Qantas’ flights between Sydney and Singapore have taken an interesting turn. For one thing, half of the services are now operated by Finnair on Qantas’ behalf. Tickets are still sold by Qantas – and passengers still check-in with Qantas – while Finnair does the flying. But in Business on Finnair’s Airbus A330, there’s something else of note. These planes come with the airline’s newest Business Class seat – the seat that “doesn’t recline”.
With a need to fly home from Singapore, and a reward seat open for booking on this unconventional service, clearly, I had to take it for a spin.
Check-in and boarding
Although this Airbus A330 flight is operated by Finnair, check-in for Business is still at the regular Qantas counters. There’s a base baggage limit of 40kg as standard, while tiered frequent flyers can pack up to 60kg, depending on status. If you want to check in before Qantas’ counters open, there’s also the option of early check-in at Jewel.
I use Qantas’ regular check-in and am assisted without delay. My bag is tagged through to my final destination in Australia. But as with any international arrival, it still needs to be collected to clear Customs before being returned to the airline.
Passport control is swift, as Australian travellers can use Singapore’s automated immigration lanes (now on arrival, too). From there, it’s straight to the lounge.
Security takes place at the gate. Keep your eyes peeled for a small black sign marking the priority lane available to Business passengers. When it’s time to step on, Business is then called first.
I appreciate the aerobridge being connected to door two rather than at the very front of the aircraft. As I’m in the forward Business cabin, this keeps things serene during boarding, rather than having everybody else passing through.
Passengers flying Qantas Business – including on Airbus A330 flights operated by Finnair – can choose from four lounges at Changi Airport. These options are:
- Qantas International Business Lounge, the go-to space with dishes of the day and bartender service.
- British Airways Lounge, typically quieter in the early evenings with a buffet and additional options to order via a QR code.
- Emirates Lounge, also usually quieter in the early evenings. Entry wouldn’t normally be available when flying with Finnair, although these flights have a Qantas boarding pass and a QF flight number, without being a ‘codeshare’ service.
- Qatar Airways Premium Lounge, perhaps the best Business Class lounge of the quad. Only open to passengers seated in Business (or First) – not by frequent flyer status.
- Qantas International First Lounge, only for those with Qantas Platinum or other oneworld Emerald status. It can be quite busy in the evenings.
I don’t have a huge amount of time or a big appetite at first, but I can’t help stopping past the Qantas First Lounge for a sneaky salt and pepper squid. Closer to dinnertime, I venture over to the Qatar Airways lounge. I rate Qatar as the best lounge here for oneworld Business Class passengers on account of the à la carte dining.
After a meal spread across both lounges, there’s no need to eat a second dinner once on board. After all, these flights are barely eight hours from gate to gate. Any chance I have to lengthen my sleep is an opportunity worth taking, so I doze straight after take-off.
Qantas/Finnair Airbus A330 Business seating
So, to the Business Class seat that doesn’t recline. The AirLounge by Collins Aerospace is an innovative new Business Class concept. Debuted by Finnair, you’ll find the seat in Business on the airline’s reconfigured Airbus A330s – including those flying on behalf of Qantas. It’s also now on some of Finnair’s Airbus A350 jets.
On the surface, it has many similar attributes that travellers expect. A 1-2-1 cabin layout ticks the box of direct aisle access for every passenger. And despite not being able to recline, the seat still offers a fully flat bed. Rather than the seatback sliding down or flipping forward, two small panels raise to fill in the gaps from end to end.
On the whole, this is designed to be more like a lounge chair than an aircraft seat. The padded shell provides countless opportunities to get comfortable and relax – even when upright. Sit on an angle, cross your legs, and use the pillows to craft the perfect support – whatever you fancy, really.
When it comes to sleep, the seat is reasonably good. But when appearing on flights operated by Qantas, it could do with a little improvement. On true Finnair flights, the airline offers purpose-designed pillows and blankets tailored to the shape of the seat. On these Qantas flights though, the bedding provided is no different from a regular Qantas flight. This means getting a seat topper designed to fit the Qantas Business Suite, not the AirLounge. It’s not ideal.
