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A tale of 4 (formerly 5) airlines

Berlin

Established Member
AFF Supporter
Joined
Mar 31, 2011
Messages
1,514
I’ve been a (for the most of it) loyal Qantas customer for many years but have also flown extensively on other carriers due to relocations away from Australia on and off. My latest role is located in Auckland, New Zealand and with my partner still in Australia, we have gotten used to flying back and forth a lot, pretty much every weekend one of us crossing the dip to visit each other. While my partner often flies in the back of the bus, I’m too much of a princess myself and hence tend to fork out the cash to sit up in Business. So this following review solely talks about J class as I don’t have enough experience (not do I want it!) with the nasty back part of the planes.

I’ve contributed extensively to the Qantas J class food threat on this forum so I won’t go into too much details but it was mainly the food of late that made me start thinking to have a look at what I am missing by mostly sticking to one single airline. Flying so much, I keep getting the same meals over and over again as Qantas only changes their trans-Tasman J meals once every half year which I find far too little change. There’s 4 in total in each direction and I’ve seen all 8 and most of them various time. Even the better options are getting boring if you see them more than twice and most noticeably on Qantas, not all options are good. Being allergic to anything from the sea, more often than not I am stuck with a tiny cup of dead boring soup and some main that is microscopic in size and definitely not worthy an International business class flight. Don’t understand me wrong, it’s not all bad and some of the meals are delicious. But then there’s the ones that are not and this is just not good enough in my eyes given what I spend on Business class tickets.

With my Platinum status long reached again for the current year, me being well and truly on the way to reach Lifetime Gold over the next couple of years anyway and Lifetime Platinum being so ridiculously out of reach, I really don’t see much reason to pick Qantas over the competition just based on the frequent flyer program alone. But pricing on this route is also not a major factor most times as they all charge roughly around 1000$ or slightly less for the return, provided you book a while out in advance, get a special fare at that point and don’t mind locking in your flight times. I also tend to swap directions on my return as I find that often QF is overpriced out of Australia but sometimes the cheapest of them all in the other direction while Air NZ does the opposite. These are not hard and fast rules but if you check regularly and well in advance, this way I’ve never paid over 1100$ for the return. This includes two instances where I was too late or no special fares were available when I then used my Qantas points to get a rewards seat which is surprisingly easy even a short time out- if people complain about award seat availability, they mostly moan about not getting three Y class seats on the same flight to LA or London, it is certainly not J class availability over the Tasman (sometimes I had to go via Brissy or Melbourne to get to Sydney in these cases but the Award seat cost remains the same as going direct and that means one more take off, landing, meal and view from the top of the clouds so it’s perfectly fine with an airline geek like me!)

So, I decided to take the plunge and try a few flights with the competition. I wanted to be completely open minded and go in there with open eyes and just enjoy the experience- it was all going to be in J class, after all. I’ve also decided to not let decade old memories or horrid Economy flights in what was back then called Virgin Blue cloud my judgement- this was to be an experiment in the here and now. I actually feared initially that I would love some of the competitors so much that I could never step back onto a Qantas plane again but these fears would turn out to be unfounded though Qantas is definitely not the best.

In order to make this a fair fight, I’ve decided to rate category by category on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is awful and ten is awesome (with the occasional cheeky minus figure thrown in for something that I find totally utterly unacceptable) and then see who comes out on top. Naturally, while trying to be as unbiased as possible, all these ratings of course come down to personal taste and my specific experience on these flights. My sample size varied by airline so I am totally transparent about it: Qantas, I’ve done over 50 trans-Tasmans in the past two or so years. Next, Air New Zealand, I’ve done 4 returns so far so 8 flights in total. LATAM, I’ve done 4 flights trans-Tasman in total but have two more coming up soon. Virgin Australia, I only did two return so four flights and after these experiences, it will most likely stay at that but you can read more about that below. And finally, my honourable mention is Emirates which unfortunately now is only an option from Christchurch but I have done plenty a trans-Tasman while it still lasted and keep it in here, more as a benchmark to rate the others against (every single one unfavourably, needless to say). And I am not even a total Emirates- fan boy, far from it. On longer flights I actually find their business class a bit meh and on the older 777, it’s actually one of the weakest hard products out there. But these trans-Tasmans were (and are, out of CHC) operated on an A380 which is not only by far the best and most passenger-friendly plane in the world , the Emirates J class staggered seating is also more than adequate for a trans-Tasman jump.

So, let’s go and do this!

Booking and FF program

First things first so a quick rating on the airlines’ ease of booking and their frequent flyer programs. I find both of these not the most important aspects of the overall experience so I lump them together into one but of course, as with all else here, this is total personal opinion.

Qantas: I know what some people say but I personally find Qantas one of the best programs out there. Countless times that I have travelled in posh rewards seats, often in First, and I find it quite easy to get award availability or be the lucky one who’s upgrade comes through. I suspect that the people complaining about availability search for 2+ seats together right during school holidays which is just plain dumb in my view. But everyone is different, of course, so let’s just say that the Qantas program works for me more often than not. It’s also part of One World which in my opinion is by far the best alliance out there (because *Alliance is missing a few key benefits like Lifetime status or First lounge access for their highest tier which totally sucks in comparison) and, better even, you get access to flashy Emirates on board showers too, thanks to Qantas’ additional agreements beyond OW. When it comes to the booking itself, I appreciate the ease when using the Qantas app though it is buggy and many features you can’t access on the app versions. Likewise, the website often produces error messages or simply doesn’t do some of the essentials, like displaying the exact fare class on the flight results page which is such an easy thing to fix that I don’t understand why Qantas refuses to do it. Can’t help but think that they do not WANT us to know the exact ins and outs of the fare rules before booking which feels really condescending.

