Sydney-Los Angeles first class comparo: Qantas vs American Airlines

By Chris C., February 12 2016
Sydney-Los Angeles first class comparo: Qantas vs American Airlines

Qantas and its US partner American Airlines both offer daily flights between Sydney and Los Angeles on their fleet flagships – the Qantas Airbus A380 and American Airlines Boeing 777-300ER – with cushy first class cabins so you can luxe it up on the 13 hour trans-Pacific trek.

If you're looking to book first class with either airline, or gunning for an upgrade using your frequent flyer points, how do they compare?

Qantas vs American Airlines first class: the lounges

When flying out of Sydney, first class passengers of American Airlines and Qantas share access to the award-winning Qantas First Lounge.

Restaurant sittings are open to all guests but appointments for the Aurora Day Spa (below) are guaranteed if you're in Qantas first class, as you'll receive a phone call the day before you travel and given priority booking.

American Airlines' first class flyers, like those on other airlines, have to take their chances snaring a spot at the spa once they arrive at the lounge.

It's a small thing but it gives Qantas passengers the edge.

How about the return leg from Los Angeles?

Qantas flights depart from LAX's Tom Bradley International Terminal where the airline runs its own first class lounge to mirror that of Sydney or Melbourne, complete with a familiar Rockpool-inspired dining room and waiter service (but sans the day spa).

The American Airlines Sydney flight departs from Terminal 4, home to the AA-run Flagship Lounge:

It doubles as a domestic lounge for American Airlines flights within the USA, and is a solid effort by stateside standards, boasting self-serve Taittinger and tasty hot food in the evenings…

… but it feels more like a good business class lounge than something truly ‘first class’: so for the lounge lizards, Qantas wins this round.

Qantas vs American Airlines first class: the seats

Whichever airline you choose, you’re guaranteed direct aisle access from every first class seat, pyjamas, slippers and an ottoman that doubles as a ‘companion seat’ for hosting meetings or sharing a meal with a partner, friend or colleague in your first class suite.

Qantas surpasses American in the bed stakes with the seat itself going fully-flat and extending up to 212cm in length (or 6’ 11.5” for our North American readers)…

Read more: The best seats in first class on the Qantas Airbus A380

American Airlines adopts a similar suite-based approach to Qantas, although it's less private.

The seat goes fully flat but with a shorter overall length of 198cm (6’ 6”), and a mattress pad and blanket (below) versus the more comfortable sheepskin mattress, blanket and duvet combination on the Qantas A380.

Both suites offer AC and USB power plus 17-inch inflight entertainment monitors packed with a great range of movies, TV shows, music and games, while AA’s first class suite can also become your inflight office, thanks to a swivelling chair and a fold-out workspace...

... offering gorgeous views when the windows are opened:

Depending on the timing of your flight and your reason for travel, either could be the winner here: Qantas for sleeping and American Airlines for getting work done. (And in the work stakes, only American Airlines offers inflight Internet.)

Qantas vs American Airlines first class: the service

We’ve found the service in first class much more personalised and refined on Qantas than American Airlines.

For starters, Qantas’ head flight attendants (or CSMs) are armed with iPads to keep tabs on your personal preferences from flight to flight, which can sometimes mean a glass of your favourite wine arriving at the perfect moment or a simple note that you prefer to be addressed by your first name.

Some Qantas cabin crew are also trained as sommeliers, offering advice on which wines pair well with each course: particularly useful when indulging in one of Qantas’ extensive first class tasting menus

… and when there’s vintage Champagne to enjoy including either the 2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs or the 2004 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame Brut (varied by flight).

Added to that, Qantas crews tend to prepare your bed when you rise and change into your pyjamas, and also take a restaurant approach to dining by setting your table personally and completely…

... and finally, there's the option to sample an amazing degustation menu when flying from Sydney to Los Angeles.

By comparison, on American Airlines the approach seems more ‘do it yourself’ with the bedding left on your seat as you board the aircraft…

… and your cutlery delivered wrapped in a napkin for you to arrange:

Although friendly, we’ve also found AA’s first class service lacking attention to detail, with no wine list provided on our flight, the crew not aware of which Champagne was on-board (Deutz 2006 Brut Millésimé, noted only after asking to see the label) and the returning of jackets forgotten on landing.

Overall, while AA first class is without doubt a very comfortable way to fly, it’s hard for any airline to match the service and lounges that Qantas offers its own first class passengers.

More on Qantas/AA first class from the AusBT team:

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Chris C.

Chris is a a former contributor to Executive Traveller.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Oct 2013

Total posts 113

great review - a clear winner i feel (although i have yet to experience)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2011

Total posts 362

Having flown QF in F a few times now they really do excel. Reading this review, it wont see me looking to try AA in F any time soon. I think J is the sweetspot for AA and cant see why you would look to either stump up the cash nor points to jumpt to F with AA.

QF all the way for me! Good review.


14 Jun 2013

Total posts 353

This doesn't surprise me. American airlines really don't excel unless judged against other American airlines, while Qantas sets the bar so high, especially in meals and service. The QF A380 First suite also looks better than the AA one (have flown QF A380 F but not AA), a lot more comfortable.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jul 2012

Total posts 117

While their first class service may not excel against Qantas, I would definitely pick American over Qantas when flying business SYD-LAX.

