“Just do it. You deserve this.”
“If you won’t do it for the experience, at least do it for the article.”
That was my internal monologue, tempting me into upgrading to First Class on Qantas recently. I was returning home from the Los Angeles on the A380 and really wanted to review the cabin. Eat the food. Sleep laying down.
50,000 Frequent Flyer points and a confirmation text later, I was in. So I stuffed my carry-on luggage with an embarrassing amount of devices and left my fiancee at the departure gate. He was flying economy.
Editor’s Note: This article was published in early 2019. The first class cabins in the A380 have since been upgraded.
Most of my overseas travel has been in the Qantas Business Class cabin and I was eager to see the differentiation with First Class. Was it worth the hard earned dollars or points that people put towards it?
For reference, I have also traveled Business and First with Singapore Airlines, Business with Emirates and Korean Air and Premium Economy with Qantas.
What’s Good About It?
The Pre-Departure Experience
Your First Class journey actually begins at the airport. You have your own check in lane and are fast-tracked through security. This is an incredibly valuable inclusion when you’re trying to get through LAX on a Friday night.
Economy and Business Class passengers also have access to these services if they are Platinum Qantas Frequent Flyer Members/Emerald One World members.
Once you have made it through security you can make your way to the Qantas First Lounge. I recommend arriving several hours early for the experience alone. While the Sydney lounge is my personal favourite due to the aesthetics and atmosphere, the LAX lounge is its equal when it comes to culinary exploits.
The menu is designed by Neil Perry (the same goes for the in-flight cuisine) and is is a pleasure to eat. I always make a point of having something light before take off if I’m in the lounge. Translation – I inhaled a plate of salt and pepper squid, a bowl of cauliflower soup, the best potato chips of my life and a panna cotta.
I would also recommend checking out the extensive cocktail and wine menu. Although I wasn’t able to drink on this trip, the bar staff fixed a mean Virgin Mary that didn’t hold out on the spice.
While the lounge can get busy, there is seating in the dining area reserved for first class customers. Alternatively, find a comfy lounge chair near one of the many charging ports so you can juice up and eat at the same time.
Once boarding has been called, it’s time to bathe in the on-board experience of First Class.
First class passengers are treated to a 17-inch screen, 5 inches more than what Business Class offers. It’s also rocking some hefty bezels, but you can’t have everything.
The size is especially good for how far away the screen actually is from your face. This isn’t a complaint, the space is just that roomy. It makes for a really comfortable experience, especially when your chair is in bed mode.
As someone who travels with multiple devices, ports are extremely important to me. Qantas delivers with a power point as well as two USB ports.
Although the latter are slow-charging, this is standard fare in most planes. I did however find that one of them was a tad patchy, even when I swapped the cables out. After some fiddling it seemed to be okay and everything was at full charge by the end of the flight.
There was also an Ethernet port for some reason? There’s no internet available on this A380 so I’m a little stumped. Can somebody enlighten me?
It’s worth noting that the power point is built for U.S. prongs. I recommend packing a travel adapter in your carry on luggage.
For me the best part of any decadent flight is the ability to sleep. Part of this is tied in to the necessity to hit the ground running on business trips. There’s no room for jet lag while reporting.
But even if you remove work from the equation, it’s just so damn nice to travel in comfort and wake up well rested on the other side of the world.
Qantas really brings the goods when it comes to its chair and bed combo. I think I’m in love.
It’s spacious and comfy. Even in the takeoff and landing position its overtly better than what Business and Economy have to offer.
While this is to be expected, what really blew me away was the sheet number of modes it has, from reading in bed to dining and entertainment. It’s awesome.
Not keen on any of the presets? Value a little control? No problem.
You can also manually alter the headrest, recliner, lumbar, arm rest and leg rest. You’re also able to extend, tilt and swivel to your heart’s content. Go right ahead and live your best chair life.
This versatility is taken to the next level when it’s time for the turn down service. As a bed it’s cosy and comfortable, which is aided by the accompanying Sheridan bedding. It’s beautiful to touch and be enveloped in. I plotted how I could shove it all into my carry-on as I dozed off.
I slept hard in this bed and wish that every flight could be like this.
I also feel that it’s my duty as a reporter to disclose that the massage functionality was … interesting.
I love a good massage chair. The ergonomic chair in my home office has a massage function because I’m just that extra. Similarly, one of my favourite features of the 2018 Audi A8 was the extremely hardcore massage ability in both the front and backseats.
Suffice to say that this is not my first muscle-kneading rodeo.
With that in mind, I can categorically say that this chair doesn’t so much massage as it vibrates. And it ain’t gentle.
I don’t think I need to explain any further but I was both surprised and glad that nobody around me seemed to be taking advantage of it. And that Magic Mike XXL wasn’t loaded into the entertainment system.
There’s an art to serving delicious food at altitude. It’s easy to get wrong, hence the tired jokes about airplane food. Fortunately, no such issues can be found with the Qantas First Class menu.
If you thought that I had gotten my fill in the lounge, you’re very much mistaken.
Similar to Business Class, refreshment service begins upon arrival with a welcome drink. In First you also receive delicious canapes.
For my entree and main I had a spiced carrot soup and a herb crusted salmon with corn puree, broccolini and king mushrooms. These were my least favourite dishes of the trip.
While there was certainly nothing wrong with them, they were forgettable. I’ve had meals just as good in Qantas Business Class and ones that far surpassed them on Emirates.