I’d give a total of 7 for this- Qantas FF is definitely better than some of the competition but not perfect and the website is good enough for easy bookings but often plays up if things get a bit more complicated.

Air NZ: Well, it is Star Alliance and as per the above, I find it just not that good, compared to OW. But it’s the second of the big global alliances out there and personal circumstances might make it more preferable to some than OW. The Air NZ scheme itself is not the best out there though and as a result I rather credit these flights to Krisflyer. The booking website is rather simplistic (and in my view extremely ugly though I get the all black branding) but I’ve never had a failed booking or anything like this so not complaints. So as a score, I would give it a 6, slightly underneath Qantas for the frequent flyer program and alliance but still not too bad.

LATAM: It’s a fairy decent offering on this route and often slightly cheaper than the others too if you can make the -very- limited timings of exactly one return per day. They are part of OneWorld so in terms of FF, the same applies as to Qantas, sans the additional EK benefit. It’s also worth noting that you get less status credits and points if you book with them directly as opposed to booking with Qantas under a QF flight number. The booking engine is also quite hickuppy and often you get pages that don’t load and payments that do not go through. Also prepare yourself for the website to randomly revert to Spanish out of nowhere which is the reason I usually just use the Spanish-language version to begin with. So, I’d give a 5 in total.

Vigin Australia: That’s really the weakest of all the players and you will see a recurring theme here throughout my review. First of all, they’re not part of any proper global alliance which is a bummer in itself. Of their random partners, Singapore Airlines really is the only one worth mentioning and you will find VERY limited rewards availability on SQ if booking on Virgin- way less than you’d find reward seats on Qantas if you’re a QF member Platinum or above. I therefore credit the few VA flights I have to Krisflyer but then you get zero elite miles, just a big amount of points. Not the worst but not really that great either. The website is okay but renders particularly clunky on mobile devices which is just ten years behind the times (also a recurring theme with this airline). So, I’d give it a 2 out of 10 because the frequent flyer scheme is essentially useless but the website usually works half-way, just don’t dare to look at it from a mobile phone. But who would look at websites on their mobile phones these days, right! :-0

Emirates: Their frequent flier program has always been pretty useless unless you fly on the airline and no other airline A LOT but their agreement with Qantas has changed this and makes EK one of the best options out there if you’re a QF frequent flyer member. I also find that, astonishingly, they even honour our QF status on most flights and “welcome you back” as a regular. The website is also the best one of the all the ones here as I never had any issues and the layout and graphic design really is the best of the lot. You can even download the in-flight menu prior to your flight to get yourself excited which is a feature that hardly any other airline offers (I can only think of ANA that also has this functionality hidden in the depth of their website). So, I’d give a nice 8 here for this category.

Check in and boarding

Qantas: This is not the most shining light for Qantas in my opinion. Granted, in Sydney you get the separated First booth for check in if you’re Platinum or higher but it’s rather tiny and defo needs a bit of a refurb. In Auckland, it’s even worse as most check in counters are manned by Menzies aviation staff rather than Qantas itself and they’re just the worst of the worst in my experience: Grumpy and unfriendly, utterly useless and slack as. How often they’ve forgotten the Express path sticker or failed to attach the luggage tag to my boarding pass I can’t even count anymore. Also, the one sole Qantas person is usually on the one Priority check in counter and often helps out the dirty unwashed if there’s currently not a priority customer to check in. However, this doesn’t work the other way round which would be needed much more: The three or so Economy check in agents, all Menzies staff, could not care less if there’s a long queue in priority, they never call anyone from that queue to help. So as a result, quite often you have a long queue in priority while Economy passengers just walk straight up to the counters. How bad is that! But boarding, oh my science, boarding is even worse: Qantas just systematically fu#%$ that up, and badly so. For no real reason whatsoever, approximately 90% of Qantas gate staff just outright refuses to operate the priority boarding lane EVER. They almost always open both lanes at the same time and worse even, do not reprimand anyone in the so-called “priority” lane who shouldn’t be there to begin with. So as a result, more often than not you have utter chaos at the gate, especially at those squeezed and narrow 1-4 gates in Auckland. And it’s really not as if it’s a big deal- you just have to train (and then monitor) the staff properly, why is this so hard? Likewise, there’s no reason whatsoever not to tell people off when they come out from cattle class to occupy the business class lavatory which is pretty much what happens ALL the time on Qantas but more on that later. Total points is a 2 out of 10 because it’s all quite messed up and the 2 is solely for the First check in offered in Sydney.

Air New Zealand: Clear winner in this category. The check in experience in Auckland is simply amazing and better even than what most super classy airlines offer. Futuristic design, amazing staff (all Air NZ staff and not outsourced like over at Qantas in Auckland) and especially if you’re in Business and get into that secondary booth in the back, wow. You sit down with an Air NZ staff member in a comfy seat while they process your check in. I only recently discovered that the little elevator at the exit of this check in lounge gets you straight to the entrance to the Express queue at security and you avoid having to squeeze through the big nasty mess that Auckland airport has become in recent years. Likewise, most AirNZ crews at least try to enforce priority boarding though it also failed on 2 out of my recent flights. Better than Qantas and generally, I found the boarding and airplane access more smooth than on QF- partially due, I would guess, to the fact that all the planes with J class are widebodies so the bulk of the riff raff turns straight to the right and stands in each other’s ways with their oversized backpacks and babies in tow while you just smooth through to the left and straight into your seat. I’d give an 9 out of 10 all together as the flagship check in at AKL is hard to beat and priority boarding works at least most of the time.

LATAM: There’s nothing really much to say here, Priority check in is just as with most other airlines- not as bad as on Qantas in AKL but also nothing special either. Boarding can be a bit messy which seems to be a cultural thing as I observe the same on the likes of Iberia or Avianca. However, you get rather friendly staff and amazing wines in return but more on this later. And the priority boarding usually gets adhered to in my experience so definitely better than Qantas in this respect. I’d give a 7 in total.

