To be directly connected to Britain and Europe is a psychological and competitive advantage that has forever altered the famed kangaroo route. It is finally just one hop.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce is under fire for passenger frustration over a range of issues. But that should not overshadow the importance of this moment.
The creation of “Project Sunrise” under Mr Joyce, and the ushering in of a new age of direct travel from Australia into London and now Rome – with Paris in the wings for next year – is a leap forward that plugs Australia straight into Europe.
Yes, if you’re coming from the eastern seaboard cities into Perth, the journey is only slightly shorter than if you were doing it via the existing stopover routes (you’ll save only a few hours).
But connectivity is key; Australians finally have the choice to fly direct from home. Passengers from Sydney benefit most, being able to clear customs in Sydney and simply transit through Perth.
The other big advantage is not having to deal with the COVID-19 and customs regulations of foreign stopover/transit destinations.
Celebrating Flight Centre’s 40th anniversary, chief executive Graham Turner predicted in March that the next 40 years of travel would cut the flight time between Australia and cities such as London and New York to six hours.
For now, the Qantas direct services into London and Rome are hard to beat. The fact Qantas international flights don’t offer Wi-Fi remains an issue, but this is strongly rumoured to change.
Can I survive economy for almost 16 hours straight?
Sitting in economy class on the inaugural Perth-to-Rome, the five-member Sacks family (mum, dad and three adult children in their 20s) travelling from Melbourne had a good take on this question.
Mr Sacks usually travels business for work, or premium economy when travelling with his wife. When it’s all five of them, it’s economy. “I survived it, but I wouldn’t want to do this again in a hurry,” a tired Mr Sacks told The Australian Financial Review shortly before QF5 landed in Rome. “Obviously, I’d have pulled up better if I was in premium or business. Around 12 to 14 hours is my limit up the back of the plane.” He admitted to a couple of whiskies to aid sleep.
His wife and their 23-year-old daughter, Isabelle, both gave it the thumbs up. “It was much easier than having to do an overseas stop, and I found economy fine,” Isabelle said. “I got some sleep, it was comfortable enough.”
Along with other media, the Financial Review was flown business class, so nothing to complain about there.
These direct flights allow you to better plan your journey over the time you’ll spend in the air. There’s no need to pack up, disembark the aircraft, then reboard a few hours later.
With so much research under way on how to minimise jet lag, including adapting your eating and sleeping habits to your final destination as soon as you board, this long stretch better enables passengers to select when they will sleep, relax and work.
The business class seats by David Caon are well laid-out, with plenty of space to work and recharge gadgets, plus good lighting and generous storage areas. The fully flat bed is as comfortable as any other product in the sky.
However, it is a very open layout. Some carriers, notably Qatar, offer more privacy with sliding screens onto the aisle.
The 1-2-1 seat configuration for the 42 business class seats offers everyone easy aisle access. The plane was virtually full at 236 passenger capacity, with 28 seats in premium economy and 166 in economy. There’s no first class on the 787s.
Dreamliner 787s are new generation aircraft, and are quieter and more fuel efficient. There is about 25 per cent more moisture in the air, plus larger windows, all leading to increased passenger comfort and better air quality. The plane is also fitted with hospital-grade HEPA air filters.
The check-in for Sydney to Perth
Sydney to Perth on June 25 was fairly smooth, without the queues we have come to expect given it was school holidays in NSW. I presented my passport and international COVID-19 vaccination certificate (ICVC) listing my vaccination history at check-in. My luggage was checked through to Rome from Sydney and I received both boarding passes.
There were ample Qantas staff at the check-in desk, and hovering around the self-check-in kiosks, albeit they were all being kept busy by passenger enquiries. Many had been with the company only a few days, so were still learning the ropes.
The Perth lounge experience and the flight to Rome
When I flew the inaugural Perth to London flight in 2018 (flight time just shy of 17 hours), it was a case of being experimental mice. This time, it was old hat. And let’s not forget Qantas’ Dallas-Melbourne flight (pre-pandemic) was 17 hours and 25 minutes.
Under 16 hours to Rome felt like a middle-distance sprint.
We landed in Perth in the late afternoon and proceeded to wait in the Qantas lounge until QF5 departed a little behind its scheduled time of 22.20.
QF5 from Sydney has a 90-minute turnaround time in Perth. With a strong focus on wellness (think mint, ginger and lemon water; fresh vegetables with dip; an outdoor terrace for fresh air, and the bodhi yoga and relaxation room), the Perth Qantas Lounge is an easy spot to kill time.
It is available to business class ticket holders, plus Qantas Gold Frequent Flyers and above.
On board, a full dinner service was offered a couple of hours after take-off, then it was lights out for about eight hours.
Light snacks and water were on hand. Added treats such as coconut water and kombucha were in business class, plus espresso coffee.
Qantas recently announced it was lifting the mask requirement on several outbound flights, including Perth to Rome.
Most passengers and crew elected not to wear a mask. (Masks were still mandatory, however, on the Sydney to Perth leg.)
On arrival in Rome, no COVID-19-related documentation was requested, it was just a case of clearing customs as usual.
How often will this route fly?
Sydney-Perth-Rome aboard QF5 will operate during Italy’s summer and early spring months. It will run three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Saturday ex Perth) until October 6, and is scheduled to be offered again next year.
It departs at 17.55 from Sydney, with a 90-minute transit time in Perth, arriving into Rome at 8.45am the following day.
Passengers from Australian cities other than Sydney can also be checked all the way through to Rome. However, they will have to clear customs in Perth, whereas those departing Sydney can clear customs in that city given the flight path is technically Sydney to Rome via Perth.
Melbourne-Perth-London aboard QF9 operates daily all year.
Introductory fares for Sydney to Rome via Perth started at $1785 return in economy and have now jumped to about $2180. As part of their “circle fare”, passengers can combine Qantas’ Rome flights with the airline’s double-daily direct flights between Australia and London, at least until October.
What’s on the menu, and are there still Qantas PJs up the front?
The menus are by celebrity chef Neil Perry. Business class has a variety of Italian themed dishes such as spaghettini with prawns, garlic, chilli, slow roast cherry tomatoes and pangrattato; or mozzarella bufala, finiocchiona salumi, anchovy, artichokes, olives, marinated red capsicum with focaccia, followed by tiramisu.
In economy, you’ll find braised Wagyu beef with broccoli, carrots and soft polenta; plus rosemary and garlic focaccia, and mixed arancini.
The famed grey Qantas PJs have survived COVID-19 in the pointy end; toiletries are by Li-Tya in a retro Qantas pouch.
The writer flew courtesy of Qantas.