All airlines have made changes to their on-board service during COVID-19. So, what’s the service like in Qantas domestic Economy class in January 2021? I recently found out on a QantasLink Boeing 717 flight from Rockhampton to Brisbane.
|Route||Rockhampton (ROK) to Brisbane (BNE)|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 717-200|
|Class of travel||Economy|
|On-time performance||We arrived at the gate 20 minutes early, but then waited 10 minutes for a jetbridge operator.|
I paid $162.92 for a one-way Economy class red-eDeal ticket.
There was no queue to check in at Rockhampton Airport and the airport staff were friendly.
There is normally a Qantas Club in Rockhampton. Unfortunately, the airport is currently undergoing a major renovation so the Qantas Club is temporarily closed. The airport staff advised that they expected this to take a few more months, but weren’t sure exactly when the lounge would reopen.
Because of the construction work, the post-security departures area could be described in its current state as a “holding pen”. There were no shops or toilets beyond security, and the small waiting area was quite crowded because there was also a Virgin flight leaving at the same time. But this is only a temporary situation until the airport construction work is completed.
As usual for Qantas flights during COVID-19, “Fly Well” packs containing a face mask and sanitiser wipe were available while boarding. As of January 2021, it is now compulsory to wear a face mask on Australian domestic flights and inside airports.
The Hard Product
The QantasLink Boeing 717 is configured with a 2-3 layout in Economy Class. This layout is quite convenient for couples, who can secure a pair of seats by a window.
There are two versions of the QantasLink 717; one configuration has 125 Economy seats, while the other has a 12-seat Business Class cabin and 98 Economy seats. This aircraft was fitted with a Business Class cabin, so Economy started at row 4.
The best legroom on this version of the 717, which is usually used on “east coast” flights, is in row 4 (which has a bulkhead in front) or the exit rows 13 & 14. For a quieter experience, try to choose a seat towards the front of the plane as the engines are right at the back. And if you like looking out the window, avoid the last rows where the view is obscured by the engines.
There were only 40 passengers in total on this flight (including 9 passengers in Business class!), leaving lots of empty seats in Economy! I had the first 3 rows of Economy class all to myself. (Quite honestly, with such a low load factor, I’m thankful Qantas didn’t just cancel the flight and move everyone to a later service.)
The cloth-covered seats are relatively comfortable for a short flight, although tall travellers might find the regular seats bit of a squeeze. There are tablet holders fitted on the back of each seat.
Normally, Qantas offers in-flight entertainment via the Qantas Entertainment streaming app to your own device. This system is currently switched off (Qantas is not currently offering in-flight entertainment on any of its flights, presumably to save money on content licensing fees) and wifi was not available on this aircraft, so there was no in-flight entertainment provided. I was happy enough reading a book on this short flight, but entertainment would have been welcome on longer routes.
Miraculously, Qantas continues to print its in-flight magazine. But these have not been placed into aircraft seat pockets since the beginning of the pandemic… instead, they’re being mailed out to frequent flyers and are available to read online or in Qantas lounges. Printing of the QantasLink Spirit magazine has been suspended.
The Soft Product
Qantas is currently offering reduced catering on its flights, which it says is due to COVID-19. On flights under three-and-a-half hours, Qantas passengers are receiving a complimentary cold snack and drinks in Economy class. On longer domestic flights, Qantas is giving Economy passengers a hot snack (such as a quiche) and drinks. Special meals are not available in Economy for now, although Qantas says passengers are “welcome to” bring their own food and non-alcoholic drinks.
On this afternoon QantasLink flight from Rockhampton to Brisbane, each Economy class passenger received a packet of crackers with tomato relish. Cold drinks including water, juice, soft drinks, beer and wine were available free of charge. Tea & coffee were not offered.
Some Australian Frequent Flyer members have been disappointed with Qantas catering recently, and I would note that there may be slight differences between the catering offered on Qantas and its regional subsidiary, QantasLink.
While the snack I received wasn’t substantial, it was about what I would expect on a short afternoon flight. The overall catering was still much better than what Virgin Australia is currently offering on its flights – although that’s a low bar at the moment.
Other than that, the cabin crew were all very friendly and it was a pleasant short flight to Brisbane.
QantasLink Boeing 717 Economy Class (January 2021)
I enjoy flying on QantasLink’s Boeing 717s and this was a pleasant short flight with a good crew. The temporary Qantas Club closure in Rockhampton, slightly reduced catering and lack of in-flight entertainment were a little disappointing, but these are only temporary measures.
In my view, Qantas’ Economy class service is still better than Virgin Australia at the moment by some margin, although Virgin does at least have in-flight entertainment available on its flights.