Airline review: Qantas Premium Economy

THE PLANE

Boeing 747-400 with three classes – Economy, Premium Economy and Business. There are nine of these aircraft in the Qantas fleet. 

THE ROUTE

QF 63, Sydney to Johannesburg, non-stop. 

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Qantas Frequent Flyer (affiliated with One World). 

CLASS

Premium Economy, seat 37D.

DURATION

13 hours and 40 minutes. This is a relatively speedy time. Sydney Airport delays our departure to fix a light on the runway but we still arrive in Johannesburg on time. 

FREQUENCY

Daily flights, leaving at 9.50am and arriving at 4.10pm the same day.

BAGGAGE

A generous 40 kilograms.

THE SEAT

Seats are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration in a private cabin between the Business Class and Economy cabins.  The Marc Newson designed Recaro seats are ergonomically very comfortable, extra-wide at 19.5 inches (49.5 centimetres), with a good amount of legroom. The seats only feel a little confined when the person in front reclines their seat fully to the 9-inch (22.8-centimetre) recline. There's a pocket in the back of the seat in front which is roomy enough to fit an iPad, book, phone and small pack of toiletries, and a smaller pocket that's good for reading glasses. Under the centre aisle seats D and G there is a box for the in-flight entertainment, which means my feet have to straddle the seat legs in front to stretch out but it's not uncomfortable. It's far from a lie-flat bed, but the good recline of the seat combined with a nice thick pillow make sleep possible. 

COMFORT

There's the aforesaid pillow and a thick wool, cotton-lined blanket, the same as Business Class. Noise-cancelling headphones are also the same as Business. There's a modest amenity pouch of socks, eye mask and dental kit. After I ask the gentleman behind me to take his foot off my armrest, I'm as happy as larry in this cosy, relatively quiet compartment. There's a dedicated toilet for Premium Economy passengers but we're also able to use those in Business Class.

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ENTERTAINMENT

The entertainment system has an in-arm touch screen monitor, at 10.6 inches a larger screen than economy,  with on-demand choices of  the latest movies and TV shows that I really want to see. Five stars to Qantas for its selection of films. There are Oscar Classics, Premiere movies, plus offerings in the categories Arthouse, World, Australian and Family. Many are still showing at the cinema. An interesting selection of TV shows, music, radio and interactive games means there's little opportunity to be bored on this long flight. I actually wished it were longer as I had a lot of films to see. 

SERVICE

Exemplary. Cheerful flight attendants with loads of personality make sure everyone is well catered to. We're given a choice of sparkling wine, orange juice and water upon taking our seats, then printed menus are handed around. Tray tables are laid with white linen before meal service. Attendants come promptly when called and search the plane to find the apple the person sitting next to me requests (there are only pears in the Premium Economy larder.) At no point in the long flight are they missing in action. 

FOOD

Lunch and dinner are served on this flight, with snacks such as bratwurst sausage roll or a cherry tomato ricotta tart available on request. I'm given a pack of Maltesers​ when I ask for chocolate with my tea and eat them all despite having just watched on my in-seat screen That Sugar Movie, about the dangers of sugar. There are three choices of main courses with each meal, including a filling Corn Fed Chicken for lunch and Braised Lamb Shank with Rosemary Potatoes for dinner. Inspired by Neil Perry, the meals are hearty and quite large servings. Dessert is chocolate caramel mousse in a plastic cup. Treats of Weiss​ mango icecream bars are handed around after lunch. Two Australian whites and two reds are offered plus sparkling wine, beers and a good selection of spirits. Coffee is plunger coffee that's not bad even for a coffee snob. Also available is Select On Q-Eat option which allows passengers to select their meals before the flight, with an additional exclusive option.

ONE MORE THING

There is a separate Premium Economy check-in at Sydney Airport. While there's no designated Premium Economy boarding at the gate this time, I go in with Business Class and am not turned away. There is no automatic lounge access for Premium Economy passengers, but many Qantas Frequent Flyers can access the lounge if they're gold status or above. 

THE VERDICT

If you're on a budget but want a more comfortable flight, and can do without the French champagne, the lounge access and the lay-flat beds, Premium Economy is the way to go. Qantas is still the benchmark here and this is the best Premium Economy service I've tried. Qantas operates the only non-stop flight Sydney-Johannesburg, making it the sensible choice whichever class you're flying in.

Tested by Lee Tulloch, who flew compliments of Qantas.

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