Saturday, April 18, 2015

My First Class flight (Sydney to London) on a Qantas A380



When I lived in Scotland during the 1990s I twice flew Business Class (return) to Australia.

This was when the Business Class seats reclined but not all the way into beds, as they do now. Despite this, it was a step up from Economy and I loved the fact that there was so much more space and the service revolved around you. The food was better but I love any airline food. For me, it was the space and the relative freedoms that came with it.

Having experienced Business Class, I dreamt of travelling First Class but it was always that little bit out of reach.

That all changed at the end of 2003 when I linked my credit card to the Qantas Frequent Flyer scheme with the intention of reaching the magical mark of 384,000 points, the sum needed to be able to fly First Class return to London. Sure, I could spend less points and fly First Class to Singapore or Los Angeles, but, if I was going to savour the First Class experience properly, I needed to fly as far as possible - London. And it had to be return. There was no way I was going to fly First Class one way and 'cattle' the other way. Not a chance in hell!

Fast forward 10 years or so and I get my Qantas Frequent Flyer points update which reads 392,000...I was on my way!

*Above photo - my First Class suite on the return flight from London to Sydney (to see what was on the little table, left, scroll down a few photos).

A passenger works in his First Class suite.


In May 2014 I went online and, 384,000 points later, I was booked to fly to London on March 21, 2015, returning three weeks later on April 12.

May to March is an agonisingly long wait, so I spent that time looking at photos online of the Qantas First Class cabin/suites and reading as much about the First Class experience possible, so I could feel like I was actually there, experiencing it all.

And, now that it's over, how was it?

Fantastic, fabulous, amazing, delicious, beyond expectations, wow - pick an adjective and fill in the blank.


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The First Class experience begins even before you arrive at the airport and, the day before my flight, I received a phone call from my First Host, who passed on all sorts of information about the facilities available and arranged anything else I might require for my journey.

My Host also booked me in for a complimentary treatment in the Aurora Day Spa located within the First Class lounge at Sydney (International) Airport. I opted for a 20-minute neck, shoulder and scalp massage. Yes, this really was flying on a whole other level.

Travelling First Class also includes a complimentary limousine service to your departure airport (distance limits apply). My Host double-checked my pick up time and address when she phoned and, at the due time, a car pulled up outside my Sydney hotel*. The driver, resplendent in suit and tie, helped place my bags in the back of the car, then opened the back passenger side door for me and I was on my way. All very civilised.

*I live in Brisbane but flew from Sydney, the reason being that Qantas (as yet) don't have an A380 flying out of Brisbane (Emirates, who partner with Qantas, do). And, because my departure airport was Sydney, I was unable to get a car from my flat to Brisbane airport. It only applied to Sydney.


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Flying First Class is all about the ease of the experience. If need be, you can be greeted at your limousine when you arrive at the airport and escorted to the First Class check-in. After you've checked in at Sydney Airport, there are lounge seats and a table next to the check-in area where you can fill out your Outgoing Passenger Card. You are also given a card that entitles you to use the 'express' lane when passing through Customs.

Then, onto the First Class Lounge which, at Sydney Airport, is located on top of the terminal and affords you spectacular views of the airport and tarmac courtesy of the floor to ceiling glass windows. I'll be honest and felt nervous as I made my way up the escalators to the lounge. I felt like a fraud - some bloke who cashed in a shed-load of frequent flyer points and was now rubbing shoulders with seasoned First Class travellers.

The view is quite spectacular, and QF1 awaits us just below the lounge.


The concierge desk at the lounge is like that of a five-star hotel, and it's all about service. They offered to look after my boarding pass until it was time for me to leave and, not knowing any different, I happily obliged. I then wandered about the lounge, trying to look like I belonged there. I was approached by a staff member (why, I can't remember) and quietly let on I was a First Class newbie. 

Her face lit up, obvious in the knowledge I was about to have the time of my life, and she became my personal guide for a few minutes as she took me through the ropes, including seating me at a table in the lounge restaurant, where I both gazed out across the airport and marvelled at the linen napkins and immaculately laid out table. It was definitely a few steps up from a ham and cheese sandwich in the food court!

"This is the life!" I told myself as I settled in and looked at the menu compiled by renowned Australian chef, Neil Perry, including...

Grilled Leeks Vinaigrette with Romesco, Kipfler Potatoes and Scallops
Shaved Fennel Salad with William Pear, Pecans, and Parmigiano Reggiano

Poached Snapper with Rice Noodles, Galangal and Coriander Broth
Sichuan Minced Pork and Tofu
Club Sanwich with Chicken, Slow Roasted Tomatoes, Bacon and Aioli

Chocolate Bouchon Cake with Caramel Ice Cream and Bourbon Creme Anglaise

A waiter resets my table after lunch in the restaurant.


No sooner had I finished lunch then my appointment at the Aurora Day Spa had rolled around and I made my way to the end of the lounge to a discreet sliding door that, once inside, transported me from 'airport' to something far more calm and serene, where the sounds of the rainforest surrounded me. 

