Trip report: BNE-LAX-BNE, in business and economy, on Qantas

“Do you have any liquids in that bag, madam?”

“Oh, aye, yes,” says the little old lady from Yorkshire in front of me in the express security queue. She’s flying Emirates (so probably the BNE-DXB-MAN route). She proceeds to slowly unzip her bag. Zzzziiiipppp.

Yesterday, I’d got the most satisfying text saying that my upgrade request had been confirmed. So I’m not towards the back in economy, but in seat 4K.

Zzzzzzziiiiipppp. “Oh aye, there we are.” With shaking hands, she slowly pulls out a see-through plastic bag full of toiletries. “Oh, ‘ang on, there’s another one in ‘ere, somewhere,” she adds, and slowly continues looking, picking up things one by one to peer underneath.

Earlier, on checking in, the “man asking the questions for the US government” explained how the stickers worked at the back of my passport. “You can remove them once you get back to Australia,” he says. I suppose he thinks the absence of stickers in this passport is because I’ve never flown to the US before. That’s nice.

“Aye, ‘ere it is,” she says, pulling out another see-through plastic bag. “I think that’s all.” She starts to slowly do up the zips. Very slowly.

Earlier, when I was given my boarding pass from the check-in desk, the staffer patiently showed me where to see which seat I was in, and the time for boarding. You’d have thought there would be some assumption that someone with a boarding pass saying “Platinum” might know their way around this piece of paper, but it was nice to have the reminder of how a boarding pass worked. I resist the temptation to say “I’ve done this before” but mainly because I desperately don’t want her to think I’m a self-important arse. I appear I may be coming across as a self-important arse in this trip report.

She shuffles slowly through the metal detector, with her white hair and sensible jumper, and I can finally push my stuff through. This time, I’m proudly nursing my (empty) insulated water bottle, which I’m hoping will help me avoid the headaches I get when flying long-haul by keeping me adequately hydrated. I place it on its side, with the lid off, in my tray to demonstrate its emptiness. It still gets picked up by the security person to check that there isn’t some mysterious anti-gravity water in it.

And then I’m through the metal detector, catching up with the slow granny, who’s waiting next to the conveyor. “Who’s is this?” shouts someone, with an air of resignation, pointing to her bag. She puts her hand up. “Is this yours?” says the security man, holding a full bottle of water, removed from her bag. “Oh, aye, yes, I were goin’ t’drink that.”

I left her behind.

QF Lounge, BNE international

In the QF lounge, which I think (shhh) may be the least impressive international lounge in any state capital. It reminds me of a rubbish Sofitel buffet. (I say this as a little in-joke: the Qantas lounge in Brisbane international is run by Sofitel).

I discover that the fancy filtered cold water taps are just tall enough to fill my nice new water bottle up. I win at possible hydration opportunities.

Someone comes round giving out nachos. I win at snacks.

QF55 BNE-LAX Boeing 787–9 Dreamliner

I’m pretty sure that when I chose the seat for this flight I was in the upper deck of an A380, but it turns out that I’ve scored a points upgrade in a Dreamliner, the very latest super-duper brand new aeroplane that Qantas had before any other airline ever in the world. It feels very new. It’s nice. I win at upgrades.

I’ve flown in the standard Boeing Dreamliner business cabin before, with Air Canada, oddly a few years before Qantas got this super-duper brand new aeroplane (don’t tell anyone). This is not the standard Boeing cabin — it’s the odd “handle behind your head” design that is seemingly exclusive to Qantas. The standard Dreamliner layout has a seat slightly angled towards the centre of the plane, so you’re always next to the window. With the Qantas layout, there’s no angled seating, and instead, passengers are either next to the window or next to the aisle. I wonder if it lets you squeeze in one more row? Hmm. Anyway, I’ll be honest — I prefer the standard Boeing cabin. Sorry, Alan.

While everyone around me was offered pyjamas, I wasn’t. Instead of a valuable Platinum in a sea of economy flyers, I’m the lowest of the low, being a cheap points upgrade. Anyway, I don’t wear pyjamas on board, and I have far too many unworn pairs at home. I’m interested as to whether they do them for kids who fly in business, but I don’t get to ask: I bet my daughter would love a pair.

We take off, bouncing around through stormclouds for a bit.

My new hydration routine has a drawback, and I am the second to use the toilet once the seatbelt signs are turned off. Interestingly, there is an ashtray in there, next to a big non-smoking sign (or, I think, a place to affix an ashtray perhaps). I’d be curious to learn where smoking is still allowed on planes, and why a Dreamliner would have fitted these. There’s also one outside the toilet, too.

The food was really astonishingly good. Perhaps it was my luck in choosing two things that were a little outside my comfort zone but also delicious, but the fish, in particular, was tremendous. I manage to get two desserts: cheese AND ice-cream. I win at desserts.

Sleep then followed, though I was woken at 5.30am Queensland time by a passenger’s loud iPhone alarm, complete with strobe lights. For a split second I thought it was really rather inconsiderate of him, as he scrambled to turn it off, but then remembered that he paid full price for his seat, probably, and if he wanted to deliberately keep his body clock to Queensland time and wake everyone else up, that was entirely up to him. And anyway, thanks to the my new hydration routine, it turns out that my bladder was quite grateful for the rest of my body being woken up.

