Thursday, March 01, 2012

Seat Review: Qantas A380 International Economy Class

I have reviewed Qantas long haul economy before but recently had my first chance to try out the new(ish) A380 version of economy class. I have long held the view that the A380 is just another plane and not deserving of the hype and theatre that accompanied its launch. Sure it is a lot quieter than other aircraft but it is still just a box in the sky with customers doing whatever they can to get through the next 24 hours tightly packed with 500 other souls. That said, Qantas have taken the time with this new aircraft to revamp their very good economy class product. Unfortunately, in classic Qantas fashion there are parts of the product that fall a long way short of the promise of the marketing. But on the whole the BOOT was very happy with the experience. The BOOT rating for Qantas International. Economy on the A380 is 4.5 stars out of 6 or "Great Seat". Here is the detailed review

Getting on Board

Score 0.5

I may have lost Platinum status (call me Ivanka) but I am still Gold meaning I can enjoy premium check in either when in economy. Oddly there were only two premium counters in operation in Singapore when I was checking in. Meant that even though my status should provide boarding benefits above the normal economy experience, I spent a more than usual amount of time waiting to be checked in. The delays were extended at the gate where there was poor demarcation between premium and non-premium boarding queue. This made for a delayed and close to disorganised boarding process. If boarding for an economy class passenger with high status is confusing and slow, we can safely assume that for regular economy class customers there are still a lot of kinks and improvements for Qantas to make in boarding this large aircraft quickly and efficiently.

My status also affords me business class lounge access. The Qantas Business Class Lounge in Singapore has all that is needed in areas of space, quiet and Wi-Fi. There is plenty of room such that an A380 full of people on status does not overcrowd the lounge. The seating and facilities allowed for all that is needed to get comfortable, connect to power and get to work. However the food and drink selection left a lot to be desired. Only a limited selection of drinks, some cheese and crackers and poor selection of tea and coffee (Ivanka I really do miss you) . I have seen better food selection in the Qantas lounge at terminal 2 at Sydney domestic (the backup lounge at Sydney domestic in the Virgin dominated terminal).

The Seat

Score 1.0

By design I was a long way down the back of the bus - row 80. Top tier flyers at Qantas can no longer rely on being assigned exit seats. Qantas how charge $80 for access to an exit row. I am 185cm so paid the extra money. The leg room improvements from the exit row are substantial and for a business traveller worth the extra costs. But there are also some clear downsides to the exit row. You need to measure the gains in leg room over the losses in video access and a narrower seat. With no seat in front of you, there needs to be more in the arm rests. Having the video screen and tray table in the arm rest reduces the width of the seat meaning that some of the gains in leg inches are lost in the width. I found myself in a bank of four seats 80D-G with three other large businessmen. All of us had paid the extra money for the exit precisely because we were larger than the average traveller. Four bigger guys in four narrower seats is not as uncomfortable as four bigger guys in four seats with cramped leg room but it does make for a very tight elbow experience (making eating and computer usage a cirque de solei like contortionist experience). The other disadvantage is that while Qantas has finally made the upgrade necessary to launch their entertainment system prior to take off, with the video screens in the arm rest exit row passengers need to wait an extra 30 minutes until the plane is in the air.

The Seat itself has some nice touches. It has a twin recline movement. As the head-rest goes backwards the seat of the seat slides out. Means that while the backwards recline is on par with one's expectations of an economy seat (ie not much), the effect of the seat sliding forward is a much more comfortable and perceptively deeper recline.

Last comment - it may just be an issue for the exit row, but the tray table sat oddly against the video screen when both were open. Left me with my hand permanently on any drink when I was watching a movie with the tray table fully open for fear that glasses on the table were not stable enough

The Service

Score 1.0

The crew on this flight were in a good mood and this translated into good service. They were particularly helpful to me in agreeing to hang up my suit bag. I like to carry a suite and a couple of shirts onto the plane in a suit bag. If I can hang this up for the flight it dramatically reduces the need for ironing at my destinations. Staff on this flight were kind enough to hang up my bag in the business class coat area.

