Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Qantas Business Class, QF108, LAX-SYD.

My journey to Sydney began with exploring the new Qantas lounges in LAX, which, as you read about in last week's Business Class lounge review and the week before's First Class lounge review, turned out to be not nearly as nice as expected.  After a few hours of chaos in the lounge, it was time to board our flight, which at that point I looking forward to.  The lounge did a boarding announcement, and the gate was the closest one to the lounge, so it was easy and convenient.  Points to Qantas for that.

Our flight was fine, but our service was a bit lacking throughout.  Not quite the quality I was expecting from Qantas Business Class.
Row 1!
Since the flight was supposed to depart at 11:55pm, we wanted to maximize our ability to sleep, so we picked row 1.  Normally, I dislike the bulkhead since I like the storage under the seat in front of me at all times, but I knew this would be the most quiet and low traffic area, since there is no restroom or galley in front, so absolutely no one would be walking by.  As expected, I was slightly annoyed to not be able to keep my belongings with me during takeoff, but we were able to easily stash our items in the large closet in front, so it wasn’t too big of a deal.  And as expected, there was virtually no foot traffic, so it was a fairly peaceful space.
The Front Cabin.
Although we were on a 747 and not the A380, it was outfitted with the redesigned SkyBeds, something I made sure of, since I wanted a fully flat bed.  Of course, I would have loved to fly on the A380 again (I’ve been on it in Premium Economy several times), but business class tickets were almost double the price, so when picking between business on the 747 or premium economy on the A380, I went for business on the 747.
Water Bottle Cubby.
The SkyBeds are really nicely designed seats.  While the seat itself isn’t the most comfortable, I really appreciate all the touches that make it very functional.  There is a dedicated water bottle cubby, which is in perfect reach once you lay down to sleep, and water bottles are distributed after meal service.  And a dedicated shoe cubby, making it easy to find shoes to slip on to stumble to the bathroom in the middle of the night.  I also re-purposed the headphone cubby for my glasses and cell phone.  Everything had easy access, tucked away, with nothing left floating around.  Other airlines could certainly learn from the design of these seats, and I found it far more functional than even the first class seats on British Airways and similar to Cathay Pacific's business class seats.

They had power ports AND usb ports in every seat, so I could charge all my devices.
Controls.
The seats also featured easy to use controls, and were fairly adjustable.  I appreciated the basic massage settings, plus the ability to save and recall your favorite position.  An overhead light and a reading light completed the main seat space.  Even though we were in a bulkhead, there was a small cubby with a padded compartment for a laptop in the basinet, so I could keep that with me too.

Unfortunately for me, my in-seat entertainment unit was broken.  They reset the whole plane once, and reset my particular unit a few times, but alas, I was out of luck, so I can’t comment on that.  They apologized many times, and told me they’d file a report and offered me a duty free coupon.  I never heard anything from the report.  Because the flight was full, they didn’t have an option to move my seat.

For sleep, the seats did lay flat, at the touch of a button.  A very, very thin “mattress pad” was provided, that honestly I’m not sure did anything.  The seat was hard as a rock, and really not comfortable.  I developed a cramp in my side very quickly.  We were also provided with only a single pillow.  Since I like one under my head and one between my knees, this was less than ideal, but I was able to snag an extra from the closet up front.  The blanket however was the worst part - thin, scratchy, and just really not comfortable. While I love Qantas for the well thought out compartments in the seats, the comfort of the sleeping experience was seriously lacking.
Amenity Kit: socks, toothbrush, earplugs, eyemask, moisturizers.
Before we took off, water, champagne, and orange juice were offered, along with amenity kits, different models for men and women.

My kit had face lotion, hand lotion, and lip balm from MALIN+GOETZ, along with some scratchy socks, a low-end eye mask, ear plugs, and a mini toothbrush and toothpaste.  The case was Kate Spade.  I used the toothbrush and lotions, but I had my own better ear plugs, eye mask, and sleeping socks (if you ever want an eye mask recommendation, just ask, I adore my eye mask, and sleep in it nightly!)

Pajamas were also provided, thin drawstring pants with no pockets, and a long sleeve t-shirt.  Not nearly as fancy as the Cathay or BA pajamas, but the lightweight long sleeve shirt was nice for the flight.  I brought my own pants since I knew I wouldn't like these.  They also only had two sizes, M/L and L/XL, and they were too big for me.  No slippers, but that is common in business rather than first.

