We are off on our annual holiday and this year we are heading to the US / Europe. To get there we’ve decided to take one of the longest flights in the world; Sydney to New York (via Auckland).
The flight departs Sydney at 9:30 am and arrives in Auckland at 2:35 pm local time with a two-hour transit and the same aircraft continues on to New York departing at 4:35 pm and arrives around 16 hours later at 4:50 pm local time. The Auckland to New York leg is 14,207 km and ranks as the fifth longest flight in the world. The journey from Sydney to New York in total (including the Auckland stopover) is just over 21 hours.
I have done some long flights before (Sydney to Dallas and Darwin to London) and the tyranny of distance between Australia and the rest of the world does make it unavoidable for those with links to North America and Europe, but I sense this flight will be a real test of endurance.
We enjoy a lovely breakfast in the lounge, a basic toast with bircher muesli for Alex and I opt for the eggs royale. We have a strong coffee to kick start our day.
Sydney to Auckland
Today we are flying on the Qantas 787-900 Dreamliner which has a business class suite which is based on Thompson Aero’s Vantage XL seat. There is plenty of legroom and the sloped footrest provides decent legroom when the seat is in lounge mode. One of the strengths of the product is that you are able to have your seat semi-reclined during take-off or landing which can give you sleep time from gate to gate. There is a c.16-inch IFE screen with a wide selection of movies, TV shows and an interactive map which charts the course of the journey.
Each suite is semi-enclosed with direct aisle access (1 2 1 configuration). There three lights for reading when the cabin is dimmed and the seat controls to the side of the seat (pictured below) offers various pre-set recline positions, manual adjustment of the seat and a massage function.
A bottle of water and noise cancelling headphones are provided. There is also USB and a power socket to keep your devices powered during the flight. The side console also has a storage pocket and there is also a larger storage area to the base of the left of the seat (pictured above).
The main dishes were served with a side of kale and sweet potato salad with Tasmanian smoked salmon and a ‘Green Goddess’ dressing. My wife loved the salad and continued to rave about it.
I opted to eat little of the salad and focus on the main dish; the spicy Thai beef noodle salad which had a decent zest to it. Even Mr Gatsby seemed to endorse it.
The crew offered Maggie Beer ice cream for dessert, which I skipped.
Landing and Transit
The landing into Auckland is always beautiful, but that is where the joy of the Auckland stopover ended. Auckland is an origination & destination airport like most Australian airports and is certainly not designed for the volume of transit passengers that Changi Airport or Dubai International Airport. While we disembarked early and had a decent (but not long) wait at the transit queues, those that disembarked later or dawdled to the transit area which stuck in a long queue with only one security lane open.
The Auckland Lounge is nothing to write home about and again is not designed for the volume of transit passengers with not a spare seat in either the First or Business lounge. Qantas is planning to transform the lounge into one premium lounge in late 2024 and this refurbishment can’t come soon enough.
Auckland to New York
After a 2 hour wait in the lounge, we make our way back onboard the same aircraft for the long flight to New York. We are delayed due to a refuelling truck breaking down and an alternative truck being sourced to load the 30 tonnes of fuel for the journey.
We settle in our seats and enjoy a pre-flight champagne.
The Amenity Kit
We are provided with a Rebecca Vallance styled the amenity kit case. The amenity kit has an eyeshade with the pattern as kit, skincare products from Li’Tya, a dental kit, earplugs and socks.
Qantas is one of the few airlines which offer PJs in business class and in a welcome move away from the usual grey PJs, there is a stylish ‘limited edition’ sleeper suit also from Rebecca Vallance in a light navy grey cotton.
The PJs are super comfortable, even if they are a little oversized.
Canape and Beverage: A mushroom vol au vent and a glass of the Taylors Jaraman Shiraz 2021.
The wine had beautiful aromas of blackberry, plums, pepper and floral notes. On the palate the clear impression of baked blackberries and peppery notes dominate with a hint of coffee notes and soft tannins. It’s a bold full-bodied wine and pairs nicely with the beef fillet I have later. Qantas should have a couple of reds for selection (this flight only had one choice) and as I have noted before, have wines with a bit more age rather than younger vintages would better hit the spot.
I opt for the salad of prawns with fioretto, farro, snow peas, confit chilli and an orange dressing.
