I flew to the US a few days ago. My first flight was across Australia on Qantas, followed by the long flight from Sydney to Dallas (DFW) (also on Qantas), with the final flight to Grand Rapids, Michigan on American Eagle (a division of American Airlines).
I travelled in Business Class across Australia, First Class on the long haul (a points upgrade from my purchased Business Class seat), and so-called ‘First Class’ on American Eagle. Supposedly US ‘First Class’ on domestic flights is equivalent to what Australians call ‘Business Class’ on their domestic flights (we have no domestic First Class category), but there’s a world of difference between them. I won’t talk about the international flight as international is a different ball game entirely.
I’ve travelled in ‘First’ (and yes, I use the air quotes deliberately!) on both American Airlines and Alaska Air previously, and they aren’t a PATCH on what we get on Qantas in domestic Business Class.
The first point of difference is in the airline lounges. If you’re travelling in these classes you have access to the airline’s lounge, even if you’re not already a member.
At Perth airport, Qantas has a dedicated ‘Business Lounge’ for domestic flights, which is separate from the Qantas Club. It seats many people in great comfort, and there’s an excellent range of hot and cold food at the self-serve area. There’s a coffee bar with a barista too. At noon, fresh gourmet pizzas come out of the pizza oven, and they start to serve alcoholic drinks at the bar. All this costs the traveller absolutely NOTHING (consider it paid for in the price of the ticket). There are also showers available. And heaps of power outlets for charging your devices, etc.
At DFW, American Airlines has an Admirals Club in each terminal, with showers in each (I think DFW is the home hub of AA). I landed at Terminal D (international terminal), and went back through TSA security there too. I figured that the Admirals Club at Terminal B probably didn’t have the level of facilities as those at Terminal D, so I went into the Terminal D lounge (I had 5 hours before my next flight). The shower facilities were comparable to those in the Qantas lounges (and are a very welcome relief after a 16-hour flight!). However, on every other aspect the Admirals Club is a poor second to what Qantas has for its customers. I got a ‘one free drink’ voucher on entering the lounge, and a voucher to access the ‘International Dining Room’ within the Admirals Club. What a joke! Standard domestic Qantas Club in Australia would piss all over it. A few broken bits of cheese, some cold deli meats, some very sad salads, and an empty plate that looked like it had held something chocolatey. In whole time I was there, no-one came to refresh/replace any of the very ordinary food. No drinks (except water) were available in this ‘International Dining Room’. If you wanted a drink you had to go to the bar and use your ‘free drink’ voucher. Except the range of drinks available was pathetic — for red wine they had one merlot and that’s all. All purchased drinks started at $8 each (I overheard the barman charge someone for their beer). I ended up not using my drink voucher and gave it to someone as I left the lounge. As I expected, the lounge at Terminal B was much smaller, and very ordinary.
On the cross-Australia flight, I was on an A330, which has the newer Business Class seats (http://www.qantas.com/travel/airlines/a330business-suite/global/en). Well, they’re really semi-private cubicles, with a lie-flat bed, noise-cancelling headphones, power outlets in easy reach for charging your devices, etc. You choose your lunch from a menu, and the food is brought out on china and served on crisply starched white cloths. Wine is free (even for Economy Class) and served in a small wine glass. Top-ups are available at any time. Water is part of the meal, and also served in a small wine glass. A selection of warm bread is offered, with freshly churned butter. The inflight entertainment system has hundreds of options — movies, TV shows and series, radio, music, games, etc. The 24 Business Class seats on the flight I was on were served by several flight attendants (FAs). I was greeted and called by name in each interaction.
By contrast, here’s what I got on the American Eagle flight in ‘First Class’ (NOTE: Even though I was flying American Eagle on one of the smaller planes, none of this is much different to longer flights I’ve had on American or Alaskan in larger planes):
- There was only one working toilet on the entire aircraft — the one in First Class — so everyone had to use that one. ‘Sorry’, said the FA. The door to that toilet was broken and flew open on take off.
- The plane had WiFi, but you had to pay for it. I’ve no idea how much, but no doubt it was expensive.
- There were free soft drinks in Economy (‘Coach’) but those passengers had to pay $8 for beer, wine etc. The FAs couldn’t take credit cards (but there was free WiFi?), only cash. Drinks in First Class were free, but there was a very limited range and only one drink was offered on the 2.5-hour flight.
- The FA didn’t even acknowledge the existence of those of us in First Class either at the time of boarding, or during the initial prep for take off when she wandered up and down. There were only 9 First Class seats, and only 5 of those were occupied. She didn’t call anyone by name.
- Food on the flight – wine was served in a plastic cup (the taste really is different in plastic), there was real cutlery and a cloth napkin, the food tray contained some pathetic bits of iceberg lettuce, 2 cherry tomatoes, one slice of egg, some crumbled blue cheese, and 4 sad slices of cold ‘steak’. There was a packet of breadsticks and some chocolate wafer bite things. You had to ask for water. This pathetic attempt at a meal in ‘First Class’ wouldn’t be acceptable in Economy Class on Qantas (where passengers on flights more than a couple of hours get a hot meal), let alone in Business Class.
- Reading lights so dim you couldn’t read by them.
- Bulkhead so low that I nearly fractured my skull when I stood up to go to the toilet.
- My seat wouldn’t recline at all.
- No tea or coffee was offered (not that I drink it).
One final thing… I saw someone bring a cat on board!!!! (I’ve never seen an animal brought onto a Qantas aircraft — they go in the hold unless they are a certified service animal, such as a guide dog). I asked the FA if that person would’ve had to get permission beforehand to do so. She said they do, and that this was a ‘support animal’. Really??? A cat? She said it was for ’emotional support’. I’m sorry, but I’m not buying that. There are real service animals that do wonderful things for people with disabilities, those with certain illnesses, those with PTSD etc. But a cat? For ’emotional support’? Call me skeptical… (Update Feb 2017: See this: http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2017/02/02/pets-on-planes-for-emotional-support-only-need-note-from-doctor-to-fly-free/)
Anyhow, the upshot is that the service on US airlines, both on the ground and in the air, is really bad compared to Qantas. I just hope Qantas never go this way of treating customers so poorly, no matter what class they are flying.