After a five-year hiatus, Qantas are once again flying to three major cities every evening from Singapore on their Airbus A380 aircraft. We covered the reintroduction in a separate article, but just a couple of weeks after services with the superjumbo were recommenced through Singapore we booked a redemption flight to see whether their first class product is worth considering on your trips to London, Sydney or Melbourne.
- Flight: QF81 Sydney T1 International to Singapore Changi T1
- Class: First
- Seats: 2A & 3A
- Aircraft Type: Airbus A380-800
- Aircraft Registration: VH-OQB
- Aircraft Age: 9.7 years
- Date: 19th March 2018
- Departure / Arrival: 11:35 / 16:45
- Flight Time: 8h 10m
- Cost: 80,000 British Airways Avios points + S$190.00 per person
After glimpsing the outside windows of the first class lounge from the approach road we proceeded straight past the automatic check-in desks towards the dedicated first class check-in area. Screened off from public areas, it features 4 desks and a small seating area with large red leather armchairs, which are slightly worn but you won’t be waiting long.
With your boarding card in hand, you are given an express pass to proceed through a slightly more expeditious channel of immigration and security. It was still a little chaotic, to be honest. After that, you must wind through the duty-free shop before finding the first set of escalators which lead up to the Qantas first and business class lounges.
Lounge and Boarding
We spent a good deal of time in the excellent Qantas first class lounge that we have comprehensively reviewed here. Needless to say, it’s worth a lengthy visit if you are eligible for entry.
The gate for our flight was directly below the lounge which was very convenient, however, upon reaching the gate, the queue for first and business class was almost as long as that for economy passengers.
The reason is the very high number of status card holders who are also permitted to board from this lane – many of whom were travelling in economy class. A bit disappointing as it loses the exclusivity you expect from a dedicated first class lane.
We were greeted at the door of the aircraft and shown to our seats. After settling down, Tim, the crew member looking after the 5 seats along our aisle in first class came to introduce himself.
Throughout the flight all crew were excellent but in particular – Tim managed to provide a level of service that was personal, thoughtful and extremely attentive. Helpful suggestions, good product knowledge, humour and personality – all made for a really excellent ‘soft-product’ experience.
We usually use Singapore Airlines service as the benchmark to which other airlines may be compared and, as we have said it the past, it is consistently excellent. The personable and warm touches that the Qantas crew provided on this flight drove the standard to the next level.
The Qantas A380 first class cabin is configured in a 1-1-1 configuration. That’s broadly similar to the Cathay Pacific first class product on the 777-300ER, but remember this is on the main deck of the A380 which has 62cm more width – so you get an idea of the space involved.
The middle ‘F’ seats are angled towards the left side of the cabin. The other seats are angled towards their respective windows.
Pro Tip: The middle ‘F’ seats only access the right side aisle, along with the right side window seats (meaning 9 seats share the right side aisle). This leaves the left side aisle exclusive to the remaining 5 left side window seats – quieter, less footfall and easier cabin service. See our Seat Recommendations below for more detail.
Tim came to ask us if we would like a glass of champagne. Naturally, we agreed. We should mention, other drinks are also available if vintage champagne isn’t for you.
Since Qantas serve any one of 3 different types of champagne onboard, we awaited his return with bated breath. Any of the 3 would have been fine although I was quite happy to see a handsome bottle of Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame 2006 arrive. It really is a special drop and if you like the standard Veuve Cliquot, you will love this.
The champagne was served with warm almonds and marinated black olives. There is a small drinks table directly in front of you in this seat position, within easy reach.
Traveller Tip: If an airline opens alcohol on the ground before closing the doors then that bottle usually attracts local taxation according to its value. Some airlines try to avoid some of this tax by offering a cheaper Champagne on the ground than that served once airborne, or simply not offering an alcoholic option at all.
Emirates will often serve Moët on boarding and Veuve Cliquot once airborne. If you have any doubts – ask to see the bottle.
