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FLIGHT REVIEW: Qantas A380-800 First Class, Singapore – London Heathrow (SIN-LHR)

Qantas made quite a fair bit of news in Singapore just before Covid-19 with the grand opening of its first class lounge, which sadly shuttered not long after it was officially opened.

The good news is, the lounge survived the pandemic; it is now reopened and received guests at full force, just as with before.

I have had the fortune to experience the first class cabin some years back, but it was from Sydney to Singapore. I had such a great time, it created a new bucket list item for me, to try the same product again but on a much longer flight, from Singapore to London or vice versa.

However, the first class cabin across all airlines is some what of a unicorn in the post-Covid era. Even with a bank full of points, it takes sheer determination and an awful lot of patience to find any kind of award availability.

And I finally laid my hands on it.

In this post:
Flight today
The Qantas A380
Checking in
Qantas First Lounge
Boarding
The seat
The service
Qantas amenity kit & pyjamas
In-flight entertainment
In-flight lounge
Final thoughts

Flight today

Qantas QF1
Singapore (SIN)
– London Heathrow (LHR)
20 November 2022
Depart: 11.55pm
Arrive: 6.25 am (+1 day)
Duration: 13 hr 50 min
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800
Seat: 4F (First Class)

The Qantas A380

The A380 needs no introduction – the famous double decker jumbo is a favourite amongst both airlines and passengers; the latter for the number of passengers it can pack, while it also calls for a stable ride.

Prior to Covid-19, Qantas launched a refurbishment project for its fleet of 12 A380s. While business class and premium economy got a complete overhaul of its projects, the first class cabin saw relatively less major upgrades, including a reupholstering of the seats and a brand new in-flight entertainment screen.

Through Covid-19, Qantas has grounded all of its aircraft, only to bring it out of storage earlier this year in 2022.

Sadly, Qantas has retired two of the big birds, with 10 superjumbos left in its fleet. Even with, only five of the aircraft are currently in service with the other half still in storage.

At the time of writing, Qantas is only operating the A380 on two routes: QF1/2 between Sydney and London via Singapore, and QF11/12 between Sydney and Los Angeles.

Checking in

Qantas operates out of Changi Airport Terminal 1, and currently operates out of row 8, sharing the row with its low cost subsidiary Jetstar.

Check in Row 8, Changi Airport Terminal 1

The configuration has now changed a little since the pandemic. There is an agent stationed at the front of the kiosks and counters to check that you have all the necessary documents, before leading you to a self check-in kiosk.

Qantas uses self check-in kiosks for its passengers which peppers the front of the counters, but as a First class passenger feel free to skip ahead and head straight to the counters for assistance.

By the time I got there, check-in was almost closed and there were hardly anyone there, hence check-in was relatively fast and smooth.

Note that while check-in for most airlines typically close 45 minutes before the flight, Qantas closes check-in a full hour ahead of all its A380 services, so be sure to arrive ahead of time if you have the habit of cutting it close.

Qantas First Lounge

Qantas First Lounge – Singapore

One of the key highlights of the Qantas First experience is the Qantas First Lounge in Singapore. Unfortunately as I was only able to reach the airport right before check in close, I headed straight to the gate.

Milelion did a wonderful job of a recent review for the lounge, so you can find out more about it there.

Boarding

QF1 begins in Sydney, and makes a quick stop in Singapore before continuing to London. The flight today arrived about 40 minutes late from Sydney. Correspondingly, the scheduled departure was also slightly delayed, and according to the Qantas app, it was scheduled for 12.20am.

When I got to the gate about 11.20pm, the set of operating crew were still waiting to go onto the aircraft. Eventually they headed on in shortly after.

Departure from Singapore

Boarding eventually commenced closer to 11.40pm, 15 minutes away from the scheduled departure time. First class passengers, along with passengers with young children, the elderly as well as oneworld Emerald passengers were invited to board first.

I got onto the cabin a little later than everyone else, and the First class cabin was already in a furry of action when I stepped on. The moment I got onto my seat, one of the cabin crew, Luke, came over and introduced himself and asked if I’ll like a champagne (the answer is “always”). He also swiftly took my jacket to keep in the closet.

Minutes later, the cabin service manager Ginny also came by and introduced herself, as well as the names of the entire team, including Luke and Tania, working in First class. She also asked for my size, and quickly brought along a set of pyjamas, bedroom slippers and an amenity kit.

