Sydney - Johannesburg
- Intuitive service
- Sleep experience with pyjamas and mattress topper
- Inflight dining a bit below par
- Sydney International Business Lounge somewhat lacking
- Icy views of the Antarctic coastline en route
- Bonus legroom in seats 2E/F
Africa. Just one word is all it takes to send your mind into overdrive thinking of lions, elephants and rhinos roaming the bush and grasslands along with bustling cities filled with energy and culture.
Qantas flies between Sydney and Johannesburg – gateway to the diverse wonders of Africa – five times a week aboard its Boeing 787 Dreamliner, equipped with its signature business class suite. Direct services from Perth to the South African mecca will soon be an option, with thrice-weekly flights taking off from November 1.
What’s Qantas’ 787 business class like? We took a flight from Sydney to find out, before venturing further afield on a safari with new Qantas Frequent Flyer partner TripADeal.
Qantas’ dedicated first and business class check-in desk is conveniently located at Row B in Sydney’s International Terminal 1, with passengers in these classes also enjoying access to a priority immigration and security lane.
Arriving three hours prior to the flight, there was no queue during our early morning visit, allowing for a prompt bag drop, boarding pass collection and on our way in under a minute.
Security took no more than 10 minutes before we were headed to the Qantas international business class lounge.
Travellers in business class gain entry to the Qantas Sydney International Business Lounge, found just up the escalator above Heinemann Tax and Duty Free.
Those who’ve visited recently will know it’s an adequate, yet not overly exciting space. As the flagship airline’s Australian international lounge, it’s just not up to par – eclipsed by its domestic counterpart.
It has all the basics, such as buffet dining and barista coffee, free WiFi and a variety of lounge and work-focused seating options, but no real standout features.
Beyond the self-service central bar, the left and right wings feel a bit forgotten and could really do with some love, particularly around the buffets. It deserves better.
Qantas recognises this fact, although its long-teased refurbishment has yet to come to fruition.
A mix of hot and cold dishes were laid out for guests, consisting of bacon, scrambled eggs, hash browns, sausages and beans for hot; Bircher muesli, fruit salad, chia pudding and yoghurt for cold. Breads and pastries were at hand too.
In addition to an automatic coffee machine were an array of teas, soft drinks, and pineapple juice, plus assorted beers, wines and spirits.
Wise guests made a beeline to the barista station, which worked through orders at breakneck pace.
Oddly, only one of the two buffet areas within the lounge was open, funnelling guests from the whole lounge into one crowded section.
To their credit, staff did a commendable job keeping it stocked with the various choices.
The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is Qantas’ secondary international workhorse, jetting off on many routes not serviced by the larger (and indeed thirstier) A380, such as Perth-London.
Split across two zones with eight rows in the forward cabin and three behind the first galley, 42 business class passengers enjoy a spacious 1-2-1 configuration equipped with the now-trademark business suite.
Baggage allowance in business class is 40kg checked, plus 14kg carry-on across up to two bags. Qantas Club or Frequent Flyer members of Silver standing or higher, along with Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members receive an additional allowance.
An unexpected highlight of the 14 hour flight was how close we ventured to the coast of Antarctica, after tracking past Hobart and over the Southern Ocean.
Leaning across to enjoy the view from a fellow passenger's window seat, we eagerly waited for the thick clouds to part and present our first teasing glimpse of the great white expanse.
It didn’t take long for the full, wild isolation – undulating mountains and valleys, vast channels of snow and icebergs – to reveal itself. A true bucket list moment.
Crew advised the route doesn’t always pass so close to the continental landmass, making it an occasional treat when it does. They even offered a glass of champagne to celebrate the moment.
If you’re booking a flight to Jo’burg, consider a window seat in Row A on the left hand side of the aircraft. You may be in luck and have the weather gods on your side for a prized Antarctic vista.
Business class on this flight is the now-familiar David Caon-designed lie-flat bed. Its sleek blue cloth seat and black leather headrest embossed with the Qantas logo, and simple touch-button recline and massage functions, made for a comfortable base for the long journey to Africa.
Between the middle seats was a divider that can slide up and down for privacy or seatmate sociability.
As this was a daytime jaunt, we didn’t get much shuteye – aside from a brief power nap – but the light grey mattress topper, white pillow, and blue and cream-coloured blanket certainly added to our comfort level. Pyjamas were a welcome inclusion.
A 1960s-inspired toiletries bag was waiting at the seat on boarding. Its striped, pale blue design part of Qantas’ 100 year celebrations looking back through the decades.
Inside was a trio of Li Tya care products: lip balm, face cream and hand cream, plus a dental kit, socks, ear plugs and eye mask. The skincare bottles were made of 40% recycled plastic, while the other items were packaged in paper.
It was nice to see Qantas’ efforts to eliminate single-use plastics; amenities kits are often notorious for wastage. That said, the blanket and seat topper were still plastic wrapped, though it’s most likely hygiene-related and ergo unavoidable.