Below the drinks table, directly in front of the seat, is a magazine pocket where the usual paraphernalia can be found.
To the immediate left of the seat base is a small storage for suitable for phones, passports etc but, be warned, this area disappears from view and access as the seat swivels to face the window for dining, lounging and bed positions.
The console next to the seat has a bottle holder and underneath, two deep sliding storage compartments, the upper one contains the headphones. Below the console is a small gap suitable for placing shoes.
Angled opposite to the seat is the ottoman. In the pictures, it may look similar to that found in British Airways first class or Singapore Airlines 2006 suites – but don’t be deceived, it is much larger and far more comfortable. So large in fact we think you could be happy sitting there for an extended period of time with your travel companion.
Under Seat Storage
Under seat seat storage is limited to items that can be placed underneath the ottoman. A large backpack or even a Rimowa Topas carry-on will fit comfortably, as will a typical rucksack. Otherwise ample overhead storage is available.
The Amenity Kit and Pyjamas
The amenities and pyjamas are designed by Martin Grant for Qantas first class. The amenity kit is small but thoughtfully designed. The eyeshades, in particular, are great as they don’t press on your eyelids. A small selection of Aurora Aspar ‘travel essentials’ are included (the same brand as used in the first class lounge spa). Then the usual suspects are also present.
The pyjamas are available in two sizes – Medium/Large or Large/Extra Large. We found even the Medium/Large quite baggy but that’s typical of our experiences with other airlines. They were cool and comfortable and came with a sturdy pair of slippers.
Two toilets for first class (7:1 passengers to toilet ratio) are located in the forward galley at either side. They are both a standard size.
They feature a sleek, modern round sink. Also, notably each has a window which is automatically dimmed as you enter. After you lock the door the window becomes clear and the beautiful “loo with a view” effect is realised.
Additional amenities are available along with cloth towels.
Wi-Fi and Connectivity
There is currently no Wi-Fi connectivity available on the Qantas A380 fleet. We would imagine plans are in place to retrofit this functionality in 2019 alongside a host of other ‘cabin refreshments’ to bring the product up to date, but it has not been mentioned by Qantas to our knowledge – so maybe not.
Traveller Fact: The Qantas A380s were delivered with in-flight Wi-Fi capability but the customer response was poor with the service reported as expensive, unreliable and slow. As a consequence, Qantas deactivated the service.
Below the magazine pocket is an AUS/US style power socket, two powered USB sockets and an ethernet port (not currently in use).
The A380 first class seat has a motorised retractable IFE screen. It is a standard definition 17 inch screen, and we found that scrolling through the options was quite slow and clunky. Playback once selected was smooth.
The screen has touchscreen capability but there is also a physical controller hidden in the armrest which is more useful as the screen is quite far from the seat.
The headphones are noise cancelling and reasonably comfortable but we prefer the Bose type offered in numerous other premium cabins.
All seats are initially pointed straight ahead in the takeoff and landing position. Once inflight the seat can be swivelled towards the ottoman. There are then numerous seating options available.
The presets are a good start and then refinements can be made depending on your personal preference.
The seat can also move forwards towards the ottoman and dining table if you wish.
The seat reclines fully flat into a long bed which should accommodate even the tallest passenger very comfortably. More on the bed later on.
Middle Seats / Window Seats
All seats are good for solo travellers, but the preference would primarily be for the left aisle ‘A’ seats. Middle seats are kept private from the left-aisle with large retractable screens that are raised after takeoff.
Privacy between rows is also ensured with another smaller tractable screen. There are no couple seats and instead, companion travellers will have to settle with using the ottoman if they want to spend time together or ‘buddy dine’.
Another great feature of this seat, although not uncommon in the latest first class products, is buddy dining.
The tray table has two additional sleeves that can be unfolded to offer a very large dining space, easily big enough for two including all of the relevant table dressing. The ottoman also features a seatbelt to keep your companion secure.
