Aircraft: Airbus Industrie A380-800
Seating: Business Class
Fare: From A$6,842 return
Flight time: 8 hours 5 minutes
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Seating: Premium Economy
Fare: From A$2,717 return
Flight time: 7 hours 30 minutes
If you’re flying in premium economy, Qantas still recommends you check in for seats at least two hours before the flight (as with economy), and while your premium economy ticket gets you checked in faster via a dedicated counter (and boarded faster with priority boarding) you’ll have to queue up with everyone else to get through customs. But you do get to check in a second piece of luggage (both a maximum of 23 kilograms).
In both cabins the crew was always immaculate and attentive, and passed my call-bell test (that being how quickly my bell was attended to mid-flight). Premium economy, like business, has its own dedicated flight attendants.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
Celebrity chef Neil Perry is behind the Qantas menus and his premium economy menu was a cut above the usual economy fare. Menus feature meal options, plus a range of premium alcoholic beverages. I chose the chicken curry for dinner and, while it was presented on stylish tableware designed by Marc Newson, the dish still resembled an economy meal in the way the different elements were plated up. In contrast, the business class meals are served as they would be in a fine dining restaurant. The menu is more extensive – I had a zucchini, basil and parmesan soup, and of the four main course options I chose the roasted Barossa Valley chicken with port wine jus, both delicious and well presented. There was also a great range of wine, spirits, beers and liqueurs.
Qantas’ in-flight entertainment system has a great selection of recent blockbuster films, plus quality older films, kids films and television episodes, plus 20 radio channels, hundreds of albums and games. In business class, 30.7-centimentre touch screen kept me entertained during the flight, coming out from the side of the seat rather than the back of the seat in front. There was also a power source for me to keep my laptop charged while working. As you would expect, the premium economy screens are smaller at 27 centimetres but they’re also touch screens and come from the side console of the seats. In both classes I got a pair of comfortable noise-cancelling headphones.
In business class the amenities pouch featured a striking retro black and white Florence Broadhurst design. (Since I travelled the kits have been updated and now include Kate Spade and Jack Spade pouches.) Along with the usual socks, toothbrush and paste, and eye mask were Malin+Goetz skincare products. In premium economy the much plainer kit came with an eye mask, toothbrush and toothpaste.
The seats in the business cabin were set up in two-two-two configuration. The seats are Qantas’ second-generation Skybeds set in grey cocoon shell designed by Marc Newson and once you lie back the shell acts like a privacy screen. The seats extend into two-metre long fully flat beds, and they’re approximately 54-centimetres wide with around two metres of pitch.
In the private premium economy cabin, the seats (also designed by Marc Newson) are roomy with a 96-centimetre seat pitch and they’re nearly 50 centimetres wide.
The Qantas international business lounge at Sydney Airport is set out with contemporary furnishings and features wine bars with a good selection of wines and there’s a barista to make coffee to your liking. The food is designed by Rockpool, and I treated myself to a scoop of gelato while I was there. There are showers to freshen up, complimentary Wi-Fi and work stations. In Singapore business travellers can use the joint Qantas and British Airways business lounge. Unfortunately for premium economy travellers there is no lounge access.
When my business class seat was set to fully flat it felt like there was a slight rise in the middle of the seat underneath my back, and it wasn’t so comfortable so I had to fiddle with the controls to find a comfortable sleeping angle. In premium economy I couldn’t get the screen at an angle that was comfortable so my neck would get tired from watching for too long.
ON TIME PERFORMANCE
For the Sydney to Singapore flight a handful of late passengers meant a late departure and we were delayed for 15 minutes in Singapore before landing. The return flight ran to schedule.
Qantas’ premium economy certainly offers a fair amount of luxe for less. While it lacks the space and full range of luxuries afforded to passengers in the business class cabin, I still found premium economy a very comfortable way to fly. If I were watching my budget, or was in a hurry (with no time to kill at the lounge) and flying into Singapore before midnight (thus not planning on sleeping), there’s no reason I wouldn’t choose premium economy. If you’re going to experiment with the different classes choose premium economy for Sydney to Singapore as it’s a daytime flight arriving in the evening. But, as business class still beats premium economy on nearly every point except for cost, I would definitely choose business for any overnight flight for the extra comfort, luxuries and of course the flatbed.