Never flown first class, never likely to. I’m almost always cattle class on the non-refundable ticket, with an aversion to being anywhere early so I get to the airport minutes before check-in closes and then weave through the duty free maze and the crowds knowing any minute the airline will call me to the gate because it’s closing in 30 seconds.
But I’ve taken a peek into the rarefied world of the Qantas first class lounge in Sydney and wow. You really have to be at the airport early to be at one with this experience. However if you’re paying about $A17,000 for a return trip Sydney-London, there’s a big incentive.
So what do you get for your money before you take off? The interior is designed by Marc Newson, the leather reclining armchairs and sofas are made by Italian designer Polana Frau, the dining tables and chairs by Capellini, carpets by Tai Ping from Hong Kong and marble from Italy’s Carrera. It’s streamlined and almost monochromatic in parts, no clutter or hard edges among the highly-polished wood, black and white surfaces.
Don’t eat breakfast before you leave home. It’s all there. Award-winning Rockpool owner Neil Perry is in charge of catering, so that means top quality smoked salmon, the organic breads are from top Sydney baker Brasserie Bread, the eggs are organic free-range. And the French champagne flows. I order an egg-white omelette with ricotta, tomatoes and chives.
The day spa features entire walls of living plants. Otherwise the interior and furnishings, and the staff’s uniforms are pure white. It all looks slightly otherworldly, like an environmentally-friendly sci-fi movie. Beauty and massage treatments from 20 minutes to an hour long are complimentary – although you or your personal assistant have to book them in advance.
The business centre has computers, high-speed broadband, a fax and all that, but most people have laptops and wireless now anyway, so I wonder how much use it gets. If you want to get away from technology there’s a library for the old-fashioned folks who want to put their feet up and actually read a newspaper.
It’s not just the rich, the celebs and very important business people who opt for first class. Dedicated travellers use their frequent flier miles to upgrade, and others earn points on their credit cards. But Qantas first-class lounges seem destined to be even more rarefied, as the world’s eighth-best airline cut its luxury class in February 2010.
Passengers are now only able to fly first class between Australia and London, via Singapore and Los Angeles after demand dropped dramatically in the wake of the global financial crisis of 2008.