I was shown to a room and asked to undress down to my jeans for my neck, shoulder and scalp massage. The treatment was wonderful and enough to relax me sufficiently, although at the end of the 20-minute session I wondered if I was going to feel like an oiled pig. That was until the therapist brought out a hot towel and rubbed me down.

One of the treatment rooms in the Aurora Day Spa.


I hadn't even boarded the plane but I could feel my addiction to the First Class way of travelling growing by the minute.

I'd loved the First Class Lounge experience but I was now keen to get on board that big bird sitting on the tarmac just below us and savour the delights of First Class air travel. As soon as boarding was announced I was out of my chair and casually, but hurriedly, made my way down to the departure gate, where I bypassed the throng of people queueing in the Economy Class line and strolled down the empty First Class line at the gate. I tried to look like I did this all the time but, once again, I felt like a fraud.

You can do as much research as you want on any subject but nothing beats experiencing something in person, and this was what it felt like entering the First Class cabin (it's on the bottom level of the A380, too). I'd looked at all the photos and read all about it but here I was standing in my own little patch of First Class real estate. After all the years waiting and wondering, it was finally confirmed - Giulio Saggin and First Class air travel were meant to be!

Pre-take off...a glass of Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame (2004, I believe) to accompany the shot-glass of chilled gazpacho
and a caviar and cauliflower puree tartlet.


MY SUITE

Qantas refer to the 14 seats in their First Class Cabin as suites. 

And, as far as air travel goes, they really are suites, with your own private space into which you can walk and make yourself at home. The design of the suites means they aren't wholly closed off from one another but, when seated, you can still partially see into other suites but you can't see the person, thus making them quite private.

The layout of the cabin is such that there are four suites in the middle of the cabin and five down either side i.e. with window views. Each suite comprises, among other things:

Your seat
A companion seat/ottoman
A 17-inch  LCD widescreen video monitor (in effect, your TV)
A large fold out table
Storage spaces
One large and small pillow/blanket
Control unit

To read the full list of what your First Class Suite contains, see HERE.

Your seat faces forward for take off and landing. Once the seat belt sign has been turned off, you're able to, at the press of a button on the control unit*, swivel the seat so it faces the companion seat/ottoman and reclines/extends out in the process. The TV screen also opens out over the 'smaller' seat.

*The control unit operates everything in your suite - moving and adjusting your seat, opening and closing the TV screen, choosing all your entertainment options, opening and closing your window blinds (if you have a window seat), raising and lowering the privacy screens (photo below), adjusting the lighting, alerting cabin attendants...

The smaller seat (below the TV) is there if you need to have a mid-air meeting, meal or conversation with one other.

At night your seat extends out to join up with the smaller seat to form a a 212cm (7 ft) bed*. It's more than a simple case of extending your seat and having a bit of shut-eye. The process of turning your seat into a bed is is done by one of the attendants and takes a few minutes. And they really do turn your seat into a bed, with a sheepskin mattress, linen, blankets, a duvet and everything other than a chocolate on your pillow (although there are delightful petit fours on the menu).

*Pyjamas, slippers and a toiletries bag are supplied. There are his and hers toiletries bags and the men's comes with antiperspirant, shaving foam, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, eye patches (sleeping), ear plugs and an assortment of SK-II facial products.

My suite on the Sydney - London flight.
In this photo is my seat (facing forward for take off), the 'smaller' seat, the TV screen,
the control unit (small screen next to my seat), the large fold out table (stowed away partially under my boarding pass), and the
small fold down table that was used if something small like a drink was ordered.

Looking back the other way.


In the background of the above photo is a window suite - the same as my suite in the first photo in this blog post. As you can see, the location of the seat is quite some way from the windows, so you don't get 'full on' window views (and one reason, no doubt, why you can adjust your window blinds from the control panel if you have a window suite). Taking into account everything else about First Class, I'm not going to quibble!

Alcohol and me don't mix well during daylight hours so, despite wanting to celebrate the start of my flight with 
a glass of bubbles, I opted for a sparkling mineral water. Olives and smoked almonds are still okay.

Soon after my arrival a Yasa Caviar Tartlet with Creme Fraiche, and Chinese lamb Dumpling with Black Vinegar Dressing also arrived.

This is possibly the least exciting photo I've ever included in a blog post but I know some of the more technically-minded
of you will be interested to know that this is the track along which your seat travels when you press the button to
either recline/extend it, or reverse the process.

From seat to bed.

Privacy screens can be raised and lowered by yourself or the attendants.
The suites are quite private anyway but the screens add just a little more (the knitted booties are mine)

Upstairs from the First Class Cabin is a lounge area and another area where you can
get a drink - alcoholic or otherwise - and a late night snack.
Of course, you can order from the First Class menu (examples later in this blog post), but
sometimes going it alone and getting a drink and/or snack and
chilling out in the lounge area is what you want.  

The lounge area is at the top left of the stairs in the previous photo. 

While the snack area is at the top right of the stairs. 

