On a recent working trip to both South Africa and Australia, I had the opportunity to fly Qantas for the first and most likely last time on the iconic 747-400.  This trip took me on one of the southern-most routes in the world, crossing the Indian Ocean while skirting the coast of Antarctica. 

Qantas use one of their oldest aircraft on this route and since there’s basically nowhere to divert in case of a mid-flight emergency, ETOPS rules require a four-engine aircraft.  As this route doesn’t do enough business to warrant one of Qantas’ shiny Airbus 380s, I was off for one last run aboard the Queen of the Skies!

As I’ve divided my loyalties between Air Canada / Star Alliance and Delta / SkyTeam, there was to be no lounge access for me as we awaited our flight in Johannesburg.  It’s a nice enough terminal, with a decent set of shops and restaurants so it wasn’t too bad.

After we cleared the security and emigration checkpoints, I bought a large bottle of water to keep myself hydrated on the flight but I was frustrated to get to the gate only to discover that we needed to re-clear security, meaning all our liquids confiscated – even those I’d just bought it at the shop a hundred yards away! 

It’s a beautiful plane, I only wish I’d gotten a decent photo of it! 

The seat was quite comfortable, pretty stock-standard Premium Economy stuff that’s certainly as comfortable as any armchair-style Business Class seat I’ve flown on a narrow-body airliner from Air Canada, Delta, American or United.  It reclines quite far, as you’ll see below, which does make for a bit of awkward contortion if one wants to get up mid-flight, but together with a sturdy recliner-style footrest that props up in front, most of the cabin slept throughout the flight.   

Provided at every seat were a set of (mostly) noise-cancelling headphones, a proper-sized pillow, and a blanket that managed to be both lightweight and warm.  A small amenity kit contains the usual thin socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, foam earplugs and an eye mask that blocks no light whatsoever!  

I expected a less-comfortable seat from one of Qantas’ oldest aircraft, but the seat has solid lumbar support and a foldable headrest that slides up and stays where you set it, which is always a plus for a tall guy! 

 I prefer the in-flight TV screen to be in the back of the seat in front of me, rather than folding up out of the armrest as is the case for every seat in the Premium Economy cabin on this flight.  Given the deep recline of the seats it means you’ve got to completely put away your screen if your seatmate wants to get up for any reason, which is annoying. 

The dinner service looked quite nice, but as we’d just had a large team dinner in the airport before departure, I settled for a light meal consisting of two or three glasses of excellent Australian red wine!  On the downside, this failed to have the desired effect and I stayed awake throughout the 12-hour red-eye flight.  On the plus side, I ended up chatting with the flight attendants for over an hour after the meal service and they were nice enough to gift me with a set of Qantas-branded business-class pyjamas “to help me sleep once we arrived”.  A wonderful gesture and as it turns out, the most comfortable flight pyjamas I’ve ever had! 

The flight attendants were truly attentive and friendly throughout the flight, topping me off with caffeinated drinks once I’d abandoned all hope of sleep.  As it’s only Premium Economy, we were limited to the galley snack basket though I was offered a packet of potato chips somewhere in the deep hours of the night. 

Unfortunately, it was dark until the last hour or so of the flight, as I had really hoped to catch a glimpse of Antarctica.  Qantas’ Johannesburg-Sydney route is one of only a handful of commercial routes that take passengers within sight of the frozen continent and as the purser cheerfully explained at the midway point across the Indian Ocean, the two hundred or so of us aboard the flight were almost as far away from the next-nearest group of humans as it is possible to be without leaving Planet Earth! 

Breakfast came round as we crossed into Australian airspace, with a choice of a hearty English-style breakfast or a lighter fruit plate.  My seatmate chose responsibly, while I tucked into the greasy bacon, so I got photos of both. 

Altogether, a pleasant flight.  I certainly disembarked feeling well-treated for the minor extra cost of Premium Economy. 


John is a consultant based in Ottawa who travels constantly for work and for fun. He loves trying new airlines and destinations, and has a special affinity for the arcane details of Air Canada's frequent-flyer program and Aeroplan's "mini Round The World" awards.


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