Qantas, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Townsville to Sydney via Brisbane

Introduction

My time with Professor Bond is a real eye-opener. I think I was able to ask him all the questions for which I was seeking answers. Having said that, he also gave me a lot of answers to questions I wasn’t even aware I had!

Getting to the Airport

The journey to the airport takes about ten minutes by car. After all, it’s still very early and there are hardly any people on the roads.

Check-in

The landside part of the terminal is disproportionately large, compared to the somewhat tight and narrow airside area at the gates.

Each one of the major airlines operating out of Townsville has its own dedicated check-in zone. I can bypass this today, because I’ve already checked in on the QANTAS app.

There is a queue for security, but it moves quickly. Of course it helps that in Australia they only want you to remove your laptop from your bag and not also your toiletries etc.

The Lounge

Once I’m through security, I only have ten minutes before boarding starts. But I’m gagging for a coffee. Much to my surprise and delight, there is actually a fairly large QANTAS lounge, where the baristas will even make you a cappuccino to go!

Boarding

So with my coffee in hand, boarding starts on time with an initial call for Business Class and frequent flyers passengers. It’s only once I settle in my seat that I realise it’s raining quite heavily outside.

The Cabin

QANTAS has a dedicated Business Class cabin on its Boeing B 737-800 fleet. There are three rows of seats in a 2 + 2 configuration, which makes for a total of twelve seats.

Every seat is equipped with its own video screen, an electricity plug and USB port. There is also a footrest that can be raised when the seat is in the recline position.

The wifi on board works surprisingly well.

I think the Americans in particular tend to frown upon the European interpretation of Business Class seating, which basically means blocking the middle seat on a row of bog standard Economy Class seats. Which is, admittedly, pretty lame. But it seems to me that the average sector length in Europe is probably much shorter than in vast countries like the US or Australia, and which therefore hardly warrants the installation of a more comfortable solution with a dedicated Business Class cabin and seat.

The Crew

The maître de is serving the Business Class cabin and I have to say, this guy is really absolutely brilliant. His manners are impeccable! He addresses every passenger by name and no request ever seems too much for him.

The service on the ground consist of a welcome drink. There is a choice of still or sparkling water or apple juice. There are no towels, newspapers or anything.

The flight time is announced at one hour and thirty minutes.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. There is a choice of either Quiche Lorraine with bacon or an omelette served with a mushroom sauce, spinach and bacon. I go with the latter option.

The tray comes with two slices of sourdough bread, butter and apricot jam. There’s also some awfully healthy looking packed thingy, which I decide to steer clear of.

Later on, the maître de passes through the cabin offering cranberry muffins that are fresh out of the oven and taste lovely.

To drink with the meal, I have an orange juice, still water and a coffee. Oh yes, the coffee! Full and extra brownie points for QANTAS on the coffee front. Instead of that horrific instant stuff you get on most airlines these days, QANTAS serves a lovely brew made in a coffee press, which just tastes so much better!

Once the tray is removed, the crew pass through the cabin with small bottles of still water and ask passengers if there’s anything else they’d like. I order a Coke Zero and then settle in to read the latest book of the PC Grant series, which my friend the wiry R. and I both find quite entertaining.

Transfer in Brisbane

We land in Brisbane about ten minutes ahead of schedule. I disembark the aircraft through gate number 23. I check on one of the FIDS, only to find that my flight to Sydney in slightly over an hour will be operated by the same aircraft from the same gate.

The glorious beauty of the English language…

Language change is unavoidable. One of the key drivers of language change is exposure of the language as it is used in a specific area to the other languages in use around it. In which case there may be regional approximation of two or more languages coexisting in that region.

Why am I even bothering you with this? In British English a thong refers to a particular type of knickers or underpants. If you look up the term on onelook.com, it will give you as a definition: ‘a piece of underwear or bottom part of a bikini with a very narrow piece of cloth at the back’. So basically, it’s the type of underpants that look as though they need to be surgically removed from your butt crack.

Which makes it all the more hilarious that when I enter the QANTAS lounge during my layover in Brisbane, the lounge dragon will not let me enter because they have ‘a strict no thongs policy’ in the lounge that she’s asking me to respect. Of course, what she’s referring are what we call flip flops in Europe that you wear on your feet.

