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August 11, 2012 / oneworld82

Coming back from Down Under – Qantas Airways Business Class CNS-MEL-LAX (B737 and A380) and AA F LAX-SJC

Two short, wonderful months of traveling were coming to an end, marking the start of a new job and a new adventure back home in the USA. Still, I had one last “bang” to finish this trip stylishly. With a certain dose of luck (and lots of perseverance), months back (February, to be precise) I was able to snap a business class award ticket on Qantas. The routing at the time wasn’t too appealing – CNS-MEL with an overnight in town and then MEL-AKL-LAX on a 737/A330 service. I was pretty happy at the time because – after all – it still was a business class trip across the Pacific on Qantas. Then, the unexpected happened, with QF canceling it’s BNE-AKL-LAX flight and so leaving me in a limbo. In retrospect, it was all good, as I still had to do an overnight in MEL but I was re-accommodated on a direct MEL-LAX, A380-operated service… in business class still (QF93)! So, this has been not only my first real Trans-Pacific flight ever, but also it’s been a business class AND on an Airbus A380 (which I will fly for the first time as well) flight. Rather exciting, if you ask me. But let’s proceed with order.

After a stopover in Sydney and 9 wonderful days in Queensland (subject of another post), I was ready to head back home. My final night in Cairns was at the Shangri-La Hotel, a true 5 star property that lives up to the brand’s name. Good service, great room, astounding view from the private balcony (I had booked a sea view room) and splendid resort-like swimming pool. All this for only 157AUD – probably because it’s winter time up here (74F and they call it winter…). Here are some pictures, that can speak better than 1,000 of my words.

A slice of Heaven in sunny Cairns

The very comfortable bed

The spacious day area

City view from the balcony…

…as well as Marina view

After checking out and being picked up by a previously-arranged shuttle bus, I reached the small but sleek Cairns International Airport’s Domestic Terminal.

Ready for check-in

The check-in area is dominated by Qantas and its subsidiary JetStar.

Yep, that’s my airline

Contrarily to what I found in Sydney and Brisbane, while you still have to check-in using the terminals and print your own boarding pass and baggage slips, you cannot drop the bags yourself but you have to use a more conventional manned desk. One thing I notice is that there was no clear-cut line for business class/elite travelers (only a “service desk”) which created a bit of confusion. As the line was short this wasn’t an issue anyways.

Self check-in area to print boarding pass and bag tags

Busy but not too busy at Cairns Airport

After getting through security I headed up to the Qantas Club (the only Qantas lounge in Cairns). The design and feeling was very similar to the other Qantas domestic lounges I had the chance to try in Sydney and Brisbane, which means it was sleek, efficient, and pleasant (if a bit crowded). I found a quiet seat not too far from the bar and had some late-morning breakfast: a freshly-baked scone (delicious) with some strawberry jam, a cappuccino, and a glass of orange juice (plus a mimosa afterwards and some salad with cheese). The quality – as usual – ranged from decent (the salad) to excellent (the scones), and included bread and scones, soup, cheese, salad, some pasta, crackers, fruit… the usual (good) stuff.

Hot beverages area

Good wine selection

Bread rolls and scones

Crackers to perfectly match the feta cheese and the sharp cheddar

Light breakfast. Well, not so light after all…

…and a Mimosa to kill some time off

The hour and a half I had flied by (why when I am in a lounge time seems to fly while when I wait at the gate time seems to freeze…?), and my boarding time quickly arrived. I then moved to the gate for my flight, passing by a nice panel highlighting the history of the airport.

Everything you could possibly want to know about the history of Cairns Airport!

Flight QF703

07/25/2012

CNS-MEL, B737-800

13:45-17:30

Business Class, Seat 1A

Ready to go!

Our plane

I was one of the very last passengers to board the plane – there was actually a line outside it and the whole process took a little while. I was greeted by a very welcoming flight attendant at the door and I took my seat. To my delight, the seat next to mine was the only empty one in the whole business cabin (which had only 12 seats).