On a personal note, I also usually like to put Qantas’ Business Suite all the way down and then nudge the back up just slightly. This compensates for Qantas’ smaller pillows – and that two pillows are usually too much. On the AirLounge though, this isn’t an option because the seat’s shell is fixed in place. I personally find this makes sleeping just the tiniest bit harder, although others may find appeal in the greater amount of lateral space.
Clearly, when a new Business Class seat comes to town, you just have to try it for yourself.
Food and beverage in Qantas/Finnair Airbus A330 Business
Given the 8:05 pm departure from Singapore – already 11:05 pm Sydney time – my priority after take-off is sleep, not sitting down to a second (or third) dinner. Having said that, not everybody makes it to the airport in time to have a proper meal before it’s time to board this flight in Qantas/Finnair Airbus A330 Business.
For those keen to dine, Qantas has a very small supper menu. Choices today are laksa with tofu puffs or a seared garoupa. There’s also a third option – a chicken schnitzel and Swiss cheese toasted sandwich. But it’s one I’ve been seeing on Qantas’ inflight menus for over a decade, and it never changes. Given the lounge menus change every few months to reflect the season, a little variation in the toastie really wouldn’t go astray.
To round things out, there’s cheese and accompaniments as well as a chocolate brownie with hazelnut cream. But after a good meal on the ground, I pass it all up to get some extra shuteye.
I happen to wake in time for breakfast, where I opt for a light meal.
Today, I go for the Brookfarm macadamia toasted muesli with cranberries and low-fat milk to start. I also order a fruit salad with yoghurt as the main and a simple white coffee on the side.
Given the ability to dine before the flight and skip dinner, it’d be nice to see more variety on the breakfast menu instead. The only hot option is a bacon and egg brioche roll – another menu item Qantas has been serving for years, practically unchanged. Menus like this make me grateful to always be travelling on different routes – and airlines, too. Travellers who only venture to Singapore may quickly tire of almost the same meal every flight for years on end.
Service and entertainment
On the service front, some elements of the Finnair Business experience are similar to a regular Qantas Airbus A330 flight. There’s a Qantas amenity kit waiting at the seat, as well as an offer of Qantas pyjamas. The inflight entertainment also has a Qantas logo and Qantas content while running Finnair’s software, bringing a level of familiarity.
But there are a couple of detractors. Finnair’s Airbus A330 is fitted with inflight Wi-Fi. But on these flights operated for Qantas, the system is turned off entirely. Cabin crew are also proficient but don’t quite have the warmth that can be more typical of the regular Qantas service. The greeting from the Customer Service Manager, for instance, is a quick (and largely meaningless) hello, versus the more personalised welcomes that often come when from Qantas crew.
On the plus side, the inflight entertainment system does provide access to the aircraft’s external cameras. Comparatively, on Qantas metal, this is only available on Airbus A380 flights – so it’s nice to have it here on the Airbus A330 too.
On today’s flight, I choose a seat by the window on the ‘A’ side. Fortunately, this side provides some great views of the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge as we approach Mascot.
Overall, the Finnair Airbus A330 Business experience provides a welcome change on one of Qantas’ key international routes. Those who still wish to fly Qantas have that option, with a daily Airbus A380 service also running between Sydney and Singapore. But for something different, this Finnair flight is definitely worth a try.
Really, it’s a similar concept to how Qantas uses Alliance Airlines to operate some of its domestic flights. Qantas still sells the tickets, sets the menu and runs check-in. But the experience from gate to gate is outsourced to a different airline, doing the flying on Qantas’ behalf. In aviation, this is known as a ‘wet lease’, and it’s quite common. It’s a way for one airline experiencing strong demand to quickly boost flights, while simultaneously helping an airline experiencing reduced demand.
No doubt, this kind of seat has the potential to be quite divisive. So the only way you’ll know whether it measures up to your own standards is to try it yourself.
Also reviewed: Finnair Airbus A350 Business Class (Singapore – Helsinki)
Photography by Chris Chamberlin, who travelled at his own expense. Featured image courtesy of Finnair.
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