The Meal

In any case, the only other thing worthwhile mentioning on the next leg to Sydney is that there are three options for lunch: a kale and spinach frittata, fruit salad or a smoked salmon salad. The tray comes with a large tub of blueberry yoghurt on it. The bread is served separately.

Arrival

Our arrival into Sydney is stunning. We approach the city from the north. At some point, we make a gentle left turn for the downwind, which brings us in right over Manly. In the distance I can see the harbour bridge with the opera house and CBD. It just looks so spectacular from above! I shall miss this when I leave again for Europe tomorrow.

Conclusion

I rather enjoyed these two short-haul flights in QANTAS Business Class. My previous experiences with their Business Class product have all been on longer sectors, on which the meal concept was somehow always a bit odd. So it’s good to see that this is not the case here.

To me QANTAS’ biggest selling point are definitely their crews, which are friendly, properly trained and really do represent ‘the spirit of Australia’.

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Brisbane to Melbourne

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Introduction

This ticket was purchased using Etihad Guest miles. In the original booking, I would have travelled on VA334, which departs from Brisbane at 14h55. Really quite by chance, I realise that I’ve been rebooked to VA332, which departs from Brisbane one hour earlier at 13h55.

According to the IATA rule, until departure the entity which made the original booking is responsible for the passenger – so in this case, Etihad Airways. Quite frankly, I think it’s a piss poor show that they can’t even be arsed to at least inform me that I’ve been put on a flight that leaves a whole hour earlier!

And so I leave the Spicers Balfour in New Market and make my way to the airport one hour earlier than expected. The journey by car takes about 25 minutes, depending on traffic. My first stop though, is the BNE Service Centre – as I have to return the rental car with a full tank.

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Once the car is returned, I take the elevated walkway that connects the car park and the airport’s railway station to the domestic terminal.

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Check-in

There is a dedicated Business Class check-in section for Virgin Australia passengers only.

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The Virgin Australia Lounge

Right next to the Business Class check-in counters is the priority line for security. In Australia, on domestic flights you only need to take out your laptop from the bag. Not liquids.

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The Virgin Australia lounge is opposite gate 41. To be honest, I was expecting this lounge to be a bit of an anti-climax after having experienced the lovely Qantas lounge in Perth.

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But much to my surprise, this is also a very nice lounge. I don’t think I could say if it’s better or worse than the Qantas lounge, because they’re just so different. While the Qantas lounge is elegant in a very grown-up kind of style, the Virgin lounge has a much fresher, more modern look that is also very attractive.

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Food and drink offerings are good and include a range of hot and cold snacks. Although where the lounge food is concerned, I think Qantas is ahead of Virgin Australia.

Boarding

The flight is departing from gate 43. There is a dedicated line for Business Class passengers and members of the frequent flyer programme.

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The Cabin

Virgin Australia has a dedicated Business Class cabin on the Boeing B 737-800, with eight seats in a 2 + 2 configuration on two rows. The seat pitch is 38 inches and the seat width is 19.5 inches.

The appearance of the cabin is sleek, with the seats in black leather and a purple, see-through cabin divider. The seat is certainly comfortable and beats the European interpretation of Business Class seating any day. The disadvantage with this seat however, is that while it has excellent recline, there is no foot rest to put your legs up. On a flight of only two hours this is hardly an issue, but I’m not sure what it would be like on a longer flight.

What I really like on Virgin Australia, is that once the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, the crew will cordon off the Business Class section from the rest of the aircraft, which significantly diminished the amount of foot traffic in the Business Class cabin.

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The Crew

There are three ladies and one gent working in the cabin on today’s flight. The Business Class section is being taken care of by the purser, Sarah. I think this young lady does a really outstanding job in the way she goes about her duties. She has excellent manners, she’s friendly and approachable and throughout the flight she goes out of her way to ensure that passengers have everything they need.

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There is a choice of orange juice or water as a welcome drink. There are no refreshing towels though.

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The Meal

The whole meal is served on one tray and consists of

  1. a small salad with parmigiano shavings and an excellent dressing,
  2. a small bun with butter,
  3. coconut and chocolate sweets for dessert, and for the main course
  4. a pork pie served hot,

or

  1. Baba Ghanoush, served cold with flat bread.

The salad is definitely much better and certainly larger than that miserable excuse for a side salad served on Qantas. For the main course I choose the Baba Ghanoush, which is really very tasty.

And the coconut chocolate sweet is lovely and goes well with a cup of coffee.

