Qantas is oh-so-familiar territory for me, but everything is a bit different when you’re in Tasmania. The Four Airlines challenge concludes as I head back to Sydney.
The flight: Qantas QF1012 Hobart-Melbourne
The cost: $243.78 (note: that covers a subsequent flight to Sydney as well)
The airside experience: Even if you split it over two flights, Qantas comes out as the most expensive journey of the four airlines experiment. Some of that can be explained by the time of day (PM = pricey) and the relative infrequency of Hobart-Melbourne Qantas Sflights (the route is now more heavily covered by Jetstar), but there’s no escaping the fact that in cost terms this is still the premium choice amongst domestic carriers. For the purposes of my own economics, that’s somewhat offset by bigger baggage allowances, lounge access, points and status credits, and free on-board food and drink, but it can’t pass without remark.
In most capital cities, Qantas sports check-in kiosks, but Hobart hasn’t got that far, so I have to queue for my boarding pass (after walking across the tarmac and clearing quarantine sniffer dogs, something else you don’t encounter on a lot of capital city domestic flights). There is a separate business class queue, so I shamelessly exploit my platinum status to get boarding passes from a cheerful and friendly gent. (For coincidence watchers, I didn’t get 4F, but then I didn’t expect to, since my Qantas preferences specify an aisle seat.)
Hobart is one of the few cities where the Qantas lounge is outside the secured area of the airport. Indeed, the lounge is very basic by Qantas standards (though not as simple as the one in Devonport). That still means it’s pretty luxurious compared to most international lounges, and there’s food, drink and Wi-Fi on offer. More importantly for a man who has been suffering technical glitches all day, it offers me a power outlet. We get a boarding announcement a full 15 minutes before boarding time, to make sure we can all clear security.
The onboard experience: There’s a lot of hand luggage — more than I’ve seen on any other flight — which sounds a little contrary considering Qantas is the only airline of the four I’m testing that doesn’t charge for checked baggage. On the other hand, it also lets you take two pieces on board, and lots of people seem determined to take advantage.
The 737-800 isn’t the smallest plane Qantas runs, so I get a reasonable amount of space – fractionally more leg room than any other plane today, and the largest and most mobile tray table. This is the only economy-class seat I’ve encountered today where I can imagine getting away with a larger laptop, though you might still have trouble if the person in front of you decides to recline.
The flight from Hobart to Melbourne barely takes an hour, so I’d guessed we’d be offered a muffin and a soft drink (the invariable approach on most mainland flights of this length). Surprisingly, though, you have the option of a free sandwich if you want one, and the attendants run around doing their best to fulfil special requests. I imagine when Jetstar or Virgin Blue flies this route that the food cart would be lucky to make it to the back row.
Overall: I know what I’m in for with Qantas — friendly service (and a bit of special treatment), some free victuals on board, and a solid working environment. All that gets delivered, and I’m more than happy that they’re my regular airline. But as I’ve noted, that comes at a cost.
Tomorrow, I’ll sum up the experience and point out some useful lessons for travellers, no matter what your preferred airline. Right now, I’m going to have a glass of wine while I wait for my final flight.