Leave a Comment

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

This is a long overdue review, but I thought it might still be good to put up one given the dearth of premium economy reviews, as I have realised while looking at whether it’s worth its price.

Having to head off to London for a short trip to attend to a personal matter earlier this year, I was choosing between Singapore Airlines or Qantas in premium economy, and decided to go with Qantas this time round.

While I have previously tried both Qantas’ first and business cabin, I was pretty excited to check out its premium economy cabin this time round for a couple of reasons. Right before Covid-19 hit Singapore, I had a trip planned to Sydney to try this cabin back in 2020, but obviously the trip got called off. This cabin is also a little bit of a unicorn, given that Qantas only has this class of travel on its A380s and B787s, of which Singapore only gets 2 A380 services a day: one to London and one to Sydney.

In this post:
Flight today
So what’s so premium about Premium Economy?
Qantas Premium Economy
Checking in
The seat
The service
Qantas premium economy amenities
In-flight entertainment
Final thoughts

Flight today

Qantas QF1
Singapore (SIN)
– London Heathrow (LHR)
28 February 2023
Scheduled departure: 11.55pm
Scheduled arrival: 6.25 am (+1 day)
Duration: 13 hr 50 min
Aircraft: Airbus A380-800
Seat: 34B (Premium Economy)

So what’s so premium about Premium Economy?

In an era not too long ago, business class seats were generally just a nudge up from economy class: a wider seat with a better recline, better food (remember, in the olden days, economy class food was actually quite a treat), and the perks of being upfront in the cabin.

But that era is long gone and forgotten by many (except if you are a frequent flyer in domestic US). Business class today, at least in the international sense, have evolved into an excellent experience for many if not most travellers, offering flat beds, sufficient dining, lounge access, and actually treats you like a normal human being, while economy class has all but improved since decades ago, with reduced practically everything from seat width to meal sizes.

Correspondingly, the price gap between the two has also widened, with business class seats going for as much as between 4 to 8 times of economy class seats. In airline economics, the pointy end of the cabin typically brings in most of the revenue for the flight.

So there is obviously a gap in between, airline managers said. What will people be willing to pay a good premium for to make air travel more bearable?

Enters premium economy.

The case for premium economy is a peculiar one. It first came into the market in the early 1990s with EVA Air purportedly being the first to do so, and many long haul airlines followed suit.

Singapore Airlines itself introduced its own version of premium economy, called the “Executive Economy”, in its non-stop flights between Singapore and New York, on the A340s, back in 2004.

This is what Singapore Airlines said about these seats in its annual report:

Designed in a very spacious 2-3-2 configuration, Executive Economy offers the industry’s widest economy class seats at 51cm, with an expanded seat pitch of 94cm. The seats also come with a larger 23cm personal
monitor and laptop power supply.

Singapore Airlines Group, Annual Report 04/05

However, Singapore Airlines took the cabin off the market later in 2014. The latest wave of premium economy cabins being widely available probably came in the last ten years or so, as demand for a in-between product picked up. The cabin has become so commercially popular that even carriers such as Emirates who are traditionally resistant to it, have also jumped on the bandwagon.

Qantas Premium Economy

Qantas runs a pretty solid premium cabin, with its first and business class cabins stacking up fairly well against major international airlines. As far as premium economy is concerned, this is a lesser researched and reviewed area, but for good reasons.

Qantas A380 Premium Economy cabin

The Aussie airline has an incredibly limited offering of its premium economy cabins, as only its fleet of 10 A380 jumbos and and 14 Boeing 787-9 birds have these seats.

Qantas introduced premium economy in 2008, a good 15 years back. The first generation premium economy seats were available first on the A380 and later on the Boeing 747s, but this seat was never placed on any other aircraft that Qantas operates. Even on the A380, the airline originally installed only 35 such seats, even lesser than the 36 on the B747!

The next refresh took place only in 2017, when Qantas introduced the Dreamliner into its fold, making it only the third aircraft type flying the Qantas flag to feature premium economy. The same seat was then used in the reburbishment of the A380, which is the highlight of today’s review.

Even up to as recent as just before the pandemic, the availability of premium economy on Qantas is therefore fairly limited.

The new Qantas A380 features four cabins – first, business, premiun economy and economy, with the premium economy cabin located on the upper deck, at the rear of the deck behind the business cabin. 

The main deck contains both first and economy cabins. I have previously done a First class cabin review on this route here.

Prior to Covid-19, Qantas launched a refurbishment project for its fleet of 12 A380s. Both the business and premium economy cabins got a complete overhaul. In premium economy, this meant a significant upgrade to the latest seat first debuted on the airline’s Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner fleet.

Qantas has chosen to go with the Thompson Aero seats, with a customised by leading Australian industrial designer and design consultant for Qantas, David Caon.

The premium economy cabin is spread across 10 rows, with a 2-3-2 seating configuration, for a total of 60 seats.

Qantas A380 premium economy cabin (image: AeroLOPA)

The cabin reduces in the number of seats across each row towards the rear, where it’s closer to the galley, so if you are slightly claustrophobic I would recommend avoid rows 38 to 40.