Qantas business class domestic seat – B737-800

Seat controls, found on the right hand armrest

Seat in full recline position

The seat was a standard domestic business class seat (comparable to an American Airlines domestic First Class seat): not much recline, but comfortable and with the back adjustable to your liking (that made it easier to have an ergonomic seat that fit the shape of my spine, a detail all too often overlooked by airlines). It was a very good seat, and I like the neutral, beige color of the cabin. A pre-departure drink (water or juice) was offered, and after not much we were ready to take-off.

Once airborne and shortly after the seat belt sign was switched off beverage service began. I opted for a glass of Australian sparkling wine – I had tried a sparkling sauvignon before while in Hanoi, Vietnam and liked it very much. The wine was served with a bag of nuts (amonds and wasabi peas), and I was actually handed the whole half-bottle (good for two glasses); the wine didn’t disappoint: flowery, dry, a very good aperitif (Yarra Burn).

Yarra Burn – a very good sparkling wine

About 45 minutes into the flight lunch was served. Options called for a salmon salad, a Caesar salad, and a stuffed chicken breast with polenta rods and vegetables. I opted for the latter.

Lunch: stuffed chicken with vegetables and polenta rods

The chicken was well cooked, tender, with a herb-like stuffing whose taste was not overpowering. The vegetables  were stewed and flavorful, and the fried polenta was a good complement to the chicken. I had the main with a glass of cabernet sauvignon and a slice of bread, and all was very much satisfactory. Together with the main, a small bowl of fresh fruit was served.

The full lunch set

After we were done with the entrée and the fruit, coffee and tea was served and – short after – ice cream offered. Now, this was one of the most amazing packaged ice creams I have ever had in my life – and being from Italy I know a thing or two about ice creams. The complex flavor – burnt figs, honeycombs, and caramel – perfectly combined together to create a sweet yet delicate taste that made my palate very happy indeed. What a delicacy!

Simply divine

While eating, a movie was showed on the main screen, which I watched but did not enjoy in any particular or memorable way (“Mirror Mirror”, a Tarsem Singh film starring Lily Collins, Julia Roberts, and Armie Hammer – a rendition of the Snow White tale).

One thing to mention is the gorgeous scenery you can enjoy while flying from Cairns to Melbourne. First you amaze at the tropical islands and the gorgeous sea within the Great Barrier Reef. Then you are taken aback to realize how vast this country is while flying over the bush and the more accessible part of the outback. Make no mistakes: Australia is huge, and very scarcely populated. Just over twenty million people (roughly the population of New York City metropolitan area) live in an area almost as big as the United States. More to that, the vast majority of it is concentrated in the main cities along the coastal area stretching from Adelaide to Brisbane. The rest: an immense nothing.

While traveling throughout Australia I had the pleasure to read Bill Bryson’s book “Down Under“, a clever and humorous story narrating the author’s journey throughout this beautiful continent. It’s a book that I strongly recommend to anyone wanting to know more about the country from a high-level socio-cultural-political-historical standpoint while enjoying a funny tale. I wasn’t expecting too much before reading it, but I was really positively impressed by it! A great travel companion indeed. Thanks, Bill!

The flight passed by uneventfully and we soon were to land in Melbourne. Landing was smooth and easy, and I was pleased to see my bag among the very first delivered – I love when priority baggage delivery actually works!

I quickly moved to the international terminal where I caught a pre-arranged shuttle to Melbourne CBD to spend the night there. A hostel did it for me – after all I would need to wake up very early anyways to get to the airport in time for breakfast. The evening was uneventful and by 5.30am I was up getting ready to go to the airport, which I reached at about 6.25am.

I proceeded to the dedicated Qantas Business Class check-in desk and I was able to check-in my backpack through San Jose, CA, the final destination of my trip. The LAX-SJC leg on American Airlines was on a separate booking but the lady at the desk was also able to issue my boarding pass.

Entering the Qantas International Lounge at MEL

I zipped through security (thanks to the Express card handed to premium customers) and in around 25-30 minutes after getting to the airport I was at the Qantas Club.

I have been to a fair amount of lounges so far around the World (mostly oneworld) and I have experienced excellent ones (like the British Airways’ lounges at LHR Terminal 5) and mediocre ones (like Cathay Pacific’s Business Class lounge at BKK). I must say that the Qantas lounge at Melbourne was one of he best I have ever experienced. The lounge – accommodating both first class and business class travelers – was spacious and very well appointed. Armchairs and sofas were plentiful and comfortable as usual.

