Flight review: Qantas flight QF11 in Premium Economy from Sydney to Los Angeles

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Qantas Premium Economy review from Sydney to Los Angeles
Qantas Premium Economy seats on its Airbus A380

Qantas Premium Economy is often referred as “Business Light” rather than an enhanced economy product. If your budget allows or if you have enough Qantas Frequent Flyer points to make the upgrade it is well worth the investment, from the seats, to the meals and priority boarding it makes flying over the Pacific that little easier.

Qantas premium economy is often referred to as BUsiness Light

I was overall very impressed with the Premium Economy experience on Qantas, however there was one aspect of the flight that was a massive disapointment, and this was the level of service I received across multiple facets of the journey. 

Qantas flight QF11 is currently a daily service which flies between Sydney and New York’s JFK airport with a short 2 1/2 stopover in Los Angeles. The flight bewteen Los Angeles and New York requires a change of aircraft with a Boeing 747 operating the leg to New York. When I took this flight in early 2014 it was operated as an afternoon departure from Sydney with Los Angeles being is final destination before returning to Sydney later that evening.

Qantas offers the best Premium Economy experience available for Australians travelling from Australia to the US West Coast.

Check-in & Lounge

Flying to Los Angeles with Qantas on QF11 booked in Premium Economy allows passengers to check-in at their dedicated Premium Economy desks, which at Sydney Airport can be found on the right hand side of the premium check-in desk area with First class check-in located on the far left hand side.

Qantas premium check-in area at Sydney’s T1 International Terminal

Arriving right on the 3 hour check-in threshold for the flight to open (I took this flight before Qantas introduced their new policy to allow guests with luggage to check-in any time before their flight up until 60 minutes before departure) as a Gold member of Qantas’ Frequent Flyer program I proceeded to the Business Class check-in desk where there was only 1 person waiting in front of me and I was checked-in with my bag tagged within 5 minutes of being at the desk. As I have found with the Qantas check-in staff at the international terminal in Sydney the attitude can be very hit and miss, and on this occasion the agent did the bare minimum to engage with me simply asking for my passport, that I had packed the bags myself, my address in Los Angeles and if I had a copy of my itinerary to prove my return date. This isn’t uncommon as I have even experienced this type of attitude and lack of engagement at the First Class check-in area.

After filling in my immigration departure card I proceeded to head straight through to Immigration and security. Being the late part of the morning peak departure rush at Sydney airport I did find myself waiting in line for about 10 minutes for Immigration and then once through I had about another 10 minute wait for security. I am very pleased to report that Sydney Airport (as of September 2015) have introduced electronic departure kiosks for Immigration and save a great deal of time when leaving via Sydney airport. I will have a more detailed look at the new system in an upcoming review.

Entrance to the departure gates at Sydney International Terminal

After security I made my way through the maze of duty free shops and headed up to the Qantas Business Lounge. I will provide a detailed review of the lounge experience, however I was left disapointed with the quality of service which I received, however it is a nice lounge with a good array of food and drink options with showers and free WiFi to pass the time before my flight.

View from the Qantas Business Lounge
A decent spread of options for lunch
A light lunch from the Qantas Business Lounge buffet

Boarding

As Qantas operates multiple flights to the US each day, and with the added security required by the US TSA (Transportation Security Administration) almost all of Qantas’ US bound flights leave from either gates 8 or 9, which are located at the very north of Sydney’s T1 International terminal. Each provide large gate areas with easy access for secondary screening (unlike Melbourne airport which is often a nightmare whilst waiting for the secondary screening to commence).

QF 11 today was departing from Gate 8, one of the furthest gates and Terminal 1

Today’s flight was to be departing from gate 8, which has the longest aero-bridge in Australia! Boarding is split into 4 lines; 1 dedicated for First Class, 1 for Business Class, Premium Economy and a small economy section at the very back of the Qantas A380 – which is generally reserved for full-fare paying passengers, Platinum and Platinum One Frequent Flyers and Chairman’s Lounge passengers who have been unsuccessful in securing an upgrade, and 2 lanes to board passengers seated in Economy on the lower deck. Platinum One and Platinum Frequent Flyers can use the dedicated First Class boarding lane at the gate to board the aircraft without having to wait in either the Business or Economy queues.