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 5

I appreciate this is Aus. Business Traveller, but it would be great to see some more 'back of the plane comparisons/reviews given that's where more of us are having to sit in the current economic climate! ;) 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2550

Our focus is the premium cabins - first, business and premium economy - not economy.


04 Apr 2014

Total posts 208

If you've never done it but get the chance, you've got to experience the Qantas 380 1st class beds. Just brilliant. Great service as well but you get that most of the time in business as well.  Would I pay the full price?  Of course not, but as an upgrade overnight US to Australia it great. 

28 Nov 2012

Total posts 93

I haven't flown either but would choose QANTAS for sure. The AA swivel suite to face the window is awesome though


12 Jul 2013

Total posts 11

I recently flew Qantas first. I personally found the chairs a little uncomfortable. No doubt it is a great bed though. Staff service was great. I didnt see the sheepskin mattress, but I did find the duvet which was essential as the cabin was a little cold. Great food. Great service. Not sure if I think it is worth twice as much as business, but a great option for upgrading. And the lounges for Qantas are hands down winners over AA. I live in the US and lounges are not really something I bother with here, whereas in Australia I get there early for the lounge. I also find that the Qantas lounges in LAX are second rate compared to Australia. They are too busy and noisy. The QF first lounge in Sydney is world class.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer - Chairmans Lounge

01 Sep 2011

Total posts 414

Pretty accurate. I have always said that AA or any US carrier have no clue with regards to service on the finer points expected in premium cabins.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2015

Total posts 43

The qantas first seats are very good second only to singapore in my opinion.

There must have been a miraculous improvement in the food since i last travelled a week ago to get this write up, the crew regulalry get hassled about the appalling food quality and taste in both first and business and i felt for the crew member that got told where he could put the food by the passenger accross the ailse last week.

They have improved the wine compared with a couple of years ago but it is now mostly trendy pinot gris and big shiraz rather than the more expensive chardonnays and cabernet.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 4

Within the next few months, a connecting post-security walkway will be completed that will allow AA flyers leaving from LAX Terminal 4 post security access to the TBIT, thus allowing oneworld Emeralds or AA international first class passengers access to the Qantas First LAX lounge without having to deal with security again. Yes, it will be a 10 minute walk, but you'll be sitting for the next 14 hours so why not move a little.


14 Aug 2013

Total posts 28

sooner, even.  connector opening is 25 Feb.


American Airlines - AAdvantage

20 Jun 2012

Total posts 25

Great comparison - I had wondered what the outcome would be since AA started flying to Sydney. Good to see - QF will be the one that I'll look to use AA points on next time we head stateside.

Chris, have you done comparisons of QF F > EY F or QR F on 388? If so please point me to this - interested in comparisons of the same factors.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 169

Well put Chris. I'm fortunate to be up the front a bit and have flown QF 11/12 and Qf 7/8 both in the last three months. I've also, had to, fly AA. Is there a difference? Light Years! QF are qualtiy through and through, travel a bit internationally and you're reminded how lucky we are.

The US market is just a long, long way behind. Jennifer Aniston's commercial for EK is comical, but quite accurate. AA, or any other US Airline, are just back in the 1980's.

Now onto First offerings... I've tried EK and SQ First both last year (nice) and also EY on the new A380, now that's a game changer. The Apartment is something else and it is a level that no one else is near. It's damn good. 


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Apr 2014

Total posts 19

Absolutely, utterly looking forward to this shortly...


American Airlines - AAdvantage

20 Jun 2012

Total posts 25

Ah Bevan - what's your view on EY > SQ First Suites??

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 169

Hi Reg. Look I hold SQ highly, alwasy have. BUT....times has moved on. SQ First was great and I must be honest I have not been able to experience the new SQ First. I would though say SQ Suites Lounge in Singapore could be so much better, so much better. 


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

18 Apr 2014

Total posts 19

I recently flew QF in F to Europe and returned on EK in F. EK has it all over QF in terms of food, service and seat/bed. Lounge was a line ball to QF, although, my goodness, the F lounge in DXB would have to be the biggest in the world, with hardly anyone in it. Here's a tip to both airlines though; the complimentary massages should be at least half an hour. 15 minutes is really not worth the trouble. I understand in BKK, TG offers one hour. Now that would be more like it.

26 Jul 2016

Total posts 1

I recently flew from SYD/LAX in first class with my wife and 23 year old daughter. We therefore had 3 of the 12 suites , so not a cheap experience. I rarely travel to the US and usually go to Europe on the Singapore A380 suites.Cheese and chalk and I soon realised why I don't fly Qantas. On a scale of 1 -10 , I would give tjhem a 2 at best.Three examples -

1) Took off at 9 50 am after having breakfast in the lounge. 30 minutes after takeoff , the air chef took our lunch orders. We asked that lunch not be served untila baout 2 pm as we had just eaten. We were told lunch is served at noon and cannot be served later.

2) We asked for some pyjamas but were told that there were not enough for us and the passengers on the return leg . Nothingh like making you feel important.

3) My daughter was hungry through the flight and asked for something to eat. The response was " we can give you some fruit , but the crew has picked over it." .

I was embarrassed that this is my national carrier . That will do me. I will never fly them again . By the way , the Singapore Airlines suites are much better laid out and more comfortable.

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