The first Qantas Dreamliner flight between Melbourne and San Francisco is an easy 13 hours
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.
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.
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.
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
Fly direct to see the iconic Golden Gate Bridge; the flight calls for a celebration with celeb chef Neil Perry.