Let me set the scene: I’m in Wairoa, New Zealand, waking up from a nap. I’m at the end of a 3 and a half week South Pacific trip to Vanuatu (where I served for two years in the Peace Corps) and New Zealand. I’ve flown back to see friends and “family” who I’ve been absent from for 4 years, and thoroughly enjoyed relaxing and being away from work and deadlines. I’m usually a little bit excited to return after being gone for so long, and as I awoke and got ready for a final goodbye to our friends, I started to get those warm fuzzy feelings about going home. Then, I remembered that we had booked the cheapest option for our return flight - Auckland to Sydney and then Sydney to DFW - one of the longest flights in the world (clocking in at 15 hours, 35 minutes on average)…in Economy Class.
I decided to write this blog because there are a plethora of reviews about the Qantas SYD-DFW flight. I found plenty of blog and YouTube posts with First and Business Class reviews. I couldn’t find any information for the masses, the paupers of air travel, the Economy class passengers. The airplane is the world’s largest passenger jet, the HUGE Airbus A380. I had no points, no miles and I’m not a member of any flight clubs. When my already stretched-thin wallet couldn’t secure me an upgraded seat in Premium Economy, Kelly and I both accepted that we were going to be spending the flight crammed in tight. Here’s my review of flying Economy Class on the Quantas A380.
After learning I could not upgrade our seats, I made the call to pay Quantas $40 per seat to reserve seats online, rather than wait to be assigned at the gate. I chose the window and Kelly chose the middle seat, just hoping no one would reserve or be assigned to sit next to us. This was my first plan of attack to preserve what little comforts I might secure on the plane; towards the back of the plane there were still rows that no one had chosen. In hindsight, we should have chosen window and aisle seats to maximize our chances of getting an open seat in the middle. Our hopes for a flight that wasn’t packed were low after finding out all Premium seating was sold out, though. We chose our seats and continued enjoying the last of our trip.
Our long day of travel began at 5:30 am in Auckland. We checked in for our flight, made it through customs and flew to Sydney with nothing interesting to report. During our 2 hour layover in Sydney we perused the duty free shops, bought some candy, and ate in the food court. About 30 minutes before boarding was supposed to commence, we made our way to the gate. There was already a line, a big one - it had to have consisted of half the plane’s passengers, ~250ish snaking backwards from the gate. Everyone in line was just staring at their phones and blocking the passage to the toilets in a very busy airport. Since we knew we had seats on the plane like everyone else (this isn’t a first come, first served situation), it seemed silly to wait in line so the two of us sat down and waited. When it was finally time to board, the fancier classes waltzed right up to the front of the monster line and boarded the plane first.
Once things started moving, we got in the back of the queue. It should be noted that there were many other people just as smart as us, because the line continued to grow. It was at this point I realized just how many people were on this flight. My expectations for an empty seat on our row were falling. Once the boarding passes were scanned, I found myself in another line, on the jetway. I looked out the small window and for the first time, really took in the size of the Airbus A380 from up-close.
The first thing I noticed when I got to my seat was that no one was in the row, so dumping my bag in the overhead compartment and sliding in the tight seats was fast and painless. Kelly took the middle seat next to me … and then we waited. People kept streaming in, slowly of course, but kept passing by our row. Neither one of us wanted to ruin our luck by saying out loud what we were thinking: “Our plan might have worked.”
There was a mechanical issue which delayed the flight a bit, and as we sat on the tarmac we noticed that near us, a man had a whole 4 seat row to himself. That is when I finally got the courage to aloud … “We might have this whole row to ourselves!”. It was then that a flight attendant moved a pregnant woman (who seemingly spent more time coughing than living her life) and her husband from further back to that aisle. I told Kelly to take the aisle seat - we weren’t going to let some random person take our extra seat!
