Qantas Flight 18 JFK to LAX, B747 Business
Sched. Dep. 6:35PM Actual Dep. 7:39PM
Sched. Arr. 9:40PM Actual Arr. 10:55PM
Qantas Flight 18 LAX to SYD, B747 Business
Sched. Dep. 11:55PM Actual Dep. 2:29AM
Sched. Arr. 8:43AM Actual Arr. 11:09AM
Qantas’s one flight a day from JFK is out of Terminal 7, which is now one of the oldest terminals at JFK. Its two main tenants are British Airways and United, but it’s also used by a number of Oneworld carriers, including Qantas, Cathay Pacific, and Iberia, as well as the random Aerolineas Argentinas, ANA, and Icelandair. I don’t remember ever flying out of Terminal 7 in my many years in New York, but it’s conceivable I did on United once.
The British Airways side of the terminal is quite retro, and there’s a dedicated check-in for Qantas business class. There was also a dedicated security checkpoint for premium cabins, and it moved pretty quickly, even without Precheck. From there, I was in the main terminal and headed up to the British Airways Galleries Lounge.
The BA Galleries Lounge is very large, and was bright with sunlight as the sun had yet to set. It was crowded with passengers heading to London, Madrid, and Tokyo when I first got there, but thinned out a bit. There was one main food area in the center of the club, which had were a few different sandwiches, pasta salad, quinoa salad, crudité, fruit and cheese and crackers. There were also medicine jars of chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and Oreo cookies, pretzels, granola bars, and biscotti, an espresso machine, and soft drinks, in addition to a small table with broccoli cheese soup. There was also a ”pub” area with draft and bottled Blue Point Beer and chips, as well as a self-serve regular bar, with champagne, liquor, and beer. There was also a separate room for Pre-Flight Supper for passengers on British Airways Club World service.
I pecked a little, had a glass of champagne, and took my last work conference call. There weren’t a ton of outlets, but I found some space to sit and pass the time.
My flight out of JFK was delayed by about 45 minutes due to a delay on the inbound, and I headed to the gate about 20 minutes before the updated boarding time, as I figured I’d like stretching my legs. The 747 was already at at the gate, though the delay grew to about an hour. From the small number of passengers in the gate area, I suspected the flight would be fairly empty. Boarding began at around 7:05, and I turned left towards the nose of the cabin.
The 747-400 I was on had a three cabin layout, with business, premium economy, and economy seating. There are three business cabins – two on the lower level, and one on the upper level. Although sitting upstairs is always cool, as is sitting in the nose of the plane, I had chosen neither. Row 5 of the business class cabin is an exit row bulkhead, and has a 1-3-1 configuration, as opposed to 2-3-2 in the rest of the second business class cabin on the main level, 2-2 in the front business cabin on the main level, and on the upper deck. Qantas does not have direct aisle access for all its business class seats so picking a single seat gave me some more privacy as a single traveler, and also meant I wouldn’t have to climb over anyone or be climbed over by anyone.
The seat itself isn’t the most advanced, and I think is the same seat I had flying LAN Business Class to Chile in 2011. But one advantage of the Row 5 seat is that it has a massive storage cabinet next to it. I actually could have fit my entire backpack in there, though I took some stuff out and put the backpack overhead. Waiting at my seat was a mattress pad, a duvet, and a pillow, along with noise canceling headphones.
Boarding was very quick, since, as the captain explained, “we have a lot of empty seats in every cabin.” How empty? The business cabin I was in sat 21 passengers. There were 5. The forward cabin was a bit fuller – about 2/3 full, and the premium economy cabin i peeked into was about 1/3 full. I assumed we would pick up a lot more passengers in LAX. From talking to the Flight Attendant, there had been a lot of missed connections
Upon boarding I was offered a choice of champagne, orange juice, or water. The Flight Attendants were very friendly, providing service in a jovial, perhaps Australian, way – far more engaged than on an Asian airline. Prior to departure, menus were distributed, along with amenity kits – a Jack Spade kit for men. The outside I guess could be used as a tablet case, and definitely was a nice kit. The inside didn’t have much – just an eyemask, socks, earplugs, toothbrush and toothpaste, and a set of mini Malin & Goetz products.
The Flight Attendant explained that they weren’t going to bring out a bar cart given how empty it was, and instead just took drink orders. Though the cocktails and wines were tempting, I decided to stick with Diet Coke on this round- actually Coke Zero. I got to talk to the Flight Attendant a fair bit while she was in the jumpseat across from me during takeoff, and learned she had actually flown Sydney to Dallas, and then was sent from Dallas to New York, and after the JFK-LAX leg would be remaining in L.A. for a few days.
