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July 15, 2012 / oneworld82

MNL – SYD on Qantas Business Class or Getting to OZ the comfortable way

After 18 wonderful (and hard, and rainy, and uncomfortable, and unforgettable) days in the Philippines, the time to go to Australia has finally come. As a kid, OZ has always been a destination that fascinated me, mostly because it’s about the farthest place from Italy you can think of (well, New Zealand is farther away still, but we’ll forget this fact for our convenience); Sydney, Ayers Rock, the Outback, the Kakadu National Park were all destinations that fancied my imagination through travel magazines and tour agency’s brochures (no internet in the very early 1990s!). At the time, traveling so far away for an Italian middle-class family was almost unthinkable. Today, after a lot of work and sacrifice, I can happily afford it. So I said to myself: why not? But I leave this to another post… Let’s focus here on how I got there!

As a loyal oneworld flyer, the choice was for me obvious and easy. From Manila, in fact, Qantas flies daily (and, from the next winter, more than daily) to Sydney. Until last winter the flight was via Brisbane, but today it’s a direct, 8h05m flight from the capital of the Philippines to the financial heart of Australia. I had some AAdvantage miles to spare and so I decided not only to get to Australia but to get there in the most-stylish way possible (business class, as QF doesn’t offer First Class on this route). As you will soon read, I am very happy with my choice. Also, as it’s hard to find a trip report about this route (more so a recent one), I hope this write-up will help others to have a better idea of what to expect on this route in particular and on a 8h flight on QF business is general.

But let’s start from the beginning…

Airport and check-in

Let’s face it: airports in the Philippines are a mess; even today that only flying passengers are allowed in the terminal, one cannot help it but feel that Ninoy Aquino International Airport’s (NAIA) terminal one is severely overcrowded. While not the worse major airport I have been, a remodeling and expansion are very much needed.

Manila airport – International terminal

Many people, waiting for their check-in desk to open

Qantas has its own section with 5-6 desks. There are two lines, a LONG one for economy class passengers and a short, efficient one for business class and elite travelers.

Short line this time, please

The lady at the counter was nice and very efficient. I requested an aisle seat and I was promptly handed seat 6B, the very last seat of the business class second mini-cabin.

Boarding pass et alia

The next step of the process is to pay the “terminal fee”, i.e. just another way to get 550PHP out of your pockets before you leave the country (200PHP if you travel domestically). This is done at 4 booths that process each passenger fast and efficiently (the fee can be paid in PHP, USD, or credit card). After paying up, there is immigration (a breeze as well) and then the usual security checks (quite fast). All in all, from check-in to departure area it took me around 20 minutes.

The departure area isn’t terrible – except that it feels small. There is a decent number of duty free stores mostly selling alcohol and tobacco, the two favorite hobbies of Filipinos (together with cockfighting, of course), while I did not notice any clothing store. But I didn’t indulge in shopping too much and headed almost straight away to the lounge area.

The Qantas Club

I was expecting to visit the Cathay Pacific lounge as – from previous reports – it seemed to me that CX was the only oneworld option available at NAIA. To my surprise, though, right next to the CX lounge a Qantas Club magically appeared. I headed inside out of curiosity, and I ended up staying all the two hours I had to spare.

The lounge isn’t either big nor attractive; yet, it does its job well. Couches and armchairs – while looking a little worn out – are comfortable, wifi is fast, and power plugs are available to recharge your electronic equipment.

Qantas Club Manila

There are some magazines (I saw no newspapers) as the picture above shows, and then the usual food and beverage area. On offering, I saw pumpkin soup, pasta, spring rolls, sandwiches, cookies, and nuts: not bad options to snack on while having a San Miguel or a glass of wine (better than CX business class lounge in BKK).

The buffet

Self service drinks. Red wine and some spirits (rum, bitter Campari, etc.) were on offer as well

Aside from this, the lounge offered its own restroom (spacious enough but only good for one person at a time) and two computers plus a printer.

Business area

In all, while this wasn’t of course one of the best lounges I have ever been, it was decent and much better than I was expecting. I was in the end glad that I get to the airport a bit earlier so that I could check it out and enjoy it.

The flight

QF20, Business Class

Seat 6B

8:25pm-6:30am

Boarding was announced together with a delay of 10 minutes. I proceeded to the gate 2 where my boarding pass was manually checked (no electronic scanner) and my carry-on luggage examined. To my surprise, I wasn’t allowed to bring on board a bottle of Tanduay rum I had just purchased duty free and that was still sealed in its bag. After asking for an explanation, I was told that it’s Qantas’ policy and that I could go back to the store and ask for a refund. I was accompanied on the task by an employee that was at the gate and I was promptly handed a refund. This is the first time that something like this happened to me, and I don’t know whether this is standard Qantas policy or not.

After boarding the plane, I sat down in my comfortable seat

Seat 6B

and I took a couple of minutes to acquaint myself with the features of this marvel. The seat is spacious and comfortable, with a set of standard positions on the handle on the right hand side that make it easy to adjust it to a desired position for sleeping, taking off, etc. This seat feature a back massage (sort of, at least) function, which I had never encountered before and which was pleasant enough (for a minute or two, at least). On the seat I found an amenity kit (containing toothbrush, toothpaste, eye blinds, ear plugs, and a (MALIN+GOETZ) vanity set), noise-cancelling headphones (worked really well!), and a warm, luxurious duvet – similar in quality to the one found on CX First Class. Leg room was of course adequate but I feel that seats are somewhat cramped (a few inches more would be welcome) when fully extended in flat position. Also, I found the TV screen to be a bit on the small side.