Of course, another nice thing about First Class is the fact there are two
bathrooms/toilets/loos for 14 people. And, if you think that toilet seat
cover looks like leather...you're right! What's more, you get a loo with a view.


I didn't give the entertainment system a thorough work-over. Due to the nature of long-haul flying, I tend to go straight to the movies.

It appears as though the entertainment options are the same throughout the A380, so the difference appears to be the size of your screen (17 inch) and the quality of the headphones.

As far as movies are concerned, the selection is top rate, and you can choose from a wide range of the latest movies, less recent movies, or classics going as far back as Casablanca. I hadn't seen any of the Best Picture nominees at the 2015 Oscars and they were all available. There is also a wide range of TV shows on offer, as well as music and other entertainment options.

One entertainment option I enjoyed was 'flight cam' - a camera mounted in the tail of the plane.
Take off, especially, was fun to watch (here we are taking off from Dubai). 

Even the headphones are a bit more upmarket...and they're noise-cancelling.

The men's toiletries kit - antiperspirant, shaving foam, razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, eye patches (sleeping), ear plugs and an assortment of SK-II facial products.

Pyjamas (long sleeve top and long bottoms, as opposed to shorts).
I'm guessing the 'First' is in case you're found wandering the plane, they can point
you in the right direction. Also, it's cool bragging rights when you're back on land :)


I received a toiletries bag and set of pyjamas when I boarded in Sydney and left both on the plane when we stopped in Dubai. When I returned for the Dubai-London leg, both had been replaced. Feasibly, if you're flying return and take your pj's and toiletries bag with you in Dubai, you could get four sets of pyjamas and toiletries (you could score some good brownie points with your family!).



FOOD

I was, as much as anything, interested to see what the food in First Class was like. Admittedly I like all airline food but wondered how a la carte it would be up the front end of the plane. 

There is an 'air chef' who looks after First Class and prepares the meals. I didn't pop back and have a look at the kitchen area but some of the meals do need some work done on them. A microwave wouldn't work for all of them. And, considering we're in a capsule hurtling 12,000 metres (39,000ft) above the earth's surface, the food delivered to me was pretty fabulous.

While a set dining schedule is adhered to, you can dictate whether you want to be e.g. woken for any of the services or allowed to sleep and eat when it suits you. Continuing on from the rest of the First Class experience, dining revolves around you.

Below are photos of some of what I ate and the menus from Sydney - Dubai - London to give you an idea of what to expect.

Proper cutlery, glassware, crockery, as well as a cloth napkin and table cloth. La-di-da!
When finished, the sections on either side of the middle section fold in and the table
fits into the compartment on the right of the photo.

Broccoli Soup with Parmesan Croutons

Kingfish Ceviche with Chilli, Lime, Corn, Cucumber, Avocado and Tostada

Pumpkin Tortellini, Burnt Butter, Sage, Caramalised Radicchio 

Orange and Almond Cake with Lemon Curd 


*All of the above were delicious, as was everything else I ate. I haven't included a photo but the Steak Sandwich with Tomato and Chilli Relish is the First Class signature 'dish' and, if you're wondering about a steak sandwich at 39,000 feet...don't! I had two of them.

I had a Glenlivet 18yo single malt (above) and a Penfolds Grandfather Rare Tawny (port)
and both had been refrigerated. I'm not sure why this was the case but it initially took the
edge off them a little. A short amount of time left alone got them both up to room temperature.



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If you like the photography in my blogs, it's because I am a professional photographer. My photos don't merely show something, they tell a story. And visual stories i.e. photos, are more interesting than pictures that merely show something. 

If you'd like to know how to turn your images into visual stories, I've published a book that takes a whole new slant on photography and 'translates' the art of taking photos into a language we all understand.

To read more about my book and see some of its 100+ visual examples, please click HERE.

***I use all the tips and hints from my book in every photo I take, including those in Travel With Giulio.


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MENUS (Sydney to Dubai leg)














To read more about your First Class experience (on and off the plane), see HERE.

And, if you're curious about the seating plan of the Qantas A380, see HERE.


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I hope you enjoyed my First Class experience on board a Qantas A380. I don't have a bucket list as such but this was one thing I wanted to do and I spent over a decade working towards it. Many people couldn't understand why I didn't cash in my frequent flyer points when I had enough for a Business Class flight. 

They missed the point.

For example, the Qantas A380 I was on had 64 Business Class seats compared to 14 First Class seats. That alone speaks volumes about the difference between the two. 

And, on the luxury scale, First Class is as high as you can go when it comes to air travel. This is why I wanted to experience it.

Now I'm happy.

Maybe next time I'll fly Business...

Ciao,

Giulio


*The photos I took during my three weeks in the UK were among the best travel photos I've taken. To have a look at them, see HERE.



If you have any queries, please contact me at TravelWithGiulio@gmail.com




All photos and text by © Giulio Saggin, except otherwise stated
Use of photos/text must be via written permission







1 comment:

Marian Krueger said...

Excellent review! Makes me want to fly Qantas today!