I was recently given the opportunity to go to a conference in New York in early December. The event was only announced a month before it was on, and I knew it was something I wanted to be at.
I am lucky that my employer is pretty generous when it comes to opportunities like these, but even so, they weren’t going to pay the $2.5k or more needed for relatively last minute return flights. The deal was that I could go and they’d pay for my ticket to attend, but only if I fund the travel costs.
This opportunity is the prime reason for collecting and using points in my book- facilitating something that would otherwise be out of reach.
I outlined my booking thought process for this trip in a previous post, and I ended up with Qantas Business Class on the outbound: Sydney – Auckland – Los Angeles – New York, although I was sorely tempted to travel with Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong.
This was booked as an Any Seat Award, meaning I’d accrue points and status credits from Qantas despite the booking being made with points. Because there was ‘classic’ award availability on these flights, the points price was actually the same as a classic award, but with slightly higher taxes. Fine, given the benefits.
A quick side note – any seat awards are great, but only if you don’t need much flexibility. Even if they are a flexible booking (i.e. booked into Business class) they are generally trickier and more expensive than classic awards to cancel or change.
If you really value flexibility over the points and status credits you’ll receive for the booking, consider carefully whether to book as a classic or any seat award booking. For this trip, an Any Seat Award would be perfect as I needed no flexibility – my travel dates were set in stone.
Onto the trip.
The Flights – Sydney to New York on two Qantas A330s, with three different flight numbers!
QF141 is a 7am departure, and unlike most of Qantas’ flights to NZ is operated by Qantas International (not Jetconnect) on an Airbus A330. As such, business class seating is the full skybed (Mk I, so angled lie-flat) rather than a less roomy recliner.
QF25 is from Auckland to Los Angeles is the continuation of another A330 from Melbourne to Auckland, and then this same A330 changes flight numbers in LA to QF107, and carries on over to New York, landing at JFK around 27 hours after I’d be leaving Sydney.
A long, long, day, night and day traveling, but given I’d be spending it in Business class and lounges, I wasn’t going to complain.
Sydney International was deserted when I arrived at 5.30am. I cleared check in and customs quickly and headed straight up to the Qantas International Business lounge, where I grabbed some breakfast before heading off to board at about 6.30.
QF141 Sydney – Auckland
QF141 was about as empty as the airport, at least in Business. There were a handful of suited businessmen on board, and I ended up switching seats to the forward bulkhead seat in the rear Business cabin, and was quickly offered OJ, champagne or water by the crew, as is standard.
Soon after takeoff we were offered breakfast.
I went for the French Toast, which was excellent. Every breakfast Qantas have ever delivered me in Business has been really superb, better than most Sydney cafes (and Sydney definitely has a high quality cafe breakfast culture).
I then settled back and caught up on some stuff on my laptop – definitely one of the nicest environments to do this in! Unfortunately the crew weren’t particularly great, and they didn’t come back through the cabin often to offer drinks. I can understand given that most people were napping, but still, it wouldn’t have hurt to check.
A couple of hours later we descended into Auckland, with some great views on the way in.
A good start to the journey.
Auckland Qantas International Business Lounge
Next, it was on to the Auckland Qantas Business lounge for a 3 hour or so layover. This was the more frustrating part of the trip – if QF141 connected a little more closely with QF25 then you’d save an hour, maybe a little more, on this journey which would make it a bit more tolerable. Such is life, and I was resigned to spending a few hours in the lounge over lunchtime.
The Auckland Qantas lounge is nice enough. I say that a lot about lounges – I’m yet to encounter one that’s really blown my socks off, but I am also yet to visit a First Class lounge, so I’m still a bit inexperienced on that front.
The Qantas lounge in Auckland is pleasant enough. It was pretty full with Cathay Pacific, Qantas’ USA and Australian departures all lined up for the early afternoon. I found a corner, made my usual snack of soup and an ad-hoc sandwich and whiled away the hours online.
Soon it was time to head off to board QF25 to Los Angeles.
QF25 Auckland – Los Angeles
Once again, on boarding it was OJ, champagne or water. We were delayed for around 45 minutes due to a flight plan filing issue, but such is life, and we were soon off.
The A330 business cabin is laid out as 2-2-2 and I had chosen a forward bulkhead seat in the 1st row. For a long flight like this, I’d prefer to trade off the additional space, privacy and storage of a window seat for the ability to get up and move around at ease. If anything, left and right aisle seats are the worst in my opinion, as window-seaters need to climb over you to exit.
About 1/2 hour into the flight our dinner choices were taken, and another 30 minutes later dinner was served.
I went for the Zucchini Soup with Parmesan to start, and the Duck in Red Wine sauce with Gnocchi for the main. I turned down dessert as the Duck was lovely and rich, and I was feeling pretty full.
I watched an hour or so of TV shows, and then got about 5 hours sleep. Not bad, given my poor track record of inflight sleeping.
The footrest problem (!)
At this point I’m going to go off on a slight tangent about how I can’t get that comfy on the Qantas skybed seat, currently found on all of their aircraft except the A380, and – refurbished 747 or two.
It’s all related to the fold out footrest at the base of the seat, and my long legs. Not folded out, my calves sit uncomfortably uncushioned on top of the footrest. Extended, it means I can’t extend my legs fully, and gets in the way of me stretching out.
