Consistency Is Key: Qantas (787-9) Business Class From Melbourne to Perth
Qantas made history in March by flying the first passenger flight between Australia and Europe using one of its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners. But, before that flight launched even launched, I got to take the the brand-new aircraft for a ride on a domestic training flight from Sydney (SYD) to Melbourne (MEL) in premium economy and again from Melbourne (MEL) to Perth (PER) in business class.
Here's my take on the business-class product on the Qantas' latest and greatest aircraft.
For this business class flight from Melbourne (MEL) to Perth (PER), I used 20,000 AAdvantage miles. That's a pretty excellent deal for a flight that retails for no less than A$2,183 (US$1,651) one-way. After factoring in award taxes and fees, I netted over 8 cents per mile of value from my AAdvantage miles.
While these intra-Australia hops can be an excellent use of American Airlines miles, you're likely more interested in how you can book this aircraft on its intercontinental routes. Between Los Angeles (LAX) and Melbourne, you can book a Qantas 787-9 business class flight for 100,000 miles round-trip using Japan Airlines Mileage Bank.
If you're looking fly all the way from New York City to Australia, your best bet is going to be Alaska Mileage Plan. Business class flights between the US and Australia cost just 55,000 miles each way on Qantas.
Cabin and Seat
The Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner business-class cabin is arranged in a staggered 1-2-1 arrangement across two cabins. The forward cabin has eight rows — with no middle seats in row 1.
The mini cabin in the rear has three rows of 1-2-1 seating. In total, there are 42 business-class seats — a very premium-heavy configuration for a Dreamliner.
The seat is based on the Thompson Aero Vantage XL, which Qantas flyers may know well from the airline's Airbus A330. There's one major difference, though: the extra cabin width of the 787-9 allows for more wider seats than you'd find on the A330 — they measure 23 inches between armrests on the 789.
The staggered seating creates varying levels of privacy with the seats that are directly adjacent to the windows having the largest wall between the seat and the aisle.
But, the aisle-side seats also have a small privacy shell.
Unlike the A330, the divider between the middle seats can be adjusted to allow passengers traveling together a way of chatting without having to lean around the divider.
There's storage available at each seat, with an L-shaped open-topped tray. A water bottle holder is found at the bend, which is good for smaller water bottles — however, my 11cm diameter Nalgene was too large to fit.
There are three plugs built into the back of the storage tray for your devices and entertainment. You can power from a universal power plug and/or a USB plug. The headphones connect to the in-flight entertainment system via a three-prong plug.
I'm not sure if it was due to power cycling or the media player trying to connect with my phone, but my phone's screen wouldn't stay off when plugged into the USB plug. There was no such issue when charging using the universal power plug.
The seat control panel allows a variety of seating arrangements. And with the press of the bed button, the seat quickly and easily reclines into a completely lie-flat bed.
Due to the staggered seating, footrests are generally on the small side.
The only exception here is at bulkhead seats, which have a larger footwell:
Another perk that's only found at bulkhead seats: a small latch-able storage tray.
The tray table slides out from under the side table by pressing the release button by your wrist and then pulling the table out. The table snaps into place when fully extended. The irregular-shaped tray table measures up to 21 inches wide and up to 12 inches long. Although the tray table isn't stabilized by an opposite armrest, the tray table is still pretty stable for typing or writing.
Not all Dreamliner windows get dark enough but that's not a problem on Qantas' 787-9, which offers near-blackout windows.
Qantas has an impressively stocked in-flight entertainment system onboard its Dreamliners. The business class in-flight entertainment screens measure 15.5 inches diagonally.
The system can be controlled via the touchscreen or a remote hidden away in the armrest.
The IFE screen can be titled down somewhat for viewing while reclined. While the tilt doesn't seem like much, it's perfect for watching a movie or show when lying fully flat.
Over-the-ear noise-cancelling headphones were provided at each seat. The headphones feature a Qantas logo, but no manufacturer information. The headphones provided good sound quality and decent noise cancelling. Certainly not top-notch, but solid. Qantas doesn't offer Wi-Fi on its Dreamliners — which is tolerable enough on a sub 5-hour flight, but on ultra-long haul flights it's definitely more of an issue.
Food and Beverage
A hot breakfast was served on the 4.5-hour domestic hop. Passengers had the option of four main plates, accompanied by a set of side dishes. I chose the "pastrami, zuni pickle, caramelised onions, hot English mustard and Swiss cheese sourdough sandwich." Unfortunately, the sandwich didn't cook well at all, with soggy bread in the center of the sandwich yet an impenetrable crust on the outside.
The side dishes of "Greek style yoghurt with strawberry and vanilla compote" and choice of bread would have made a fine light breakfast on their own.
Drink orders were taken as the appetizers were served. I was offered a variety of colors of juices, settling on the "green juice" — a tangy juice seemingly made with kale. Beware if you're a slow sipper — the juice settles quickly. Choice of tea or French-press coffee were offered both before and after the meal.
The flight manager had noted that this flight used the new dishes and cutlery. The new, light-weight dishes are supposed to "save about half a million dollars of fuel a year, just on cutlery and crocker" according to David Caon — the seat and cabin designer. While perhaps a bit lighter than you'd otherwise expect, the dishes and glasses didn't come across as cheap.
Noticing that I'd been drinking coffee, a "short black" coffee was offered when I visited the galley midway through the flight. The food service overall was excellent, with the poorly-cooked main course being the exception.
I'm highly impressed by the level of service by Qantas on this domestic flight. In addition to an excellent new version of its solid business-class seat, Qantas crew impressed on this relatively-short training hop. The only downside worth noting was the poorly-reheated main dish, but hopefully that was just a fluke.
Also, I like what Qantas has done to make its business class product consistent across its widebody fleet. Compared to the widely varying hard products on US airlines, there's something comforting to know what to expect when you book Qantas' business class — whether its a domestic flight on its A330 or the 17-hour flight from Perth (PER) to London's Heathrow (LHR) on its new 787-9 Dreamliner.