Luke returned minutes later with a champagne glass and a set of canapes. The champagne on offer today was the Pommery Cuvee Louise 2005, which was poured at my suite.

Pre-departure champagne and canapes

Subsequently, when everyone in First was more or less settled down, another crew walked around offering top-ups for whoever who wanted another pour, or five.

The two canapes on offer today are: caviar tart with crème fraiche, as well as a barbecue pork egg roll dressed in hoisin sauce. It’s rather novel to be served snacks upon boarding, although it may be rather pointless given that most passengers may have fed themselves at the lounge prior to boarding anyway.

Qantas first class canapes

The portions are also rather tiny as with all canapes, so if one was famished, this would have only teased one’s appetite in anticipation of something more.

My only feedback about the canapes was the need to use one’s hands to eat with it. It would have been appropriate to offer a hot towel service, or perhaps a disinfectant wipe if no cutleries were offered.

Eventually, we pushed back shortly after 1am, more than a full hour later than the scheduled time.

The seat

I have earlier done a review of the Qantas First class service from Sydney to Singapore, and the seat product has seen a modest upgrade since then. The cabin remains unchanged with 14 seats in a 1-1-1 configuration, but what has changed is a reupholstered seat, improved seat controls and an upgraded in-flight entertainment screen.

Qantas first class reupholstered seats (photo: Qantas)
Qantas first class in-flight 18″ entertainment screen

To recap, Qantas refer to its 14 First Class products as ‘suites’, which are in fact open seats. Packed in a 1-1-1 configuration, the cabin has 5 seats on each side of the plane (seats A and K), and 4 in the middle (seats F).

Qantas first class cabin layout (image: SeatGuru)

Each of the seat is designed to face forward during take off and landing, but while in the air, the seat can be rotated to an angle for you to stretch out and for more privacy. The window seats swings towards the window, while the middle column F seats swings towards the left.

As the seat swivels, there is a little ottoman underneath the foldable screen, one little known fact is that this allows for a companion in first class to dine together with you by sitting across you.

For those in the middle seats, there will also be a privacy screen that you can control and put up to avoid the awkward eye contact with anyone walking down the middle aisle, but this screen is modest at best.

This is why you need a privacy screen

The screens on my seat (as well as those in front of me, I later realised) couldn’t quite be pulled up all the way, but given that the lights were off most of the flight time, it didn’t bother us.

Privacy screen on the left of the screen (when put down); ottoman for buddy dining

The seat comes with a set of controls on the side panel, where you can adjust practically everything in your suite, from lights, seat position as well as the privacy screens. This is also where the call button is located, but in all honesty most of my flight I rarely used it.

Seat control panel

For those who constantly require good ventilation, you will be pleased to know that there are at least two air vents at the seat, one in front of you and another at the side.

Air vent at the top of the seat

For those who are in need of power sockets, they can be found right in front of you, at the bottom of the seat in front. With the upgrade the socket now comes with a USB charging port also, which is handy when you need to charge your phone while you sleep.

charging sockets

Right after meal service, the cabin crew offered to turn the seat into a bed for me. While that was happening, I went up to check out the in-flight lounge at the upper deck during this time (more about this below).

When I returned, my bed was fully made and ready for a good night’s rest.

Qantas A380 bed

Qantas uses bedding and quilts from Sheridan, which includes a thick memory-foam sheepskin mattress as well as a fluffy duvet to line the fully flat seat. You also get two pillows, one bigger one and a smaller, firmer one. There is also a pillow menu on board, so feel free to request for something else such as a memory foam pillow. For someone who usually can’t sleep on board, this heavenly setup also meant that I managed to pull about 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep on the flight.

Meal service

On this overnight flight to London, Qantas offers a supper and breakfast service.

Prior to take off, as we were still on the ground, one of the crew, Tania, came around taking meal orders for supper, which was to be served right after take off.

We ended up departing at about 1 am. With that, service only commenced at almost an hour later at 2 am Singapore time.

Supper service

The supper service was not exactly the most elaborate; you have a three course meal: a starter, a main course, and a dessert.

The options are below:

First class menu – Supper
First class menu – supper & breakfast
First class menu – beverages

For my first course, I went with the signature steak sandwich. Having had it a couple of years back, I was craving for it so I chose it.

