SMOOTH OP­ER­A­TOR

The first Qan­tas Dream­liner flight be­tween Mel­bourne and San Fran­cisco is an easy 13 hours

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - FLYING | NEW ROUTE - MELINDA BROWN­ING THE WRITER TRAV­ELLED AS A GUEST OF QAN­TAS, WHICH OP­ER­ATES FOUR RE­TURN FLIGHTS A WEEK BE­TWEEN MEL­BOURNE AND SAN FRAN­CISCO. QAN­TAS.COM

This is your cap­tain speak­ing,” says the voice over the PA. “Qan­tas has never op­er­ated this ser­vice so you are join­ing part of Qan­tas’s long and pres­ti­gious his­tory. “Wel­come on board.”

It’s not just any cap­tain speak­ing – it’s Lisa Nor­man, the star pilot of Qan­tas’s much-feted Dream­liner roll­out. You’d have seen her on telly each time the air­line’s Boe­ing 787 planes made news over the past year – which is of­ten.

So I’m a bit starstruck to see her walk­ing through the cabin chat­ting to flight at­ten­dants and pas­sen­gers as I board the first di­rect flight be­tween Mel­bourne and San Fran­cisco.

“We like to think that our fore­fa­thers would be very proud of our con­tin­ued pi­o­neer­ing spirit as we take the Boe­ing 787 Dream­liner to new and fur­ther des­ti­na­tions,” Lisa Nor­man tells pas­sen­gers.

Even if you missed the cap­tain’s an­nounce­ment, you couldn’t help but no­tice this flight is out of the or­di­nary. Like when celebrity chef Neil Perry rolls through the cabin to serve busi­ness pas­sen­gers caviar to go with the wel­come drinks.

And when the ground staff gather at the air bridge win­dow us­ing their phones to film the in­au­gu­ral flight’s de­par­ture. And when the flight at­ten­dants ad­mit they’re at least as ex­cited as the pas­sen­gers. “I’ve never been to San Fran­cisco be­fore,” says one, “and I can’t wait.”

But I can’t af­ford to let these dis­trac­tions get in the way of my own ex­cite­ment. I’m busy check­ing out the bells and whis­tles of the busi­ness class seat. There’s no first class, so this is as good as it gets on this plane. Not that I’m com­plain­ing: The seat set-up is so swish it’s been called “mini first class”. Think first-world prob­lems like legroom so plen­ti­ful that it’s a chore to stretch to the touch­screen TV on the seat­back in front. (Luck­ily, there’s a re­mote too.)

Thir­teen hours in this seat is some­thing to cel­e­brate, not dread.

THE PLANE

It’s not only the busi­ness class pas­sen­gers who have it bet­ter on this plane. Much has been writ­ten about the Dream­liner’s anti-jet lag ben­e­fits – and not just by pas­sen­gers at the pointy end.

Many fre­quent fly­ers re­port the air qual­ity is no­tice­ably nicer. “No one has dry lips (af­ter a flight),” one of the pi­lots tells me. Neil Perry says his eyes are less af­fected when he flies on the 787. An­other pas­sen­ger tells me her usual in-flight si­nus is­sues aren’t ap­par­ent on this flight.

On my re­turn jour­ney, an­other ad­van­tage strikes me – when I board a 737 straight af­ter ar­riv­ing on the Dream­liner to Mel­bourne, I’m star­tled by the sheer noise of the older plane. The 787 is much qui­eter. The dif­fer­ence be­tween old and new air­craft is so pro­nounced that Aus­tralian Busi­ness Trav­eller edi­tor David Flynn reck­ons Syd­neysiders are bet­ter off fly­ing to Mel­bourne to take the Dream­liner to San Fran­cisco than to take a di­rect flight from Syd­ney on a “rat­tly old Boe­ing 747”.

While plenty of air­lines are fly­ing Dream­lin­ers, Qan­tas’s cabin con­fig­u­ra­tion means it’s more spa­cious than most – it car­ries a max of 236 pas­sen­gers com­pared to up­wards of 300 on bud­get air­lines – which makes it bet­ter suited to the long-haul flights.

THE COST

There’s an­other ben­e­fit for bud­get­con­scious fly­ers too: cheaper flights. The Dream­liner is open­ing up new routes, such as Perth-Lon­don and Mel­bourne-San Fran­cisco.

Skyscan­ner re­ports the new route has slashed the cost of fly­ing from Mel­bourne to San Fran­cisco by up to 30 per cent, com­pared to con­nect­ing via Syd­ney. Re­turn flights to San Fran­cisco could be snapped up for as lit­tle as $951.

It fol­lows the pat­tern set when Qan­tas kicked off its much-cel­e­brated di­rect flight from Perth to Lon­don ear­lier this year, with its in­tro­duc­tion cred­ited with shav­ing al­most $300 off the cost of a re­turn flight be­tween the two cities.

WHERE NEXT?

Ex­pect to see more of Cap­tain Lisa Nor­man on TV and all that first flight fan­fare in the com­ing years.

The same week­end flight that she steers QF49 from Mel­bourne for San Fran­cisco, an­other Dream­liner makes its first flight from Bris­bane to LA, tak­ing over the route pre­vi­ously flown by a 747. Qan­tas CEO Alan Joyce has named Seat­tle, Chicago, San Fran­cisco, Van­cou­ver and cities in Asia as pos­si­bil­i­ties now on the cards for di­rect flights from Bris­bane.

Next stop for the Dream­liner is Hong Kong in De­cem­ber (ini­tially run­ning ser­vices from Mel­bourne, then Bris­bane and later Syd­ney) co­in­cid­ing with the de­liv­ery of the air­line’s eighth Dream­liner.

Qan­tas also has a fur­ther six Dream­lin­ers on or­der for de­liv­ery by mid-2020, en­abling the last of its 747s to be phased out and mak­ing new di­rect flights to Europe and North Amer­ica a pos­si­bil­ity.

Then there’s “Project Sun­rise”. The co­de­name refers to the air­line’s plan to fly the 20-hour marathon from Syd­ney to Lon­don by 2022. To do it, it’ll need a yet-to-be-un­veiled sta­teof-the-art plane – pos­si­bly even us­ing space in the cargo hold to ac­com­mo­date bunk beds for the mega long-haul flight.

As we touch down in San Fran­cisco, we’re mak­ing his­tory, but it’s only a taste of what’s to come. Strap on your seat­belts for a lot more in­au­gu­ral flights – and a whole lot more cham­pagne and caviar.

LEGROOM IS SO PLEN­TI­FUL IT’S A CHORE TO STRETCH TO THE TOUCH­SCREEN TV IN FRONT

PIC­TURES: ISTOCK, MELINDA BROWN­ING

Fly di­rect to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge; the flight calls for a cel­e­bra­tion with celeb chef Neil Perry.

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