Airline review: Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner business class, Melbourne to San Francisco

THE PLANE

Qantas Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

THE ROUTE

QF49 Melbourne to San Francisco, non-stop. This new route took off on September 1, 2018.

CLASS

Business, seat 4K.

Timelapse: Watch Qantas' first Dreamliner get built

See the 15-day build time on Qantas' first Boeing 787 Dreamliner compressed into just two minutes. Video: Boeing

DURATION

13 hours, nine minutes, which is almost an hour shorter than the usual flight time of 14 hours and 20 minutes, due to a tailwind. It's worth noting that instead of departing in the morning, Melbourne time, and arriving in the morning, California time, QF49 departs at 9.40pm, arriving in San Francisco at 6.30pm local time. This means passengers can check straight into their hotels.

LOYALTY SCHEME

Qantas Frequent Flyer

FREQUENCY

Four times a week.

BAGGAGE

For business class passengers,  three pieces up to 32 kilograms each of checked luggage and two carry-on bags of up to seven kilograms each.

THE SEAT

The business class seat offers 46-inch (117 cm) pitch, with an 80-inch (203 cm) bed when put into lie-flat mode. Seats are in a 1-2-1 layout meaning all business class passengers have direct aisle access. This isn't the case on the airline's Airbus A380s yet, or the older Boeing 747 jumbos.

COMFORT

Seat 4K is closer to the aisle than the window in the 1-2-1 configuration, giving you less privacy than the seats in front and behind that are closer to the window.

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While awake, Qantas' business class seats feel like a cosy armchair you'd have in your lounge room at home, complete with an extendable footrest, which gives you little reason to want get up from your seat. The well-designed space disguises nooks and crannies to stash your items, giving you plenty of space to stretch out. For sleeping, the lie-flat bed has plenty of room for my 170cm frame without my feet touching the edge of the "bed".

Your space includes a 500ml water bottle, USB and universal power outlets and a handy mirror, hidden in the lid of the compartment holding the remote control.

ENTERTAINMENT

The setback entertainment screen is a huge 21 inches. Bright and intuitive, it comes paired with noise-cancelling headphones, perfect circumstances to relax with from your "armchair in the sky" for the entire 13 hours – if only sleep didn't get in the way. It also feels a bit decadent to lie back with French champagne and a remote control to flick through a screen that's a mere arm-reach away, but what the hell, we're in business class.

Affiliating with HBO and Stan, Qantas' television box sets include an entire series (not just one or two episodes) of excellent shows that have not yet been screened in Australia (A. P. Bio, Barry or Divorce) as well as classic television such as the first two series of Twin Peaks (the gold star goes to the airline that screens season 3). There are also box sets of movies, including Indiana Jones and Jurassic Park, as well as premier releases such as Amy Schumer's I Feel Pretty.

FOOD

Neil Perry's menus are overhauled every season, and as we're flying on September 1, Qantas is launching a brand new spring menu, and a separate, new hotel-style tick-off menu which includes breakfast basics such as croissants and toast with Vegemite (which can be served with a mimosa or coffee). Those wanting non-breakfast foods for the evening arrival can choose items such as quiches and cheese plates.

Choosing dinner proves difficult with options including green pea and mint soup, pasta with eggplant and tomato sugo and Asian style barramundi with sesame, shrimp and ginger. I opt for the barramundi, which comes with a green leaf salad dressed with "Neil's vinaigrette" and top-notch grainy Brasserie Bakery bread and Pepe Saya butter, which would also be perfect served with Vegemite for "breakfast". Finally, dessert is a wonderful, but not too rich, chocolate malted tart with creme fraiche.

Dinner is served rather late on our flight (around 11.45pm) as Neil Perry himself is on hand to offer business class passengers caviar and champagne to celebrate the inaugural flight. On regular flights, those wanting to eat within half an hour of take-off are advised to order special items marked for fast service, such as the cheese plate or soup. Passengers happy to wait around 45 minutes can choose from the rest of the menu.

Those who suffer from that mid-flight sugar slump can snack on pumpkin empanadas and stir-fried eggplant with egg fried rice, or order more simple seasonal fruits, Koko black chocolate or dips and crudites.

SERVICE

Nicknamed "mini-first class", Qantas' reputation in business class meets expectations when it comes to service. Throw in an air of familiarity that comes from being an Australian airline and you have the right mix of friendliness and professionalism. It's always nice when you have staff bending over backwards to find soy milk for your flat white, but if I have to nitpick, more frequent rounds with water would have been appreciated.

ONE MORE THING

Platinum Qantas frequent flyers can access the First lounge in Melbourne, which also showcases Neil Perry's cooking.  Blue eye with a salsa of green olives, chopped almonds and orange zest is one of the highlights of the new spring menu. This is also the place to sample Perry's famous salt and pepper calamari and the signature pavlova, a decadent but light sundae of fresh raspberries and Persian fairy floss. The service here is unflappable, and fast but it's an experience worth getting here early for, especially when you throw in an excellent, complimentary 20-minute spa service.

THE VERDICT

Qantas obviously has the market cornered here, being the only non-stop flyer from Melbourne to San Francisco with this new route, so it will be interesting to see how it splits passengers from the regular LA route. Passengers may also choose this route for the night departure, which is less stressful on the Melbourne end as you have the day to get organised, but may result in worse jetlag on the US side.

That being said, the night-time, 13-hour flight whizzed by; without sleep coming into play, the daytime flights can really drag.

Coming back, the flights depart from the US at night, just like the regular LAX flights.

Our rating: ★★★★½

The writer flew as a guest of Qantas

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