The premium economy cabin also comes with its own dedicated toilets, which is a rarity. This puts the passenger to toilet ratio at 30:1, which is still a decent figure. The pair of toilets are located behind the cabin near the galley.

There is also a spiral staircase at the rear of the cabin that leads downstairs to the economy cabin, but there is a gate that is closed throughout the flight so you shouldn’t be expecting anyone coming up or down, save for crew members.

Checking in

Qantas operates out of Changi Airport Terminal 1, Row 8.

Check in Row 8, Changi Airport Terminal 1

Qantas uses self check-in kiosks for its passengers which peppers the front of the counters. As a premium economy passenger, you will be directed to one of these kiosks to check-in, before heading to the baggage drop counters to drop your bags. But of course if you are holding oneworld

Note that 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.

Do you get lounge access?

The short answer is: typically no. Premium economy class passengers by default do not get lounge access, so you will have to rely on your frequent flyer status to gain access.

If you are a Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold, Platinum or Platinum One member, you can use the Qantas Business Lounge (for Gold or higher members) or the very awesome Qantas First Lounge (for Platinum or higher members). Similarly, oneworld sapphire and emerald members also get access to the business class and first class lounges respectively.

Qantas First Lounge Singapore


QF1 is a through service from Sydney to London via Singapore. Commencing from Sydney, the flight makes a brief stop in Singapore before continuing on to London.

The flight today arrived about an hour late, and therefore the departure is expected to be delayed as well.

When I got to the gate about 11.30pm, boarding was just about to commence, which meant that there was a good chance we could still depart fairly on time, despite the torrential rain.

Qantas segments the boarding gate into two portions: one for all premium passengers, including first, business and premium economy, as well as all oneworld status holders; while all other economy class passengers are kept to the rear of the boarding area.

Once boarding commenced, passengers requiring special assistance and first class passengers are asked to board first. Shortly after, business class and premium economy passengers are also invited to board.

There is an aerobridge that leads directly to the upper deck. As both business and premium economy cabins are located on upper deck, you might be better off holding off until business class passengers are also done boarding before heading on board, given that the premium economy cabin is located at the rear.

Once you are at your seat, you will find a menu, a full sized pillow, a full fluffy blanket, as well as an amenity kit placed on the seat for you.

Amenities at the seat

The seat

Qantas has gone with the Thompson Aero seats, with a customised by leading Australian industrial designer and design consultant for Qantas, David Caon.

Qantas A380 Premium Economy seat

Arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration, there are 60 seats across 10 rows at the rear of the top deck. Qantas’ premium economy seat measures 20.5 inches wide across, with a pitch of 38 inches. As a point of comparison, Singapore Airlines run 19.5 inches wide with the same amount of pitch, so you may or may not notice the additional inch.

The seat also reclines a full 9 inches, although it feels much more than that. This is where the Thompson Aero seat shines through. The seat is held in a shell of its own, which moves only slightly when you recline, therefore reducing the impact to your seat neighbour behind you. Upon recline, the seat slides forward slightly, with the seat lifting up to form a cradle to hold you. This solves the economy class seat problem of slipping of the seat in a reclined mode, and thereby allowing one to sleep better.

Adjustable footrest with netting

The seat also comes with a footrest attached to the bottom of the seat in front. When put down, the footrest also comes with a netting, so you can stretch your feet.

The shell nature of the seat also provides a ‘wing’ of sorts, offering a (false) sense of privacy. The headrest were however rather amazing: despite being fully adjustable, they also hold pretty well against pressure of laying on them, so that means they don’t need a lot of adjustments throughout the flight to keep them in the same position.

Adjustable headrest in all imagineable directions

Apparently, after the flight I read that you could actually slot your pillow over the headrest so that it stays there while you sleep! I obviously didn’t get to try it, but it looks like a very well thought out design.

Integrated ergonomic pillow, as Qantas styles it (photo: Qantas)

Between seats, there are unmovable armrests, where the trays are stowed. At the tip of the armrests is also a small surface where you can place a drink, but it’s usually not a good idea to do so, as it’s pretty easy to accidentally brush against the glass and push it off the surface.

The audio jack, as well as a USB port, can be found along the inner side of your armrest, so if you are slightly bigger in build you may find them cumbersome to use.

USB and audio jack

Each seat comes with a 13.3″ touch screen entertainment screen, with a high resolution and an intuitive user interface (more on this later). Under the screen was a nifty storage area, which was great for putting your phone in. Beside it is yet another USB port and also the release catch for the footrest.

Under screen storage, USB port, footrest release

Under this section at the seat level, was another storage area, where the in-flight magazine and safety briefing card can be found. While this is a larger storage area, I found them not ideal for placing thicker items, including my laptop, so you may want to avoid using that for another more than a magazine or an iPad.

Entertainment screen and literature pocket

There is also a power socket found next to the footrest, although there’s only a single socket for me and my seatmate to share. Fortunately we did not have to use it during the flight, so that was no problem at all.