I recalled the bread to a baguette and rather tough to bite, but this time round it was soft and fluffy, which was surprising. The beef was essentially a medium steak, and went very well with the chilli relish.

Neil Perry’s signature steak sandwich

Shortly after the starter, my plate was promptly cleared and my main course was served almost immediately after.

My choice for the main was the seared grouper with soy, ginger and shallot, bok choy and brown rice. The rice came rather dry rather than fluffy.

Main course – grouper filet

This was where the menu and actual product differed quite a bit; the fish came deep fried (rather than pan seared as I thought it was going to be). The problem with deep fried items is that they generally do not keep well, and tend to be tougher on the bite after prolonged storage. However, it was drenched in a watery sauce, so that helped to make it a little easier to bite through. Even at 30,000 feet, the sauce was a tad too sweet.

As for dessert, I was stuffed and sleepy, so I decided to go with a fruit plate, comprising a tad of everything you can find in Singapore: a slice of dragonfruit, papaya, pineapple, watermelon, plum and a whole strawberry. I had a glass of desert wine along with it.

Fruit plate

The meal service ended with 40 minutes, which was well and good for those who are considering going to bed quickly. My strategy however was to stay awake, so I continued on with more wine.

Those who are familiar with what some other airlines offer may be a little shocked at how scanty the menu is for first class. I spoke with the cabin crew, who said that this is a deliberate design given that most of the customers would have fuelled up in the lounge, so this is a pared down service. I was also told that the dining philosophy for first class is that passengers will never go hungry, as they strive to make everything on the menu available throughout the flight, effectively making it a dine-on-demand service.

Having said that, I don’t find the menu particularly exciting, so halfway through the flight, I did go up to the business class lounge and asked for a small snack.

There were two choices of snacks in business class, a Vietnamese chicken meatballs which I went for, and another which I didn’t quite remember.

Business class mid-flight refreshments

This was probably halfway through the flight, when I was working on this report in the in-flight lounge. As mentioned earlier, the service was excellent, as each and every single crew who past by checked in if I needed something else.

Let’s talk about the wine list. Qantas offers a printed wine list in first class, and here’s the menu for the day:

First class wine list

As you can see, one of the white wines was replaced with another, so that’s the downside of a printed wine list. You will also notice from earlier in this post that the champagne offered was different from what is printed here, and again, this was because they didn’t carry the Piper Heidsieck on this flight, but instead offered the slightly lower rated Pommery Cuvee Louise 2005.

Champagne Pommery Cuvee Louise 2005

Travellers familiar with Qantas service will know that the airline serves almost exclusively Aussie wines. Not exactly the top of the shelf items even in first class, but these are well considered to be excellent. My personal favourite was the Penfolds RWT, which I thought was exceptionally buttery and yet doesn’t leave a tannic aftertaste.

The breakfast meal service was towards the end of the flight. With two hours left on the clock, breakfast commenced. Breakfast once again comprised a multi-course offering, with a choice of fruit, cereal and yoghurt to start off, as well as baked options from the bakery. After which, a full breakfast main course was offered as well, accompanied by your choice of morning beverages.

To start off, I had a bircher museli, which I’m a personal fan of. The museli portion was a tad tiny, but good enough to start the meal going. I was also offered some bakery options, which I politely declined.

Breakfast – Neil’s healthy Bircher muesli

For my main, I went for the healthy bowl of kale, brown rice (again), pickled mushrooms and sesame dressing with a poached egg.

I have to say that I was pretty much blown away by the freshly cooked eggs on board. While frying was not possible, the team was able to offer a choice of either freshly poached eggs or scrambled eggs (available with the English breakfast option).

Breakfast – Healthy bowl of kale, brown rice, mushrooms with poached eggs

The bowl surprised me; it packed some really good flavours, and left me sufficiently satisfied and yet not overly salted. I was pleasantly surprised at how delicious the bowl was, with perfectly made poached eggs that oozed.

To accompany my meal, I went for a cold pressed juice of honeydew, cucmber, green apple and kale, as well as a flat white. Yes, espresso coffee is available in the premium cabins, as expected of an Australian airline!

First class amenity kit & pyjamas

Qantas offers a first class amenity kit and a set of pyjamas to all premium cabin passengers in both business and first class. The first class kits and pjyamas have been designed by Australian designer Martin Grant since quite a while ago, but the latest versions have been refreshed along with the cabin refresh back in 2019.