I didn't take a photo, but the bathroom was tiny and cramped.  The only toiletries were hand soap and lotion, both nice smelling.  Tissues and those quasi-fabric “towels” completed the offerings.  The sink was of course the type that doesn’t stay on and is super annoying to use.  The entire downstairs business class cabin has only two bathrooms, and unfortunately for us, one of them went out of order during the flight.  When I got up to use the bathroom in the morning, the queue was quite long.  We were all on a similar schedule, and that many people using a single bathroom to also change, wash their faces, etc just doesn’t work.  They managed to fix the bathroom before we landed, but long after the rush.
Supper Menu.
Since the departure time is so late, the meal offered is “supper”, a compressed meal service with no starter and simple entree options.

The menu contained the following "Supper Plates":
  • Selection of cheese served with accompaniments.  The cheese accompaniments may include quince paste or dried fruits and water crackers.
  • Mushroom arancini with zucchini salad and salsa verde. 
  • Big bowl of Tuscan soup with cavolo nero and parmesan.
  • Chorizo dog with jalapenos, piquillo peppers and mustard mayonnaise.
  • Beef and Guinness pie with tomato relish.
  • Seared sea bass with caramelised witlof, crushed peas and minted butter.
  • Confit duck leg with celeriac puree, roasted pears and thyme jus.
Qantas allows you to pre-order your meal selection online in advance 7 days before the flight, which Ojan and I both did.  If you pre-order, there are more choices available than on-board, so we had the additional options of:
  • Taleggio, mushroom and tomato lasagne with wilted spinach.
  • Pumpkin empanadas with pebre salsa.
If you order online, they also have photos of all the dishes, and much more complete descriptions.  For example, for the sea bass, the online menu reads "Sea bass is lightly pan fried and served with caramelised witlof, crushed peas and mint flavoured butter. Witlof has a crisp texture and a slightly bitter taste and when caramelised provides a nice contrast in flavour which works very well with the crushed peas."

Anyway, I eagerly picked on of the exclusive items, the lasagna, with its tasty description: "Oven baked lasagne of roasted tomatoes and Portobello mushrooms pan fried with herbs."  However, by the time we finally took off, and got around to meal service, it was nearly 1:30am, and I’d already feasted in the lounge, so I no longer wanted it.  I felt bad, since no other passengers could order it, but I hope it didn’t go to waste.

Instead I just settled for a dessert, because, well, it is me.  This part of the menu wasn’t available to me in advance, so I was in for a surprise.  The options were a fruit platter, a cheese platter, ice cream, or a custard.  Clearly, since I love puddings, I went for the custard.  I did applaud the order of the older man across the aisle from me, who also skipped dinner, and ordered an ice cream and a single malt scotch on the rocks.  I was a bit jealous of his order.
Drink Menu.
Meal service was a bit strange.  No offer of a beverage was made, and when I requested a glass of wine, my attendant didn’t know what they had available.  The menu just said “An awarded selection of premium Australian wines”.

She suggested a dessert wine to go along with my dessert, so I went for it.  I assumed water would be provided as well, but it wasn’t.  No refills were ever offered.
Baked cinnamon custard with macerated strawberries.
The description of the dessert said “baked”, so I hoped it would be served warm.  It was not.

It was a good custard, thick, creamy, well-set, although the texture seemed a bit off, it was a bit lumpy.  I didn’t mind the strange texture really, but it was odd.  The custard base did have a strong cinnamon flavor as advertised.  The macerated strawberries on top were mushy and super sweet, but again, I didn’t mind.  They reminded me of the berries from my mom’s strawberry shortcake, where she soaks them in sugar in advance.  There was also a fair amount of sweet strawberry sauce, which was quite tasty, but really got to be too much.

Overall, I liked this, more than the panna cotta in the lounge,  but it was too sweet.  I wished I had a nice bitter coffee to go with it, but I didn’t want coffee, even decaf, as I was planning to attempt to sleep soon.  

The dessert wine was also super sweet, and I just couldn’t stand it with the sweet dessert.

Ojan opted for just a salad for simple bedtime snack, “green leaf salad with your choice of dressing”.  He was shocked when it arrived, a tiny bowl of greens with balsamic vinegar drizzled over.  How was this listed as a “supper plate”?  So he followed up with a cheese platter, “selection of cheese served with accompaniments”, as a bedtime snack.  It was very basic, with 2 water crackers, 2 digestive biscuits, a small chunk of a triple cream cheese, a chunk of a hard cheese, a dried pear, and a prune.

