Airline review: Qantas 747 jumbo jet economy class, Sydney to Honolulu

THE PLANE

Boeing 747-400 (until the end of April 2019, replacing the smaller Airbus A330-300). Qantas has 10 Boeing 747-400s in its fleet.

THE ROUTE

Sydney to Honolulu, a total of 8430km by the time we land.

But there's a bit of a problem before we touch down. It's never comforting to receive emails from family and "friends" on the way to Sydney's Kingsford Smith airport asking if you realise Hurricane Lane is about to hit Hawaii. Or to be told the US Pacific fleet has left Pearl Harbour to seek sanctuary in the open waters further south. Or to learn that the seven-day cruise around Hawaii you're supposed to be joining has now been curtailed to five days because the ship can't dock without endangering the disembarking passengers.

So it's reassuring when Captain Kingsford (really!) comes over the tannoy. "Ladies and gentlemen," he says. "You all know a hurricane is about to hit Hawaii. But we wouldn't be taking off if there was a risk of your safety. We've done our calculations and we'll land before Hurricane Lane reaches Oahu.

"The flight may be a little bumpy, but nothing you won't have experienced before. And if the worst happens, we have enough fuel on board to divert to the nearest safe airport. So sit back, and relax."

In a lifetime of flying, this was the best captain's address I've ever heard.

Except after take-off, I begin to do some calculations. Nearest safe airport? Hawaii's in the middle of the Pacific, so that would be Los Angeles, five hours away, wouldn't it? LAX, my least favourite airport in the world? Oh God no!

CLASS

Economy, in a 3-4-3 configuration for most of the cabin.

LOYALTY

Qantas Frequent Flier.

Advertisement

DURATION

Nine hours, 15 minutes.

FREQUENCY

Five times a week.

THE SEAT

I'd deliberately chosen 72A, a window seat in the 2-4-2 rear section of the plane. Except there's a noisy "footy team" in those back rows, so I jump into 68C and enjoy two empty seats next to me. Each seat has a 31-inch pitch (78.7 centimetres, with a 15.2-centimetre recline), and is 17.5 inches wide.

BAGGAGE

Two pieces of checked luggage at 23 kilograms, plus carry-on.

CHECK-IN

The initial self check-in was easy enough, except my check-in bag couldn't pass the automatic bag scanner (something to do with a former luggage tag neither I nor the Qantas attendant could spot), which meant a short diversion to an actual human who put it on the old-fashioned conveyor belt.

COMFORT

It's a night flight, leaving at 7.15pm and arriving at Honolulu at 8.30am the same day. So I sleep much of the way, able to spread out with the two empty seats next to me, with just the occasional bout of turbulence to remind us we're flying towards a hurricane. The leg-room in economy isn't generous but the seat width is more than adequate.

SERVICE

Initially, terrible. My original flight attendant (as I moved to the vacant three seats) was the rudest I've experienced on any plane on any airline. But once I asked to see his superior, the problem was sorted immediately and the service improved to impeccable.

ENTERTAINMENT

I'm not a fan of Qantas' entertainment system compared to the airline's elite opposition (although I've never played a digital game on a plane in my life). Yes, you'll be able to find something interesting to watch on that 10.5-inch touch-screen monitor (The Bookshop and Midnight Oil, 1984 – a doco about the strains in the iconic band as Peter Garrett stood for the Senate). But the music choices are limited, so I fall asleep to Adele.

FOOD

What would your last meal be if you're landing into a hurricane? The salad of Mexican rice with peri peri chicken? The braised beef with creamy potato mash, broccoli and peas? Or the pumpkin tortellini with tomato and eggplant ragu?

ONE MORE THING

Captain Kingsford's landing is faultless.

THE VERDICT

Yes, there were one or two bumpy patches en route, as Captain Kingsford had predicted, but nothing you wouldn't have experienced before (as he'd also predicted).

He is standing at the economy exit (not the business exit) as we leave the plane. I shake his hand, congratulate him on a perfect landing, and thank him for the calming speech before take-off.

Sure, food and entertainment are important. But, ultimately, don't you just want a safe landing?

RATING OUT OF FIVE

★★★★★

Steve Meacham was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Line and Pride of America.

See also: Airline review: Qantas' new non-stop route to the US takes off

See also: Airline review: Qantas' new stopover route to London

Airline reviews A to Z: Read all of Traveller's Flight Tests

Comments