With the trans-Tasman bubble now open, Qantas has resumed regular Airbus A330 and Boeing 737 flights between Australia and New Zealand. But the trans-Tasman travel experience isn’t quite the same as it was before COVID-19.
Australian Frequent Flyer recently flew from Sydney to Auckland in Qantas A330 Business class to find out what to expect across the Tasman.
|Route||Sydney (SYD) to Auckland (AKL)|
|Aircraft type||Airbus A330-300|
|Class of travel||Business|
|On-time performance||We arrived 25 minutes early|
I booked a Classic Flight Reward ticket using Qantas Frequent Flyer points. A Business class reward ticket on the Sydney-Auckland route costs 41,500 Qantas points + $162 in taxes & charges (of which $148 is government and airport charges).
If you were buying a ticket, a Qantas Business Saver fare from Sydney to Auckland starts from $858 one-way.
After passing through immigration and security – which took all of a few minutes as it wasn’t busy – I was confronted by how eerily quiet Sydney’s international terminal was. It wasn’t quite as empty as it was in November 2020, but it was pretty close! The duty-free stores and TRS office were open, but many other shops were boarded up. The main dining option in the main terminal area was Sumo Salad – even the two McDonald’s stores were shut.
In some parts of the airport, you could literally hear a pin drop.
Over at the Star Alliance pier, the Air New Zealand lounge was open – but that was about it.
Normally, Qantas trans-Tasman Business class passengers can use the Qantas international Business Lounge at Sydney Airport before departure. But with just a handful of international flights operating at the moment, Qantas is only operating its (much better) First Lounge and all eligible passengers are being invited in.
In a sign of the times, there was hand sanitiser and a QR code check-in code at the door.
With no international Qantas flights currently departing during the early afternoon, the First Lounge in Sydney is open in the morning until midday, then again from 3-7pm. When I arrived around 3.30pm, I was the only customer in the lounge!
The lounge did slowly fill up during the afternoon and had around 30 people before the flight to Auckland boarded. I’m told it gets a bit busier in the mornings between around 8-9am when several flights to New Zealand are departing at the same time.
I was welcomed in the lounge by staff and offered a window seat at the restaurant.
Although Qantas is currently offering a reduced menu at its First Lounge, there are still some great à la carte menu options including the popular salt and pepper squid!
I followed this up with the delicious, spicy lamb noodles.
And I couldn’t resist Neil Perry’s signature pavlova for dessert.
This was the full menu:
The food was delicious and the service was genuinely excellent. Although it’s not listed on the menu, champagne was also available – but you have to specifically ask (nicely) for it. There was also a range of spirits available from the bar, as well as tea, coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks. Sadly, the Longreach Fizz cocktail hadn’t yet been rolled out to this lounge.
Other than the abridged menu, masks and lack of people, the only noticeable difference in the First Lounge experience was that the spa was closed. Oh, and there are no longer any nuts to nibble on.
For the First Lounge experience alone, I’m tempted to give a full 5 stars for the airport experience. However, I’m going to give it 4.5 stars because Qantas is no longer offering all-day check in at Sydney Airport (which is fair enough, but does limit the amount of time you can spend in the lounge if you are starting your journey in Sydney and have checked luggage) and the terminal transfer bus is no longer running in the afternoon.
I believe the domestic-international transfer bus may now have started operating between 9am-12pm, and Qantas has now resumed interlining luggage when connecting from a domestic to an international flight. But as my connecting flight from Coffs Harbour arrived in the afternoon, I had to pay to catch a train or a taxi to the international terminal. That isn’t exactly a premium transit experience.
The Hard Product
Qantas uses a mixture of Boeing 737s and Airbus A330s on trans-Tasman routes. I specifically booked an A330 flight because the Business Class product is significantly better than on the Boeing 737, and was fortunate that my flight didn’t have a last-minute aircraft change to a 737 like many others have had lately.
The Qantas A330 Business class seat is simply excellent. The cabin is laid out in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, meaning every passenger enjoys direct aisle access. As I was in an “even” row, sitting in 2A, my window seat was directly beside the window and my suite offered a good level of privacy. The seat also reclines to become a comfortable, fully lie-flat bed.
Unfortunately, some of the usual Qantas trans-Tasman Business class amenities such as pillows, blankets, amenity kits and printed menus were not provided. These have been temporarily removed from all Qantas flights (even overnight flights from Perth to the Australian east coast) due to COVID-19. But there was a pair or premium headphones at each seat.
Wi-fi is not available on Qantas trans-Tasman flights, but in-flight entertainment is back! There was a good selection of movies and TV shows to choose from, and I was very pleased to see that a wide range of music was available (this has been removed from all Qantas domestic flights).
The Soft Product
Before takeoff, the cabin crew offered a glass of still water, sparkling water or champagne. Unlike on Qantas domestic flights, this was actually champagne (Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque NV, to be exact) and not sparkling wine.
With fewer than 90 passengers on board, the doors were closed 25 minutes before the scheduled departure time and we left early.
Dinner was served after take-off. The menu has been simplified and there is no longer an entree, main and dessert plated individually. Instead, the meal was served on a single tray at the same time.
The menu itself was no different to what you’d get nowadays on a longer domestic flight. There were three dinner choices – Thai green chicken curry, bangers & mash, or a chickpea & beetroot salad with a hard-boiled egg. I chose the chicken curry which was tasty without being particularly special.
This was served with warm sourdough or sesame bread, a lindt chocolate ball and a cinnamon tea cake for dessert.
Champagne, red and white wine, beer, soft drinks, juice and water were available to drink with dinner – but not spirits. After dinner, the cabin crew took orders for tea or coffee (that’s why dinner was served with milk and sugar) and I enjoyed a peppermint tea. The staff continuously checked to see if I wanted any drink refills throughout the rest of the flight.
Overall, although the Qantas trans-Tasman Business class service was a bit scaled back compared to pre-COVID times, I wasn’t disappointed. The cabin crew were good and I’m sure they were just as happy as I was to be able to fly to New Zealand again.
The process of arriving in New Zealand was easier than I was expecting. I did have to fill out a New Zealand travel declaration form before departing Australia, but this wasn’t checked by anyone on arrival.
There were a few announcements and a video was played on the plane about COVID-19 and New Zealand customs requirements, and the New Zealand immigration arrival form now has additional questions about COVID-19. But after getting off the plane, the arrival procedure was very similar to before. I was able to use the smart gate, the bags appeared on the carousel quickly and I was through customs in just a few minutes.
Duty-free shopping was available on arrival in Auckland and I wasn’t randomly selected for a temperature check.
Qantas A330 Trans-Tasman Business Class (May 2021)
Although the service has been scaled back a little bit due to COVID-19, it was a very pleasant flight overall. The Qantas A330 trans-Tasman Business class service was good and everyone involved – from the lounge staff, to the cabin crew and even the airport taxi drivers on both sides of the bubble – were happy to be there.
The Qantas First Lounge was the highlight, but the onboard Business class product on the Airbus A330 is also very good. Perhaps the strangest part of the experience was the lack of other passengers at the airports and on the flight.
As long as the trans-Tasman bubble remains open, I would be very happy to fly Qantas Business Class across the Tasman again.