Hong Kong - Sydney
- Decent personal space and privacy
- The seat transforms into a superbly soft bed
- Top-notch lounges in Hong Kong
- Uninspiring dining menu
- No inflight WiFi
- The most comfortable way to fly between Australia and Hong Kong
Qantas' refurbished Airbus A380s are progressively appearing on more and more flights, bringing with them a refreshed first class experience. You'll still be flying in the same first class suite as debuted on the red-tailed superjumbos in 2008, with a unique design by Marc Newson, but a mid-life make-over – which will be in place on all 12 Qantas A380s by the end of 2020 – does away with a decade of wear and gives each suite a more contemporary look.
While this review details Qantas' Airbus A380 first class flying from Hong Kong to Sydney, most of the observations – good and bad – will apply to other flagship A380 routes to Singapore, London, Los Angeles and Dallas-Fort Worth.
- Frequent flyer program: Qantas Frequent Flyer, Oneworld. Beyond that alliance network which also includes local partner Cathay Pacific, Qantas maintains partnerships with an array of other loyalty programs too, such as Emirates Skywards.
- Checked baggage:
- 50kg: standard allowance
- 62kg: Qantas Club members, Qantas Silver and Emirates Skywards Silver frequent flyers
- 66kg: Qantas Gold and Skywards Gold frequent flyers
- 70kg: Qantas Platinum, Platinum One and Chairman's Lounge members; other Oneworld Emerald cardholders; Skywards Platinum frequent flyers
- 50kg: standard allowance
- Permitted carry-on baggage combinations:
- 1x115cm bag up to 10kg, or:
- 2x105cm bags at a combined weight of up to 14kg, with no more than 10kg in a single bag, or:
- 1x105cm bag plus a 185cm garment bag at a combined weight of up to 14kg, with no more than 10kg in a single item.
- Priority services: In-town check-in is swift when using the Airport Express, otherwise, counters open at the airport three hours prior to departure. There's no priority lane for first class flyers at security or immigration, but eChannel is available for registered users. Priority boarding is enforced, and checked bags are delivered in the first batch upon arrival in Sydney.
Qantas first class passengers have many lounges to choose from across Hong Kong Airport, beginning with the obvious: the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge, conveniently located just beyond the Security (North) screening point opposite the Qantas check-in desks.
This is a shared 'premium' lounge available for business class and first class flyers alike, along with Qantas Club members and Gold- and Platinum-grade Qantas frequent flyers (and their Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald equivalents).
However, first class passengers do get some special treatment. There's a series of reserved tables near the railings for a sweeping views across the airport, the wait staff are notably more attentive, and Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne is discreetly poured for you, rather than the Australian fizz otherwise served at the bar.
But if you're after a truly first class experience from start to finish, passengers with a couple of hours to spare can also head to the two first class lounges of Oneworld partner airline Cathay Pacific.
The furthest from the Qantas lounge is The Pier, down near Gate 65 - this requires a quick ride on the terminal shuttle train or a long walk (allow 15 minutes).
You'll be facing that same walk back up to the Qantas gates, as the train is unavailable in that direction: so, if a detour to The Pier is on your agenda, make sure you've got plenty of time. And you'll want to have plenty of time, because The Pier is the crown jewel in Cathay Pacific's lounge network.
Once you've reached The Pier you can choose to relax in a cosy day room, depending on how much time you have to unwind before your flight. These quiet nooks have a plush day bed and thick curtains for privacy, and the view is especially entrancing at night.
Sadly, the complimentary foot massage is rarely available, especially in the lead-up to the evening peak hours. In our experience there's always a waiting list stretching for hours in advance.
The dining room boasts a full a-la-carte menu with several Cathay Pacific lounge staples such as Dan Dan Noodles, and the servings are not so large that you can't order a few dishes to share with your travelling partner
At the other end of The Pier to the dining room is a well-stocked cocktail bar which is especially popular in the evenings, either for a post-dinner nightcap or a few social drinks.
If your schedule doesn't allow sufficient Pier-worthy hours, make a pit-stop at Cathay Pacific's other first class lounge, The Wing. Located across from gates 1 through 4, The Wing is much closer to the Qantas lounge (allow around five minutes from lounge to lounge) and the gates used by Qantas' flights from Hong Kong.
The Wing has a noticeably different style to The Pier, as well as being much smaller, but there's still space for both a tended bar and a unique 'Champagne lounge' plus a dining room with a buffet spread and à la carte menu.
The Wing's best first class perk are its private cabanas with a rainforest shower, deep bathtub and a day bed couch. But, like The Pier's foot massage service, the cabanas are in high demand and there's often a waiting list – so it's best to make a booking as soon as you arrive at the lounge.
Note that boarding calls aren't made at Cathay Pacific's Hong Kong lounges, so set an alarm on your smartphone as well as watching for notifications from the Qantas app regarding any delays to the departure time. If there are delays you might want to head back to the Qantas lounge where the staff keep passengers updated.