The Flight: Meal Service & Entertainment
Soon, the plane began roaring down the runway. I thought I grasped how enormous this plane was when I boarded, until it just kept going down the runway. It felt like it would never leave the ground. Once we were finally airborne, it was time to figure out how I was going to make this space my home for the next 15+ hours. I started browsing the media offerings. It was a much larger selection than the short flight from Auckland to Sydney. There was a good mix of brand new movies and older movies, and full sets of TV shows like Game of Thrones, Westworld, and other contemporary offerings. Basically, the entertainment selection was very good! I had no complaints and did not find myself bored in the seat. As the plane got to cruising altitude, flight attendants passed out a menu that listed the meal and snack options so that passengers would be prepared when mealtimes arrived.
The first meal served a few hours after take off was billed as dinner. I chose the beef plate - braised beef, broccoli and potato mash. The taste was better than what I was expecting. It was heated thoroughly and there were no cold spots. The entree portions were a little small for my American tastes, but the bread and the delicious panna cotta filled me up. Kelly had ordered the same meal, but was informed that it was unavailable, and she selected the vegetarian option without complaint. One of the flight attendants actually left to make sure her initial choice wasn’t available somewhere (without us asking), and the offered for Kelly to have first pick when it came to breakfast. This is a good point to mention that the crew we interacted with were all really nice, and very genuine. They truly seemed to enjoy their jobs, and never seemed put out by anyone’s requests.
As the minutes oozed by, aided by X-Men: Days of Future Past, the day turned to night. Before turning off the cabin lights, flight attendants brought Weis bars and Cadbury’s hot chocolate around to passengers who had not yet succumbed to sleep. I have no photos of the ice cream, because it was delicious and I ate it real fast. After the snack service, the cabin lights were dimmed and people all around were getting as cozy as their seats allowed.
It was this point I pulled out my secret weapon for long flights - Xanax. I am not typically one for pills, and if you are prone to addictive tendencies maybe don’t take this advice. For me, if a flight is longer than 8 hours, I like something to make the time pass and to help me sleep. I prefer Valium, but this time I was able to get some generic Xanax. I only took one, watched a little bit of the first season of Westworld, and before long I felt super-relaxed and I could not keep my eyes open.
The worst part of the flight happened once the lights were dimmed … the people in front of me reclined their seats. It felt like the screen was inches from my face, because it was. There was very little room to move my body without hitting the back of their seat. Had I been a taller man, the loss of leg room would have been a big issue. Standing at 5’8” (173 cm) it truly was not that big of a deal, and I really can’t complain because we had the whole row. Kelly, who can sleep anywhere, had a mask and a neck pillow. She told me to spread out and we slept like the photo suggests. I curled up with my legs on her and I was able to trick my body into thinking it was laying down. My reclined position, combined with the Xanax, put me to sleep for a little over 7 hours. It was some of the best sleep I have gotten on a plane.
Even after the good sleep, I was pretty disoriented and had no idea what time it was when I awoke. The sun had risen and, squinting, I quickly closed the window screen. The monitor had flight info which helped me figure out how long I had been asleep and where we were in the world. Soon after we woke, breakfast was served to the cabin. As promised, a flight attendant came by to take Kelly’s order before everyone else’s - true to their word. I chose orange juice to compliment my feta and spinach omelette with pork sausage. Again, the food was pretty good for airplane food. I don’t like coconut so I did not eat the pastry that accompanied the meal, but Kelly said it was very tasty. After I was done eating, I made use of the extra seat’s tray table to hold my refuse, allowing mine to go back up and giving me a bit more leg room.
Before too long, the captain came on to let everyone know we had started our descent to DFW, and the huge plane landed smoothly and safely. It was hard to believe I got on the plane in Sydney, Australia and was going to be getting off of it in Dallas, Texas - it is just such a long distance to travel straight through. The Xanax-induced sleep really aided in making this flight more bearable, and I’m happy to have not spent the extra $1,000 each on a Premium Economy seat. However, if we did not have the extra seat I might be singing a different tune. If you have the means, go for the Premium Economy. If you’re on a budget, or just didn’t plan far enough in advance to upgrade your seats, Economy is more than tolerable.
“No one who claims this to be a small world has ever flown across the Pacific.” - J. Maarten Troost