When an airline is grounded for upwards of 18 months, things are bound to be different on the other side. While still in its infancy, the ‘post-Covid’ Qantas promises exactly what the airline is renowned for: great cabins, service and food. Having flown Qantas’ Los Angeles routes countless times, the airline truly reached a pre-Covid highpoint, with polished, refined service, and the future was certainly promising.
When I boarded QF12, a Dreamliner service from Los Angeles-Sydney in business class, I was excited. The Premium Economy offering, which I had flown weeks earlier, was excellent. But, on such a competitive route, and at a price of roughly AU$6000 ($4500), Business Class needed to deliver. Were my expectations too high?
Flight Number: QF12
Flight Time: 14:25
Aircraft Registration: VH-ZNH (Boeing 787-9)
Travel to Australia, while only open to fully-vaccinated citizens and permanent residents, is complex. The 72-hour pre-departure testing window is standard, and a far cry from the exceptionally tight 24-hour window faced when traveling to the United States.
So, two days before my flight, I was treated to a $150 nasal swab overlooking Beverly Hills, and, armed with a negative result, the pre-departure process is surprisingly straightforward. By contrast, the airport Covid testing in Melbourne, Australia, saw me endure a grueling 6-hour queue, along with most other passengers on my flight, QF93.
Qantas has tried hard to ensure the check-in process is as seamless as possible. At Los Angeles International, Qantas staff and Australian Border Force agents will check all documentation, before other staff complete the check-in process.
With Los Angeles serving as a major overseas hub, Qantas previously offered both a Business Class (and broader Oneworld) and a luxurious First Class lounge. While the airline is preparing to open the First Class lounge when the Airbus A380 resumes service in February, all eligible passengers utilised the Business lounge.
While it did fill up, the lounge was never crowded. A bartender quickly prepared terrific coffee and alcoholic beverages, and there was never a queue. No champagne was on offer, but instead premium sparkling wine.
The food offering was good, but inferior compared to the First Class offerings like calamari and pavlova. Buffet dishes included chicken cassoulet, vegetable curry, and fresh salads.
Boarding offered another opportunity to conduct a document check, ensuring that any last issues would be resolved prior to arriving in Australia. Social distancing was maintained and enforced.
Qantas has always excelled in seating, and the Dreamliner is no exception. The design, based on the Thompson Vantage XL suites, affords ample privacy, even in the middle seats.
A simple control panel offers a broad range of pre-configured seating positions, including a reasonable recline approved for takeoff and landing. Additionally, the seat has an effective massage function, and the ability to recline to a host of different angles.
The seat boasts a full recline, and although your feet extend into a footwell, your legs are never constricted. A mattress topper, warm blanket, and large pillow are provided, making for a very comfortable sleep – I managed to get around eight hours of sleep on this 14-hour flight.
The inflight dining was familiar and delicious, with no change to the pre-Covid format. A separate breakfast menu card is provided, allowing passengers to customise their meal and maximise rest.
Dinner was served promptly after takeoff. The service from the cabin crew was refined and courteous – a standout feature of the airline. Rather than the usual pre-Covid tablecloth service, Qantas opted to use a single tray – initially containing a green salad and sourdough bread.
I started with the Morrocan carrot soup, which was the overwhelming choice in the Business cabin. It was both interesting and tasty, however, the portion was small, but nevertheless sufficient.
For the main, I opted for the beef fillet with garlic potato and jus. While passengers were not offered any choice in the cooking temperature, it was served medium-well. Uncharacteristically for airline steak, Qantas managed to keep the meat tender and well seasoned, and the portion was generous. However, Qantas could improve on the presentation, perhaps serving the sauce on the side.
Dessert for me was a simple vanilla gelato, although many passengers indulged in a chocolate mousse cake or cheese plate. A broad variety of wine and liquors were offered, and the crew were happy to offer wine tastings or explanations to passengers.
The first meal was superb, and, in an era where airlines are performing poorly in onboard catering, Qantas excelled.
On this 14-hour flight, a large variety of mid-flight refreshments were offered. I ordered the toasted chicken schnitzel sandwich midway through the flight, and it was fresh and delicious. BBQ potato chips and chocolates were also offered in a small makeshift bar, as well as during regular crew visits to the cabin.
Two hours prior to arrival, the crew served breakfast – again on individualised trays. The cabin lights were never turned on, allowing passengers to continue sleeping until the top of descent. I selected the buttermilk pancakes, served with compote and yoghurt, as well as fruit salad and a croissant.
Having tried an almost-identical dish pre-Covid, I was disappointed with the pancakes. Unfortunately, they were hard and difficult to cut, and the yoghurt and berry compote collectively made the dish quite sour. Nevertheless, this meal was creative and tasted alright, and the crew were proactive in refilling drinks and offering other snacks.
After abolishing inflight entertainment during the height of Covid, Qantas re-invested in a terrific IFE product. The Panasonic screen was high quality, with the touch function working perfectly.
Of particular note, Qantas was showing the new James Bond film, No Time to Die, while still in cinemas. The TV and film selection was up-to-date and offered a broad selection.
This was my first Qantas international flight in two years, and it was surprisingly familiar.
Considering the current state of airline travel, with lacklustre service from numerous carriers, it was terrific to be served good food, have access to extensive IFE, and experience the genuine service Qantas is known for. Distinct from most carriers, I appreciated the fact that Qantas tried to streamline the experience as much as possible; paperwork was checked thoroughly at check-in, ensuring no issues when entering Australia.
At this stage, international travel to Australia is restricted to Australian citizens, permanent residents, and their families. However, changes to these rules are being heavily considered, with a possible border reopening to foreigners slated for February.
I can conclude that the flight was comfortable, familiar, and was no more stressful than a standard international flight experience.