A lot of Australians love visiting Europe, but the necessity of book ending these trips with approximately 24 hours in a plane is regarded with unanimous horror. How to make this travel bearable is the subject of many conversations with family and friends, and everyone has their own favourite solution. Have an eight-hour stopover and book yourself into a hotel airport in Dubai to sleep. Go via Singapore and spend a few days sightseeing with the kids. Drink enough alcohol to forget how uncomfortable you are. Spend some time in Japan on the way back, and let the traditional hot springs soak the knots out of your contorted muscles.
Being unencumbered by adorable but expensive children, and wanting to maximise the time I get to spend in Europe, my personal solution is to fly straight through but NEVER DO IT IN ECONOMY. Use your frequent flier points for a reward booking or an upgrade, or pay for the ticket outright. I don’t care. Just get yourself up the pointy end of the plane if at all humanly possible.
I followed this rule for my recent trip, and accordingly found myself in Business Class on a Qantas A380 flight from Melbourne to London, with a brief fuel-stop in Dubai.
Qantas offer a chauffeur service to all First and Business Class passengers travelling from Australia to Dubai or London. I am starting my journey with a connecting flight from Sydney to Melbourne, so have booked the service to take me from my Sydney address to the domestic airport. My driver calls the day before to confirm time and address details, and arrives promptly two hours before my flight. The vehicle that has been sent is much too big for just me and my bags, but the driver is polite and helpful, and my giant suitcase and I make it to Departures at Sydney airport in record time.
The priority queue is very short at this time of day, and within seconds I have been called to the desk and am being checked in by a friendly Qantas staff member. She checks me and my bags right through to London, which means I don’t need to mess around with collecting bags or checking in again once I get to Melbourne, and I am soon tucking into a delicious smoked salmon bruschetta in the domestic Business Lounge. A short flight to Melbourne later, I grab my hand luggage and easily navigate to the international terminal, where I breeze through security with the Express Pass given to all Business Class passengers on check in, and enter the International Business Lounge.
The lounge is fairly standard and not particularly exiting, but it provides comfortable seating and is not crowded. There is the usual buffet of hot and cold food, with a reasonable selection of drinks, and power points for charging devices are plentiful. In my family, nobody is allowed to leave the country without first speaking to every other member of the family on the phone, so I spend most of my time in the lounge striding around, chatting on the phone while I do laps of the facility and try to get some walking in before the long flight!
The seat is comfortable and fully adjustable, with a massage function and the ability to “save” your preferred and angle and return to it after moving your chair to eat or sleep. Despite the airline’s claims, the seat does not recline into a 100% fully flat bed, but it’s close enough that I’m not going to quibble. After supper, flight attendants come around to offer “turn down service”, which involves fitting a mattress onto the seat and reclining it into the sleeping position, and well as providing a cup of T2 Sleep Time Tea, which is a nice touch. The real test of an airline seat (and the entire point of going business class, in my opinion) is whether or not I can get any sleep. With the help of a light sedative, I manage five uninterrupted hours, with another two after a brief stretch and a trip to the bathroom, so I’m a happy customer.
The entertainment system is easy to use, due to the hand held control at my elbow. The selection of films/television seems wide, but I am so tired by the time I actually leave for my holiday that I end up watching Full House reruns, because it’s all my brain has capacity for! The screen is large, with an adjustable position, and the Bose noise cancelling headphones work perfectly.
Qantas provides business class amenity kits in colourful Kate Spade bag for women, and a more Sober Jack Spade version for men. The brand featured for toiletries is ASPAR by Aurora Spa, and my bag contains Sweet Orange & Shea Hand Cream, Vanilla & Orange Lip Moisturiser and an Ultra Hydrating Face Moisturiser, as well as the usual cotton socks, eye mask and toothbrush. Being the skincare fanatic that I am, I have brought my own supplies for in-flight comfort and don’t use any of this, but it makes a nice extra gift for a friend I’ll be staying with in London.
The amenity I DO get excited about is the famous Qantas business class pyjamas. The soft grey Peter Morissey-designed pj’s are 100% cotton, with the Qantas kangaroo printed on the front and a generous loose fit. These are handed out by flight attendants as soon as we board, and there is a rush to the bathrooms to put them on before takeoff. I am amused by the sudden uniformity of everyone wearing identical grey pyjamas, but most importantly, I am comfortable! Topping off the ensemble with some cashmere slippers from Banjo and Matilda, I snuggle down with a blanket and a book to await takeoff.
The time of my flight means that supper is served first, followed by breakfast before landing. I have taken advantage of Qantas’ option to select your meal online ahead of time, and am quickly tucking into a bowl of pea and mint soup, followed by grilled trout on polenta, and a cheese board and chocolate for dessert. The food is good, if slightly bland, and served attractively with a linen cloth, heavy cutlery and sides of fresh bread and salad.
For breakfast, I opt for scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and a cup of peppermint tea, and the eggs are probably the best I’ve ever had in the air.
I’m not too keen on the in-flight snacks (potato chips, bars of dark chocolate) but the food served at mealtimes is plentiful enough that this isn’t really a problem.
The service is friendly, with a personal welcome from the cabin supervisor, but flight attendants don’t seem to be allocated to particular groups of passengers, which can make service patchy in places. When I get up to ask for a bottle of water, I am told that there should should have been one waiting at my seat when I boarded. I explain that there wasn’t one, and am asked if I am sure. “We’re only allowed to give one to each passenger, and then we have to refill them” explains the flight attendant. I insist that I am not hiding my original bottle of water in order to snag a second one, and she finally gives in. This is a jarring note in otherwise pleasant service, and I am surprised that Qantas would be so stingy with the in-flight hydration. I make a mental note to stock up on bottled water when we stop over in Dubai, and resign myself to requesting frequent refills until then.
We have a brief stopover in Dubai for refuelling, and not being inclined to shop after such a long flight, I head directly to the Emirates Business Lounge. The lounge is giant, but well thought-out with elegant decor, and I remember the food being pretty good on previous visits. My first priority is to have a shower, and after a five minute wait I am shown to a clean and well-appointed shower cubicle, where towels, slippers and basic toiletries are in generous supply. Having rendered myself human again and dealt with some urgent skin hydration, I head to the area closest to my departure gate, and find a generous and varied breakfast buffet available. I snack on some of the Middle Eastern options available, before retreating to a table in the corner with a cup of tea and a giant bottle of mineral water.
This is where my smooth stopover experience in interrupted, with one a one hour delay being announced, and then followed by another one-hour delay. When we finally board, two and a half hours after the scheduled time, the pilot makes an announcement to explain that bad weather has caused lengthy delays, and that many flights have actually been cancelled. He tells us he is determined to get us into the air this morning, but that we’ll have to wait for the go-ahead. Forty-five minutes later, during which the business class flight attendants have kept drinks, snacks and hot towels in generous supply, we finally take off. The delay was unfortunate and annoying, but I am pleased with the way Qantas has handled it and very relieved not to have been forced to disembark and check into a hotel to wait out the inclement weather.
After the delay in Dubai, we arrive at Heathrow around 6pm, and a second Express Path pass ensures that my Customs experience is quick and painless. After collecting my priority-tagged luggage I make my way to the arrivals hall, where a sign is being held up for all Qantas business class passengers who have booked the Chauffeur Drive service. There is a short wait, but I am soon introduced to my driver and on my way to my London Hotel.
Overall, I enjoyed my flight. Service was not as personalised as you might find on some airlines, but the seat was comfortable, the food was good and I managed to sleep, which is my ultimate priority. At the end of the day, I arrived in London rested and feeling like a functional human being: you really can’t put a price on that.