Virgin Australia: Like LATAM, nothing out of the ordinary, in either direction. Check in just stock standard and the priority line got observed only on one single of my flights while for two others, there was no priority line sign posted at all and hence it didn’t happen. But worse even, on one flight, they did what I like to call a Hispano-boarding as I’ve ever only experienced it on Spanish-speaking airlines (and more than once): They started boarding us onto the finger but then total panicked as the plane was not ready and we had to wait for about 20 minutes in the middle of the finger. Luckily, it was half way temperate weather so not a total disaster as it can be if it happens in Madrid or Bogota in the middle of Summer (I am speaking from experience here) but it is still completely unacceptable. Crew was also extremely bad at communicating what is happening and in the end claimed it was the tea and coffee heaters that needed to be restarted before we could board. I suspect that it was a plain lie as 1.), I would be REALLY pissed if we lost half an hour just so that some passengers can have their damn coffee and 2.), the captain later spoke about “Various mechanical issues” so I’d assume the issue was a bit bigger than just the missing coffee. They get a 5 as I am feeling generous and for now assume that this boarding issue was a one off.

Emirates: They were actually also not too shiny in this respect. Check in is just ordinary in both Sydney and NZ ports and boarding tends to be rather chaotic given the huge plane. They do, however, enforce the priority boarding lines (yep, plural, as EK still has a First class) and if the A380 gets two fingers, as it usually did in both Sydney and Auckland, then you at least don’t have to queue up for ages behind the great unwashed. So, meh. A 7, like LATAM.

Lounges

Qantas: This, of course, depends on the specific airport but for the purpose of this article, I am comparing the facilities at Auckland and Sydney though most of it would be applicable for Melbourne as well. So, in Sydney and Melbourne, Qantas is the clear winner when it comes to lounges, especially if you hold Platinum (or One World equivalent) status and can get into the International First lounges. Even on a global scale, these are right up there- compared to the BA First lounge in T5 at LHR for example, the Qantas First lounge in Sydney is like night and day waaaay better. Melbourne is a bit smaller and not quite as fabulous looking which can fall either way- on a good day, it adds intimacy but on a bad day (and time) it can get very crowded and the staff in Melbourne doesn’t seem to handle big crowds quite as well as Sydney. But really- they are both amazing. You get proper restaurant seating and service, the food is Neil Perry stuff that- contrary to what gets served on the flights- actually deserves the “Rockpool” name and if you’re lucky enough to get a spot in the Spa, then you’re literally in heaven before you fly off into the sky. I’d say both the spa treatments and quality of food has been slipping in recent years but it’s still all way better than at the competition. And even if you don’t get into the Flounge, even the J class lounge in Sydney is pretty nice (sorry, I’ve never been to the business lounge in Melbourne so no idea if it’s the same there) as is the new ‘one class only’ Business lounge in Brissy. Now, unfortunately, in Auckland, things are not the same: Even though Qantas keeps promising a lounge renew, there’s no sight of this yet and it has been going like this for, I believe, several years. And the current lounge is really quite awful: Old, over-filled, bad food, filthy interior and washrooms- it really couldn’t be much worse and is a disgrace for Qantas. The so-called “First” booth is something I could easily give up (really not much of a difference apart from champagne being available, sometimes at least) if in return we get a Brisbane-style brand new combined J and F lounge instead. So I give 8 out of 10 to Qantas- 8 because the Flounges in Sydney and Melbourne are really something and for many one of the main reasons to stay loyal to Qantas but I take 2 off for Auckland. Why only 2? Because the competition is also not much better, see below.

Air New Zealand: Like with Qantas, this really depends on the airport. The Sydney AirNZ lounge is actually pretty good I find (way better than their Auckland lounge at what is their hub which is just odd but it tells me that it is all a matter of competition at that particular airport) but you can also use the Krisflkyer lounge right next to it which I really like- though of course, no comparison to the Qantas First lounges. In Auckland, the flagship AirNZ lounge is actually quite awful I find. Much newer than what Qantas is offering but that’s where the pros stop unfortunately. Looks all fancy and new at first but gosh, what a zoo! Cramped full to the brim and zero hot food: All hot food stations get closed and cleaned right in time for the big storm of business travellers returning to Australia from Friday afternoon onwards. Which is about as idiotic as J class seats that make you stare at you fellow passengers’ dirty feet/socks rather than out the window but I digress. So all in all, I’d give a 6, definitely not as good as Qantas in Sydney and otherwise as weak as the competition in Auckland.

LATAM: Well, you get to use the same lounges as Qantas does because they’re in the same alliance so it’s an 8 as well.

Virgin Australia: I can’t really judge on their setup in Sydney but in Auckland and Brissy they use those non-branded subcontracted lounges that you also get with the Priority pass. So expect big crowds, long queues, mediocre food and drinks and lots and lots of bogans which is the same crowd you mostly get on their trans-Tasman airplanes. Some people seem to love the Strata lounge in Auckland but at the time that I usually go (late Friday afternoon), it is the same zoo as at the competition and there’s ridiculously only one gender- neutral and one family toilet so at any time of the day, you can expect a long line of blokes who just need a urinal but alas, there is none. Food selection is a bit better but it gets repetitive if you visit more than once, the alcohol selection is by far the worst of all lounges in Auckland and there is zero reading material- which makes sense with this crowd, go figure! So, meh, a 2 maybe? At least you get access to something.

Emirates: Well, they were the clear winner in this respect. Because in Sydney or Melbourne, you could use the Qantas lounges thanks to their cooperation and in Auckland, the combined EK J/F-lounge is actually the only lounge that is NOT awful. Great to have unlimited Veuve on display in the bars and a wide variety of hot and cold food (similar to all those EK lounged around the world). In Christchurch, which in fairness is the only airport in New Zealand that you can still fly EK from, you will end up in one of those sub-contracted no name lounges but this particular one is actually quite good I find. Still- if there was a dedicated Emirates lounge in CHC, I’d give a full 10 points but given that’s not the case, I’d give an 8.
 