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Arrival

Eventually we land in Melbourne after a flight time of two hours and five minutes. As we taxi in, we pass a LAN Chile B 787, which seems awfully far away from home!

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Eventually our aircraft comes to a stop at Terminal 3.

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Getting into Town

In Melbourne I’ll be staying at the Novotel St. Kilda, which is right on the waterfront. To get to St. Kilda, your cheapest option is to take the red Skybus express shuttle which runs directly from Melbourne airport’s Terminal 4 to St. Kilda. The journey from the airport takes about 60 minutes, depending on traffic, and will cost you AUD19 one way. On weekdays the service runs every 30 minutes.

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Conclusion

So, Qantas or Virgin? It’s really quite hard to say. The food and the crew on the Virgin flight were definitely better. But the lounge and the level of comfort were better on Qantas. Although the latter point is not really quite fair, given that my Qantas flight was with a wide-body, whereas the Virgin Australia flight was with a narrow-body.

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Qantas, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Perth to Brisbane

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Introduction

At this point you’re probably wondering why the heck I didn’t just fly directly from Bangkok to Brisbane, instead of taking the detour through Perth. It’s a long story and I’m not even going to attempt to explain. It has something to do with a compulsion for flying, a fascination with aeroplanes and probably some deeply rooted neurosis a psychologist would likely have a field day with…

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport, I take the bus line 935, which makes the journey in about 30 minutes. The fare is AUD4.70 and the bus stop is literally across the road from the hotel. In the photo below, my hotel is the tall building in the background.

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Check-in

I’ve checked in using the QANTAS app. If you’re checking in at the airport, QANTAS have these very funky self-service check-in machines at which you can check yourself in, issue the baggage tags and drop off your baggage. It nearly makes me wish I had more than just hand luggage!

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The Lounge

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers for security. The process is swift and efficient. From security I head straight for the QANTAS lounge.

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I really do think QANTAS seriously has the best lounges of all airlines. Ever. In the world. And the lounge here in Perth is no exception. It’s beautifully appointed and offers a wide range of seating options. Even the loos have style!

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There is a large buffet with an extensive selection of hot and cold dishes. Apart from that, there is a coffee station where they make excellent coffee and a separate drinks bar. Oh yeah, and the apron views are pretty good too!

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Boarding

Boarding for my flight is from gate 14. Business Class passengers use the L1 door of the aircraft to board, while all others use the L2 door. From what I can tell, the flight is completely sold out in Business.

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The Cabin

Qantas operates the A 330-200 in two different configurations. There is one version with a seating capacity of 199 in Economy and 36 in Business Class and another with a seating capacity of 243 in Economy and 28 in Business Class. The lower-density configuration is used primarily on international services but is also deployed on domestic routes, while the higher density configuration is only used on domestic services and to New Zealand.

The international configuration has the Qantas Skybed, which is sufficiently comfortable but offers very little storage space and is really quite ugly to look at. This configuration has angled lie-flat seats that are 21.5 inches in width and have a pitch of 60 inches. The seats are in a 2 + 2 + 2 layout.

The domestic configuration is definitely much nicer and obviously newer. This is a completely lie-flat seat, width is also at 21.5 inches. Stretched out into the bed position, the seat is 78 inches long. The seats are laid out in a 1 + 2 + 1 configuration. On uneven numbered rows, the A, F and K seats are aisle seats. While on even numbered rows only the E seat is directly on the aisle.

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Apart from the fact that it looks much nicer, the domestic configuration also provides a lot more storage space. And fortunately for me, today’s flight is operated by an aircraft in the domestic configuration.

The Crew

There are four female cabin crew working the Business Class cabin. They’re friendly enough I guess, but their interaction comes across as being slightly put on. But at least they are very professional in the way they deal with the passengers. But I have to say, throughout the flight the crew come through the cabin repeatedly to make sure passenger are hydrated and have something to drink, which is something for example the Thai crews didn’t do.

While we’re still on the ground, welcome drinks are served. There is a choice between wine, water and some cranberry juice spritzer, the name of which I didn’t catch.

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The Meal

The meal service is something I never really quite get about QANTAS. I’m assuming they think is very stylish and sophisticated. I just think it’s weird and more than just a little pretentious. The menu has a choice of two starters, four main courses and two desserts, which is quite extensive I think, especially on a domestic flight. But the things they have on the menu are just slightly odd.