Dining area

The food and beverage part was even better than the lounge design (which, by the way, offered free magazines and newspapers aplenty). The breakfast was quite phenomenal, both in number of choice and quality. Here are some pictures followed by a summary of the offerings.

Espresso bar with barista!

Breakfast menu

Scrambled eggs and baked beans

Mushrooms and sausages

Assorted pastries

Pancakes and maple syrup

Freshly-cut seasonal fruit

Bircher muesli

Natural yogurt with raspberries or mango coulis

Sultanas, almonds

Assorted cereals

Bread and jams (Vegemite; apricot; triple berry; paw paw, lime, and passion fruit)

The usual juices and a very well assorted wine/spirit/beer self-service selection was available. As the hour and half I spent there passed, freshly-made banana smoothies and eggs Benedict were served to the customers in the lounge out of a tray! Wonderful.

Pastries

Self-service coffee machine

Ample selection and great quality made for a wonderful breakfast

Beverages

I tried not to eat too much as I knew good food would wait for me on the plane. Yet, a bit here and a bit there I ended up having a fairly big breakfast. What can I say… I couldn’t help it!

My breakfast!

I opted for some bread with the paw paw, lime, and passion fruit jam (plus Vegemite, that I had never had and that I will never have again!); an English muffin with mushrooms and sausage (not in the picture), a flat white, some muesli and a glass of orange juice to complement it. Very good indeed. I also tried the banana smoothie, which was as fresh as it can possibly get.

Time passed by quickly, and boarding time arrived. I quickly browsed through the souvenir stores looking (unsuccessfully) for some trinkets to bring home, then I proceeded to the gate for the flight.

QF93 MEL-LAX

07/26/2012

9:35am-6:55am

A380-800

Business Class, Seat 13E

The king of the sky

The passport and boarding pass control happens at the gate, right before the waiting area. As the airplane is huge, the boarding line is long, but the actual line to board the plane splits in two after a certain point to direct passengers from different classes to different areas.

Guess I am lucky (but not super-lucky) today: to the right!

After the long jetway led me to the plane, I was greeted by a very nice flight attendant that directed me to my seat, 13E. I must say I like Qantas business class. Better, I love it. The colors, the equipment, the service…. I like it! I didn’t think possible that a Western airlines had such high standards of service still, but Qantas (gladly) proved me wrong. Australians, you can never figure them out!

My seat, 13E

My seat was very similar to the one I found on the A330-200 from Manila to Sydney, with some upgrades like a bigger legroom, a fully-flat (180 degrees) bed and upgraded entertainment system. This is how the seat look like in sleep mode.

Fully flat!

Anyways, the seat had a lot of features – from a button to make the TV screen pops out to another one to control the privacy divider from the other customer. This divider was already up when I arrived, which didn’t set the mood right for a friendly conversation with my rather-busy/unfriendly neighbor he DEFINITELY wasn’t Australian!).

The business class cabin offers the much hyped-about lounge and self service bar. The lounge is neat (I like the red color of the sofa), and the bar – while stocked with soft drinks and basic snacks – is a bit disappointing (the potential is there though – I would just stock it with more alcoholic beverages and coffee/tea).

Lounge

Lounge connectivity

Self-service bar on plane’s nose

A glass of champagne was offered before departure, which I gladly accepted.

Champagne – NV Billecart-Salmon Brut

We took off on time and I was surprised of how quiet this huge plane is. The take off was pretty much seamless, and the noise level very low. A pleasant surprise.

The seat, upon boarding, was equipped with a pyjamas and amenity kit – see pictures below. I love the pyjamas airlines are more and more often offering in premium classes – they make the travel just so much more comfortable! I also love how much better equipped are business class and first class lavatories – all those different lotions are just exhilarating!

Pyjamas… (M/L fit me right, and I am about 5’10’ 1/2)

…and amenity kit

About 20 minutes after take-off, the seat belt sign was turned off and shortly after the beverage service began.

Still a very long way to go. I might as well get a drink…

As an aperitif, I got a Campari and soda – something I miss from home. The usual bag of almonds and wasabi peas accompanied the drink. I like the nuts, but on a transpacific flight I would have expected them to come on a nice bowl or something. Oh well, no big deal.

