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Onboard a Qantas A380: Economy versus Premium Economy

June 21, 2012 at 11:32 AM | by | ()

It's had some ups and downs but for now, the Qantas A380 seems to be flying high. Especially now that we've finally been onboard one for a flight from LAX to Sydney and back.

We traveled in Economy on our way over, and also had the chance to take a quick tour of the aircraft before general boarding. Here, we bring you a look at the Economy and Premium Economy cabins, and what differentiates the two.

After many trips between the US and Australia on Qantas 747s, we immediately felt a difference stepping inside the A380 Economy cabin. It feels brighter and more airy. We do think the seats look narrower but there is more space overhead, which makes it less claustrophobic than usual. Our seat was near the front of the first section and this at least helped us avoid the feeling of being in a massive cattle class.

While the new seats have new headrest wings and "footrest" nets, we didn't feel the benefit of these, being a tiny 5'2". Taller passengers will obviously make better use of the footrests. We were, however, comfortable, although that was aided by being in a three-seat configuration with an empty seat between us and our row-mate.

We loved the new color palette for the seats, and the sleeker overall look and feel of the cabin. Bright new loos were also a plus. You can peruse the Economy menu in our photo gallery, but we made the mistake of ordering a gluten-free meal before our flight (trying to be healthy and all) and were disappointed in our plain grilled chicken served with a rice cake. Gluten-free, yes. Qantas glam? No.

Because we slept for a solid seven hours, we totally forgot to scope out the Economy Snack Bar, which stocks apples, pretzels, cookies, chips and a range of drinks.

Much to our excitement, our flight was trialing the new Q-Streaming WiFi access. But when we saw that it would cost at least $20 for 25MB of Internet access, we put our iPad away and stuck to the always-solid range of movie and TV options on the Qantas entertainment system. (Love the new 10.6-inch screens, too.)

The service on our A380 was friendly and accommodating, and the overall flight experience one of the best in our very long history of flying this route. One of the most remarkable improvements in our mind was the noise—or lack thereof. The A380 is blissfully quieter than the clunky old 747s.*

Despite our good experience in Economy, we'd definitely consider springing for Premium Economy on our next haul home. Here's why.

Better food: It's a slightly different meal than what's served in Economy, and is a "Neil Perry inspired menu complemented by Australian wines." Meals are presented on linens, served on premium Noritake crockery with Alessi cutlery. The real plus, though, is that 'snacks' including (for example) a toasted ciabatta or a black angus burger, are available any time during the flight. Premium Economy guests are also offered pre-flight drinks, jacket collection and a selection of newspapers.

Smaller Cabin: There are just 32 seats in Premium Economy, and because it sits behind Business Class on the upper deck, it's super quiet. Much less foot traffic in the aisles. Premium Economy also has its own dedicated cabin crew.

More Space: The configuration is 2-3-2, the seats are wider and recline further, and they have footrests built into the bottom of the seat.

Better Viewing Experience: The entertainment offerings are the same, but you have more control over your 10.6-inch screen, which (like in Business) is stowed in your armrest. You also get noise-canceling headphones.

Qantas is currently running a sale with roundtrip Economy fares from LA to Sydney from $1,292 (flying between 5 August and 4 September, 2012). We also found Premium Economy roundtrips in that timeframe for $2,688. Yes, it's more than a grand more, but compared to the average of $2,000 we've long paid for Qantas flights (typically JFK to Sydney), we would seriously consider opting to pay more for Premium Economy.

Stay tuned for more from onboard the Qantas A380 coming soon. (Yes, that means First and Business Class.)

* The 747s in the Qantas fleet are being upgraded to match the decor and fittings of the A380. The rollout has already begun, with the Dallas-Sydney and LAX-Brisbane routes already rockin' the new look.

[Photos: Jaunted; with some images courtesy Qantas, including exterior above]

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