to be expected of an A380. I was quite surprised though to find that there was no in-seat power. I eventually did find a USB port in the arm rest, but it was very low power. Seems like cheaping out on a new plane that is doing ultra-long-haul flying. There went my plan of getting very far (anywhere) on picture editing or blogging on the flight.
In light of the canceled AA LAX flight, I knew that it would be a completely full flight, and it was. There were a lot of children near me, including a well-behaved 10ish year old boy next to me, and some less well-behaved kids behind and to the side of me, including a kicker. The woman in front of me felt the need to recline suddenly into my laptop – while boarding was going on. Before meal service, she had already reclined to the point that I couldn’t use my laptop or watch the IFE.
The delay continued and we ended up not taking off until an hour after scheduled departure. Thankfully the Qantas in-seat entertainment works as soon as boarding starts. Although the interface was the same as on my earlier flight, there were more TV shows and movies than there had been on the shorter flight.
Prior to departure, the flight attendant distributed menus, which had a number of tasty sounding options. I had pre-selected my choice, though, which Qantas economy customers can do. You can pre-order one of the standard options to ensure you get your choice, but you can also choose an additional option that’s offered online only, which in my case was Duck L’Orange. Not knowing I’d have duck for dinner the previous night, I had selected that.
Once airborne, the flight attendants came around with pitchers of the “signature drink” that is part of Qantas new upgraded coach dining — which was really just fancy lemonade. I watched (or tried to watch) a few episodes of Fresh Off the Boat before dinner service. It took quite a long time before dinner was served, with the service starting nearly two hours into flight. I was served before my rowmates since I had preordered, and I was actually done before they were served, and watched the movie Keanu – perfectly stupid.
The duck was actually quite excellent, although fairly obviously the skin was not crispy. The accompanying mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts were more like standard airplane food. It was pretty clear that Qantas’s menu “upgrade” went for fancier entrees, while still saving money by eliminating most of the accoutrements. My tray had a hard garlic roll, the entree, and the prepackaged dessert- an okay trifle. No salad, butter, etc. I was served my own small bottle of decent Australian chardonnay, though, and I later had a bottle of sparkling pinot. (You can actually do a wine tasting onboard Qantas long-haul flights, even in economy, if you find yourself awake and bored.) I was also pleased that the FAs proactively asked passengers to lift their seats for service, as otherwise there was no way I’d be able to eat with T-rex arms.
After the meal, I tried sleeping, but gave up after about forty minutes as the people behind me were extremely loud and had the reading lights on. Obnoxiously, the daughter refused to eat at the times meals were served, and her parents expected the crew to provide her her own dine on demand. She was 12, which is ridiculous, as the boy sitting next to me, separated from the rest of his family, was a perfect gentleman and pleasant seatmate the entire flight. About two hours after dinner, there was a random service consisting solely of mango frozen yogurt bars. I dozed a little bit, and three hours after that woke up to a service that was a “Turkish flatbread”, which was basically a hot pocket – so hot that I burned my mouth on it. There were also some packaged snacks, along with toothbrushes and eyeshades, in the galleys that you could help yourself to mid-flight.
With a sleeping pill I was then able to sleep for the next 6.5 hours until breakfast, about 2.5 hours pre-landing. Breakfast # 4 was pretty tasty, with a good frittata, accompanied by some potatoes, mushrooms, and tomato, along with a mini muffin and yogurt. Here, the cost saver from Qantas was no fruit or juice on the plate, along with only one beverage pass – I could’ve used a second cup of coffee when they cleared trays. As we prepared for our landing at LAX, I watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, because anything with Andrea Martin is worth a watch, although it was a pretty bad movie.
Overall, I was satisfied with Qantas’s economy service. The quality of the food was good and plentiful, service friendly enough and the good IFE helped remedy the lack of in-seat power to some extent. The fact that a well-behaved child was next to me as opposed to a full-sized adult probably helped minimize the discomfort of the packed A380 seating arrangement as well. I don’t think I had quite realized how out of the way it is to connect through Australia to get home from New Zealand, though!