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  • Graham

Qantas Premium Economy - Johannesburg to Sydney

On a recent working trip to both South Africa and Australia, I had the opportunity to fly Qantas for the first time, and the iconic 747-400 for what will almost certainly be my last time, on one of the southern-most routes in the world, crossing the Indian Ocean while skirting the coast of Antarctica.

Qantas use one of their oldest aircraft on this route; since there’s basically nowhere to divert in case of a mid-flight emergency, ETOPS rules require a four-engine aircraft, and this route doesn’t do enough business to warrant one of Qantas’ shiny Airbus 380s. So, off we go for one last run on the Queen Of The Skies!

As I’ve divided my loyalties between Air Canada / Star Alliance and Delta / Skyteam, and this flight was operated by Oneworld partner Qantas, there was to be no lounge access for me as we awaited our flight in Johannesburg. It’s a nice enough terminal, with a decent set of shops and restaurants.

The Business cabin on this 12-hour red-eye flight was full by the time I booked, but Premium Economy was a relative bargain at about $500 CAD more than Economy. Having just come off a serious back injury, and needing to hit the ground working in Australia, I was more than happy with the upgrade.

After we cleared the security and emigration checkpoints, I bought a large bottle of water to keep myself hydrated on the flight; I was frustrated to get to the gate and discover we’d need to re-clear security and have all liquids confiscated - even those I’d just bought at the shop a hundred yards away!

It’s a beautiful plane, I only wish I’d gotten a decent photo of it!

The seat was quite comfortable, pretty stock-standard Premium Economy stuff that’s certainly as comfortable as any armchair-style Business Class seat I’ve flown on a narrow-body airliner from Air Canada, Delta, American or United. It reclines quite far, as you’ll see below, which does make for a bit of awkward contortion if one wants to get up mid-flight, but together with a sturdy recliner-style foot rest that props up in front, most of the cabin slept throughout the flight.

Provided at every seat were a set of (mostly) noise-cancelling headphones, a proper-sized pillow, and a blanket that managed to be both lightweight and warm. A small amenity kit contains the usual thin socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, foam earplugs and an eye mask that blocks no light whatsoever!

I expected a less-comfortable seat from one of Qantas’ oldest aircraft, but the seat has solid lumbar support and a foldable headrest that slides up and stays where you set it, always a plus for a tall guy!

I prefer the in-flight TV screen to be in the back of the seat in front of me, rather than folding up out of the arm rest as is the case for every seat in the Premium Economy cabin on this flight. Given the deep recline of the seats, though, it does mean you’ve got to completely put away your screen if your seatmate wants to get up for any reason, which is annoying.

The dinner service looked quite nice, but as we’d just had a large team dinner in the airport before departure, I settled for a light meal consisting of two or three glasses of excellent Australian red wine! On the down side, this failed to have the desired effect, and I stayed awake throughout the 12-hour red-eye flight.

On the plus side, as the last passenger awake out of over two hundred aboard, I ended up chatting with the flight crew for over an hour after the meal service, and they were nice enough to gift me with a set of Qantas-branded business-class pyjamas “to help me sleep once we arrived”. A wonderful gesture and, as it turns out, the most comfortable flight pyjamas I’ve ever had! And good on Qantas for giving their staff the latitude to make such a generous gesture!

Flight attendants were truly attentive and friendly throughout the flight, topping me off with caffeinated drinks once I’d abandoned all hope of sleep. As it’s only Premium Economy, we were limited to the galley snack basket, though I was offered a packet of potato chips somewhere in the deep hours of the night.

Unfortunately, it was dark until the last hour or so of the flight, as I’d really hoped to catch a glimpse of Antarctica. Qantas’ Sydney-Johannesburg route is one of only a handful of commercial routes that take passengers within sight of the frozen continent, and, as the purser cheerfully explained at the midway point across the Indian Ocean, the two hundred or so of us aboard the flight were as far away from the next-nearest group of humans as it is possible to be without leaving Planet Earth!

Breakfast came round as we crossed into Australian airspace, with a choice of a hearty English-style breakfast or a lighter fruit plate. My seatmate chose responsibly, while I tucked into the greasy bacon, so I got photos of both.

Altogether, a pleasant flight, I certainly disembarked feeling well-treated for the extra cost of Premium Economy, and overall, this flight was a perfect illustration of the value proposition offered by the Premium Economy product; much more comfortable than Economy, much less expensive than Business. Certainly, if any airline needs to get this mix right, it's an airline like Qantas who rely so heavily on long-haul passengers, and they do it well.

Safe travels!

- G


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