Trip report - BNE-SYD-LAX-YVR and back, in J (and F)

Brisbane Airport isn’t as quiet as you think it’s going to be at 5am. There was a queue in the super-secret check-in desk at the special entrance to the lounge. The man checking me in was relieved I wasn’t checking in bags, and cheerful about the check-in. I went upstairs to the lounge, which was its normal bustling self.

QF507 BNE-SYD was comfortable in business. I don’t normally fly business, so it is a bit of a novelty every time. Breakfast - an omelette with ricotta inside, I think - was rather good, on proper china. The flight isn’t really long enough for any astonishing tales of service. Our plane didn’t have wifi.

The annoying bus between SYD domestic and international, easily the worst part of the SYD experience, at least left within a minute or so of my arrival. I have to go to the US customs official, because I’m transiting through LAX.

I get into the SYD I First lounge, which I’m still getting to grips with, to be honest. The background jazz music was quite loud, and the staff don’t really leap to serve you if you don’t sit in the restaurant bit. The old-fashioned clackety-clack departures board is a nice touch but is a bit unfit for purpose - it displays every codeshare on a separate line, and one of the flights before mine was a codeshare with five OneWorld airlines, so as a result the entire board gets filled with just one flight. It’s a lovely idea, but if I were Qantas, I’d display the QF flight numbers and have the lounge attendants tell people travelling on a codeshare what the QF flight number was, so you could fit more flights on the screen. There’s probably rules about that.

QF11 SYD-LAX (A380) was a first for me - since my Canadian client paid me to fly business, and since this is the last work I’m doing for the client, I upgraded myself to First on points. I was quite looking forward to the experience. The result was a “suite” that felt a bit tired, if I can be honest; lots of scratches and dents in the furniture. You weirdly sit almost in the aisle, instead of in the window, so next to you is a remote control for everything from the window shades to the chair to the TV screen. This is metal and attached with a wire, and really very heavy (and lots of dents). The touchscreen was incredibly low resolution, making it quite hard to read what was said. The viewing angle was especially poor, too. It’s like a display from an old mobile phone in the mid 2000s. I got my ‘first’ pyjamas, which do not have a big roo on the front and look quite decent (haven’t tried them on), and some slippers which look good enough quality to be my summer slippers in the house, which will be nice. The amenities kit was odd - in a slightly scuffed bag which has a chunky zip that sticks; inside, slightly better toothpaste (proper Colgate, and a decent size); a fancy face mask, some creams and stuff, and a complete, $4 if you were to buy it in Woollies, Rexona male rollon deodorant. That last one took me by surprise, and also meant I had to repack it into my toiletries bag for my onward journey. The chair swivels, which is a nice if entirely pointless thing, so you take off and land facing straight ahead, and then swivel the chair round so your legs face where the window seat would be. It was oddly non-private.

The first food was nice enough. The first class plates are a curious design - white ceramic with one or two kind of splotches of very light grey, as if they’re a bit mouldy. The food was decent enough - caviar of course as part of the starter, and I then had a steak which was nice if a bit oddly textureless. The man who served me was ever so polite. I got a WP welcome from a young chap who welcomed me very quickly, said he had to do an announcement and that he’d be back, did his announcement, and I never saw him again.

If you were to compare QF first with Air Canada Business on the Dreamliner, then the AC business product - I think now branded ‘Signature’ - would probably win. The “suites” are just as roomy on AC, and feel a bit more private since you’re next to the window facing slightly inwards, surrounded by more furniture. The food is on par, and the plane is much newer. And the AC price for BNE-YVR in business is about 10% more than the BNE-SYD-LAX-YVR business flight with Qantas. I’ve no idea how much extra First would have been had I paid.

The other advantage, I suppose, with First Class is the people watching. There was a very attractive girl who I suspect was either a model or an actress, with her boyfriend carrying Gucci-branded bags for her; a deaf old man who was clearly very rich and had a very good pair of dentures; and a posh couple behind me, one of whom liked pacing around the cabin.