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Berlin

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...continued:

Aircraft and seat

Qantas: This is unfortunately not that straight forward because Qantas uses two VERY different products on the trans-Tasman: If you’re on one of the larger A330 aircraft, then you’re fine. While I personally don’t think that those seats are “perfect”, they do offer direct aisle access for everyone through a staggered seating and nice USB ports that are actually working by the seat which is always a good thing. As an oddity, you can have the seat in a semi-reclined position on take off and landing but the downside to this is that a rather odd and uncomfortable sachbelt is needed. Not worth it in my eyes- I’d rather sit upright and only have the normal waist belt but that’s just personal preference. What is not just personal preference is the fact that these aircraft are not the shiniest and newest possible which becomes very evident in the tiny stinky and old lavatories. On any flights over 5 hours I hate these aircraft but on the Tasman, they’re indeed fine and at least the seat set up gives you decent privacy. Totally not fine, however, are the 737s that are used even more frequently on the trans-Tasman routes, especially if flying out of Melbourne. And a 737 with old-fashioned recliners is just not good enough, especially when you compare it with the competition. The 737s are also crewed by Jeeetconneeeect crews who get paid far less than their mainline counterparts and this can sometimes show in the level of service. Not all crews, but sometimes you have the occasional case where you can tell that this is not mainline. However, this also leads to rather pleasant surprises as the crews don’t necessarily do everything by the book: Twice now I had the captain come out mid flight to serve the meals in Business class or even to top up the wines. Hilarious and something you wouldn’t find on any other legacy airline, I don’t think! So, I’d give a 7 on the Airbus, but only a 3 on the Boeing so a mid point of 5 I think is fair. Note: On both of aircraft, Qantas offers individual air vents which can be a real bummer if missing (see Air NZ).

Air New Zealand: This is a tough one and Air New Zealand really have messed this up out of no need whatsoever. Only widebodies if you cross the Tasman in J which is definitely a step up from Qantas or Virgin with either nice new Dreamliners or, more commonly, 777 on these routes. While the latter are older, the seating is actually more comfortable than on the 787s so I’d almost prefer them though on neither you get individual air vents which sucks. Which brings us to the real problem here- those silly silly seats! I noticed on several occasions now that Kiwis unfortunately share a highly annoying trait with their British motherland and one that Aussies and Americans strangely have lost over time: The silliness of misinterpreting stupidity as “quirkiness” and seats that face backwards are a prime example of this: Just plain stupid, whether in a London black cab, on British Airways or, unfortunately, also on Air NZ. These here are actually the worst of the pack: I’m generally not the biggest fan of Herringbone seating but on airlines like Qatar, it can actually work quite nicely when you face towards the window and the seat has a decent size. What Air NZ has done, is the opposite of that- the seats are flipped AWAY from the window and also super narrow toghether. Not many airlines do it like this and it’s easy to understand why: If you want look out the window (which is my favourite thing to do on an airplane) you have to bend backwards and risk cracking your neck. I swear- I always have a sore neck after one of those flights. And instead of looking at the world from above, you end up staring at, I kidd you not, strangers’ feet. That’s right, you end up staring at ugly naked feet, dirty socks and all these other not very appetizing things pretty much through the entire flight. And to top all this off, the seat itself is also not very comfortable and you feel like in a coffin with the high separating walls on both sides. You also can’t recline them very far as they don’t just go further and further back until they’re in the flat sleeping position like in about 99% of airlines that feature flat seats. Oh no, the “quirky” geniuses at Air NZ rather require you to get out of your seat and then the whole thing gets turned over 180 degrees to then have the bed padding on the other side. Not only is this overly complicated, it also means that in normal seating position you can’t recline very far. And if you do, the seat doesn’t actually support your back very well so that they’ve added a special lumbar support button to make up for the weird backpain-inducing gap in the seat. All just very very odd and even the nice fancy toilets cannot save this disaster. The lavatories have pretty or funny wall papers in it and actually soothing background music which is a very nice touch. I also love the smell of the hand soap that Air NZ uses which is very herbal/natur-y and suits New Zealand perfectly. So all in all- 7 for the aircraft used, a bonus point for the bathrooms and then a minus 5 for the god awful seats which ends up with 3 total. A real shame, just introduce new seats and you’d be the lead here, Air NZ. But this is unlikely as the new 787s also got this idiotic product inside and, to top it off, the seats are actually even narrower than on the 777s which is the opposite of comfortable. 3 in total is my verdict and having been on one of these flights yesterday (and hence suffering from severe neck pain in this very moment), I think this is even generous still.

LATAM: That’s the biggest draw about LATAM in my opinion, they only use shiny new Deamliners on this route. The seating is a bit old-fashioned with no staggered seating so you always have a seat neighbour if you like to look out the window like I do. Saying that- if you’re traveling with your better half which I’ve done previously to South America on these aircraft is perfect and the seat itself is comfortable, modern and goes all the way flat. So the product is definitely better than the horrid Air NZ setup, way better than the 737s with recliners that some competitors use and in my humble opinion even more comfortable than the staggered seats on EK and even Qantas. The latter is maybe debatable but as I’ve mentioned before, it’s all personal opinions and I personally don’t mind it too much to have a seat neighbour in the aisle seat on such a rather short hop across the ditch. Still better than staring at all your fellow passengers’ feet if you ask me! It’s a 9 for me and together with Emirates the best product on this route.