The Food

Score 0.5

Qantas continue to deliver in the food area. They provide the best economy food in the sky. A complaint in past reviews has been around out of meal service request for food and drink being handled badly by QF staff. I have found this in business, economy and premium economy of Qantas. If I press the call button and ask a crew member for something to eat or drink outside of a particular service, then Qantas staff often respond with a face that says "can't you see I am resting here" rather than one that says "welcome to the new spirit". Qantas have tried to compensate for this with their new economy class galley/bar area. The fancy flash A380 sales piece on talks of a self-service bar area filled with fruit, ice-creams, snacks and more. The reality is another Qantas promise to reality crash landing. On my flight there were four different cans of soft drink and two types of cookie. Hot drinks were not on display. A very limited selection tucked right and the back of the plane. Not worth the walk.

The Entertainment

Score 1.0

The area of biggest improvement across all Qantas classes in the last two years has been in their entertainment system. Four big improvements. Firstly the screen is a massive size and is clear. I used to squint looking at Qantas screens from the size and from the darkness. With old screens I was leaning forward and pressing the brightness button constantly wishing it went to a brightness setting of 11 to finally realise that watching movies with night time scenes was just a waste of time on Qantas flights. Now the screen is big enough and the resolution good enough that these problems have gone away. Secondly the system is faster. On some Qantas flights I felt like I was watching the interstitial "Q" symbol as much as I watched movies. Now loading times have dramatically increased and programs start almost immediately. Thirdly the audio. Qantas have not stumped up for noise cancelling headsets in economy but they have put in a very nice sound feature. When the entertainment is interrupted by a PA announcement, the volume through entertainment system goes down. This means that movies are interrupted by a quiet word from the captain rather than an ear splitting and brain shattering scream about reaching 35,000ft (I assume this is a deliberate feature). Finally they have a easy to find "kids button". A one push that opens up all of the kids entertainment options. A little touch that spares parents from the shuffle around every 30-90 minutes to help their charges navigate through all the explosions, rom coms and episodes of Top Gear and find the demanded Pixar, Dora and smurfs that children prefer.

BOOT Factor

Score 0.5

There is something really strange about plane design when it comes to the simple things. In the non-plane world we have fantastic designs for simple things like taps and seatbelts. With taps you can turn them on, wash your hands, then turn them off. With seatbelts, everyone from age 5 and up can put on a car seatbelt without the need for a detailed in car instructional video. But on planes these designs gains in the ground-based world were forgotten. Taps need three hands. One to push the buttons and two to be washed. Seatbelts need instructional videos and roving staff to help. Qantas have changed all this. In a hardly revolutionary but very welcome move they have taps that can be used to wash hands easily and a seatbelt that looks and works like a car seat belt. Previous BOOT factors have been much more glamorous than taps and belts but in the airline world sometimes the simple things need a special mention

Final Score

4.5 - Great Seat

Details and scoring system for airline seat reviews

Thanks to Tim Riley via Flickr for the photo


air fare deals said...

The review is very helpful, this can be a very good reference to travelers. I think Qantas Airlines is good and can be suggested to people who loves to travel. Great job!

Kate said...

Thanks for this review. I've normally travelled with other airlines economy (alas, I haven't nabbed that rich husband yet to pay for business and above classes). I flew A380 economy from Singapore to Heathrow and it just about blew my mind. There's just no comparison to the others, but then I guess they weren't A380s.

My only issue through a joyful 14 hour flight, was actually the touch screens. Not because they were bad, they were brilliant. It was just the dude behind me was computer illiterate and felt he had to punch not touch the screen every time.

Since this flight, I think I'll be sticking with Qantas. Their staff were absolutely lovely, and at the end of flying Ireland->Brisbane->Rockhampton I felt like it'd been awesome. Though after talking to some of the staff when they wanted to know where I'd come from, most of them were excited FOR me when we arrived in Australia, haha.

So lovely ♥