TV screen

I took a look at the cabin and I noticed that it was almost entirely full – apparently MNL-SYD is becoming a very popular route (given also the upcoming increase in frequency).

Full cabin tonight…

After a couple of minutes a flight attendant came by offering pre-departure drinks (second round, I missed the first one) and I got my usual glass of champagne (after all, flying business class is always something to celebrate). Tonight’s champagne was Billecart-Salmon. Hot towels were handed and the purser came by to greet each and one of the business class passengers.

One feature that I liked a lot of Qantas is the express menu option that you are given to maximize your rest time in what is a long but still relatively short overnight flight. Basically, we were handed this card

Express card

where we had to select which option(s) we wanted for breakfast so that early in the morning our selected items would be served as close to landing as possible. The same option was offered for dinner (basically, “dine on demand”) but since this flight was only 8 hours everyone was served dinner at the same time. No pre-dinner drinks were offered, and only two entrees out of fours on the menu were actually available (perhaps because I was at the end of the cabin). This were the options:

Menu – Dinner

Main Courses

Mushrooms and zucchini lasagne with rich tomato sauce (not available)

King prawn linguine with garlic, chili oil, and peas

Chicken inasal with stir fried vegetables, egg noodles, and calamansi sauce (not available)

Indonesian beef tapa with fried rice, pickled green papaya and gai lan

Green leaf salad with red capsicum and cucumber

Dessert

Selection of seasonal cheese with accompaniments

Citrus layer cake with double cream

Sliced fresh fruit

Chocolates

Black forest truffles

Chocolate Ganache truffles

We started with the salad, which was what it promised to be: a salad. I was handed a whole-grain roll which was toasted but clearly stale. Nevertheless, it as edible but I would have expected more.

Starter – green salad

Together with my meal I had a glass of the pinot noir (Australian, of course) on offering. The wines offered vary from flight to flight, so that it’s not easy to keep track of what’s being served. I am not sure I am big fan of this, especially because the brochure offered with a description of ALL wines currently offered on Qantas is pretty much, well, useless and hard to navigate.

After the salad, I had ordered – feeling like having one last Filipino meal – the tapa dish (even though this, apparently, was the Indonesian version). Now, this one was excellent! The meat was tender, perfectly braised and flavorful; the rice and the gai lan were, as well, very well prepared and tasty. Delightful! For all of you who don’t know what tapa is, this article may help you out.

Beef tapa

After this wonderful entree, I was ready for some cheese! Being Italian, I am used to eat cheese every day; in fact, a LOT of it. Traveling in Asia, unfortunately, makes me suffer of severe cheese deprivation syndrome (SCDD – don’t look for it, I totally made it up), given the chill approach of many Asian cultures to this divine creation. It had been three weeks since I had some real, good cheese (at the BA Galleries lounge in Bangkok), and so I couldn’t pass the offer!

Cheese (at last!) with all the works!

I accompanied it with some Australian fortified wine – a perfect match that made this “dessert” simply perfect. I still had space for a chocolate truffle, before call it a night! During dinner, I watched “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen“, a 2011 British romantic comedy-drama movie directed by Lasse Hallström. I kinda liked it, but perhaps just because I was in the mood for some romantic story… I had of course the chance to explore all the in-flight entertainment options offered by Qantas in business class, and while the offering was good I feel it could have been a little better. Perhaps Cathay Pacific First Class spoiled me a little bit too much…

After the movie – and about 2h15m into the flight – I decided to rest. I put my bed in its extended, flat position and slept 4 good hours! While the sit gets completely horizontal, it’s not flat to 180 degrees – more like 160°. Still, this didn’t prevent me from sleeping very comfortably, even though I think it would have been a bit difficult to sleep on a side. Sleeping habits, I guess. I forgot to mention that right before dinner a bottle of water was handled to each passenger in the premium cabin.

Seat in bed position

When I woke up, some people were already being served breakfast. After sitting up and going to the restroom, my breakfast was served within 5 minutes, without needing to actually ask for it. I had picked, among the various options, a guava juice booster (yummy and somewhat frizzy), muesli with whole cream milk (decent), and toasted bread (which wasn’t toasted enough) with honey; coffee with low-fat milk was my hot drink of choice. While the breakfast wasn’t spectacular in quality, it was decent and filling (also, I wasn’t feeling too hungry as dinner had been served only a few hours earlier).

Breakfast tray

After a couple of minutes of inactivity on my tray, the flight attendant asked me whether I was done and removed it. A hot towel was offered and in about 25 more minutes we landed in Sydney, a good 25 minutes ahead of schedule.

One nice perk of flying business class with Qantas is the express immigration lane card that we were handed and that made arrival procedures effortless. My backpack was promptly delivered and in less than 30 minutes after landing I was in Australian soil!

So, how was my first experience with Qantas? I would say very positive indeed. Kudos to the staff, always smiling, easy-going, and polite. The hard product is good as well, and I am now eagerly awaiting to try QF business class aboard the A380 on my flight back home later this month. Of course, some things can be improved and some things were a bit disappointing, as I explained in my entry. Yet, Qantas delivered a solid product and a good experience that left me absolutely satisfied and willing to fly it again!

And now, Australia. I mean, OZ!

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