Virgin Australia: What can I say, Virgin only uses small cramped 737s on this route and has only two rows of their so-called “Business class” to begin with. As you’d expect with Virgin, the seats themselves are also nothing to write home about, standard recliners instead of proper flat seats. It’s a 3 for this attempt at nothing special (in line with the near identical product on Qantas 737s) and definitely the loser of the pack.

Emirates: While they were the clear winners in terms of aircraft with the amazingly silent and impressive A380, their seating was not as good as what LATAM has on their 787s. While fully flat and with direct aisle access for everyone, I find the EK J seats always a bit uncomfortable and slightly cramped. But hey, I’ve happily sat in them for flights all around the world so they were definitely good enough for the 3 hour flights over the Tasman. And not to forget, there is indeed a bar at the back of business class which is a very fancy feature. I’d give an 8 for the seat but the A380 and the bar in the back give and extra point to tie with LATAM at 9.

Amenities and Entertainment

Qantas: I have to admit that Inflight Entertainment is of far lesser importance to me than it seems to most passengers as I personally prefer to look out the window or at the moving map than watching some silly movie while on the airplane. Saying that, I know it’s a biggie for some, as are amenity kits and the likes while others again couldn’t care less. Qantas, unfortunately, is rather inconsistent in both respects: The entertainment system is fine on the A330s and there you also get proper plugs for your USB etc. On the 737s it’s a different story- in row one you have one of those in arm screens which you have to put away right during the time when the inflight map is the most interesting, namely during takeoff and landing- not good. The electricity plugs also don’t work in about half of cases in my experience. When it comes to selection of movies etc., no airline is really good with this and Qantas is no exception. In the rare case they’re showing something that is not a boring RomCom or sleep inducing History drama, they tend to butcher anything exciting out of it so badly, that it’s better not to watch it on the airplane at all. But the biggest gripe for me is that even on planes that are Wifi equipped, Qantas switches this functionality off over the Tasman! Clearly a cost saving measure as even Virgin can do it! Qantas is also extremely stingy and inconsistent with their amenity kits. When you get one, they’re actually amongst the more stylish ones and really more than adequate for a trans-Tasman- I love the artsy print which change every couple of weeks. There’s more diversity with Qantas’ prints on the amenity kits (and matching eye shades, love love love) than in their meal menus! But during the day you never get them and even on evening flights, it is not consistent: Some crews hand them out to you, others have the packs sitting at your seat already when you get one and then others, just totally ignore it. So meh- all in all I give only a 4 to Qantas and that’s mostly for the amenity kits which are really nice, if you are lucky enough to get one.

Air New Zealand: As Air NZ only uses wide bodies trans-Tasman if you book Business class which is so much better than the inconsistent product on Qantas. You always have your personal screen that you can watch any time including take off and landing and you always get a USB plug (which is hard to find and a bit flimsy to use underneath the video screen but it is there and actually works). The movie collection is as crap as on the competition though but the flight path looks quite pretty and you can use it the entire time which matters most to me personally. Unfortunately, no amenity kits at al trans-Tasman and they’re only slowly rolling out Wifi (at least they do - Qantas better get their act together as this will be a clear competitive advantage for Air NZ once rolled out more widely) so I’d give them a 6 for the screen, plugs and occasional Wifi but nothing for the amenities.

LATAM: Probably the best video system of the lot, nice big screens and ample plugs for your electronics. I also personally like that their primary language is NOT English which just adds to the experience of flying somewhere, even if you’re only on the short part of the flight to Auckland. Last time, I even got an amenity kit on an early morning (daylight) flight which was great. No Wifi unfortunately so in total, I’d rate them 7 out of 10.

Virgin Australia: Cheap and nasty, like everything else on this carrier. No video screens on any of the planes (uncomfortable 737s only) and when they hand you a crappy tablet, it indeed is a crappy tablet, not even a proper Ipad but rather some cheap Samsung or whatever Android garbage that they could get their hands on the cheap. No amenity kits either of course but I would have not expected this after everything else which is wrong with VA. They do have Wifi on most planes which is slow but at least it’s there so 2 bonus points for that but it would have otherwise been a clear zero.

Emirates: Well, in screen video for everyone, nice flight map and a massive selection of movies and videos plus quite nice little amenity bags with eye shades and socks (nothing else though but you can usually find toothbrushes etc. in the lavatory which seems to be the way it works on Middle Eastern carriers). I’d give a 9 overall but I hate how the middle Eastern carriers butcher the movies even more than others for censorship reasons (and, of course, don’t expect any movie that dares to look beyond the hetero-normative world)so I take 2 points off for that. 7 in total it is.
 

Berlin

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...continued further:

Food and drinks

Qantas: This is probably the one most important aspect of any flight- maybe equally important to the aircraft/seat used and friendliness of the crew. In any case, for me, as a total foodie and booze snob, this is a very important aspect of any flight and key reason to fork out the money to fly up the front of the plane. Unfortunately for Qantas, this is where the airline really needs some work to do: I must admit that I fly Qantas in Business = A LOT and as a result, I keep getting all the same food all the time and it really takes the excitement out of flying. Qantas seriously changes their menus only once every half year which is totally ridiculous. So it’s 4 alternating menus on the way out and 4 on the way back and to make matters worse, when they finally swap menus, many of the meals re-appear in different combinations on the next menu again. And Qantas being Qantas, their menus don’t exactly have “something for everyone”- if you can’t eat the one hot option (for me, because it’s sometimes fish and I cannot eat this for allergy reasons), then you’re often left with a tiny little side dish classified as a “main”. Gosh- Qantas even lists the cheese platter and the three leaves Neil Perry Mini-salad as an option under main which is laughable. And to top it off, they then have a blurb on top of the menu that talks about a “totally personalized dining experience” that you can have. What the heck? We all know that Qantas Marketing is a master in bullshitting their customers (“This aircraft has good coffee too”) but this probably tops off their nonsense. Qatar is an airline that gives you a total customized dining experience with any time dining on demand- Qantas cross Tasman is the exact opposite! You have the generous “choice” of only having a tiny salad as the main, woopsy doo. But that’s about it. I sometimes try and combine the large soup bowl with one of the miniature sandwiches as the main but most times get lectured that “Sorry Sir, you can’t have two main dishes”- so much about “personalized”. So if there is one single reason why I started swapping airlines a bit as of late, it’s the dead boring and repetitive food that Qantas offers. Plenty of Kale and spinach, but no substance. Admittedly, the wines are always quite nice on Qantas and I don’t mind the champagne especially the Duval Le-Roy is a nice drop I find. Oh, and Qantas does a killer Bloody Mary as they’re the only airline trans Tasman using the amazing US Bloody Mary mix from the tin. So I’d give 5 for the drinks but then I give minus scores for the food which makes me deduct 2. 3 Points in total which is something Qantas should be totally ashamed of but they probably compare themselves with Virgin and then, even Qantas looks decent still.