The service

Upon being seated, this is when Qantas’ premium economy service starts, with a pre-departure drinks service.

The cabin crew dedicated to premium economy came through the cabin with a tray of pre-poured drinks, including a choice of Australian sparkling wine or water for a tipple before push-back.

Unfortunately, due to an engineering issue involving the engine, coupled with inclement weather, the departure time was further delayed by about three hours. While the captain was proactive in offering updates, the crew also came around rather frequently to offer refills and some packaged snacks.

The original scheduled push-back time was 11.55pm. By the time the captain updated that the engine issue was resolved and we were ready for take-off, it was 2.10am. By this time, I was probably about three glasses of sparkling wine in, while most of the rest of the cabin was soundly asleep, including my neighbour who has covered himself with the blanket.

At 3am, we finally hit the runway, with lights off, and took off on our 14-hour journey to London.

Shortly after we went into cruise mode, the cabin lights came back on, albeit half lit. The cabin crew quickly wheeled out their cart to begin the first meal service, supper – although by this time it was more like an early breakfast in Singapore.

For supper service, there are three options, but because I was given a wrong menu, I didn’t quite catch what were the options apart from “beef curry”, something something “chicken”, and a vegetarian pasta. I went with the beef curry.

I was pleasantly surprised at what came. A single tray was laid out in front of me, but it was beautiful presented, with a multi-course meal served up in proper tableware.

Supper service

The tray comprised a side salad, a side plate for bread and butter, the main course in the middle, as well as a slice of cake for dessert.

After the tray was presented, the cabin crew offered sliced sourdough to go with my meal, as well as a choice of water and drinks. I took a glass of Shiraz and some sparkling water, and happily started on my meal, even though I was terribly sleepy.

I walloped my meal in less than 20 minutes, and the crew then again promptly moved through the cabin again, clearing the trays and offering a round of coffee and tea. Against good judgement I went for a cup of coffee, before heading off to sleep at about 5am Singapore time.

Coffee service

About halfway through the flight, while we were cruising over the Middle East at about 11am Singapore time, the sky was bright. Most of the cabin seemed to still be sleeping, but I was bright awake due to the sunlight that came seeping into the cabin.

I was feeling a little hungry, so I called for the flight attendant, who came around and offered two options of a hot refreshment: a choice of a mushroom and cheese pastry, or ratatouille. I went with the pastry, along with another glass of wine since my aim was to get back to bed after the snack.

Mushroom pastry and red wine

The pastry fared much better than what I thought it was going to be, being fluffy and packed a punch in terms of flavour. I savoured every bite of it while enjoying another movie.

Given the overnight nature of the flight, note that the mid-flight refreshments will not be offered proactively, you will have to request for it. Mid-flight refreshments will only be available up to about 3.5 hours before the end of flight, after which they will be discarded as the cabin crew prepares for breakfast.

If the hot snack is too heavy for you, there is also a self-service snack bar prepared at the galley. Snacks include cheese and crackers, fresh whole fruits, sliced cake and chocolates. These are also the same snacks available for business class passengers!

Snack bar

After my little refreshment, I went back to bed and snoozed more, until the cabin lights were switched on in time for breakfast about 2 hours before landing.

Breakfast was a choice between a continental breakfast, comprising a large fruit plate, bircher muesli and a pastry, or a hot English breakfast. I went for the hot breakfast and it was pretty much a feast.

Pre-landing breakfast

Even without the side of fruit and muffin, the hot breakfast was pretty much a meal in itself.

In-flight entertainment

Let’s talk wifi first, given it’s all the rage today: 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 13.3″ screen in premium economy, significantly larger than its economy counterpart. The new premium economy seats also meant that these screens were upgraded for this cabin, so it has a more responsive screen and better display than the economy class screens.

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.


Headphones are also offered in this cabin, which are the same as those in business class. Unfortunately they are not noise cancelling, so bring your own if you prefer to use those.

Amenity kit

Qantas offers an amenity kit in premium economy as well, although this is not as flashy as the one you receive in Business class. The amenity kit is a simple pouch made of felt, with a simple splash of offerings comprising a dental kit, eye shade and socks.

Final thoughts

I’m pretty much impressed by Qantas Premium Economy experience, with both the hard and soft products exceeding my expectations.

The seat is arguably one of the best-in-class, and I have slept arguably the most in a non-flat bed on this seat. The little details and functions around the seat features are also well thought out, maximising every bit of space the seat could offer. The amount of legroom is excellent for me, although it might still be a little tight for taller folks.

Service wise, I would argue that the Qantas Premium Economy is probably a notch down from business class, rather than a small step up from economy as most other airlines do. Meals are served on proper tableware instead of something similar to economy class grub, which may not sound like a lot but it does elevate the dining experience. In addition, Qantas offers its own selection of wines specially curated for the cabin, which again adds a nice touch to the service.

Overall this is probably one of the best splurge of money, coming in at almost half the price of business class. If you do ever come across a sale for Qantas premium economy – take it and try it for yourself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s