Qantas normally boards its international flights about 40 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, and today the call was made a little earlier than normal at about 2:10pm for our 3:00pm departure on QF11.

Approx. 3/4 of the way down the long aero-bridge there are 3 options to board the aircraft. A dedicated aero-bridge for First Class, one for Business, Premium Economy and Economy seats at the rear of the upper deck, and finally one bridge solely for economy passengers. As this was my first flight on the A380 sitting on the upper deck I was amazed by how different the feeling is when actually walking up an aero-bridge to board directly into the upper deck of the A380.

Upon entering the cabin it is a sobering feeling to have to walk through all of Business Class (the the copious amount of leg-room each seat has!) before making my way to the Premium Economy Cabin. Today I would be sitting in seat 24B which is at the very front of the Premium Economy section (opposite the Flight Attendant) which I didn’t realise until I sat in the seat that I would actually have more legroom than Business Class, just not a lie-flat bed though – not bad though, not bad at all.

The Seat

The Qantas International Premium Economy seat and experience has been dubbed more of a “Business Lite” product rather than a Premium Economy experience and after spending 13+ hours in the seat I 100% agree. The seat, the service, the check-in and ability to get off the plane quicker than most economy passengers even though we were at the back of the upper deck truly elevates the entire package so something that is similar to business class travel on other international airlines.

Qantas Premium Economy seat with pillow & blanket

The seat itself is great, its 19.5 inches wide (2 inches more than economy) and it reclines up to 9 inches and sitting at the very front of the Premium Economy section it felt like I had even more space. The Qantas Premium Economy seat also provides for a great leg rest which is especially important on long-haul flights between Australia and the Untied States. I also really appreciated the small cocktail tray that was placed between the seats which gives you a great spot to put your drink or snack while watching  a movie or TV show without having to get the tray-table out, and makes it easier to leave stuff when you need to get up to stretch your legs or go to the bathroom.

Better leg room than in Business Class in row 24

I was one of the first to board the plane and the first in the Premium Economy section, and being my first time on the upper deck of the A380 I noticed that the window seats on both sides of the aircraft each had a small locker next to them, and I immediately regretted my decision not to take the window seat, as it would have meant I could have stored my briefcase in the side locker and have constant access throughout the flight. As the aircraft began to fill it was obvious that this was going to be a light flight across the Pacific this afternoon, and as we inched closer to our scheduled departure time I was growing increasingly excited that the window seat next to me would remain empty. About 5 minutes to our scheduled departure time of 3:00pm the Qantas Customer Service Manager made an announcement that the door was now closed and for the flight attendants to make their final preparations. This already comfortable flight just got a whole lot more enjoyable!

Qantas Premium Economy cabin on the A380
Seat 24A
Small yet very handy locker on the Qantas A380 upper deck

When I arrived at my seat I found a pillow and blanket waiting on my seat. The pillow and blanket are the same as the ones which are used for the Business cabin and further enhance the feeling of a Business Light product. The blanket is exceptionally good as it has a sheet woven into one side and feels more like a doona than just a blanket, added to the fact that it is sealed in a plastic bag prior to use enhances the experience knowing that the blanket has at the very least been washed or dry-cleaned between uses.

Amenity Kit

The amenity kit provided by Qantas for its Premium Economy passengers is the same as the economy amenity kit, however on this flight I did not receive one, which I found a little disappointing. I will detail the experience I encountered with the crew in more detail at the end of this review, however overall I was quite disappointed with the level of engagement and service provided throughout the flight.