When you’re ready to count some sheep, the seat transforms into a fully-flat two-metre bed. The crew can prepare the bed with a padded mattress for extra comfort and a blanket and pillow, though it’s easy enough to do yourself.
Lighting can be easily adjusted to suit your mood and need, with a brushed metal directional reading lamp, overhead light and a subtle ambient lighting in the footwell and beneath the magazine rack to your left.
Seats 2E and 2F differ quite substantially from others in the cabin.
A pull-out tray beneath the monitor, a much wider footwell and a convenient storage nook alongside – large enough for a backpack or wheeled carry-on – are all exclusive perks of these two seats.
When it came to work, the Qantas Business Suite made for a great office in the clouds.
The shelf next to the seat was wide enough to spread out, while the tray table easily slid away out of sight or pushed back and forward to a comfortable position.
We had no issues setting up the laptop to work while in the air, with the tray table doubling as a sturdy workbench. AC and USB outlets helped keep our gadgets juiced up for the duration.
Wi-Fi access is sadly missing in action on Qantas international flights, and it’s still a couple of years away.
Two meal services were offered during the flight: a three-course lunch service around 90 minutes after takeoff, and a light dinner some two-or-so hours prior to landing.
A detailed drinks and dining menu provided before takeoff listed the available options.
I kicked things off with a signature Qantas Sky Spritz – an aperitif of white wine spritz with finger lime and Davidson plum. When placing our order, the crew member noted it was “very sweet”.
It’s probably not something I’d go back to again, a bit too sweet for my taste. But as a one-off palate cleanser it was fine.
To begin the meal, passengers were offered a choice of zucchini and basil soup, Asian chicken salad with black sesame dressing, or Thai style fish cakes with pickled cucumber and chilli dressing. I opted for the latter.
The fish cakes had a nice flavour, but were a little dry. The pickled cucumber and chilli dressing did the best they could to add some much-needed moisture, but it was a losing battle.
Four options made up the main menu - a caramelised potato gratin with peas, mushroom and fennel, slow cooked chipotle lamb sandwich, Jiangxi style Humpty Doo barramundi with seasonal greens and rice, or beef fillet with Paris mash, asparagus and salsa verde.
Again, we went with the latter…and this time, delicious. Silky smooth mash with a well done beef fillet that was still tender.
The salsa verde and asparagus added a welcome right hook of flavour.
A ‘green leaf salad’ (literally some leaves with a light vinaigrette on top) was paired with the entree. While the green leaf part of the name was true, I wouldn't call it a salad per se.
Sweet-toothed flyers would have appreciated the dessert menu: a vanilla crème caramel, Maggie Beer ice cream, seasonal fruit and chocolate, plus a selection of cheeses.
The meal was paired with an Australian-heavy wine list.
Just over two hours prior to landing in Johannesburg, a light dinner was served. This time, the starting choices were a beef and red wine pie, chicken tikka masala topped with a papadum, stir fried pork with shiitake mushrooms and jasmine rice, or a chilli and garlic prawn spaghettini.
I opted for the chicken tikka, which delivered just the right level of spice.
It was again served with a green salad, though this time missing any vinaigrette.
Other snack options were available throughout the flight. These ranged from fresh fruit to a croque monsieur...
...and spinach, feta and caramelised onion quiche with small lettuce salad on the side.
Entertainment & Service
Service was friendly and intuitive, with crew knowing when passengers wanted to be left alone or offered a cup of tea and biscuits mid-flight. It was those small touches and moments of warmth that made the biggest impact.
Cabin Manager Gill was a gem, ensuring our water and wine glasses were always filled.
Inflight entertainment – accessed via a responsive 16-inch touchscreen – featured a vast collection of recent and classic release movies, box set television and documentaries, audiobooks along with guided meditation and wellness videos to help you relax.
Qantas’ newly-minted partnership with Paramount + took to the skies earlier this month, bringing with it an extensive collection of exclusive series, movies and original content.
The entertainment system itself was very simple to use, either tapping and swiping on the monitor or using the remote, which was neatly tucked away under a lift-up panel on the armrest (this space was also home to a handy bar mirror).
Lights were dimmed after lunch, providing passengers wanting some shut-eye a chance to doze, with light slowly filling the cabin again shortly before the second meal.
Jetting off from Sydney at 9:35am resulted in an arrival of 3:40pm into Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International, meaning travellers could get their bearings and hit the ground running without stumbling into a foreign city in the middle of the night.
Looking back, it was a great flight. While not quite hitting the same heights as some of its rivals, I still enjoyed quality service from start to finish, with a well-timed schedule and ample entertainment.
The bonus legroom and storage available in our seat made for an even more comfortable experience, one I’d happily repeat.
While the Sydney International Business Lounge was lacking, the rest of the trip was a marked improvement.
Hot tip: Business class guests can utilise the Priority Fast Track lane immediately to the left of immigration at O.R Tambo. There was just one other person in line, allowing me to bypass what looked to be a minimum 30-minute wait in the main queue.
The writer travelled as a guest of TripADeal.