Andrew sat on the ottoman for lunch and remarked that it was far more spacious and comfortable than those we have tried on Cathay Pacific, British Airways or Singapore Airlines in their first class seats.
With the arrival of the 787 to the Qantas fleet, the tableware has been refreshed across the board. David Caon, an Australian designer, who also helped design the seats now flying in the 787 – has developed this new flatware, glassware and crockery.
We already liked the old Qantas flatware which had a stylish aviation influence. The new product is more modern and is also 11% lighter – which will help Qantas squeeze out additional fuel savings (all important for the super long-haul services being introduced lately and in the years ahead).
Using a proper stemmed wine glass and champagne flute is a must for first class, especially when serving top quality beverages.
The crockery is smart and features delicate cloud motifs.
After takeoff, lunch was served. We began with the amuse-bouche. This consisted of a sort of ‘spring roll’ finger filled with spiced lamb, pine nuts and garnished with sumac yoghurt alongside a small tartlet with sweet onion cream and caviar.
The full menu is shown below (click to enlarge).
For starter, I chose the smoky tomato soup which was tasty, smooth and well paired with croutons and crème fraîche. This was accompanied by excellent fresh slices of bread – olive focaccia, sourdough and garlic bread are offered. Olive oil and organic Australian butter complement these delectable carbohydrate temptations.
Andrew chose the poached salmon salad which was fresh, zingy and excellently presented.
From the main course offering I had the herb panko crumbed chicken breast which was perfectly moist with a crispy exterior. The capsicum sauce was the perfect compliment. Andrew had the grilled steak which was (despite reading other reviews indicating a tendency to be overcooked), medium-cooked, tender and juicy. The potato and cabbage gratin was sinfully superb.
After eating to excess in the lounge pre-flight and an already generous lunch, dessert was a struggle. The ice- cream sandwich was recommended by Tim and really very good – not too sweet.
Numerous other snack options were also available for the remainder of the flight.
Starting with the excellent Champagne – La Grande Dame is superb with fine bubbles, toasty and dry.
- Veuve Cliquot La Grande Dame (2006) – 4.5 stars on Vivino
As you’d expect on Qantas, the wine selection is stocked with a variety of top rated Australian wines.
With our starters, we paired the Hunter Valley Sauvignon Blanc. Dry, crisp and quaffable – excellent with fish.
- Brokenwood Forest Edge Sauvignon Blanc, Hunter Valley, NSW (2016) – 4.0 stars on Vivino
With the main course, we chose a more robust Shiraz and the Shaw + Smith was a triumph. Fruity, smooth and perfect with red meat.
- Shaw + Smith Balhannah Vineyard Shiraz, Adelaide Hills, SA (2014) – 4.3 stars on Vivino
Here’s how the wines we didn’t try rate on Vivino:
- Petaluma Hanlin Hill Reisling, Clare Valley, SA (2014) – 3.7 stars
- Oakridge 864 Funder and Diamond Chardonnay, Yarra Valley, VIC (2013) – 3.9 stars
- Levantine Hill Estate Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, VIC (2013) – 4.1 stars
- Cape Mentelle Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River, WA (2014) – 4.1 stars
- Lillypilly Noble Blend, Riverina, NSW (2015) – 3.8 stars
A little-known feature of the Qantas A380 is the small lounge at the top of the staircase for both first and business class passengers. On other airlines there is typically a toilet in this location, and on Emirates it houses one of the two shower suites.
It’s certainly not as big as the Emirates or Qatar offerings and doesn’t feature a bar but it’s a nice spot to sit and talk to travel companions. There is an IFE screen showing the flight map and there’s a selection of reading materials. A small self-service fridge is close by with snacks and drinks from the business class selection.
This is where things get special. As mentioned, the seat is already very comfortable. But when we wanted to sleep, things got even more luxurious. The first part of the aforementioned first class cabin refresh is the introduction of new bedding. Here is what Qantas had to say in their media statement:
“For the first time, customers will able to choose from a pillow menu featuring a selection of three styles to suit different comfort needs. Set on each seat prior to take off, Sheridan’s Ultimate Comfort Pillow is lightweight and soft with superior head and neck support. The Memory Foam Pillow and Feather & Down Pillow are available on request, all designed to help provide a comfortable rest.