I was out of the plane at 3.40pm; through security at 3.51pm; and out of the airport at 3.57pm — in time to catch the bus into downtown LA at 4.10pm. It’s $9.50 for the fare, according to a sign, but I’ve no idea where you pay — they don’t ask for money on the way onto the bus, nor on the way off the bus. I get off the bus at Union Station, grab my bag and disappear onto the Metro to my hotel, still clutching a $10 bill, which I gratefully turn into a beer later.

LAX

Ding. 1.07pm — “We are unable to confirm your upgrade reward request”, from Qantas.

Ding. 1.08pm — “We are unable to confirm your upgrade reward request, but if anything changes at the last minute we’ll let you know”, from Qantas.

Interesting.

My journey back starts with the airport bus, this time happy to pay (they don’t accept cash, which seems slightly tourist-unfriendly). “Which airline?” they shout at you. “Qantas”, I say. They look at me uncomprehendingly. “Terminal B”, I add. They let me on. Then called me back. “Where you going?” “Australia. Qantas. Terminal B.” “You going to Australia? You want Virgin Australia, terminal 3.” My dear sir, I most honestly do not. The power of branding, though.

Through security, which was very quick with no queue, a random walk through the two shops I always visit for a look (the book shop and the electronics store), and up to the First Lounge, past the old 2015 logo. It’s busy, but not too much. They have a new beer: a Fire Stone 805, which if you cared is a “blond ale for the Californian lifestyle”, which tastes like a flat XXXX Gold. I also have a Croque Monsieur from the menu which has been cheaply photocopied onto some thin A3 paper, with the result that it’s entirely unbranded by Qantas. A cheese and ham toastie arrives — this is not a Croque, Monsieur Neil Perry. A Croque Monsieur has the cheese on the top. I look down my nose at your culinary reinvention.

I idly look at the seat map, since sometimes you can change your seat after check-in by using the app. Every seat is unavailable, except for an aisle seat on the last row. Eek.

I ask the bar staff to fill my water bottle, to ensure the hydration regime is possible. They do, from the mixer tap.

QF16 LAX-BNE

I stroll onto the plane and occupy 42A (so much for my tantalising extra text saying “if anything changes”). I didn’t even get the disappointment of the scanner turning green, since my BP, printed at Terminal B check-in, has consistently failed to scan at any point in this airport.

Behind, someone asks whether they’d mind moving from a middle seat to an aisle seat. “I’ve asked about five times for an aisle seat, so you know what, this is the best news I’ve had all day.” So that’s nice.

A man comes and sits next to me, happily explaining to his partner: “Headphones, a blanket, a pillow…” He starts flicking through the audiobook section on the IFE (like NOBODY EVER DOES) and recommends to his partner the autobiography of “Bob Hawkee”. Hawkee. He knows he’s an ex prime minister, though — just doesn’t know how to pronounce his name.

I watch the lady on the safety video in Brighton, a place Qantas doesn’t fly to. It tells us very specifically to lean forwards going down the slide, accompanied by images of her very clearly leaning backwards when going down the slide, and then we’re up and away.

The chap sitting next to me goes to sleep. Dinner comes. I ask for the pasta. I get passed the pasta, but the cutlery falls off my too-small-to-fit everything tray, and into the chap next to me’s lap, waking him up. I don’t know if he’s aware it was the flight attendant’s fault and most certainly not mine. Definitely not mine. I want to point this out, but it seems churlish. But if I don’t point it out, will he think I dropped them? Perhaps I should point it out. But if I point it out now it’ll be too late and just a bit weird. So I don’t point it out. And he probably hates me for waking me up. Even though it wasn’t me. Honestly it wasn’t.

Neil Perry probably had nothing to do with my pasta. The only part of the entire dish that tastes of anything is the broccoli, which is surprising, because normally that’s the least-flavoured bit. I struggle with the pasta a little, eat a bit of it, ignore the cheesecake that I didn’t ask for, and gratefully hand it all back, with my neighbour looking warily at the tray as I do so. Perhaps now is a good time to mention that earlier it wasn’t me who dropped the cutlery. Or perhaps not.

I watch things on my personal IFE, using my personal headphones. I watch a documentary on a British comedy show, a short programme about how traffic lights work, a bit of John Oliver about mobile homes, then a man who goes to a train station in Derbyshire for literally no reason other to say that he has visited it, and then a brief history of Sony Trinitron televisions. As you may have guessed, my personal IFE is my mobile phone, and I’m rather enjoying my newfound premium ability to download YouTube clips to watch later.

Meanwhile, my neighbour is listening to Taming Toxic People. I hope he doesn’t count dropping cutlery on him as toxic behaviour. And anyway, it wasn’t me.

I sleep for a bit, and wake up to US-catered breakfast, which was better than dinner in that it tasted of something, albeit not much.

I can’t remember if this is my first time in a Qantas Dreamliner in economy. It’s comfortable, if claustrophobic. The power socket is useful, as is the extra gadget holder below the screen which has a USB point in it. I wonder how many phones or watches are left there at the end of the journey.

And after the mandatory “Sorry” video, we land in Brisbane a whole 45 minutes earlier than scheduled, coming into BNE from the south coast.