All in all, I glad I went in first on this plane, because it wasn’t very many Qantas points (about 50,000), and the experience was fun. But I’m quite glad I didn’t pay for it.

It departed a little late, but landed roughly on time at LAX. Since we were first off, it was quite quick to get through immigration and back through security in LAX, and then making my way to the AA flagship lounge in terminal 4. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and thus was much more full than it usually is. I still got a seat, and it’s a decent enough lounge, though the wifi was playing up which was a bit annoying.

Then out to the remote terminal for the AA Vancouver flight. I got there half an hour early and realised there’s a little poky lounge in this terminal too, so popped in - to be given two drinks vouchers (it’s only 10am), and to find the breakfast all gone and the lunch being laid out.

AA6023 LAX-YVR was a full flight - the attendant coming up to me before we took off to offer me a drink. “A Coca-Cola, please”, I asked, and she nodded, took someone else’s order too, and then came back with someone else’s order but not mine. After takeoff she realised her mistake, apologised profusely, got me a Coke, and said that she was the “worst flight attendant ever”. She wasn’t. A cold beef wrap was the meal, and it was edible. A man with a moustache sat one seat forward from me, carefully reading through every page of The Australian and the AFR, and enjoying red wine as he did so.

At YVR, I… stayed at YVR. Yes, yes, Vancouver’s supposed to be one of the best cities in the world, but I had a meeting the next day in the airport hotel, and that’s where the client had booked me. It was a room that overlooks the apron, could have been quite loud but wasn’t really, and came complete with a plane-spotters guide on the desk. I actually don’t care too much about types of planes, but the Fairmont Vancouver Airport is surprisingly comfortable, has a good restaurant, a decent bar, and it’s somewhat improbable rating of “#1 hotel in Vancouver” might actually be justified. (Except the wifi, which isn’t free unless you’re in a frequent customer scheme, and was constantly resetting itself). The evening after the client meeting was spent staring at a computer screen wondering why something wasn’t working and trying hard to fix it before it cost me money. I’ve had better evenings.

The way back starts in the crappy US-only bit of the airport, as Canadian airports do, made a bit more crappy by the absence of any OneWorld lounge. Thankfully I was rather later than I would normally be - I’d checked in earlier that day and then a listener to my podcast took me out for lunch which was nice - so I didn’t have too long to wait.

AA6023 YVR-LAX confusingly has the same flight number as the LAX-YVR one. Weird. Anyway - a decent turkey-ham sandwich and a Flat Tire wheat beer, and a snooze, and I was on the ground at LAX in no time, and in the bus from the remote terminal.

I vaguely consider leaving the airport and going to the nearby shopping mall. Checking on Google Maps, I discover that it’s open until 10pm (it’s 6pm now, and my flights at 10.45pm). Having almost made my mind up, I then check how busy it is - ulp. It’s the day after Thanksgiving - Black Friday, as it’s known - and it is over twice as busy as it normally is. I decide that even if the shopping mall is only 3km away, traffic might be a nightmare since it’s so busy, so make my way a little reluctantly to the QF First lounge at LAX, where I have what they call a “Croque Monsieur” but which is clearly just a toastie.

QF12 LAX-SYD is running on time. The impossible has happened - this plane is never on time. I get to my business seat, am welcomed by Frankie who seems very keen that everyone knows her name, and reflect that while the first section is just below me, this business experience is just fine. The food is good, the service is attentive, the fellow passengers are decent if slightly less attractive, the chair doesn’t swivel but does go flat, and all is good with the world. A very turbulent flight at one point, but I get plenty of sleep.

I get to be the last passenger on the Bus Of Irritation between the international and domestic terminals, so that’s nice.

QF520 SYD-BNE is fifteen minutes late to close its doors for some reason, though nobody mentions that. An FA is deadheading in business (and I thought that wasn’t normally done).