View attachment 187178

Air New Zealand: Oh my science, now this was an eye opening event when I first tried Air New Zealand over the Tasman! Wow, Qantas, take note- that’s how it is done! Like Emirates, Air New Zealand serves what I would call a “proper” airline meal on those routes. Interestingly, Air NZ actually only heats up pre-plated food while Qantas staff heats up individual items and then arranges them in the galley, for the real mains at least. Doesn’t make a difference though- the pre-plated ones on AirNZ are usually SOOOO much better meals! You receive a choice of real starters (not a soup or fish option that I often end up with on Qantas) with things like cold sliced duck and similar dishes which are all amazing. And then as main, I ended up with steaks and beef cheeks and even some really nice chicken dish the other time. And to add to it, they serve several types of hot bread, amongst them an absolute amazing garlic bread which alone is a reason to fly them. Admittedly, the more I fly with them, the more I also receive the same menu choice repeatedly but the choices are still much better than on Qantas. And the deserts, don’t even get me started! Two proper choices of nice desert plates you get while Qantas literally dumps a tiny packaged ice cream onto you (in Business, that is!) and on AirNZ, they usually ask you afterwards whether you want the cheese plate AS WELL. Try that on Qantas, good luck! The alcohol selection is fairly similar to Qantas though the crew doesn’t know anything about wines (Qantas staff seems to be more knowledgeable about their booze usually) which funnily range from decent drops that retail around 30$ to some that you can grab at Countdown for 5 bucks a bottle- but the choice is bigger than on QF where you always ALWAYS get one Chardy and one Savvy B for the whites, and a Pinot Noir and Shiraz for the reds. AirNZ usually also has a Cabernet or Merlot as well as a Riesling or Pinot Gris as part of their selection. But you really need to know your wines to select the good drops which is no issue for me but some people might struggle a bit. Funnily, Air New Zealand offers exactly the same single malt as Qantas, Glenlivet but their Bloody Mary is less good. The champagne is one of the cheaper brand named ones one but at least they got some and, as the only airline as far as I can tell, they got Apple cider on the menu, yummy yumm. So for food and drinks, I’d give a 9 out of 10.

View attachment 187179

LATAM: The meals on this route are by far the weakest part of LATAM’s offering. On the super early morning flight from Auckland to Sydney, you at least get a hot breakfast but on the way back, while classified as a “Lunch” flight, all you get is a hot sandwich and usually not even a good one. I love their wines, really great South American reds usually and they’ve introduced proper French champagne now which they used to not have, from memory it’s a Millesime from one of the lesser brands and as such the best champagne on this route. On the route from Auckland, you can sometimes even be lucky and still get some Pisco Sour if any is left from the Santiago flight which is always a nice surprise. So, I’d give a 5 in total- for the drinks but pretty much nothing for the food which is just not good enough.

View attachment 187180

Virgin Australia: What can I say, this is yet another factor where Virgin is just so much worse than the competition. They essentially treat the Trans-Tasman as a Domestic flight when it comes to food and drinks: The disaster starts with a cheap and nasty Aussie bubbly instead of proper champagne. If there is one thing in the world that I really really hate is cheap and nasty bubblies. Life is too short (and “Business” class to expensive) for anything but proper French champagne- total fail for Virgin. Worse, you can’t even get a Bloody Mary (!) as “we only have the ingredients on the long haul airplanes”. Wtf- are they serious? No single malt whiskies either, cheap and nasty Jonny Walker Black is all that you will get on the cheap bus that Virgin is. Meal choices? Bad luck, one choice of hot food feeds all- too bad in case it’s something you can’t (or don’t want) to eat, then you’re stuck with one cold salad option. Same can happen to you if you are unlucky enough to be seated in row 2 as the hot option tends to run out before the last two or three passengers get served (but there’s no guarantee either because crew randomly takes orders from the front or from the back, depending on their mood and/or luck). Needless to say, there’s no printed menu or drinks list either. And what you do receive, gets dumped on your table in an ugly plastic tray, just like typical Economy class, not even a tablecloth gets laid down. Again- wtf, not even the most basic things get done properly on VA. Starter? Nope, one stale bun in a strange and ill-fitting bowl is what you get. And desert? Not even Qantas is that bad- a tiny plastic wrapped Economy-style tartlet must do and then a cheese “platter” which is the most ridiculous cheese option of all times, one tiny sliver of one single type of cheese and usually not a very good one at that. Awful, just awful, in all aspects of it. Total fail, zero points.

View attachment 187181

Emirates: Quite similar to Air NZ, proper choices, proper airline-typical food and a particularly nice cheese platter. Decent wines usually as well but often only Moet as the champagne which in my eyes is the weakest of all the big brands (you sometimes get Veuve instead which is so much better). I’d give 9 out of 10, same as for Air NZ.