I can understand the logic behind it, but it’s the one thing that really gives me the shits about this Qantas’ Business Class seat. It’s not just Qantas either – LAN’s does the same, and equally gets in my way.
The resolution? Pillows. 2, if not 3. Normally you’re given one nice, decent size white pillow in Business. Ask for another, and if there’s none free, ask for one or two from Economy. Save one pillow for your head, and put the others (with the footrest out) either on top of the metal or wedged in the corner of the seat and footrest join. This way you can rest your legs on top of the rest or your feet on cushions at the bottom of the seat. Either is infinitely better than the hard footrest in my book.
OK, tangent over.
A couple of hours before our arrival in Los Angeles, our previously ordered breakfasts started appearing. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to keep a copy of the menu as they were taken with breakfast preferences on at the beginning of the flight. It was pretty comprehensive menu with different teas and coffees, juices, toasts, spreads and a few hot options to choose from.
I’m not a huge fan of eggs, so usually don’t go for the english breakfast option. My second serve of French Toast in 12 hours appeared, along with an fruit smoothie and some raisin toast.
This was a great flight, the only exception being the A330’s entertainment system seeming a bit long in the tooth. The colour on my screen was all blown out, making video less enjoyable to watch, and the menus and commands took too long to register – this was a problem all the way from Sydney, something I assume is used to me being conditioned by the iPhone/iPad level of responsiveness, which has raised the bar for user interface standards.
We arrived into LA around 45 minutes late due to the departure delay, and I went off to go through the LA transfer shuffle routine which is necessary for arrivals transiting on to New York with Qantas. I’ll explain it for anyone planning on going through the same in the near future.
The QF107 LAX Transfer Process
After clearing immigration and collecting your baggage, you then clear customs. This process can take up to an hour thanks to queues for each – and being given an Express pass didn’t really help either.
Once you’re out of the Customs door, if you’re heading on to JFK on QF107 you turn right and head out into far right hand side of the public arrivals part of the terminal. After walking up a series ramps (or catching a lift) you’ll end up at someone with a Qantas uniform carrying a clipboard and next to the baggage drop-off. This person checks your name off their list, and then you head on up to the public departures hall, which is pretty empty at this time of the morning.
It can get a bit confusing here as there is minimal signage and few staff around, but you arrive into a large area of check in desks and you are now looking to clear security and get to your departure gate. The quickest way is to turn left and make your way up the furthest left set of check in desks, at the end of which you’ll find security and the departure gates, and you’re in the hands of the TSA and can make your way to the gate. It’s a bit convoluted and quite confusing after getting off a 12 hour + flight, but follow your nose, signs and staff and you’ll be fine.
As we were late in, and it took an age to go through the rigmarole I just outlined, I went straight to the gate instead of the Qantas Lounge (which I’d visited back in March) where there was a 20 minute wait before boarding.
QF107 Los Angeles – New York
I stowed my baggage, looked down at my seat and found this…
Some kind of spill or leak had soaked the base of the seat and the seatbelt, and the cleaners had just covered it over with the pillow (or not noticed). I was happy with my seat (middle bulkhead again, the best for sleeping) and would rather not have swapped.
I let the crew know, and thankfully they were pretty good about getting it sorted. An engineer was called – he pulled out the seat cushion and went off to find a replacement, which took about 20 minutes. There was already a minor delay due to the late arrival from Auckland, and the engineer was the last guy out of the plane so this probably delayed us by about another 5 minutes or so.
Pretty quickly after take-off lunch requests were taken. The menu is below – I went for the Chicken. No photos unfortunately as the cabin was dark and I was keen to eat and get more sleep, which I did – managing another 2 hours on this 5 hour leg.
After waking about a couple of hours out of JFK, I watched some more TV, drunk a truckload of water (by now I’d been on planes for 19 out of the last 24 hours) and felt pretty dehydrated.
We arrived about 30 minutes late and I headed off to find my pre-arranged car transfer to Tarrytown, just outside New York city. For anyone interested, this was from Rez-Ponsible Limousises booked through limos.com – an old-ish BMW 7 series, but it was a good price and I had no issues with the delayed arrival.
I actually really enjoyed flying the A330 the whole way to New York. I haven’t been over to the USA on the A380 yet, which I know will be a step up with a fully lie-flat seat, but my preference of aircraft I’ve tried in Qantas Business class right now would be the A330 over the 747.
The smaller cabin allowed the staff to be quite personal, and it felt roomy without being absolutely huge. I’d be really interested to try the A380 in Business for this reason, to see if that level of personal service could be kept up.
Travelling via Auckland to New York was not much of a hardship. Obviously, given a choice you’d be better off flying direct, especially so if you’re on the A380.
But if this is your only option when it comes to redeeming points, don’t hesitate to take it. Australia to New York is a long way, whatever way you look at it, and I found the forced early morning departure actually helped with getting some sleep on the Auckland – Los Angeles leg.
I was only in New York for 3 1/2 days, and I found jetlag was mostly a non-issue. Whether this was a result of these timings, or the fact I got good rest on the way over I don’t know, but regardless, I was happy.