A handful of technical hiccups marred the recent launch of Qantas’ upgraded Airbus A330s during its first international flights.
While the airline’s next-gen Business Suites have been met with great enthusiasm by travellers, the new inflight entertainment system has suffered crashes in both business class and economy.
A senior partner in a Melbourne-based law firm told Australian Business Traveller that the inaugural Melbourne-Singapore flight – which departed on Saturday January 17 with due fanfare and celebratory cupcakes – was also notable for failures of the inflight entertainment system and economy toilets.
"The screens started crashing..."
The traveller – who holds lifetime Gold frequent flyer status with Qantas but wishes to remain anonymous due to a business relationship with the airline – said that “early in the flight the screens started crashing” throughout the economy cabin.
“In some cases (they were) freezing. In most cases, the content ‘disappeared’” from the home screen, leaving passengers unable to select programs to watch.
An engineer from system provider Panasonic who was travelling with the flight rebooted the screens, however the problem re-occurred on the aircraft’s return Singapore-Sydney flight, which Australian Business Traveller experienced first-hand in business class.
Some people watching movies reported the film would suddenly stop and their 11 inch personal screens would revert to the main menu, but several categories, images and links were missing from the app which serves as the home screen.
A Panasonic engineer on the flight explained to Australian Business Traveller that “people watching movies were dumped out of the movie onto the home screen and weren't able to start the movie again… they’d navigate through the screen but the thumbnails weren't there.”
“We were able to recover from this by doing a manual reset for each seat [but] we suspect the interactive [home] screen may be having an issue.”
Some screens observed by Australian Business Traveller were set to rights but others remained locked onto the ‘loading’ screen for the remainder of the flight.
"Qantas had Panasonic engineering support on-board to monitor and assist with the launch of the new system” a Qantas spokeswoman told Australian Business Traveller.
"They assisted with a number of individual IFE system resets as a small number of passengers were experiencing ‘page empty’ screens when cycling through the IFE categories.”
"This issue affected the first two sectors and has not recurred on subsequent sectors” the spokeswoman said, adding that "Panasonic is currently investigating the root cause” of the problem.
Problems with loos, too
The Melbourne-Singapore inaugural also saw two economy toilets out of service when the hand basins refused to drain.
“We had 20 to 30 people in line to use the (working) toilets” the Melbourne-based reader told Australian Business Traveller, with other passengers instructed to use the toilets with blocked washbasins “to ‘download’ and then use other facilities or bottled water to wash their hands.”
“There was no general PA announcement and certainly no offer to use the business class toilets” he added.
The Qantas spokeswoman confirmed that “two rear economy bathrooms were out of service due to issues with hand basin drainage. The remaining four economy lavatories and two business lavatories were unaffected.”
Engineers at Singapore's Changi Airport rectified the basin drainage issue before the aircraft turned around for its Singapore-Sydney return journey.
"While it was disappointing to encounter these issues on our inaugural service, we were very pleased with the customer feedback we received on the overall new A330 experience” the spokeswoman said.
The A330s are being upgraded at Qantas’ Brisbane maintenance facility in a tip-to-tail refit which takes around 30 days – and it's close to a total interior rebuild, as this time-lapse video shows.
Detailed AusBT review: Qantas Business Suite A330 business class
Qantas has two of the refub’d birds already flying – one domestic and one international – with three more due to take wing by the end of March, ramping up to a fleet of 11 by August.
The domestic jets feature primarily on the Sydney-Perth and Melbourne-Perth routes in addition to some daily Sydney-Melbourne sprints.
Qantas will work to get three upgraded A330s flying from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Singapore and then broaden its network map, with Hong Kong tipped as the second Asian city to see the new Business Suites.
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