My journey home from Sydney to Los Angeles on the Qantas A380 in first class was quite pleasant overall with a heavenly bed and superb onboard cuisine, though the service did not feel much like first class. Nevertheless, I would argue there is no better way to fly between California and Australia.
Qantas A380 First Class Review (SYD-LAX)
I booked my ticket using 110K American Airlines AAdvantage miles plus about $42 in taxes. I could have added extra segments (such as Perth to Sydney and/or Los Angeles – New York) for no extra points, as American uses a zone-based award chart that does not take into account total mileage as long as there is no backtracking.
I arose before dawn and left the Park Hyatt Sydney, taking the train to the airport. It was a quiet morning and the train remained mostly empty at 5:30 am.
Inside Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport I found the Qantas First check-in area, which is a dedicated area behind a marble parition with a trio of check-in desks and a seating area.
After obtaining my boarding pass, I proceeded through security and passport control and made my way to the Qantas International First Lounge, where I spent the next few hours.
About an hour before departure I headed downstairs to my boarding gate and found a gaggle of people, which is unsurprising considering the Qantas A380 has 485 seats onboard.
Interestingly, the woman who had checked me in was at the gate area, noticed me, and invited me to the very front of the line since I was flying first class.
Boarding commenced 40 minutes prior to departure.
Sydney (SYD) – Los Angeles (LAX)
Wednesday, October 25
Depart: 10:40 AM
Arrive: 06:25 AM
Duration: 13hr, 45min
Distance: 7,488 miles
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800
Seat: 2K (First Class)
Onboard, I found myself in an empty first class cabin, though it would soon fill up and depart 100% full.
The Qantas First Class cabin on the A380 features 14 seats in first class, making it one of the largest first class products in the world in terms of number of seats (compare this to eight on Lufthansa or four on Air France). The “open suites” were designed by Marc Newson and were refreshed in 2020 (new cushioning and fabrics plus a lighter color).
I quite like the color scheme and layout of the cabin which features a 1-1-1 configuration. If you choose the port side (“A” seats) you will have the most privacy since the starboard aisle is shared by passengers in both the “F” and “K” seats.
The swivel chair pivots between a forward facing “take-off and landing” position and an angled lounging position, and the seat reclines to form a fully lie-flat bed. It is 22.5 inches wide and extremely comfortable.
I greatly prefer window seats and would not choose an F seat, but privacy screens automatically rise after takeoff that effectively shield you from your neighbors. I think seat 2F has to be the strangest seat, since is located under the stairwell and so you are cozy and private, but cannot stand up fully without bumping your head.
Each suite has two storage compartments, a fold-down cocktail table, and perhaps most importantly, a pair of multi-directional air nozzles integrated into the seat shell that help you stay cool even if the cabin is warm (it was not). There are no additional overhead air vents.
Finally, there are universal A/C and USB-A ports in each seats, a passenger service unit, and a wall-mounted touchscreen system to control the seats.
Bedding includes a comforter, day blanket, mattress pad, and two pillows…it is among the best in the sky.
The cabin appeared clean, but I noticed a lot of crumbs on the floor when I peered behind my seat.
IFE + Wi-Fi
Qantas still has not installed wi-fi onboard its A380 jets, but plans to do so. As much as it is nice to unplug sometimes, that is simply not competitive and it stressed me out a bit to get all my work done ahead of the flight because I knew I would be offline for 13 hours.
However, the IFE system is quite nice. Each seat feature an 18-inch touchscreen HD display and there is a massive library of movies, TV shows, games, and music available. Furthermore, there was a moving map and tailcam which was operational (unlike on my outbound flight) and even a few in-flight exercise videos. I suppose I could have gone up to the lounge to do some stretching…
The headphones are the same as United Airlines offers in business class.
The windows are small on the A380, but I love how quiet this aircraft is!
Speaking of the lounge, I went upstairs to check it out after takeoff and find it quite quaint. I prefer first class upstairs with massive bathrooms where the lounge is (Singapore, Lufthansa, and Emirates do it like this), but it is a nice place to stretch out during the flight and when I went up again a couple hours later, it was crowded.
Returning downstairs, I changed into my pajamas for the long flight ahead. The Qantas First branded pajamas form Martin Grant (slippers too) were very comfortable and were not baggy or oversized (I chose S/M size).
I took them with with me and have worn them at home.
A fairly unmemorable amenity kit was presented before takeoff, though it did have “Qantas First” labeling on it.
Contents included an eye mask, socks, dental kit, ear plugs, and skin products from LaGaia Unedited. This is very much a business class amenity kit…it did not even have a pen or shoehorn or comb/brush. But I tend to find amenity kits gimmicks anyway.
Food + Drink
The highlight of the flight was the meal service, which exceeded my expectations, with every course delicious and certain menu items that really made for unique airplane meals.
Upon boarding, I was offered a choice of beverage as well as some canapés including olives and mixed nuts. I appreciated the extra dish for the olive seeds. I just drank sparkling water.