Amenity kits are becoming quite a battleground for full service airlines today as they continue to respond to the changing needs of passengers particularly in the long-haul market in the premium cabins. As much I was disappointed that Qantas opts to only provide the same amenity kit in Premium Economy as Economy passengers, not that I had a chance to personally test it out though.

Australia’s East Coast slowly disappearing as we head towards Los Angeles

Dining

Meals across all cabins on Qantas have improved remarkably over the last decade with the partnership between Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group and Qantas. Whilst Rockpool initially were tasked with designing and delivering meals for Business and First class passengers this partnership now covers all inflight meals and food served across the Qantas Lounge network – and overall the Qantas dining experience is now an industry leader.

Menu for today’s flight on QF11 in Premium Economy

When I flew on this flight, Qantas flight QF11, it was previously operated as an afternoon departure from Sydney with a mid morning arrival into Los Angeles (this has now been changed and QF11 departs Sydney either mid-morning or late morning with an early morning {6:30am} arrival into Los Angeles) and the meal sequence was as follows:

First mealDinnerApprox. 2 1/2 hours into flightGrilled Pork with Almond and Mint sauce with Roasted Chat Potatoes
 SnackOn demand if / when requestedToasted Turkish Bread with Smoked Turkey, Gruyere, Cranberry Sauce and baby Spinach
Second mealBreakfastApprox. 2 hours prior to arrivalOrange Juice, Warmed Home Style Muffin, Seasonal Fresh Fruit and Cereal with Milk and filtered coffee
Lunch options
Refreshments and breakfast options for later during the flight
Beverage options available to Premium Economy passengers

Menu’s for QF 11 to Los Angeles were handed out shortly after take-off and I was having a pretty hard time choosing between either the pork or the chicken casserole. Shortly after the menu’s were distributed the crew began a drinks service, upon which I ordered my usual Coke Zero, being in Premium Economy it was a nice touch to receive the drink in a glass with ice rather than just a plastic cup with ice. As mentioned earlier it was also great to be able to place the drink on the cocktail table and not have to bring out the tray-table to hold the drink. I was surprised that I wasn’t offered any peanuts or snack to accompany the drink – particularly as it turned out the main meal wouldn’t be served for another couple of hours.

A drink service was offered shortly after take-off, however no nuts or snacks were offered

When making my decision as to what I should have for lunch / dinner I did wonder what the quality of a pork dish would be like being prepared for a long-haul flight and decided that I would try it out, and I was certainly glad that I did. Meal requests were taken about 30 minutes after the first drink service has been completed. It was interesting to note that I did overhear one of the flight attendants asking a passenger in the row behind me what his lunch order was, whilst at the same time confirming that he wanted to make sure that he received his choice as he was a Platinum Frequent Flyer – the spoils of being top dog in the frequent flyer program.

Lunch on today’s flight to Los Angeles aboard QF11

Unlike in economy each meal is served in its own china rather than the normal airplane hot dish tray which was a very nice touch. The meal service is very similar to the Qantas Business Class meal service where the crew come by and seat up your table with a table cloth and then proceed to place a pre-made tray on your table with cutlery, wine and water glasses, side salad and side plate already set up. The only difference from the Business Class service is that in Business there is no try and it is all placed individually on your tray. After my tray had been set up my pork dish was delivered and placed on the remaining place on my table. I was then offered to accompany my meal with either a red or white wine and I chose red, which for the life of me I cannot remember the name of, however  I do remember that it was not very pleasing and did not finish the glass I was poured, instead opting to drink the water and requested a Coke Zero once the crew had finished the meal service for other passengers. After my main meal was plated I was then offered a bread roll which I accepted and this was delivered directly from a bread basket and placed on my side plate. I devoured the pork and couldn’t believe how nice the taste was for a reheated piece of meat and the potatoes were the perfect accompaniment, and the baby spinach was tasty however I found that the amount was a little too much.