Aperitif – Campari & Soda

About 30-40 minutes afterwards, lunch started to be served. In the meantime, I used Qantas amazing in-flight entertainment to watch “21 Jump Street”, a comedy starring Johann Hill and Channing Tatum (directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller) about an improbable couple of policemen. Rather funny.

Nice TV

Cabin

So many options… I like the back massage one best!

Lunch was served, the flight attendants collected our breakfast orders from a card similar to the in-room breakfast ones you find at hotels. That would maximize our sleeping time, a good idea that didn’t work for me as I could barely catch any sleep during this flight.

Anyways, this is the lunch menu for this flight:

ENTREE

Roasted Carrot and Thyme Soup with Dill Creme Fraiche

Yamba Prawns with Radish and Zucchini Salad and Lemon Dressing

MAIN COURSES

Spiced Butternut Pumpkin, Chickpea and Cocunut Curry with Cauliflower and Roti

Pan Fried Snapper Fillet with Braised Fennel and Green Shallots, Olive Potatoes and Romesco

Roasted Chicken Breast with Celeriac Gratin, Snow Peas, Balsamic, Pear and Walnut Jus

Hot, Sweet, Sour and Numbing Kurobuta Pork, Stir Fried Snake Beans and Fragrant Rice

Salad of Baby Cos, Radicchio and Frisee with Merlot Vinaigrette

DESSERT

Seasonal cheese hand-selected by Calendar Cheese Company served with accompaniments

Apple and Ricotta Torte with Cinnamon Creme Anglaise

Sliced Fresh Fruit

CHOCOLATES

Valrhona Chocolates

The appetizer I chose (salad) was delicious, and the shrimps very fresh. The bread offered was tasty and well complemented by butter (I usually don’t butter my bread, but this time I decided to be fancy). I had a glass of 2011 Shawn & Smith Sauvignon Blanc, Adelaide Hills, SA to go with the meal (which easily became 2 after a short while).

Salad

The delay between the appetizer and the main was rather substantial – one of the very few negative points of the service. Everyone was well finished and watching movies/reading by the time the mains were offered. My first choice (the snapper) wasn’t available anymore when it was my turn, and so I had to choose something different. As I didn’t feel about meat, I opted for the vegetarian curry, which turned out to be pretty good if a little bland (I added some salt and pepper and that pretty much did it). The paratha accompanying it was very good as well. In all, a satisfying main course (not necessarily healthy though, as Indian food may be vegetarian and still be pretty unhealthy. At least, there was no meat in it).

Vegetable curry

The waiting time for dessert was adequate – the crew seemed to have found the right pace. One thing I noticed is that before the main the crew collected orders from guests pretty late. Perhaps they had some problems in the kitchen, but had they asked for meals a little earlier I am sure the wait between appetizers and mains wouldn’t have been that long. Anyways, these are just minutiae. I skipped the cake for dessert (which seemed very good nevertheless) and I opted for the cheese plate and some fresh fruit, which I paired with a delightful fortified wine (Cookoothama Botrytis Semillon – Riverina, NSW); coffee ensued, and I finished dinner with a glass of Courvoisier cognac (VSOP).

Say cheese (and crackers; and fig/almond cake)!

Fruit platter

Dessert – Ensemble

My first movie had finished already, and I moved on to watch “The Woman in Black”, a horror-thriller movie directed by James Watkins and starring Daniel Radcliffe – I enjoyed it and I must say it was a really intense movie, not recommended to the feint of heart. Qantas’ IFE offers various moving maps to track the status of your flight/the World.

I kept on watching movies and then tried to sleep for a while to no avail. The seat – in flat-bed position – is very comfortable, even though the bottom part of the seat tends to tilt a bit downward because of the weight and the lack of support, which makes the angle 180 degrees in the top part but not so in the lower leg part. This creates a bit of a weird angle, that some people could find a bit uncomfortable to deal with – it was fine with me though; still, I see how another design – more similar to Etihad Airways’ perhaps – could result more stable and more comfortable to certain people.