The dish has a beautiful citrus tang to it. The prawns are fresh and cooked nicely and there is a mix of textures through the grainy farro and leafy fioretto and crunch of the snow peas. It’s a light refreshing dish to start.
For the main course I opt for the beef fillet with creamed spinach and baked potato with sour cream and chives.
The beef fillet is cooked perfectly. On some other Qantas flights, it has been overcooked and needed the butter or corn puree to moisten it. The beef fillet was medium rare with a decent amount of pink, tender, succulent with a beautiful char on the outside. The creamed spinach was delicious too and I skipped the potato to avoid the carb intake as I do want to enjoy the rye with Pepe Saya butter (the best butter in the world).
I select the cheese platter for dessert with a glass of Martell Cognac. The cheese today is Tarwin Blue (blue vein, cow’s milk) Woombye Ash Brie (Triple Cream cow’s milk) and Pygengana (mature cheddar, cow’s milk).
I have no regrets with this selection. The rich creamy Woombye Ash brie is a keeper, and the Tarwin Blue has a lovely tartness to it, and the Pyengana Cheddar was solid. The sweetness of the cognac provides a lovely taste to contrast the salinity of the cheese.
There is a snack menu available with a pumpkin and goat’s cheese quiche, a crumbed snapper roll and a Reuben sandwich available on-demand. I don’t feel hungry after dinner, so I didn’t order any snacks.
Soon it’s off to sleep as this marathon flight continues. The key after dinner was to stay hydrated and ensure we got a substantial block of sleep ahead of landing. The bed on this flight was comfortable and did enable a decent amount of sleep.
The cabin lighting is set to night-mode for the majority of the flight. The cabin lights and windows are gently lifted as we approach US Mideast. Breakfast is served 90 minutes before landing which may seem odd (given the 5pm landing time), however most of the cabin has slept for the majority of the journey it does sort of gel with the body clock. As I reflect on it, the decision to serve breakfast is probably the right call, I don’t think waking up to heavy lunch or dinner would work.
The breakfast menu has the usual favourites of toast, muesli, bakery, English breakfast, a more casual bacon & egg roll and a healthy option of an egg white omelette. I opt for the healthy option, Leek and mushroom egg white omelette with asparagus and a piece of toast.
The omelette is fluffy and light and hits the spot especially with the earthiness of the mushrooms. The toast is a little dry and doesn’t match the rye which was served with dinner. The coffee was decent, but probably would have preferred it served in a ceramic cup rather than a takeaway cup.
Shortly after breakfast the plane is directly above Manhattan as it makes its way to JFK. The view of Central Park from above is stunning.
After landing, we find there is an immigration queue (which is decent) and although slightly shorter than LAX, it does take us 30-40 minutes to clear and pick-up our luggage.
The flights (both legs) were great. The Qantas Dreamliner offers a strong business class product for what is a marathon flight. The quality of the food, the service and the business suite are amazing. Even though I do prefer more aged wines on the list the Taylors Shiraz today was decent. Qantas is one of the few airlines which offer PJs in business class, and they were certainly comfortable and welcome on this long flight. The amenity kit was decent too with all the essentials and the inflight entertainment kept us occupied for the flight. If you are embarking on a 21-hour journey, this would be the way to go.
These flights do require discipline and regimen. I always had my mind on New York time and the timing of meals, alcohol consumption and staying hydrated. Most importantly, the duration / timing of sleep was critical. Even though the cabin was dimmed until a couple of hours before landing, I made it a point to wake-up 5 hours before landing given the 5pm arrival time. It’s different for everyone and we all have varying circadian rhythms
and behaviours, so that approach might not work for everyone, but I pretty much settled straight into US eastern time by the next day.
The main drawback of the flight is the Auckland transit and the lack of inflight wi-fi. There has been a lot of commentary on the merits of skipping LAX. To compare the two options; Sydney (via LAX) to New York has two security checkpoints, two baggage reclaims and one immigration clearance while Sydney (via AKL) to New York has two security checkpoints, one baggage claim and one immigration clearance, so all that’s being avoided is the baggable reclaim at LAX. The Sunrise flights which Qantas are proposing from 2025 will be a far better proposition than the Auckland or LAX transit for those heading to New York with no stopovers or transit security just one hop to the city that never sleeps.