Menus were distributed, including a separate wine list:
Service is performed a la carte style, with a menu inspired by Chef Neil Perry. Once in the air, lunch service began about two hours into the flight (more on that below).
First, a flight attendant came around and took drink and meal orders, asking for all courses at the same time (which made sense so that the meal could be properly paced).
I tried the “Signature First Cocktail” by Maybe Sammy but did not like it very much (and I thought the idea of eucalyptus in a drink was a great one, but it just was not the taste I was looking for).
I ordered a Negroni instead (subsisting Vermouth for a desert wine) and found it quite satisfactory.
More canapés were served, including a Calvisius cavair tartlet with Pepe Saya creme fraiche and a grilled prawn with crispy shallots and cashews dressed in tamarind sauce.
Next the table was set for lunch, including a bowl for olive oil and a dish of sea salt.
Bread was served and the garlic bread was rolled like a cinnamon roll together, with four small bites merged into one lager roll.
The soup course was quite a treat, which included roasted tomato soup with Queensland spanner crab, zucchini, and fennel.
I also ordered a side salad and a glass of red wine, a very poignant Shiraz from Australia.
The runaway highlight of the meal was the lamb cutlets (“crumbed Margra lamb cutlets with roast cherry tomato and olive salsa, rocket, and Parmigano-Reggiano), which were perfectly cooked (medium) and covered in a savory herb crust. Margra bills itself as Australia’s finest lamb.
Next, I enjoyed a cheese course served with fig and walnut plus a poppy-sesame lavosh. Selection included:
- Tarwin Blue – Gippsland Victoria – cow’s milk, blue vein
- Woombye Ash Brie – Queensland – cows milk, mole cream
- Pyengana Cheddar – Tasmania – cow’s milk, matured cheddar
- Yarra Black Savourine – Victoria – goats milk, white mould
Finally, I had an affogato for dessert, which included vanilla bean ice cream from Pat and Stic’s plus muscat (cream sauce), macadamia biscotti, and of course espresso followed by chocolate truffles.
I slept or the next seven hours, so there was no in-flight snack on this flight, though the menu included a long list of snacks and (theoretically, a second main for those were peckish).
Before landing, I enjoyed breakfast – I had an egg white omelet and avocado toast. With that I had fresh-squeezed orange juice, cold-pressed Pink Lady apple juice, cold pressed green juice from Urban Remedy (something I buy often at home and was elated to see), and of course a couple of flat whites.
I love that Qantas had something more than the usual omelet or waffles (though I enjoyed the egg white omelet with ricotta).
I rounded out my meal with some granola (“Brookfarm wild berry granola with Davidson
plum, cherries, blueberries, pecans, almonds, and Australian bush honey”) and some freshly-cut fruit (watermelon, pineapple, orange, grapes).
Qantas gets coffee right (even in premium economy). It gets food right as well. The food was absolutely on the first class level.
The major shortcoming on this flight was the service, which was well-intentioned but was not on the first class level. It was slow…with 14 seats in the cabin it took two hours for lunch service to even begin after takeoff. Lunch did not conclude until more than four hours after takeoff.
But far more importantly, the service was not attentive. Dishes were not promptly cleared, glasses were not refilled, and when I woke up from my sleep it took a flight attendant nearly 30 minutes to notice. Even American Airlines and British Airways are not that bad in first class…
The flight attendants were extremely busy during the last couple hours of the flight and perhaps they did notice I was awake but ignored me because too many other passengers were ordering breakfast. Even so, a quick “good morning, can I get you something to drink?” goes a long way. Passengers were never addressed by name, but perhaps that is a not a thing on Qantas?
During the lunch service, a flight attendant spilled balsamic vinegar on my tablecloth and my napkin. She just shrugged and left it. On Lufthansa or Air France or Singapore Airlines, the tablecloth and napkin would have been immediately replaced. I think the same would have been true on most carriers in business class…
At current staffing levels, it appeared to me that the 14-seat first class cabin on Qantas is too large: the service onboard resembles an average business class, not first class. But everything else about the product was nice and indeed first class: great food, seating, amenities, and bedding, so the lackluster service did not ruin the flight.
First class feature two lavatories in the front of the aircraft in an area shared by the flight crew. The bathrooms included windows and a number of extra amenities like soap, gel, and creme by LaGaia Unedited (exclusively for Qantas First).
We landed on-time at LAX and the Tom Bradley International Terminal was quite quiet and within five minutes I was on the curb.
In Qantas First onboard the A380 you can expect a spacious and comfortable seat with superb bedding. You can expect a delicious meal with a thoughtful wine list and a great selection of high-quality dishes. You’ll be entertained with hours of in-flight movies. The pajamas are great. But the service, for me at least, was a major letdown and did not seem first class at all. And the lack of wi-fi is really a problem in 2024. Qantas First still may be (and I’d ague most certainly is) the best way to fly between Australia and the USA, but comparatively speaking the service levels onboard could use a lot of improvement.