View attachment 187182

Service and crew

Qantas: The other really important factor on any flight is the crew- a good crew can really make a flight even if the food is not to your liking and the seat a bit old fashioned. Qantas has usually been pretty good to me. I say this with a bit of caution as Qantas is very much the typical “legacy carrier” in this respect: You can expect an at least decent and definitely professional crew on every flight which is a very soothing thing to know if you suffer from fear of flying and imagine an emergency situation. But when it comes to service on board, this can range from the really good Qantas experience (and in Business or even First class, this is still rather the rule rather than the exception) that combines a fun and laid back Aussie attitude with professional and courteous service that isn’t quite as over the top as what you get from some Asia carriers. When you get a crew like that, and often you do, then I find Qantas to be one of the best out there. However, and it’s rare but happens occasionally, you sometimes can also be not so lucky and you end up with a dud crew. This usually means that some crew members are grumpy (and I notice, on all airlines, a funny play- it is very often that the pure chance of combining different crew members ends up with either an excellent crew or a really average crew, e.g. if you get a purser who obviously doesn’t like their job, then often this also brings the slack and lazy out of the remaining team members and vice versa) to the degree that it boarders on insulting. I had an awful example not long ago when I saw the hot towels out in the galley, crew was chit chatting around and- as often on Qantas- tried to completely ignore the hot towel service because, you know, work. I asked politely if we will be getting hot towels and as a result was escorted by the purser back to my seat, I was then given a single hot towel on a desert plate and asked about 55 times by several different crew members in a VERY condescending tone whether I “enjoyed that one special towel with hot water on it”. Wow, just wow. As I said- this is the exception rather but it can occasionally happen. On the smaller planes trans Tasman you usually get Jetconnect crews which is Kiwi based staff who essentially do the same work as their Aussie counterparts but get paid significantly less. This sometimes shows and I always think “Well, I wouldn’t be uber-engaged either if my company uses a dodgy sub-contracting scheme to pay me less” but it still isn’t a good thing. But again- this is not always the case, I sometimes also had super friendly, lovely Kiwi Jetconnect crews and it has been Jetconnect pilots who’ve been the only ones ever coming out to serve the business class passengers their meals or top up their wines. I had it twice now and while slightly doubtable from a safety perspective (and- do pilots have their RSA, I wonder?), it felt both times like a really nice touch. All in all, I’d give Qantas and 8 for their crews- you can quickly tell what you’re missing once you’re on a crap airline like Virgin or Jetstar instead.

Air New Zealand: Well, what I said about legacy carriers and Qantas is pretty much to the T the same with AirNZ: You get always professional and usually very efficient service and, quite like their counterparts across the Tasman, Kiwi service similarly tends to be friendly and rather laid back while not totally over the top like you sometimes get on Asian carriers. But also, just like Qantas, some crew members go above and beyond the usual and luckily, like with Qantas, this tends to be the standard. But, again in the same vain, you sometimes get crews that are either slack or even downright rude. It has happened VERY rarely to me but it has happened.

There are two majorly annoying differences between Air NZ and Qantas- they go both ways and seem to be based on crew training procedures: On AirNZ it is the fact that crews seem to get trained the US way which means leave the seatbelt on until you’re all the way at cruising altitude and collect any leftover drinks about an hour before landing. Likewise, as soon as there are the tiniest of bumps, the flight crew switches on the “Fasten seatbelt” signs but then often just “forgets” to switch them off. As a result, you get the typical crying wolf situation where after a prolonged “Fasten seatbelts’” period when everyone is close to bursting while the plane is sailing smoothly, people just get up and use the bathrooms anyway. And because this appears to be a trained standard, the crew very much like regular passengers, get trained to never adhere to the Seatbelt signs. I have experienced this mostly on US carriers and always suspected it’s mainly due to fears of insurance claims but Air NZ does the same. I VERY much prefer the Qantas approach which means switching off the signs half way during the climb already (provided everything is smooth, of course) and while cruising, only ever switch them on when it is REALLY needed. As a result, passengers do care if the signs are on and adhere to them rather than starting to ignore them completely.

On Qantas, the majorly annoying miss when it comes to training is the fact that crews really really really don’t want to care about the constant stream of cheap Economy class passengers into the J class cabin to use the toilet, wave their screaming toddler to sleep and so on. Gosh, can it be that hard! It’s the same as priority boarding which Qantas crew seems to be unable to/ not being trained to enforce. Just send them back! And if you have the one in ten crew members that really tries, rest assured that one of their colleagues lets them go shortly after. And really, on a 737 the seats are already not all that different between the front and the back, the food sometimes even better in Economy (or at least more choice) and then you even allow the whole back cabin to block the toilet for ages and soil the floor all over? Not much left to justify the huge upcharge, when you think of it. In my eyes a huge miss for Qantas to not enforce these tiny benefits you get if you travel up the front, especially as it would be so super easy. Hey, even Virgin does this better- they put a simple but very efficient rope between the classes and sorted!

So all in all, Air NZ gets the same score as Qantas, 8 out of 10.

LATAM: I like the crews on LATAM- they are usually professional, polite and efficient with the occasional really good crew member thrown in. I also like the fact that their main language is not English and once you try your Spanish skills a little bit, they’re only too happy to practice a little with you throughout the flight. So really nothing to complain about, maybe not quite as brilliant as some of the really good Qantas or AirNZ crews but I also never had a really grumpy or even condescending crew either. So, they really also deserve the same score of 8 out of 10.

