A Qantas A330 at Sydney Airport prepares to fly to Auckland as QF149. Photo: Matt Graham.

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.

Flight Details

Flight number QF149
Route Sydney (SYD) to Auckland (AKL)
Aircraft type Airbus A330-300
Class of travel Business
Seat number 2A
On-time performance We arrived 25 minutes early
Star rating 4 stars out of 5

The route

QF149 route map

Flight Cost

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.

Airport Experience

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.

Sydney Terminal 1 May 2021
Terminal 1 at Sydney Airport was noticeably quiet. Photo: Matt Graham.

In some parts of the airport, you could literally hear a pin drop.

Terminal 1 at Sydney Airport in May 2021. Photo: Matt Graham.

Over at the Star Alliance pier, the Air New Zealand lounge was open – but that was about it.

Star Alliance pier at Sydney T1 in May 2021. Photo: Matt Graham.

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.

Qantas Sydney First Lounge entrance. Photo: Matt Graham.

In a sign of the times, there was hand sanitiser and a QR code check-in code at the door.

Qantas First Lounge entrance. Photo: Matt Graham.

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.

Qantas Sydney First Lounge restaurant area. Photo: Matt Graham.

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!

salt and pepper squid
Salt and pepper squid with cabbage salad in the Qantas Sydney First Lounge. Photo: Matt Graham.

I followed this up with the delicious, spicy lamb noodles.

Red braised lamb shoulder with chilli paste and noodles. Photo: Matt Graham.

And I couldn’t resist Neil Perry’s signature pavlova for dessert.

Pavlova in Qantas First Lounge
Signature pavlova with seasonal fruit, mascarpone and Persian fairy floss. Photo: Matt Graham.

This was the full menu:

QF Flounge menu May 2021
Qantas Sydney First Lounge menu in May 2021. Photo: Matt Graham.

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 international transfer bus in Sydney wasn’t operating. Photo: Matt Graham.

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.

Seat 2A Qantas A330
Seat 2A on the Qantas A330-300. Photo: Matt Graham.

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.

A330 pre-departure champagne
Pre-departure beverage on QF149. Photo: Matt Graham.

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.

Business class dinner on QF149. Photo: Matt Graham.

This was served with warm sourdough or sesame bread, a lindt chocolate ball and a cinnamon tea cake for dessert.

Thai green chicken curry, bread and a tea cake for dinner on QF149. Photo: Matt Graham.

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.

Arrival Experience

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)
  • Airport Experience
  • Hard Product
  • Soft Product
4

Final thoughts

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.

________________________

Related Articles

Recommended by the Australian Frequent Flyer

The Whisky Club Possibly the best subscription service on the planet, designed specially by whisky lovers for whisky lovers. Join the club to grow your collection and drink great whisky. www.thewhiskyclub.com.au/
Book with Virgin Australia - Fly with Virgin Australia We've Increased Our Flying to 30 Destinations Across Australia. Book With Us Today. Change Your Flight, Fee-Free and As Often As You Like for Travel up to 30 Apr 22*. Contactless Check-in. Special Safety Protocols. New Cleaning Practices. Online Check-in. www.virginaustralia.com

AFF Supporters can Login Now to remove all advertisements


Matt Graham
The editor of Australian Frequent Flyer, Matt's passion for travel has taken him to over 60 countries… with the help of frequent flyer points, of course!
Matt's favourite destinations (so far) are Germany, Brazil, New Zealand & Kazakhstan. His interests include economics, aviation & foreign languages, and he has a soft spot for good food and red wine.

You can contact Matt at ed[email protected]

9
Comments

  Subscribe  
newest oldest
Notify of
Dee

Pretty much every Airbus “product” is far better than the old Boeing ones, even the newer ones!. I really don’t know why they haven’t retired all the Boeing fleet!

poopie

I still have a soft spot for 747 but generally agree.

As for the TT single aisle, A320 > 737
– A320 sits higher (undercarriage taller) feels like it’s a larger plane
– 737 windows are positioned lower (when in a seating position) makes the plane feel smaller

Robert

There is much more water to go under this bridge before things return to normal. We have been lulled somewhat into a sense of complacency that is perhaps not shared by others. Specific to NZ travel, comments made by the Kiwis about Aussies during the pandemic may have felt superior at the time–and who doesn’t like a bit of a trans Tasman ribbing–but were unwise given what everyone was facing and trying to cope with. I am unsurprised that Australians are not rushing to NZ for holiday: memories are formed during the bad times and carry over to the good… Read more »

Chris

Had a similar experience out of BNE last week on QF119 out and QF126 return. Business on Airbus out but bumped to 737-800 business on return. Obvious differences between those two. I am new to Qantas, coming from VA Plat but really enjoying the service both hard and soft. It was great to take out the old passport for a swipe, I think I even saw a moth come out when I opened it. Hope that did not go through customs:-) Glad to be finally traveling international and heard the same from fellow travellers. Interesting tho that BNE was strict… Read more »

John Phelan

The Australian Government has mandated masks at airports. NZ has not.

WILL

Hi Matt, think I might have seen you on the 20 May evening flight to Auckland 🙂 Agree with your comments. I think the first lounge still provides and amazing experience, Airbus experience was great, and the longer VA sits on the ground with my Plat membership for Trans Tasman travel, the more Im inclined to move to qantas permanently.

Mr H

Interesting report, but I cannot agree that 41,500 QFF points represents good value for a one way 3 hour flight in a J seat with Y catering – even with the Firstish Lounge thrown in. I lost a redemption MEL-SIN-CGK return in F with QF one way(via SYD) and EK the other (with JQ flight between SIN and CGK). I was worried that that was poor value. I know you’ll tell me about the dollar per mile ration, but that is misleading on TransTasman as the J fares are so overpriced anyway.

Vera Joosten

any FF traveling to new zealand in cattle class- please write a review as detailed as Matt’s