After a few weeks based in Darwin to allow for some forays to West Timor and Indonesia, my stay wrapped up at a raucous Stella fueled sandbar party off Cullen Bay yesterday. Waking up this morning feeling much tidier than I deserved to, I rather sadly headed to Darwin airport to catch my flights to chiller climes south.
My flights today were paid for with Qantas Frequent Flyer points which were accrued earlier this year via the now notorious Woolworths pet insurance promotion. I am traveling through to Sydney but have to transit in Adelaide. The walk-up business class cash fare to Sydney is in excess of AUD$2,000.00
Darwin Airport is not the most happening place in the world, but check-in at the counter was swift and friendly. As a business class passenger, I can check in 2x32kg of luggage and take onboard up to 10kg of carry on.
Business-class passengers have access to the Qantas Club lounge at Darwin Airport. The lounge is surprisingly spacious and of a good standard. It is worth noting that due to the irregular scheduling of Qantas departures, the lounge isn’t always open. After the breakfast flights, the lounge closes until 11.00am when it reopens for the lunchtime flights south. It’s bad luck if you’re eligible for entry and on a Jetstar or code-sharing on an Air North flight and the lounge isn’t open.
Darwin Qantas Club lounge opening hours can be found here.
The 737-800 is the backbone of the Qantas domestic fleet. There are 12 business class recliner seats in a 2-2 configuration and 162 economy class seats in a 3-3 configuration. On today’s flight, nine of the 12 business class seats were occupied.
The business seats are leather, magenta toned, and well-cushioned for a short-ish daytime flight. There is 94 cm of pitch and 56cm of width between the armrests. The seat was fine. My beef as such was with the table. It came out of the middle armrest, did not extend all the way across to the other armrest, giving the table a degree of bounce and posing a problem if you like to eat with your food perpendicular to you.
There are headrests, seatback IFE, free WiFi, universal power and USB sockets as well as ample legroom. The WiFi was reliable and only dropped out once or twice.
When Qantas gets the service right, they knock the ball out of the park, and today the Flight Attendant in charge of the business cabin, Megan, was exceptional. She was friendly, helpful, and cruised the cabin with a smile only too happy to offer a wine refill.
There was a lady with a baby, about six months old, in the first row. I’m not a fan of children in business class but the baby was a delight, gurgling its way south and enjoying the attention of Megan and the other Flight Attendants. No-one blinked an eyelid when the child was breastfed.
Prior to departure, still or sparkling water was offered.
Once airborne, we were all offered drinks and some pretzels. I asked after a white wine and there was a Barossa sparkling pinot, Clare Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Alkoomi Frankland River Riesling on offer. I ran with the Alkoomi. Several glasses of it went down rather well and kept me safely hydrated as we flew over the deserts of central Australia.
Lunch was a choice of a chicken salad with cherry tomatoes, white beans, and a radish vinaigrette, or pork fillet with herb butter, zucchini, wilted greens and paprika mayo. I went with the pork. Unfortunately, the pork was dry and stringy, the mayo tasted of lemon juice, but the vegetables were nice – butter makes any vegetable taste good.
The bread, a warm wholemeal slice served from a basket, was made in a bakery in Darwin and was exceptional.
Dessert was a jam and cream lamington. Look. I know my way around a lamington and this one was a tad dry and chewy. The situation was saved by another glass of Alkoomi and a small tub of Maggie Beer vanilla bean ice cream.
Megan, the Flight Attendant, was excellent with a lady next to me who was a fussy eater. She went and found a salmon salad from the economy cabin (which looked quite tasty) and even offered her the unwanted Captain’s meal. Megan then rolled up with an apple and rhubarb cake that looked a lot better than the dry lamington.
One thing I dislike about Qantas 737 business class catering (besides the stringy pork and their weird table set up) is that there are no table cloths and no mats on the tray. There’s a distinct lack of traction. Things slide and you have to be careful your lunch doesn’t end up on the floor. Virgin Australia, by way of comparison, easily overcomes this issue by offering mats and cloths.
By the time we were floating above Alice Springs, lunch service had ended. With a two hour transit in the Qantas Club in Adelaide and another flight to Sydney and the strong possibility of a few more wines, I thought it best to call it a day on this flight and sit back and play with my iPad and watch the desert drift by below.
It’s red and desolate down there but in the air, comfortably cushioned, it’s nice to look at. We came in over Roxby Downs, Port Augusta, Whyalla before landing in Adelaide ten minutes ahead of schedule.
As far as a domestic business class product goes, the Qantas 737 product is not so bad and is miles ahead of most equivalent “full service” 737 business class products in the USA and Europe.
Did I like the flight? Sure, it was fine. The service was fantastic. I still prefer Virgin Australia when traveling business on 737s in Australia, but that’s just me. And it sure beats economy.