“The ensemble also includes a memory foam mattress which moulds to the body’s contours for total comfort and support while providing the pressure point relief advantages of memory foam, as well as super-soft Sheridan sheeting, a duvet cover made from soft-touch tencel, a 100% combed-cotton woven throw and a soft-touch bolster cushion.”
A pillow menu? At 36,000ft? Colour me excited!
Tim came to make up the bed. At 81″ long, it’s one of the longest first class beds in the industry – the new Singapore Airlines A380 suites bed for example is 76″ long.
The process began with the seat folding flat, then a very large memory foam mattress was rolled out, topped with a fitted sheet, then a duvet, a blanket and then came a selection of pillows.
The standard “ultimate comfort” pillow left on each seat prior to departure represents the “medium” option and is already very comfortable. In addition – a firm “memory foam” and a soft “feather and down” options are available. Naturally, we tried all. The winner is the standard “ultimate comfort” but then pillow choice is very personal.
The quality of the blankets and sheets is superb. They are cooling so you can get tucked in without overheating (a common complaint on Singapore Airlines).
Pro Tip: Whilst every first class passengers gets an “ultimate comfort” pillow left on their seat, only 4 of each other type of pillow are loaded for the whole first class cabin. If you would specifically like a different pillow – get your request in early.
This may very well be the most comfortable bed we have ever slept on whilst flying – that’s a big statement in the Mainly Miles office.
Preferred seats are the “A window” on the left side of the cabin as the left aisle is only accessed by them. Solo travellers should try for seat 1A as it’s very private.
Secondary choices are the “K window” seats and the 2 “F middle” seats. They share an aisle with more passengers but still offer a good standard of privacy.
Seats to avoid are 2F and 5F. 2F feels cramped due to the staircase protruding into the overhead area. 5F suffers from galley noise, specifically a chiller unit that causes annoying vibration.
Redeeming This Seat
If you’re looking to try out the Qantas first class product for yourself on one of the three daily flights from Singapore, here is the one-way mileage redemption rate with some of the most popular frequent flyer schemes.
|Qantas First redemption rates to/from Singapore|
|SYD / MEL||LHR|
Notice how American Airlines AAdvantage miles represent really good value for Qantas first class redemptions – just 50,000 one-way to Sydney or Melbourne and 90,000 to London. Asia Miles also provides good value per mile.
If you hold a firm business class ticket on a Qantas A380 flight, you can also use your Qantas Frequent Flyer miles to upgrade to First Class in line with the following rates.
|Qantas Business to First upgrade rates to/from Singapore|
|Ticket Held||SYD / MEL||LHR|
Qantas will be refreshing the on board product on their A380 fleet, now 10 years old, starting about a year from now to be finished by the end of 2020.
While the biggest focus will be to bring the business class cabin up to date with 1-2-1 configuration all aisle access seats in common with the A330 and 787, a few changes will benefit first class passengers too:
- A redesigned upper deck passenger lounge by David Caon for first and business class passengers to dine and relax.
- Larger high-definition IFE screens.
- Recushioned seats and new fabrics.
The Qantas A380 cabin is certainly starting to show its age after nearly 10 years in service. However, the original hard product has held up well and still offers a very high level of comfort.
Add to this the upcoming cabin refresh and the new bedding – this should keep the product up to standard for years to come. Sure, it’s not a fully enclosed suite but doesn’t pretend to be. It actually isn’t necessary – after boarding, we didn’t see or hear another passenger throughout the flight and the first class cabin was full.
The soft product was superb. The food was amongst some of the best we’ve reviewed. The wine choices were excellent and the cabin crew service was flawless.
There is little more to say, other than we wished the flight was a little longer. Perhaps next time we’ll try it all the way to London.