As soon as we were airborne, another flight attendant came by with full bottles of water. About 15 minutes later, my drink and nuts (packaged cashews and pretzels) appeared. The Captain announced we would have a particularly long route — 6 hours! Due to the winds we’d be flying due south first before crossing west along the Mexico border. A woman next to me was a bit worried about making the connection to the Melbourne flight, but it wasn’t something I had to worry about.
I had trouble booting up my TV, but after the third attempt at stowing it and popping it back out of the armrest, I got it to turn on. The screen was fairly large given how close it was, and I loaded Gone Girl for my dinner time entertainment. The pre-movie commercials were interesting – one for the Atlantis Dubai, one tearjerker about a blind Australian man visiting South Africa (advertising South Africa), and one for Oman. I hadn’t realized Qantas actually does fly from Sydney to Johannesburg, but the rest was clearly playing up Qantas’s new relationship with Emirates, ditching its LHR-SIN-SYD route for connections through Dubai.
On my LAX-SYD sector, I was able to preorder my meal. That wasn’t an option on this flight, but there were still plenty of options. For starters (“small plates”), there was a choice of mushroom soup or Serrano ham salad. For entrees: a blue cheese panna cotta and salad, a cheeseburger, sea bass, or pork loin. The Angus cheeseburger sounded tempting, but I tried to keep up the healthy theme and went with the fish.
As the movie started, a food cart came down the aisle, and I accepted a glass of Chardonnay along with my table setting, a small green salad and a choice of sunflower or roasted garlic bread. The bread was good, and the salad fairly basic. It took a while for the small plate to come, and the mushroom soup was also just okay. Given how many flight attendants were working the cabin and how few passengers there were, I’m not sure why it took a really long time for each course. The sea bass itself was quite excellent, but the “spiced potatoes” were a bit too mushy. For dessert, there was a choice of a cheese plate, fresh fruit, or ricotta crepes with oranges and pistachio. I went with the crepes, which, wait for it, were just okay.
For the rest of the flight, service was very unobtrusive — perhaps a bit too much so. I actually wasn’t offered a drink again at any point, though I’m sure I could have asked for one. There was no second meal, but a snack basket with chocolate, shortbread cookies, and fruit came by a few times.
I stayed awake since I wanted to be able to sleep on the second flight and force myself onto Australian time. So after Gone Girl, I watched six episodes of Web Therapy on the IFE, and tried to finish up my Abu Dhabi blogs. About 35 minutes prior to landing, the Captain announced that Qantas had decided not to hold the LAX-MEL flight, and that passengers on that flight would be rerouted LAX-SYD-MEL. The LAX-SYD flight itself was going to be delayed to a 1:30am departure — 90 min, so about the same as our inbound delay- so with the connection, passengers would not arrive until afternoon as opposed to morning.
Just before landing in L.A., the crew distributed hot towels. The flight attendant who I had been chatty with was scheming with Melbourne passengers to get them close to the door to run to try and make that flight. While passengers may have made it, their baggage was unlikely to, so they probably wouldn’t get on if they had checked bags. (Spoiler alert: they didn’t.)
I wasn’t in a huge rush, but got off the plane fairly quickly and into the new Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX. I hadn’t been in the terminal before and it really is impressive and gleaming, and unlike any other American airport terminal I had been to. I made my way upstairs to the OneWorld Business Class Lounge, which was pretty hectic, but soon cleared out as the Melbourne and Brisbane flights boarded.
I had about two hours in the lounge, so did some exploring. The lounge is fairly new, and it seems like there is going to be another area added on in the back – and they were doing construction at midnight which decreased the relaxation aspect of the lounge. There was a pretty big food buffet, with chicken in a cream sauce, braised beef with cinnamon, several cold salads, rice, soup, ratatouille, and some vegetable dishes, along with some desserts (though they seemed to be out of a bunch). I tasted a little, and the beef was fantastic. At the food area, there was also an espresso machine and self-serve fountain soda. There was also a large full-service bar at the front of the lounge, an area with reclining chairs, and lots of generic seating areas- with a lot of USB and power outlets. What did surprise me was the lack of a more businessy/work area, but maybe that is to come. In addition, the ceilings struck me as abnormally low.
With two hours, one dinner down and another to come, there was only so much eating to do, so I decided to take a shower. I didn’t particularly need one yet, but it still feels nice after a 6 hour flight, and this way I’d have less stank on me when I finally got to Sydney. Post-shower, I had a decaf latte and did some blog work, and a waitress came around clearing plates and taking dinner orders.