During the flight, the galley area near the bathrooms had a self-serve small snack station, featuring Valhrona chocolate squares, packaged pecans and cookies, sweet potato chips, cashews and pretzels, cashews and almonds, and whole fruit, so if you needed to nibble more, that was an option.
Breakfast Menu.
Hanging at our seats when we boarded was the breakfast menu, so we could fill it out and pre-order in advance, to maximize sleep.  For those who really wanted to sleep, there was an option to be left alone entirely, to just get an express meal of a pastry and drink.  Otherwise, the continental selections were a fruit bowl, which I avoided because of my melon allergy, muesli (with yogurt, whole milk, or skim milk), toast, a croissant, or a pear danish, along with an assortment of spreads (berry jam, marmalade, honey, or of course, vegemite).

For hot entrees, there were 3 choices:
  • Free range scrambled eggs on toasted brioche with pork sausages, sautéed mushrooms, and braised beans
  • Savoury french toast with slow roasted tomatoes, avocado, and rocket leaves.
  • Orange pancakes with raspberries, maple syrup, and mascarpone cream.
The menu was rounded out by juice (orange, apple, or "mango energizer") and standard hot drink options (coffee, tea, hot chocolate).  There was no option to indicate if you’d like water with your meal, so I assumed that would be included.  Alas, just like dinner, there was no water.  Am I really alone in wanting water on a flight?

From the continental section, I selected the muesli, although I knew it would be regular muesli, not bircher muesli, which I totally adore, and is one reason I love visiting Australia.  I knew I’d get plenty of it when I arrived in Sydney.  I went for the whole milk, hoping it was Australian whole milk, since I really really love the flavor of their higher fat milk.  It wasn’t, which I should have realized, since we were leaving from the US.

For my hot option, I was intrigued by “savory french toast”, but it had avocado, which I’m allergic to, so I went for the pancakes instead.

Breakfast service left a lot to be desired.  I woke up several hours before breakfast time, and eventually I asked what time breakfast was, as I was quite hungry at this point.  I was told it was in 45 minutes, so I waited.  45 minutes came and went, an hour came and went, and finally almost 2 hours later it was served.  If I’d known it would be 2 hours I would have had a snack, hence my reason for asking.  Now, to be fair, I think they may have *started* breakfast service at the 45 minute mark, but since we were in row 1, we were last served.  But the attendant answering my question knew that.

When my tray was cleared away, I also asked for a decaf coffee.  It never came.  This was all representative of service throughout: very slow, often lacking, no refills offered.  The attendants were perfectly friendly and polite, just not very attentive.  I’m not sure if I just have higher expectations now that I’ve flown first class?  But things like receiving drinks that are ordered and having your tray cleared seem fairly basic.  After 30 minutes, I tried again and ordered another coffee, and that one did come eventually.
Breakfast Platter.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, my tray was unceremoniously delivered, all at once.  I had my laptop out, and a bunch of things in the way, and had assumed they’d be by to pull out the tray, put down a table cloth, and offer drinks first.  I scrambled to move things as the attendant stood there waiting.  Whoops?

I saw that there was no water and was going to ask for a glass, but she was gone before I had a chance.  My tray was also covered in split coffee.  Like I said ... service wasn't awesome (it was much, much better on my return flight, stay tuned for that!)

The pancakes were lukewarm at best.  I was faced with a dilemma: did I try to devour them before they got even colder, or try to eat the muesli first before it got even soggier?  

If the pancakes had been warm, I think they actually would have been quite good.  I was pleasantly surprised.  They weren’t rubbery.  They weren’t soggy.  The base flavor was decent, although I didn’t detect a hint of orange, which I was actually glad about, and the only reason I almost didn’t order the pancakes is because  I don’t really like “orange” flavor.

They were inconsistently drizzled with syrup.  I really liked the bites that had syrup, pleasantly sweet, and complimented well by the tangy mascarpone, but there were many bites that had no syrup.  I would have greatly preferred to have the syrup on the side so I could distribute it as I wished.

The glob of mascarpone was just plopped there, and was a very generous amount that I didn’t think I could possibly finish, but alas, I love creamy, fatty things, and it was quickly devoured.  There were also a good quantity of fresh enough raspberries.  The raspberries and cream were delicious enough in their own right, cold pancakes notwithstanding.

Overall, the pancakes were far better than expected, and if the pancakes had been warm, and the syrup on the side, this could have been a home run.  I still enjoyed my meal, but the waffles on BA still take the prize as top breakfast on a flight.

I also ordered a regular coffee.  It was strong and fairly awful.  And, spilled all over my tray.
Muesli, Close Up.
My muesli was already fairly soggy when it arrived.  It was good muesli though, loaded up with assorted seeds (including sunflower), nuts (including macadamias), and dried fruit (both cranberries and raisins).  The mediocre milk and the mushiness however made it not very good.  Protip: next time, ask for the milk on the side to avoid the sogginess issue!
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