Grilled Pork with Almond and Mint sauce with Roasted Chat Potatoes
Side plate with butter, cheese, vinaigrette and crackers
A glass of red was offered and poured alongside a glass of water
Bread was offered separately

About an hour after the meal service began my plates were removed and I was offered dessert which on this flight was ice cream at which I, surprisingly, declined as I was still quite full from dinner. One point that I did find frustrating was that the Premium Economy cabin did not have its own snack bar – similar to what is available in the Economy and Business cabins, and anytime I wanted a drink or snack I would have to call the cabin crew, which on this flight was like pulling teeth.

The aftermath – a nice lunch, however the wine was not enjoyable

During the flight my decision to not have dessert did come back to haunt me as I began to get hungry and decided that I would partake in a mid flight snack. The Smoked Turkey toasted sandwich sounded enticing and I ordered it with a Coke Zero (you may have noticed a pattern with my inflight hydration strategy!). What was now starting to become a real annoyance was that between when I ordered the snack and delivery was close to an hour, and in fact I had to use the call button to ask a different flight attendant to chase up on my snack – which was greeted with a level of hostility that I have never seen before (or since thankfully) on any Qantas flight I have taken. Whilst I did have to wait longer than expected I was again surprised by the quality of the food, the sandwich was extremely tasty and just the right size to cover my hunger until breakfast.

Mid flight snack – A very tasty Smoked turkey toasted sandwich
Finally arrived – snack and drink somewhere over the Pacific

There is something enchanting about the smell of breakfast wafting through the cabin on flights across the Pacific, breakfast is around the corner and it’s not far until touching day in the United States. Breakfast on our flight was served a little under two hours until we were due to land in Los Angeles. The service for breakfast was remarkably different where everything was prepared in the galley and delivered to your table, after a table cloth had again been placed on your tray table. I normally choose a hot breakfast on flights to the US and on return however on this flight I chose the Continental Breakfast which consisted of a muffin, fruit salad, orange juice and a coffee. The fruit was quite tasty and the muffin, although rather small, was flavoursome. I find that once you have left Australian shores the chances of getting a decent coffee again generally evaporate until your feet have touched down again on Australian soil. That being said there are a couple of cafes in New York and Brooklyn that are trying to introduce quality coffee to Americans, we will be posting more about that shortly.

Continental breakfast served on QF11 in Premium Economy
Small but tasty muffin
Fresh fruit salad about 2 hours before landing into Los Angeles
Cereal and milk
Orange juice, water and coffee

Overall the quality of food on Qantas’ QF11 flight from Sydney to Los Angeles was well above what I was expecting and has come along way in a short amount of time, the partnership with the Rockpool group is a clear winner for passengers.

Entertainment

The design of the Qantas Premium Economy seat requires that each seat has its own personal 10.6 inch touch screen entertainment unit built into the arm rest of the seat with a controller built into the seat for additional assistance which as the A380s are now starting to show some signs of age can actually be more responsive than using the touch screen to navigate through the menus.

10.6 inch personal touch screen entertainment system

The Qantas inflight entertainment was upgraded with the introduction of the A380 however I find the menu structure is now becoming a little archaic and generally doesn’t allow for quick transition between different options, such as flipping from movies to TV shows or even different genres in the same category.

View from the A380 tail camera on decent into Los Angeles

During the flight I spent far too much time working and not nearly enough time relaxing and watching movies. I did manage to watch an entire season of Two and a Half Men and a few other TV shows to whittle away the time. Having the spare seat next to me I was able to use the screen next to me to keep the inflight map open to see how our progress was tracking which was great.

Time to catch up binge watching some TV shows

For business travellers the Qantas Premium Economy seat comes with built in AC power allow you to remain charged up throughout the flight. The power point is found at the front of the seat next to the leg rest.