Qantas doesn't offer first class to Hong Kong year-round, but it's available on all flights served by the Airbus A380 when those superjumbos appear on the roster. This is typically over the Australian summer through to Chinese New Year, as QF127 from Sydney to Hong Kong and QF128 on the return. With a 6:20pm departure from Hong Kong, QF128 arrives into Sydney at 6:40am the following calendar day: a journey of 9 hrs 20 mins.
You'll otherwise find Qantas' Airbus A380s on selected flights from Sydney to Singapore, Los Angeles and Dallas/Fort Worth; from Melbourne to Singapore and Los Angeles; and between Singapore and London Heathrow.
These all offer first class, although Qantas estimates the refurbishment of the entire A380 fleet will take until the end of 2020, so you're not guaranteed this refreshed first class experience until those works are completed across every aircraft.
However, given that the seat itself hasn't changed, the core first class experience will be the same: a semi-private 'open suite' which faces forward during taxi, take-off and landing, and then at the touch of a button swivels around so you can really stretch out.
This also opens up the possibility of dining with your partner or a colleague – as long as they're also travelling first class – with the ottoman at the far corner of the suite serving as a small bench.
First class passengers can also visit the ostensibly business class lounge on the upper deck. The original Airbus A380s are fitted out with one not very comfortable lounge, while the upgraded A380s have two lounge areas in a more social configuration of cafe-style tables.
There are 14 spacious first class suites here in a 1-1-1 configuration – five on each side of the cabin, and four seats in the middle. There are no paired centre suites, although you can sit across the aisle from your partner and of course share a meal in the suite's 'companion dining' configuration.
Frequent first class flyers tend to have their favourite suites, such as 1A and 1K for a ‘private jet’ feeling or the cosy cocoon of 2F (sometimes called the Harry Potter suite, due to its location under the stairs leading to the upper deck).
As we've already noted, the seats are relatively unchanged from Qantas' original A380 first class, except for some minor cosmetic changes and refreshed fabrics with better lighting to breathe new life into them.
Although the Qantas suites don't have sliding doors as seen in the flagship first class products of Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines and others, they remain roomy while retaining an element of privacy.
Seats 1A-5A exclusively use the left aisle, while seats 2F-5F and 1K-5K both share the right-hand aisle, below.
However, these suites are all fairly private when everyone is seated and you won't easily spot other fellow passengers unless you're walking around. The long privacy shields on the left of the 'F' seats automatically raise once the flight is cruising.
Each suite has an armchair which faces forwards for take-off and landing, but can then be electronically swivelled towards the window to maximise legroom and personal space.
Around the seat is a fold-down snack table for pre-flight drinks and canapés, a garment hook, two air nozzles, and a literature pocket.
Deep overhead storage lockers are found on either side of the cabin, although none are in the middle. This means passengers seated in the 'F' seats share lockers with those in the 'K' seats.
Despite that, there's plenty of space in your suite. Small bits and pieces can be stashed in these two swing-out drawers, while shoes have a dedicated slot underneath.
The ottoman opposite you has enough space underneath for a backpack or other small bag. As you may have guessed, the extra seat belt is for a guest who can sit across from you at meal times, or simply to relax together.
The seat has a 'three-point' car-style sash belt for take-off and landing, while mounted near your shoulder is a nifty tablet that controls every aspect of your suite. Below that is the headphone plug, and various buttons for common functions.
Speaking of the tablet, its functions include controlling the window shades, privacy divider and various lights. It also shows a mini moving map and has customisable presets for actions such as dining or watching TV, which then controls the seat and surrounding lighting, window and privacy shades simultaneously and as desired.
When it comes time to relax, set your chair to 'Watching TV' and enjoy the ride as the seat swivels into position, the lights dim and the blinds come down.
While the seat was performing great up to now, it soon became apparent that the first class cabin was definitely showing its age under that figurative new coat of paint.
Firstly, the seat regularly got stuck and took several attempts before it would swivel. Secondly, when the passenger seated behind raised their privacy divider, it took the whole plastic cover with it too.
The tray table comes out of the console to your side. Two wings then fold out to create an extremely large and sturdy surface that can host dinner for two.
At the front of the aircraft is the grand staircase leading up to the redesigned lounges, which are certainly more eye-pleasing and functional than the old lounge, with a number of benches and tables to chit-chat or enjoy a drink with fellow passengers.
It's a great concept for longer flights or those during daylight hours, but on a relatively shorter overnight trip – not only Hong Kong to Sydney but Singapore to Sydney or Melbourne – it's better just to change into your first class PJs, have the bed made up and hit the hay.
During boarding, Qantas first class passengers are offered a welcome drink served with nuts and olives. Champagne is available, but after enjoying a glass or two in the lounge, sparkling water might hit the spot.
The nine-hour overnight flight from Hong Kong to Sydney sees a three-course dinner service after take-off, followed by breakfast shortly before arrival.
The caviar tartlet canapé isn't comparable to the true caviar plates found on many other competing airlines, although it – and the roasted duck bite – were tantalising mouthfuls, again served with a drink before the main dinner service.