First class Martin Grant amenity kit and pyjamas

The kit comes in two colours: a dark navy blue version for the gents and a red one for ladies. The amenity kit is not particularly exciting, but contains quality skincare products from LaGaia, another Australian brand that Qantas signed in recent years.

Some other handy items within the kit include a dental kit, ear plugs, an eye shade and a pair of socks for those who need the extra warmth.

Martin Grant amenity kit and contents

Qantas also offers pyjamas for both business and first class cabins for overnight flights, such as the the Singapore-London service. The added perk for first class is the pair of bedroom slippers, which are incredibly comfy to don for the times you need to leave your suite.

Note that if you are taking a day flight out of Australia to Asia, PJs and the slippers will not be offered; if you ask, sometimes they do have a set or two lying around, but your mileage will vary.

In-flight entertainment

Let’s address the elephant on the jumbo first: Qantas does not offer any form of wifi access for all its international flights. Despite introducing high speed wifi domestically in Australia since 2017, it has not made any progress on this front for its international network, meaning that it is now becoming one of the few major airlines to not offer connectivity on board.

If this is a major deal breaker, you may wish to consider other optios.

In terms of in-flight entertainment, Qantas offers a 17″ screen for its first class passengers, the largest across any cabin. This has been upgraded to a high definition, touch-screen version in the most recent aircraft refresh, which is significantly better than its predecessor.

17″ entertainment screen

Content wise, Qantas has several notable offerings in place, including original content from Stan and HBO. The airline also offers ‘box sets’, which are essentially entire seasons of popular TV series.

The touchscreen is a little useless given the distance between the seat and the screen, but you can always use a handheld control that can be found at the side of the seat.

Entertainment handheld contol

Noise cancelling earphones are also offered, which I unfortunately didn’t take a photo of.

Beyond TV shows and movies, the in-flight entertainment system also offers a variety of (simple) games, as well as an audio library.

In-flight lounge

The Qantas A380 offers an in-flight lounge on the upper deck of the aircraft, at the nose of the aircraft. Both business class and first class passengers can access this space, which can comfortably seat 10 people at least.

Before you have in mind the glorious Emirates A380 bar, this is merely a little seating space on both sides of the stairways between the two decks. Facing the front of the aircraft, on the right is two booth-like seating space, while the space on the left is a single long couch with a small coffee table good for drinks.

In-flight lounge
In-flight lounge

The space is particularly versatile in a few ways, I have seen families with children coming out to hang around a table playing card games, and I personally used the space to hammer away on my laptop. This is also a perfect space for some reading if you are concerned that your reading light may be too bright for your neighbours at your seat.

Unpictured is a small self-service bar beside the long couch, where wines, water, snacks and fruit are stocked for passengers to help themselves. I probably spent about 2-3 hours in the lounge, during which I saw quite a number of business class passengers coming out to help themselves with snacks, rather than drinks.

Final thoughts

The Qantas first class cabin is definitely a significant level of luxury up from its business cabin. Despite not offering a fully enclosed suite, I felt the seat was still private enough for both work and leisure.

A special mention for the bedding: it’s probably one of the best I have had in the sky, with an extra thick and firm mattress and a sufficiently thick duvet cover.

The suite design, despite being a decade-old product, works well. The attention to little details, such as sufficient storage space for little knick-knacks were available where you need them, whether in bed or seat mode. The upgrade was a good mid-point recovery, with the previous seats looking worn and discoloured and also badly in need of a new screen.

The service was excellent, not overly attentive, but timely whenever I need someone or something. Case in point: when I was in the upper deck lounge working away at my laptop with a glass of champagne from first class, the crew proactively came up to the upper deck to refill my champagne. If that’s not mindfulness, I’m not sure what do you call that.

For an extended overnight service, the food and beverage service was sufficient, although considerably scaled back from pre-pandemic days.

However, if you compare its offerings with what other competitors, including Singapore Airlines are offering, I tend to agree that Qantas’ menu is the weakest of all, both in terms of quality and options.

Having said that, the A380 is still an incredible aircraft to travel on for comfort.

This is not the end of the line for the first class product; Qantas has unveiled a new first class suite concept to be fitted onto its ultra long-haul aircraft, the A350-1000ULR.

Comprising an enclosed suite that comes with a separate seat and bed, this will be definitely top of the line compared to many other major carriers when it starts flying in late 2025.

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