Darwin to Alice Springs
- The only airline with business class on the Darwin-Alice Springs corridor
- No power outlets in business class, or tablet holders for your own device
- Flying solo? You're in for a treat, or rather, a throne
QantasLink's fleet is expanding in partnership with Alliance Airlines, with Embraer E190 jets bringing business class to many regional routes.
Having roughly half as many seats as a Boeing 737, the E190 is the perfect fit for flights with fewer travellers – and for premium flyers, provides a very favourable layout.
Executive Traveller hopped aboard the QantasLink/Alliance Airlines E190 from Darwin down to Alice Springs, to put the newest member of the Flying Kangaroo's stable to the test.
The travel experience in QantasLink business class largely mirrors regular Qantas flights – here's what to expect.
- Checked baggage allowance:
- 2x32kg: standard allowance
- 3x32kg: Qantas Platinum, Platinum One, Chairman's Lounge and Oneworld Emerald
- Carry-on baggage choices:
- One 10kg bag: maximum dimensions of 115cm
- Two bags (14kg total, max. 10kg in one item): maximum dimensions of 105cm each
- 1x10kg bag + 1x suit pack: maximum bag dimensions of 105cm, maximum suit pack dimensions of 185cm
- Plus: One personal item for all guests, such as a laptop satchel, handbag, overcoat, camera, or duty-free goods.
Where available, business class travellers can use priority check-in and priority security, with priority boarding to follow.
Of that trio of perks, priority check-in was available in Darwin, although there's no priority lane here at security – whether for Qantas or any other airline.
Priority boarding is offered for most Qantas and QantasLink flights in Darwin, except when departing from gates on the airport's lower level, where you walk out to the plane.
Any checked bags are also tagged with priority, although this overnight hop was very manageable with just carry-on.
Your QantasLink business class journey from Darwin begins with a visit to the Qantas Club.
It's the airline's catch-all space serving everybody from paying Qantas Club members through to Gold, Platinum and Platinum One frequent flyers – and of course, business class guests.
There's plenty to choose from in the way of food and beverages, with many items self-served, alongside a barista and bartender on-hand.
A weekday visit at lunchtime found hot options such as cocktail samosas, plus a tasty goat and lentil curry with rice.
While the bar opens at 12pm, the staff here make a great lemon, lime and bitters – perfect if your visit coincides with work time.
Between Darwin and Alice Springs, QantasLink offers daily flights on weekends and double-daily flights during the week.
On weekdays, flights depart Darwin at 6am and 4:05pm, to reach Alice Springs two hours later. Returning from Alice, flights instead run at 8:40am and 6:45pm, again being two hours in length.
These services are now all operated by the airline's Embraer E190 jets, operated by Alliance Airlines on QantasLink's behalf.
Timing-wise, the schedule is perfect for Darwin-based travellers venturing to Alice Springs for a day visit, or even at the beginning of the working week: arriving in time for a 9am start, heading back to the airport after 5pm.
It's less ideal for those based in Alice making a day trip north – but still being possible nonetheless, just with fewer hours between the morning arrival and afternoon departure.
The Embraer E190 isn't as wide as other single-aisle planes like the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737, which finds a 1-2 layout in the business class cabin.
That makes the 'A' seats the perfect pick for solo flyers, who can enjoy the view but still get easy aisle access. Particularly now, not having an unknown neighbour is certainly an significant plus.
With four of those solo thrones available on every flight, the remaining six business class seats come in pairs, spread across three rows.
Here, the 'C' seat gets the aisle, and 'D' gets the window.
With a generous pitch of 38 inches (96.5cm), there's plenty of space around the knees – even when larger items are loaded into the seat pocket, like headphone cases or bottles of water.
The seat itself is comfortable, measuring 23 inches (about 58.5cm) at its widest point, and 20 inches (51cm) directly between the armrests.
Speaking of armrests, that's where you'll find the tray table.
Opening it part way reveals a handy snack-sized shelf with a cup holder – great for relaxing with a drink, yet without being boxed in.
Fold the tray open once more, and you've instead got a firm surface for dining and working, with the edge of the tray resting on the opposing armrest for additional support.
One thing missing, however, is inflight power – you won't find an AC outlet or USB socket here, so make the most of the outlets available in the lounge before you fly, to juice things up.
Differing also from Qantas' regular Boeing 737 business class, there's no legrest on these birds, but the seat reclines at the touch of a button.
On a toasty 34°C day in Darwin, an offer of chilled water before take-off was gratefully received.
Being the late afternoon flight, the meal service provides an early dinner – in this case, a beautiful beef brisket paired with a glass of 2014 Barossa Cabernet.
On the side, bread and butter, plus a Lindt chocolate ball. The meal was very filling – dinner certainly not required that night in Alice Springs – with beverage service continuing throughout the flight.
Aboard QantasLink, that includes beer and wine, along with soft drinks, juice, coffee, tea, and other non-alcoholic beverages.
With a hire car to collect on arrival, switching to Earl Grey tea was a pleasant way to enjoy something other than plain water, yet with minimal calories and caffeine.
Nibbles were also offered after the meal service.
With two hours from gate to gate, the food and beverage service certainly didn't feel rushed, but still gave ample time for working.
Entertainment & Service
These E-Jets don't come with seatback screens or overhead monitors for entertainment, but with travellers toting their own devices, most would come prepared for the flight.
From late September, however, QantasLink will roll out content streaming across its E190 fleet via the Qantas Entertainment app for Android and iOS, mirroring what you'd find across many other domestic flights.
We do hope the airline also takes the opportunity to install tablet holders on these planes, as the current setup favours looking down at the tray table instead.
As far as domestic flying goes, service on this route was top-notch.
Passengers were greeted and addressed by name, requests were handled promptly, and crew took the time to speak with each passenger while preparing each meal – a nice, friendly touch.
Closer to arrival, you'll be glad you selected one of the 'throne' seats, given the spectacular views jetting into the Red Centre:
Being the only airline with business class on direct flights between Darwin and Alice Springs, QantasLink's new Embraer E190 jets will prove pleasing for most travellers.
The combination of a solo seat, together with lounges at both airports, plus hot inflight meals – and soon, streaming entertainment – ticks most of the boxes, especially on 'regional' routes like this.
Of course, we do hope that tablet holders make an appearance when the entertainment upgrade takes place, and adding a few AC and USB outlets in business class would also be welcome additions.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Alice Springs as a guest of QantasLink.