Trip Report: Two Weeks Down Under
Flight Review: Qantas B747-400 San Francisco – Sydney
Lounge Review: Qantas Business Class Lounge, Sydney
Flight Review: Qantas A330-300 Sydney – Auckland
Lodging Review: Holiday Inn Auckland Airport
Lodging Review: The Pavilions Hotel, Christchurch
Our Time in Christchurch
Lodging Review: Hilton Queenstown Resort & Spa
Our Time in Queenstown including Doubtful Sound Tour
Lodging Review: Avani Metropolis, Auckland
Our Time in Auckland
Lodging Review: Oceans Mooloolaba
Our Time on the Sunshine Coast
Lodging Review: Brisbane Marriott
Flight Review: Qantas B787-9 Brisbane – Los Angeles
For the first leg of this adventure I exchanged 80,000 American AAdvantage miles and $28.20 in taxes for 10,676 miles of flying. If you value those 80K AA miles at 1.4 cents each, that’s just under $1150 in value when you add in the taxes. Compare that to the $4800+ that American wants for similar flights next October and I think that’s a pretty good deal!
As I mentioned in the first post of this series, we’d found our return flights first and about two weeks later we found two business class seats on Qantas from San Francisco to Auckland via Sydney. From Memphis the only flights American made available in business class were on the regional jet via Phoenix. My friend flying from Chicago could not even get a business class (domestic First) ticket on a non-stop to San Francisco so she paid for an extra legroom seat.
Initially AA had me leaving Memphis around 2:30 PM and arriving around 6:30 PM before the Qantas flight left around 9:30 PM. In September, SFO airport was re-paving runways which meant closures and delays. Though I knew they were supposed to be done well before my trip, it made me nervous. Couple that with how often fog causes delays into SFO and I decided to take advantage of American’s generous change policy on award tickets: as long as the origin and destination remain the same, you can change the routing or the dates. So I left home about 7:30 AM and made it to Phoenix on time, a little after 8:30 AM. And there the delay kicked in. SFO ATC would not let us take off due to fog in the area so we were 49 minutes late leaving Phoenix and we arrived 39 minutes late. While a delay of that length would not have made a difference should I have kept my original flight times, I felt my decision to go earlier was validated because there might have been a lengthier delay later in the evening.
Another factor in making the switch was that my friend flying from Chicago could change to a domestic First class seat on the Alaska Air non-stop. It cost $100 to make the change to the award ticket since Alaska is not part of oneworld but they refunded her extra legroom seat and it was definitely worth it to her for the four hour flight as she’s tall and is much more comfortable in the larger seats, just like I am.
The early arrival meant we had a lot of time to kill at SFO and we even kicked around the idea of going out to a movie but ultimately decided just to wander a bit, have a decent early dinner and get to the lounge as soon as was reasonable. This was our first time connecting to an international flight at SFO and we were disappointed to learn we’d have to re-clear security. At least the line was far less crowded than it was two years earlier when I was departing on my China trip. Since we didn’t have to wait for the Qantas counter to open so we could check our bag, we weren’t in the security line with dozens of others at the same time.
Qantas flyers can use both the Air France/KLM lounge and the Cathay Pacific lounge. We spent a little time in each and, perhaps due to the times their flights depart, the Cathay lounge was a lot less crowded.
The flight departed from gate 33 and had separate jet bridges for business/premium economy and economy.
Qantas 74 SFO-SYD
Seat: 3E (Business Class, Aisle, Center Section, Forward Cabin)
Scheduled Departure: 2125 (Actual: 2204)
Scheduled Arrival: 0605+2 (Actual: 0618)
Scheduled Duration: 13h 40m
I thought this might very well be my last time to fly on a 747. I can only recall doing so only twice before. The first time was in 1998, when I sat upstairs. It was my first trip in business class and I had a recliner seat which I thought was the coolest thing ever. The last time was in 2016 when I returned home from the Danube river cruise on Lufthansa. I hadn’t even realized I was on a 747 or I might have chosen to fly up top.
Qantas has business class in three mini-cabins: one in the nose, a mini-cabin behind that and a third mini-cabin upstairs. The mini-cabin in the nose is 2-2 seating for the first two rows and 2-2-2 seating on the third row for a total of 14 seats. The second mini-cabin is 1-3-1 on row 5 and 2-3-2 on rows 6-8 for a total of 26 seats. This might be good for families traveling together or singles who might want to grab one of those solo seats. Upstairs there are four rows of 2-2 seats and row 16 has two seats on the right side. We debated about sitting in the nose vs. sitting upstairs. Qantas only makes limited seats available with partner miles so our choices were the only two center seats in the nose (3E/3F) or the two seats at the very back of the upstairs level (16J/16K). We ultimately stuck with the downstairs seats both because we wouldn’t have anyone in front of us and because we’d both have aisle access.
