Although Qantas’ flagship Airbus A380 has returned to the skies, the airline has decided not to put the superjumbo’s cosy first class suites on the market.
Instead, the highest fare that’s currently being sold on the initial three A380 flights per week between Sydney and Los Angeles is in business class.
But those Marc Newson-designed open suites, with their high-walled cocoon design and swivelling recliner chair, won’t be empty when the A380 takes off for that 14-hour Pacific crossing.
Instead, Qantas will be using them to upgrade top-tier frequent flyers who’ve booked into business class.
What’s behind these free upgrades to first class?
When Qantas grounded its 12 superjumbos at the beginning of the pandemic, the airline expected they’d remain out of action until at least 2023, at which point demand for international travel was likely to rebound to the levels needed to fill those double-decker behemoths.
However, the pace of post-pandemic travel began picking up faster than even Qantas forecast, and the A380s bounced back onto the schedule for July 2022, then March 2022 and most recently January 11.
Qantas brought back one A380 for what it described as “crew training and as an operational spare ahead of the summer holiday travel peak,” and that spare has now been pressed into service, with a second superjumbo returning over the past weekend.
While these moves will “provide additional operational flexibility” the airline says it’s still working through some of the onboard customer service elements which require a longer lead-time.
This means it’s impossible – or at least very unwise, to the point of PR suicide on social media – for Qantas to justify charging the high cost of a first class fare when all the passenger is getting is a comfier seat.
(From Sydney to Los Angeles, a one-way first class fare can begin at close to $10,000, compared to $6,000-$8,000 for business class depending on the time of year.)
As a result, Qantas has temporarily suspended all sales of first class on the Sydney-Los Angeles route.
How to get your free ‘first class’ upgrade
Instead, the airline tells Executive Traveller that its A380 First suites are now being offered as a “complimentary upgrades for top-tier frequent flyers” travelling in business class.
They’ll still receive the same meals, drinks and service as anyone in business class – it’ll just be delivered in those spacious suites nestled away in the exclusive first class cabin at the front of the A380’s lower deck.
Executive Traveller understands that first cab off the rank will be Platinum One and Platinum Qantas Frequent Flyers booked in business class, who’ll be contacted several days before departure and offered the free upgrade.
There appears to be no provision for those Platinum-grade frequent flyers to plonk themselves into first class when doing advance seat selection as part of their booking – while they may be able to see the 14 first class suites showing on the seat map, they’ll be marked as unavailable.
When will Qantas first class return?
At the time of writing, Qantas’ A380 first class comes back on sale from March 27 between Sydney and Los Angeles.
While this is naturally when you’d expect the primo Neil Perry dining experience (along with creature comforts like first class amenity tis and pyjamas) to also reappear, it’s not known how this will impact the all-important ground experience of the lounges.
The Sydney International First Lounge currently remains in ‘premium lounge’ mode, open to Qantas business class passengers, Gold-grade frees and Qantas Club members, with a pared-back menu and a ‘closed’ sign still adorning the indulgent day spa.