As I was travelling with my partner, we had the table set for two, and out came the starters: satay sesame prawns and charred sweetcorn soup. The prawns were juicy and tasty, but didn't quite match the bed of cold chopped beans and seasoned noodles.
For mains, the beef fillet came out completely zapped dry, though it was admittedly still tender and flavoursome enough when combined with the (scarce) red wine jus.
The red braised pork was a big and lean (read: tough) piece of protein in a small bowl, on top of a bed of mushy stir-fried vegetables. Without any of the red-braised sauce left to soak up, the dish was difficult to eat and not one that could be considered to reach first class standards.
While the cabin crew are merely serving what has been supplied, improvements could be made on the menu front. Given that Hong Kong doesn't have Qantas first class for most of the year, the menu quite honestly seems like an afterthought.
Cheese and dessert were both available, but were skipped in favour of a simple but delightful fruit plate.
To pair with your meal or dessert, Qantas now prints the Champagne being served at the top of the wine list for each first class flight (previously, two or three were printed and you wouldn't know what it would be until you asked).
The 2002 Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millesime Champagne was a fabulous inclusion (it's around $300 per bottle on the ground). Other wines weren't as inspiring, such as the 2019 Shaw + Smith Sauvignon Blanc, which is a staple of Qantas domestic business class.
Apéritifs and other spirits make up the bulk of the drinks list, including a signature Australian pre-mixed negroni with "mountain pepper and river mint", which I was gently cajoled into trying after initially ordering a Bloody Mary.
Post-dinner, the lounge bar fridge upstairs was stocked with a variety of self-serve non-alcoholic drinks and snacks.
Fast-forward to breakfast, and there aren't any hotel-style breakfast cards in First as back in business class. Instead, passengers are asked to notify the crew if they'd prefer to be woken or left to sleep.
Breakfast orders are taken in the morning, with meals available until 90 minutes before landing.
To start: "Neil's healthy Bircher muesli" (named for Neil Perry of Rockpool) with a banana, cocoa and oat muffin, and a healthy cold-pressed green juice. Although the Bircher was slightly too sweet, the muffin was amazingly good, with real chunks of banana baked inside.
The next course came against the beautiful sunrise: a delicious and light salad of kale, quinoa and poached egg, albeit similar to the 'dish of the day' seen in many Qantas business class lounges on the ground, with a frothy cappuccino on the side.
Food and drinks should be a highlight of the first class experience. As business class continues to evolve – with more space and at-seat storage, larger video screens and even sliding privacy doors – dining will remain one of the strongest differentiators in first class, yet this is where Qantas appears to be letting things slide.
Entertainment & Service
Qantas' refurbished Airbus A380s offer larger 18-inch high definition screens at full HD (1920x1080) resolution, replacing the previous 17-inch, lower-resolution panels.
Despite sounding rather small on paper – particularly when compared with the likes of the 32-inch screens in Singapore Airlines' A380 suites – the updated screen in Qantas First proved to be a perfectly good size for the viewing distance.
Seasoned Qantas travellers will be familiar with the carrier's inflight entertainment system, which is identical to those found on the newer Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s. There's a wide selection of new-release movies, TV box sets, music, games, and more.
There's no inflight Internet on Qantas' A380s, nor any of the airline's international routes, although Hong Kong competitors Virgin Australia and Cathay Pacific offer WiFi on most Sydney-Hong Kong flights.
Passengers in Qantas First are addressed by name, and service on this flight was exemplary: there's something about the warmth of some Qantas crews that feels refreshingly different, laidback and typically 'Aussie', while still remaining professional.
LaGaia amenity kits are provided, stocked with skincare products (lip balm, 'recovery mist' and cream), an eco-friendly bamboo toothbrush, ear plugs, eye mask and socks. These aren't going to stand out against the big-name leather amenity kits of other airlines, but the fabric bag and its contents did feel quite high quality.
Martin Grant-designed pyjamas are also distributed, and the crew must be discreetly sizing everyone up before handing these out, as the sizes were perfect.
LaGaia products were also present in the two first class lavatories. Apart from being slightly larger, having a leather seat cover and the presence of clothes hangers on the door, nothing else really set these lavatories apart from other ones – no onboard showers to see here!
Finally, we come to what is perhaps the most impressive aspect of Qantas First: the bed. Sheridan-branded bedding was provided and it was just oh-so-plush.
With the open nature of the suite and the two dedicated air vents, temperature was never an issue and this made for a four-hour sleep, which could have been longer if skipping the inflight meals.
All in all, this was a pleasant first class flight. Apart from the uninspiring dining and minor faults in the seat mechanics, the rest of the experience was up to scratch.
If taking this flight again and knowing the above, the best approach would be to enjoy a full dinner on the ground in one of the lounges, and maximise sleep onboard for seven-or-so blissful hours of rest, concluding with just a light brekkie before landing.
Brandon Loo travelled on Qantas at his own expense, using frequent flyer points.