Half-way through (more or less)

As I couldn’t sleep, about 4-5 hours after lunch I decided to order one of the snacks. I opted for the shepherd pie (I love pies – another good thing about Australia), which the FA told me would be ready in about 20 minutes. I then started my IFE once more, and I started watching “Inception”, the 2010 movie directed by Christoper Nolan and starring Leonardo Di Caprio and Ken Watanabe among the others. I wanted to see this film for a while, and I was happy I finally had the chance to: what a good movie! I must say that the perception was probably enhanced by a very good shepherd pie and a Victoria Bitter lager beer, and I (easily) thoroughly enjoyed it.

Mid-flight snack: shepherd pie

The post-Inception part of the flight was dotted by several “Family Guy” episodes and a suppressed anger due to my inability to sleep on such a comfortable bed (that’s what happens when you leave early in the morning). In any case, about 2 hours before landing the breakfast service started. It was indeed an appropriate meal, because it certainly felt like we spent a good 24 hours on the plane – even though it was more like 12 by that point. Right after departure (if you remember) I had to select my breakfast; I opted for some fruit with yogurt, a wonderful mushroom frittata and a toast with honey (plus orange juice and coffee, of course). All – especially the frittata – was really delicious (unexpectedly so – for some reason I always expect sub-standard food up in the air).

Breakfast tray

Wonderful frittata with delicious hash brown

Shortly after breakfast I changed back from my comfy pyjamas and we began to descend; we landed right on time in LAX, after what had been a 14+ hours flight. Like usual when travelling on a premium cabin – though – I felt sad to leave the plane – the flight seemed all too short to me!

I cleared immigration and re-checked my bags in about 45 minutes, after which I had to walk from Terminal 3 to Terminal 4 for my connecting flight to San Jose, CA. After going through security I checked in the Admirals Club, where two AAngels helped me A LOT in changing my PM flight to a more convenient 10.35AM one (standby).

LAX Admirals Club – Terminal 4

I enjoyed (well, sort of) the lounge for a couple of hours, browsing the internet and having a coffee in what was an overcrowded AA club. Let’s face it: AA lounges aren’t on par – on many locations – to BA Galleries or QF Clubs. This one looks old and tired. Plus, the lack of free food (except for some muffins and bananas) is a no-no for an airline that wants to cater to premium customers. Hopefully that will change soon, as the remodeling of lounges at LGA and DEN demonstrates.

Anyways, better here than in the horrible terminal (at least I had free wifi!) – and the AAngels are always a plus (kudos to them)!  At the set time I headed to my gate with my standby ticket hoping for a seat on the earlier flight. To my surprise, Eagle flights are on a small, old, and cramped satellite terminal reached via a shuttle bus. Poor AE (and its customers). I presented myself to the gate agent, who assured me I had a good chance to make it to the flight even though it looked full. So I waited. I looked how people started boarding. I waited some more. Until I saw that everyone but me got on board. At that point, the agent called me up, and she said I had gotten the very last spot. Not only that, but she was also able to secure a First class seat for me! Sweet!

Flight AA3604, 07/26/2012

10:25am-11:35am

First Class, Seat 3C

Equipment: CR7

This is one of those few Eagle flights from LAX or LGA featuring First class – a first for me. The seat looked good (a bit tired, like usual these days on AA/AE) but comfortable. I took a few pictures but jet lag started to kick in and I feel asleep short after seating down.

First class American Eagle seat

Legroom in AE F

I woke up when we landed. Literally. It was the quickest flight ever (in my perception). Well, a pretty uneventful flight. We landed about 10 minutes ahead of schedule, I proceeded to the baggage carousel and after 15 minutes I was out of the terminal with my bags. What has been a great 2-month-journey across 7 countries had unfortunately come to an end. It was too short. I mean it! Traveling is – simply – the best thing is life. This is something I will never get tired of repeating.

And now, planning the next adventure (likely Buenos Aires during Thanksgiving)! Stay tuned!

4 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Ken / Aug 14 2012 6:06 am

    Nice report! Just a small correction, there is a separate First class lounge in Mel and it is amazing. Fantastic food (Neil Perry food) and beverages, free massage ect ect. The lounge is staffed by Sofitel employees. I would rate it higher than Concorde Room and even LH First Class terminal in terms of food and beverage and moreover service.

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