One of the great advantages of flying on the A380 is that passengers are able to get a birds eye view of the flight from a camera which is mounted / built into the tail, which is great for watching take-offs and landing in exotic locations, that is unless you are seated in Premium Economy or Business on a Qantas A380. The design of the entertainment system in each cabin requires that the entertainment screens be locked away during taxi, take-off and landing which means no access to the Tail Camera but also negates the benefit of having gate to gate in-flight entertainment which passengers in First Class and Economy are able to enjoy for the entire flight.

One aspect that I love about Premium Economy is that Qantas provide passengers with their own set of (non-branded) noise cancelling headphones to enjoy the 100s of hours of inflight audio and video. I personally travel with my own set of Bose QC25 noise cancelling headphones which are brilliant and the two can’t realistically be compared. I did find the Qantas pair a little smaller and tighter around my ears and the noise cancelling quality wasn’t nearly as good but still well above normal airline supplied headphones, and I did pass a number of passengers who had managed to fall asleep wearing the headphones.

Cabin

The Qantas A380 is the flagship of the Qantas fleet and there was monumental amount of research and testing that went into the design and development prior to the deployment of the first Qantas A380 aptly named Nancy Bird Walton. After its first introduction in 2008 some of the aircraft are starting to show their age however overall I was very happy with the condition of the Premium Economy cabin on QF11 for my flight.

The morning view from QF11 about an hour before arrival into LAX

That being said in my opinion the biggest gripe that I have is that unlike in economy and First class there is no easily identifiable self service snack bar for Premium Economy customers which means you are solely reliant on the crew for drinks and snacks during the flight, which for my flight meant dealing with a rude crew who made it feel like I was imposing on their time when I politely requested a drink.

Getting close now, the flight path showing arrival is only 42 minutes away

On the plus size the intimate nature of the cabin ensured the crew to passenger ration was higher than what you get in economy, with the only problem on this flight being the quality of the crew. Another bonus was that there were bathrooms at the front of the Premium Economy cabin which serve both the Business class cabin and the Premium Economy passengers and another set of toilets at the rear of the small Economy cabin for Economy and Premium Economy passengers, which meant not having to wait for the bathroom once during the 13 hour flight, which included the normal rush to get dressed again after breakfast had been cleared away. As mentioned earlier a big feature of the Upper Deck is that for passengers sitting in the window seat have access to a small locker to make use of the space next to the seats created by the curvature of the fuselage of the aircraft.

Staff

The service I received on this flight was without a doubt some of the worst service I have ever experienced since I started travelling with Qantas over 25 years ago. From the check-in staff, to lounge staff and finally cabin crew each staff member I came encountered on this journey could easily be categorised as merely going through the motions and not one I encountered showed any enthusiasm for the role in which they were operating. The one exception that I came across was the Customer Service Manager who made a point to come and introduce himself to me during the flight and enquired about my travels. I understand and appreciate that the gesture was purely due to my Gold level status as a Frequent Flyer however the gesture seemed anything but manufactured and seemed to take a genuine interest in my travels.

Value

For a return Premium Economy fare from Sydney to New York in late January I paid approx. $4,700 with a stopover each direction in Los Angeles and made directly through the Qantas website.. In terms of value I was very happy with the price paid given the time of year (Australian summer school holidays), booking lead time (only 7 weeks) and the flexibility of the ticket which allowed me to make a change to the itinerary once travel had commenced. The value of the entire would have greatly diminished had the quality of service remained the same for the remaining 3 Qantas flights, however I am happy to say that the level of service on subsequent flights return to levels I come to expect from Qantas.

Overall Impressions

I was incredibly impressed with hard product of Qantas International Premium Economy, that being the seat, the entertainment, the cabin and the food. The biggest let down was the quality of the staff which I believe significantly reduced the overall experience, and I am prepared to put this down to a simple anomaly considering the otherwise high levels of service and professionalism I have come to expect with Qantas.

I have seen Qantas offering return Premium Economy fares from Australia’s East Coast to New York for as little as $3,000 and at these prices I would recommend that if you are able to afford the fare to jump at the opportunity to make the journey more comfortable.

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