Virgin Australia: There always has to be ONE black sheep and it tends to be VA. I’ve read a lot on these forums from the VA fanboys claiming that everything has changed oh so much since the days of Virgin Blue but alas, I can assure you that nothing has but the name: As with the food and drinks, trans-Tasman “Business” on VA is essentially a domestic experience, and one more akin to a standard Premium Economy, at that. You’d think that with only 8 seats up the front, the one person taking care of that cabin would be easily be able to offer an attentive and efficient service but oh no, not a Virgin person. Granted, on one of my 4 flights the lady serving us was quite good but the three others were all lazy and slack (not run off their feet and hence rushed like you sometimes find on Qantas or AirNZ wide bodied), preferring to play video games on their personal phones rather than, you know, having a look if anyone in “Business” might want a top up of their wine. But the worst about staff on Virgin is this ridiculous, unprofessional need to dig out the most mind-numbing dad jokes. On all four flights, the other passengers in my cabin were old Bogans (I know because I had to endure their brainless conversations the whole time) so it probably suits the audience (as does the supermarket style choice of cheap and nasty booze) but I was not happy. One purser talked about the crew as “The care bears” the whole time, another flight attendant started the cabin service with “Let’s get the party staharted” and so it went. It was pure torture and not even any decent alcohol to drown myself in. So in stark contrast to all the other airlines over the Tasman, Virgin’s staff and service gets a clear zero. Some Kindergarten clowns is not what I want to be served my meals by and to imagine how they would deal with an Emergency- I don’t even want to think about that! Case in point, on several of my flights I observed crew behaviour (or rather neglect) that would be consider a safety concern on most decent airlines- crap left on the floor in the aisles during take off and landing, glasses not collected prior to take off and hence shooting through the cabin which is just shocking.

Emirates: Emirates service is always a bit of a hit and miss and it’s the same with the other two big Middle Eastern carriers: The crews are the most multi-culti mix of staff which is great for looks and languages spoken but not so awesome sometimes for how the crew acts together as a team. Obviously, hardly anyone is doing the job for passion alone which is very different to the great Asian carriers so Emirates must rely on training their crews and that’s often quite obvious. As a result, the service often feels robotic- a bit like a call centre where staff is not properly empowered to make any real decisions. Trying to get anything that falls out of the standard script is therefore difficult- trying to swap from white to red wine after the starter for example, tends to send most EK crews into a spin. And with such a mixed crew, you get anything- from the super attentive Japanese lady kneeling at your seat, to the bubbly and friendly Aussie to the clueless guy from Africa. One type of crew, however, is always the worst: The rare male Middle Easterner. You can rest assured that he will be doing only the absolute minimal of work while bossing around the ladies throughout the flight. Seen it so many times on EK as well as the other two, I can safely make such a generalized statement and this open display of machismo behavior makes me angry every single time. So, I’d give slightly worse than QF or AirNZ, a 7 I think is justified.

Final Verdict: So we have a winner! Unfortunately, that’s the one airline which you can only fly from Christchurch these days, closely followed by the one airline that only has a daily (and soon only 4 times a week) flight between Sydney and Auckland: Emirates is my outright winner with 55 points, followed by LATAM with 49 (it’s the ridiculously tiny food offering in J that gets them down). Of all the more common airlines with several flights a day, Air New Zealand actually takes the crown with 47 points, Qantas follows with 37. I must add here that it really depends on what is more important to you personally: I will still regularly select Qantas due to their Frequent Flyer scheme and the amazing lounges in Sydney and Melbourne but as soon as I have renewed my Platinum status for the year, would rather chose AirNZ if I was paying outright (as I mostly do). Finally, last and certainly also least is Virgin Australia, what an outright disaster this airline is! I only booked them because of all the Virgin fanboys on this forum who keep praising Virgin as if it was an airline that not only half-way matches what you’d expect from a decent airline but is even superior in some way. After this extensive test and speaking to quite a few people who have tried them as well, I can now confirm that this is utter nonsense: I don’t know if people are outright lying or whether their ego is so badly bruised by not being able or allowed by their employer to fly a decent airline so that they paint their experience on this carrier in a lighter colour than is adequate, but there’s really noting at all to like there. And, as mentioned before, there’s not even any real price difference over the Tasman: You pay about the same or even more and get a truly inferior product- inferior to all other airlines flying this route.

So, here you have it. My detailed test of all the airlines that fly Trans-Tasman. Depending on what is more important to you, make your selection wisely: For food, I’d go for Air New Zealand. For service and professionalism (and probably safety), I’d go for Qantas but try my best to end up on an A330 or 787 service. For aircraft, I will always miss Emirates which was also pretty good on all other metrics and is hence my overall winner. If you can live with a hot sandwich, Latam would also be a top choice for me. And finally, if you’re from Europe and lusting for that unique Ryanair or Easyjet- feeling, the Virgin Australia is surely your best bet!

Curious to see all your comments, remarks and disagreements- as mentioned before, this is based on my personal experience and taste. And not having French champagne in business class, that makes and airline the loser already in my eyes ;-)
 

RooFlyer

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Great review - very valuable resource for any TT traveler.

With LATAM - You didn't find the crews 'non engaging' ? I've always found them that way, because, I assume, they aren't confident ( or maybe proficient) in English.

Thought your score to Qantas on service a bit high, given your comments.

How about a straight 'value for money' rating / order ?
 
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Berlin

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Great review - very valuable resource for any TT traveler.

With LATAM - You didn't find the crews 'non engaging' ? I've always found them that way, because, I assume, they aren't confident ( or maybe proficient) in English.

Thought your score to Qantas on service a bit high, given your comments.

How about a straight 'value for money' rating / order ?
Thanks RooFlyer! With Latam crew, I personally never had an issue with them but I had Spanish in school and very much enjoy when they give me a little language refresher.

Though my partner flies them very regularly and doesn’t speak a word of Spanish but still likes their crews.

Value for money is a funny thing as I find all the airlines to almost always charge roughly the same in J when you wait for a good deal. Between 900 and 1200 return is pretty much the standard.

Latam you can sometimes get cheaper booked directly (if those times once a day work for you), then I’d say it’s the stellar winner.
 

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