We boarded on time through door 1L and turned left towards our seats. There was a bit of a mix-up initially because when my friend changed the first leg of her flight it apparently released the hold on the seat next to mine. Fortunately we were able to swap and sit together. While we were still getting settled the crew brought our breakfast menus around and asked us to get those marked up as soon as possible. What the rush was, I’m not sure. It seems like the perfect time for us to fill those out would be while we’re taxiing and during takeoff. I know they have a lot to do once we’re airborne but I was more concerned about getting everything I wanted handy out of my bags and getting things stowed than I was worried about what I’d have for breakfast in 12 hours or so.
Waiting for me at my seat were pajamas, headphones, an amenity kit, a duvet and a pillow. The mattress pad was specially designed to fit over the top of the seat and had already been affixed. Brilliant! That just makes so much sense I don’t know why other airlines haven’t adopted that. I asked, but slippers were not provided so I was glad I’d brought my own.
I went to the (tiny) lavatory to change into my pajamas and missed the pre-departure beverage. Not a huge loss but I couldn’t help but wonder at how rushed things seemed to be. We were ready to go on time but had a gate hold because otherwise we would have arrived extremely early in Sydney. We eventually pushed back at 2155, 30 minutes after scheduled departure, but just sat there for awhile. Eventually we began a very long taxi and eventually took off at 2213 PT.
You may have heard about the couple flying in Qantas First who chose to take a different flight rather than accept Business Class pajamas in their size since there weren’t enough in First Class. Unlike them I’d have taken the Business Class PJs but I do think the First Class PJs are a lot better. The kangaroo emblem is probably 4-6 inches in height and is on the left chest for the First Class PJs. The emblem is black and the pajamas are a very dark gray. The business class PJs are a much lighter gray and the kangroo emblem takes up the full front side and the word QANTAS is emblazoned on the back. It looks just like a long-sleeved t-shirt and could be worn in public as such with no issues. I just think the First Class PJs are a lot classier looking.
Back to this flight. The amenity kit had the standard items: socks, earplugs, a sleep mask and some lotion. We were also given a Qantas pen to fill out our breakfast choices and were allowed to keep it.
As 747s worldwide are retiring I wasn’t expecting a super-updated cabin so it wasn’t a surprise to see that not all seats had aisle access and that the seats weren’t the most modern design. But you know what, it was perfectly adequate and the fourteen hour flight passed relatively quickly, which was the important thing. The IFE controller was embedded between our two seats and was pretty intuitive to use. The IFE system worked well enough though if I never see a Hugh Jackman commercial for a certain brand of boots it won’t be too long. Two minutes of commercials ran before each movie and a minute of commercials before each TV show. I thought it was a little excessive.
Between the seats at shoulder level was a partition that coule be raised for privacy and the headphone jacks along with a reading light. There was another small compartment there, perhaps for glasses to be stored while sleeping? It was too small for the bottle of water we were given – in fact, there was nowhere to store that bottle, which was a minor annoyance.
As we were in the center of the cabin in the nose we had an unimpeded view to the very front, where there was a closet. Prior to takeoff a number of folks were hanging clothes there after changing into their pajamas.
We did have this small cabinet in front of us and though we had to bend down a bit to access it, it was actually very nice for storing our shoes and anything we wanted to have handy during the flight. There was also a center compartment where we tucked our blankets before we were ready to sleep.
The seats had very small IFE screens that popped out from the center armrest – you can just see the tip of that in the photo above. Every seat had this same setup, even those on the sides. While those seats did have air nozzles, the center seats did not. Fortunately the cabin did not get too hot.
After getting to cruising altitude the crew went to work on our dinner. The menu was as follows:
Since we’d had a dinner at the airport I wasn’t extremely hungry. I skipped the soup and salad and just was served a piece of bread along with my beverage (water) for the first course.
I had the beef filet with potato gratin, green beans and brandy cream sauce. It tasted better than it looks in this photo but wasn’t as good as the wagyu steak I had on the ANA flight back from Tokyo in 2017. I skipped dessert and went to bed.
I slept decently well for being on a plane, though there seemed to be some sort of seam or cross-support in the seat that happened to hit my hip in just the wrong spot as I tried to sleep on my side. I eventually managed to get comfortable enough and probably got a total of six hours of sleep. That was enough to get me through until the next night anyway.
Breakfast service began about two hours before landing. During boarding I felt so hurried to get my breakfast selections in that I failed to take a photo of the options. For breakfast I selected the muesli with skim milk, orange juice, hot tea and some kind of sweet pastry. I learned my lesson on this photo: use the reading light instead of the mood lighting!
Despite departing San Francisco over 30 minutes late and landing in Sydney 30 minutes late, we were at the gate only 13 minutes past the time we were set to arrive, thanks to a shorter-than-planned taxi in Sydney.
Thanks to reciprocal agreements with the Australian government, we were able to get through the automated arrival gates very quickly and then proceeded through Passport Control (and another security check) into the International Terminal where we went upstairs to the Qantas Business Lounge to await our third traveling partner who was arriving from Los Angeles.
In the end
All in all the flight was just what I expected. A long flight but it was made so much more comfortable with the aid of a flat bed seat. I am so glad the world of points and miles gives me the ability to travel this way. If this is indeed my final flight on the Queen of the Skies, it was one that will provide me with good memories.