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First Course

For the starter I go with the mozzarella with grilled radicchio, green beans and crushed hazelnuts. This is rather unusual and quite good. So far so good. The dish is served with a minute side order of salad and two slices of sourdough bread.

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The Salad

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The Main Course

For the main course I have the chicken parmigiana, which is also quite good but just looks slightly forlorn, sitting on the plate with just a slice of lemon and nothing else. I mean, some sort of side dish might have been nice.

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Dessert

And then for dessert I have the cheesecake with berries.

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I spend the rest of the flight watching an Australian film called ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Dessert’, which I can highly recommend. The film is not that recent, but I thought it was hilariously funny in a tragic sort of way.

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Arrival

Eventually we land after a flight time of just over four hours. The approach is spectacular and brings us in right past the city of Brisbane on our left.

The temperature is more or less the same as in Perth, but it’s definitely more humid here.

Getting into Town

In Brisbane I’m picking up a rental car. My first stop is a small town on the Sunshine Coast that goes by the name of Mooloolaba and which has a lovely sandy beach. I have to say, it really does feel so nice to swim in the sea and feel the heat of the sun on my body again. With the rubbish weather we’ve had back home recently, I’d started to forget what the sun even looked like!

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The Spicer’s Balfour Hotel – New Farm, Brisbane

In Brisbane I am staying at the Spicer’s Balfour Hotel off Bowen Terrace in New Farm. New Farm is a quiet suburb close to the city centre, which can be easily reached on foot in about twenty minutes.

The Public Area

The Spicer’s Balfour has the look and feel of a Bed and Breakfast, mainly I think because the hotel is very small and cosy and sits on a quiet street surrounded by private homes. But do not let appearances fool you, the Spicer’s Balfour has most amenities you can expect from a hotel, including a Spa.

The Terrace Suite

I am staying in the Terrace Suite, which is very roomy and feels very comfortable. The bathroom is large and has both a shower and a bath. There is also a huge balcony.

Dining

The main dining area of the hotel is outside on the veranda on the first floor. There are trees all around the house, which conceal the veranda from view from the street.

The food at the restaurant is very good. What is more, the staff are all very nice and friendly and really do their utmost to accommodate their guests. On one day I asked if they did afternoon tea, to which the waitress replied that in fact they did not but would be able to make scones for me for the next day. Apart from the fact that I thought it was very nice of them to make the effort, those were without a doubt the fluffiest scones I have ever tasted. They were served with fig jam and whipped cream with vanilla.

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The Spicer’s Balfour is perfect if you are looking for something a bit more intimate than the big hotel chains in the city centre. I like the hotel very much and would definitely stay here again on my next visit to Brisbane.

Link to the hotel’s website.

Going for a Run in Brisbane

I’ll never let you see
The way my broken heart is hurting me
I’ve got my pride and I know how to hide
All my sorrow and pain
I’ll do my crying in the rain

If I wait for stormy skies
You won’t know the rain from the tears in my eyes
You’ll never know that I still love you so
Though the heartaches remain
I’ll do my crying in the rain

– Crying in the Rain, A-ha

On my first day in Brisbane I decide to go for a run. I need to move a bit after spending nearly twenty hours on a plane and eating copious amounts of satay. It has been raining all morning and when the drizzle finally eases up around eleven, I decide to try my luck. But as soon as I am out the door the rains starts again and by the time I reach the start of the River Walk, I am already completely drenched. Still, the rain makes the temperature more bearable. I usually do not take the heat very well.

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Brisbane is a good place to go for a run. If you want to take the scenic route, I would suggest a run along the waterfront on the Riverside Walk. On the New Farm side, the River Walk is actually on the water. There is a deck of a bit more than one kilometre that runs over the river.

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From the hotel turn right towards Bowen Terrace. Turn left onto Bowen and keep on going until you reach the intersection with Merthyr Road. Turn right onto Merthyr and continue until eventually you will reach the beginning of the River Walk, which apparently was only reopened in 2014 following reconstruction. On your way to the River Walk you will pass by some interesting side streets that just look so typically Australian, with those elevated houses. You will also cross exciting Moray Street, which was voted ‘Brisbane’s Most Liveable Street’ back in 1993…

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Along the River Walk you have some excellent views of Brisbane’s Central Business District. Eventually you will reach the entrance to the Brisbane Botanic Gardens, after a distance of slightly more than four kilometres.