Soon enough, it was time to head back to the same gate and board the same plane. TBIT had gone completely dead in the intervening time.
It was an older, more formal crew, and the plane was a lot fuller– every seat in the cabin was taken. A woman across the aisle from me must have been a retired Flight Attendant or something, as she was quite chatty with everyone, and had two pieces of Qantas luggage, a romance novel, and a bag of Snickers. This time, shortly after boarding, I was offered pajamas (M/L or L/XL) in addition to OJ/champagne/water. I went with water. The only addition to the seat was a hangtag with breakfast options, asking for selections. Boarding took a lot longer, and the same Jack Spade/Kate Spade amenity kits were given out along with menus. Hot towels and copies of the Australian were distributed, and we were airborne.
Once in the air, the customer service manager distributed immigration documents and a fast-track document for Expresspass for immigration for Business Class passengers. Dinner orders were taken, but I had preordered the Dungeness Crab, a “preorder exclusive.” Given the hour of the flight, it was a smaller supper service. There were also several options you could have at any time during the flight – a schnitzel sandwich, lamb pot pie, or mushroom and spinach lasagne. As soon as we were airborne, at least three separate flight attendants asked if I wanted my mattress made up, but I was trying not to sleep for a few hours to get myself onto Sydney time.
I still as tired, though, and just wanted to turn my brain off for a bit. Thankfully, I discovered the joy that is “The Real Housewives of Melbourne” on the IFE system. My table was set, and I was brought out a small side salad and multigrain bread, which I accompanied with a nice sauvignon blanc. Somehow, they forgot about my entree for a bit, and the flight attendant who was doing the main service came by and seemed confused that I didn’t have my main course. He came by a few minutes later and apologized and said they were preparing it. It finally came and it was delicious. Not a huge portion, which was good for the supper, but just perfectly prepared.
There was a dessert cart that came down the aisle next, offering a choice of bread pudding, gelato, a cheese plate, or a fruit plate, along with dessert wine options. It was immediately followed by a coffee cart with a french press. The bread pudding was tasty, and had me carbed and ready for sleep.
I requested turndown, popped a melatonin, and was out like a light. Though the seat wasn’t super innovative, it was fairly wide, which was nice, since I often feel claustrophobic in some of the newer business class seats. The blanket was a little thin, but the pillow and mattress pad were adequate. I ended up getting about 9 hours sleep, waking only a few times to use the bathroom. Finally, around 7am Sydney time, I decided to wake for the day.
About three hours before landing, breakfast was served. The order I had placed at the beginning of the flight was accurately plated- a coffee, a “berry refresher” smoothie, granola, scrambled eggs on toast, bacon, and mushrooms, and a croissant. It was a lot of food, but I never know how edible breakfast items will be on a plane. The hot food was pretty good, though the ratio of eggs to everything else was a bit off. Meanwhile, there were more episodes of the Real Housewives of Melbourne for me to wash; I may have found a new obsession. (These ladies make US Housewives look down to earth, and I’m pretty sure that one is played by Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live.)
I think I somehow got a bad Flight Attendant, as folks in the middle section of the cabin had gotten pre-dinner cocktails, I didn’t. After breakfast, people had water and other drinks, and I didn’t get offered anything after the breakfast service. But it was fine, and soon enough I was at immigration.
My passport didn’t work in the electronic kiosk, so I went on the regular Expresspass line, but they didn’t seem to know what they were doing, so I was shuttled into a regular line that took really long, since a few flights from China had just arrived. I still made it through before my bag arrived on the belt, though. From what was likely age/backpack profiling, I was routed to an extra customs check, where I had to place all my bags on the floor for a dog sniffing.
Finally, I went through, and after an unsuccessful attempt at getting a data sim card for my pocket wifi device at Optus, got one at Vodafone (this is important). I headed towards the Airport Link train to the city, only to find out that you can’t buy an “Opal” card (a stored value fare card that gives discounts on travel) at the station, but have to at one of the newsstands in the terminal, so back I went. At last, I got on the train, which is only supposed to be about a 20 minute ride to downtown. The train was held up at Central Station, after which my favorite train conductor ever made the following announcement:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I apologize for the delay. Apparently a passenger thought he was more important than everyone else, and held the door, causing it to malfunction. I had to go down and reset it, so let’s all say ‘Thank you, passenger,’ and give him a round of applause for making the rest of you late.”
Welcome to Sydney.
90 minutes later, I was at the Radisson Blu Plaza.