That being said, a delectable vanilla Madeleine cake with lemon curd and blueberries ended this culinary adventure perfectly. It was much better than the the First Lounge panna cotta at LAX, which was weirdly solid.
Here’s some of the menu for you perusal.
There was also quite a nice wine selection, though I can’t speak to it from an expert perspective, especially as I didn’t have any.
I like wine, but I am for all intense and purposes am a filthy casual. Upon inspection of the list I was informed by a fellow tech journalist that I did indeed screw up by not partaking in Qantas’ First Class vino offering.
And then there was breakfast.
After three weeks in America I really didn’t feel like ricotta pancakes with caramelised berries and maple cream. I was craving vegetables and Vitamins A-Z. But I obviously had to take one for the team. You’re welcome.
I balanced it out with a coconut chia pudding because … I just wanted it, okay?
The pudding was a refreshing starter and a great option if you want something sweet, but light.
The pancakes were perhaps a tad rubbery around the edges, but generally very tasty. They also weren’t massive, so I didn’t feel too much guilt for double parking breakfast items.
This was definitely my favourite meal of the flight. This isn’t particularly surprising as sweet dishes tend to travel well at altitude. This, along with a pressed green juice left me feeling rejuvenated and ready to face my first day of jet lag.
What’s Not So Good About It
My biggest tech disappointment in First Class was the entertainment console.
Oppressively cumbersome, it was difficult to comfortably hold. I had to awkwardly prop it up on my lap when it was out of the cradle.
The touchscreen response was also really bad. Forceful and repeated taps were needed when using a finger. This made scrolling through movies a long-winded and annoying exercise.
The only time it worked properly was when I whipped out a Samsung Note 9 stylus. I eventually opted to use the remote instead, which is the same one you’ll find across the Business Class.
Hopefully the planned A380 upgrades will include a more modern tablet system, like the ones you’ll find in Emirates Business.
As for the entertainment options themselves, they’re expansive, but the same as what you get in Economy and Business. There’s a mix of new releases and classics in the movie section, with breakout categories for Marvel and Harry Potter.
The television options aren’t quite as extensive, but you’ll still have plenty to choose from – including box sets and HBO shows.
When it comes to in-flight video games, they’re just as hilariously bad as every other airline I’ve ever been on. The controller (which is located on the back of the remote) is awkward to use, and your options are limited to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, some old school board games and some 8-bit looking titles that look like they were released in 1993. One was obviously Space Invaders rip off.
If you’re looking to game on the fly, you’re better off loading one up on your phone/tablet/laptop or investing in a Nintendo Switch.
While the A380 First Class cabin is both spacious, tidy and comfortable, the aesthetic isn’t particularly luxurious. The colour palette consists of muted neutrals such as beige, cream and brown. While it isn’t exactly ugly. it’s somewhat boring and doesn’t feel special.
A decor upgrade and a splash of colour would go a long way in making a customer feel like they’re having a First Class experience from the moment they step onto the plane.
While the bathrooms were clean and pleasant enough to use, I found that the amenities left a little to be desired. The basics skewed quite masculine with razors and shaving cream. While you could theoretically use these on your legs, I wouldn’t try it in the small confines of a plane bathroom without a few yoga lessons first.
Comparatively, you can find perfume and even some skincare products in Emirates and Singapore Airlines restrooms.
While the amenities bag does have skincare aimed at everyone – it would be nice for the restroom itself to be a little more inclusive of feminine needs. Fancy toiletries aside, it would be lovely to see more airlines (not just Qantas) have hygiene products on offer for when a Red Wedding decides to appear mid-flight.
Is It Worth it?
When it comes to dropping cash on First Class, flights between LA and Sydney usually start at around $11,000. If you have the kind of money to comfortably afford this, you probably don’t need my opinion on the subject. Can we be friends, though?
But what about those of us who can only afford this level of luxury via upgrades?
The first thing you need to know is that flight upgrades are incremental – you can’t jump from Economy to First. The only reason I was able to move up was because I was already booked into Business.
The upgrade itself cost me 50,000 Qantas Points, and while this was certainly a better deal than shelling out my own money – it was still an investment.
Earlier in the trip 100,000 points bought my partner and I flights between Las Vegas, New Orleans, New York and Los Angeles. All we had to pay in actual dollars was $US33 due to taxes.
Using half that amount on a single upgrade felt incredibly luxurious in comparison.
On the flip side, I was able to sleep really well on the flight. Delicious food and cocktails are great and all, but I still rate 8 solid hours of comfortable sleep above it all.
If you need to work after landing or find it really difficult to sleep in economy, it just might be worth it for you.
The Qantas bed was on par with that offered by Singapore Airlines between Changi and Sydney. I couldn’t have been happier with it.
Alternatively, I find Qantas’ Business Class seats to be quite comfortable. You don’t get turn down service, but the chair does flatten into a bed and I’ve always been able to get a good amount of rest in them. This is definitely a cheaper solution worth considering, especially if you’re looking to upgrade from economy.
As an added bonus, you get access to the same on-board bar as First passengers on the A380 if you fly Business.
If you have the points to spare, Qantas First Class is worth trying at least once. Flying becomes exponentially more fun and relaxing when you have a bit of privacy and don’t have to worry about disturbing the person next to you every time you want to pee.
It feels like a treat where I get to switch off from the world, partake in some lovely cuisine and watch all of the movies I need to catch up on.
Considering that the Qantas A380 fit out is due for an upgrade anyway, it might be worth saving your points until you can spend them on the shiny new version. Though I suspect you’ll have some competition.
This post was originally published on February 6, 2019.