James Cridland

Why is Qantas so bad with beer? (Denver to Brisbane)

This languished on my iPad for a while.

Trip reports of mine can normally be summed-up in this way: “American experience bad, Qantas, good”.

But, this time…

The American experience

When getting on to a US plane, the experience is normally pretty dreadful, with various uniformed members of the TSA shouting at you in a quasi-military fashion. An awful experience, then onto the plane where they’re more keen to sell you a credit card than a decent flight.

I was incredibly tired after a long week of shouting at people in a loud exhibitors hall, then shouting at people in an even louder hotel bar. Repeat for three long days.

So it was, in the light and airy Denver airport, I approached the security lane with some trepidation. But it was rather pleasant. There was no queue at all, and the TSA person checking my ID was polite and friendly, saying that he hoped I’d had a great time in his country and that I had a good flight home.

Putting my stuff on the belt, I realised a little too late that I’d left a water bottle in my backpack. Normally, this entails my apologetic excuse being waved aside by a huffy or angry TSA person waving the bottle in front of me, reminding me I’m not allowed water bottles, then walking slowly with my backpack to get it scanned again. But this time, the TSA operative just took the water bottle out, gave my backpack to me, and even said “not a problem, sir”.

This was most unusual. This was the sort of friendliness that you get from Australians, not Americans.

The AA flight to LAX was excellent, in a little plane with a peculiar layout that gave the occupant of seat 8A almost twice the legroom of any other passenger, which was especially good because that was the seat I was sitting in.

It did land in “the shed the other end of the airport”, with everyone being forced to queue for a Bus of Inconvenience to the main terminal. But that was all OK really, as was my seat mate, a lady coming back home from Denver who was keen to tell me how terrible the government was in threatening to take away her guns. “Oh, well, I’m not sure we’ll agree on that one,” I said, amiably, but she persevered, saying it was impossible anyway because the bad folks will still have their guns. “We had one mass shooting in Australia, and so we took away the guns from everyone, and we’ve not had any since,” I said. “Same in the UK. Same in many other countries. It’s really odd that the best country in the world can’t manage something so simple.” I deployed the “best country in the world” line as a confusion tactic, because she couldn’t really say I was wrong if I’d just called her country the best in the world. She smiled and changed the subject, and was rather nice about it all.

In LAX airport, I wander around, discovering some AirTag-compatible trackers which I’d previously reqd the reviews for, that were obviously mis-priced at the electronics store. I innocently went to pay - the cash register saying $69, but the price tag saying $34. I expected the guy operating the cash till to argue back; but he made a phone call to the boss, charged me $34, and then proceeded to take the rest off the shelves. He couldn’t have been nicer about it.

The Qantas experience

I made it to the LAX Qantas First lounge, which I have access to because I fly too much. The lady in the door greeted me, chewing gum throughout our short interaction.

I had some food. The US First lounge seems to do a number of buttery, oily things; the Reuben sandwich was slathered with butter but wasn’t the worst way of filling my arteries with fat. After being spoiled with the Singapore lounge, this one is a little soulless.

To the gate, where the Qantas staff had decided they would be playing the part of the TSA, shouting at passengers. “Stand there! Queue up over there! Don’t step forward past the yellow line until the person in front is done! Go over there! Use that one!” Entirely unnecessary, stress-inducing, and done in a Qantas uniform as well. Eventually it’s my turn to get my face scanned to get onto the plane - “use that lane” - but the system didn’t recognise me and I was rewarded with a sad sound and a red light. “Come here!” shouts another. “It’s because you didn’t take your glasses off,” I’m admonished. “It’s because you didn’t tell me to,” I thought to myself.

On to the plane. The upgrade gods had smiled on me, with news of a points upgrade more than two days earlier. My seat is 3A, the arm of which is held together with Duck tape and a sign saying “inoperative”.

I’m offered a drink before takeoff. “Water or a juice?” I wonder if there’s any fizzy wine, and it transpires that “it’s coming”, but there isn’t any yet. “It’s coming”, repeated to a few other passengers, turns into “I hope it’s coming”, which seems a little less confident. It did, eventually.

We don’t have a menu for dinner. After takeoff, an FA walks slowly down the aisle, reading the business menu to each passenger, and taking their choices. If I was a betting man I’d think that they had forgotten to pack enough menus. I ask for the chicken.

“Would you like anything to drink?” I’m asked. Oh dear.

As ever, my request for a beer takes them by surprise, but I quickly say “I’ll have the Pacific Ale”. The FA says “We have a Little Creatures, is that OK?” Deep breath.

Bloody hell, Qantas, do you actually TRAIN these people? They’ll witter on about the style of grape being used in their fruit-based drink for the ladies, and do all the pretence of showing the bottle and sounding clever about the vintage, but even though the choice of beer on board hasn’t changed for FOUR years, they’ll still confuse the name of the brewer with the actual beer. “We’ve a Little Creatures” is like saying “We’ve a Penfolds” or “We’ve a Taylor’s” - it says nothing else. An ale is distinct from a lager - the style of the other two beers you’ve had on board SINCE THE BLOODY DAWN OF TIME. An ale is fuller flavoured and maltier, and a Pacific Ale is generally one with a fair bit of sweetness and fruit (and in this case, can-conditioned and hazy). Little Creatures is the brewer, not the style of beer, YOU UTTER CRETIN - they’re best known for their more bitter IPA, which is an entirely different beer, but you don’t offer any IPA, do you, in spite of being the most popular craft beer style in THE LAST BLOODY DECADE!!!

I think all this while he goes off in a panic to find a beer rather than his beloved bloody “2021 Chateau Waggawagga Pinot Noir with a lovely mouthfeel”. He comes back with a thimbleful in the same size glass that they serve wine in. In economy they’d have given me the tin with a plastic glass, but not here in business. To add insult to injury, it’s BLOODY ROOM TEMPERATURE, and all Australian beer styles are brewed to be served cold. Useless, useless. You wouldn’t put your red wine in the fridge, would you?

I drink my thimbleful of warm beer. He offers some wine drinkers in front of me a top-up, but in spite of knowing that there’s half a warm can back in the galley, he DOESN’T THINK TO OFFER ME ANY.

Qantas’s ignorance about beer is a TRAGEDY, and when I take over from Alan Joyce, it will be the FIRST THING TO GET FIXED, apart from getting that lady on reception to stop chewing gum.

I’m awfully sorry, something came over me. I need to stop typing.

In short - America good, Qantas bad. There’s more to it than just the beer, but the beer is a symptom, I think, of a wider malaise.