Australian Business Traveller was on board one of Qantas' last Boeing 747 flights from Singapore to Brisbane, with the superjumbo now replaced by the smaller Airbus A330, and Sydney-Singapore to follow on October 1.
Fierce competition has both Emirates and Etihad offer a daily flight between these two cities, while Singapore Airlines sends three aircraft a day from its Singaporean hub.
In business class, the seats and on board service are identical between this older Qantas Boeing 747 and the Airbus A330s, so here's what to expect on your next trip to the Lion City with the Red Roo.
Business class passengers can use the secluded SATS Premier Check-in suite, found at the end of row 4 in the check-in hall.
A weight-based allowance of 40kg applies to most travellers, although this can be spread over any number of bags.
Qantas Club members and Silver frequent flyers have a boosted allowance of 52kg, Gold frequent flyers are given 56kg and Platinum-grade flyers, along with other Oneworld Emerald members, can check up to 60kg of baggage – provided that each individual bag weighs 32kg or less.
The Qantas Singapore Lounge can be found to the left after passport control, and is open for all Qantas departures.
Inside, there's a dining area with a brief à la carte menu, a cocktail bar, and relaxation space with televisions and views overlooking the check-in hall.
The lounge also boasts 20 private shower suites to freshen up after a long day, which are best-likened to a great hotel bathroom.
Photo: Aaron Bradford
While the business class Skybeds, service and dining are near-identical on the A330s, they're still no substitute for the ultra-quiet nose area on a Boeing 747, formerly the playground of first class travellers:
In Singapore, the aircraft left the gate just moments after the scheduled departure time, with a Brisbane arrival at 4:49am – a full 21 minutes early.
As a result, I sped through the arrivals formalities and was landside just as the flight should have been touching down.
Despite its age, the seat – one of the older-style Skybeds – comes complete with on-demand entertainment, and other nifty features like water bottle and shoe storage space.
Atop the Skybeds is a space that's handy for storing books, reading glasses and other small items – but as the window seats don't have direct aisle access, it's best used as a handle when jumping across the aisle seat.
The crew offer to hang jackets and other garments in the dedicated business class closets, which makes the in-seat coat hooks a little redundant.
Passengers can adjust the seat to their liking, with the most frequently-used positions – and a massage function – pre-programmed on shortcut buttons.
The bed is flat when fully extended, although not parallel to the floor.
Instead, it's on a slight incline, and while other travellers often comment that they progressively slide down the seats as they're sleeping, I've never experienced the same issue.
Qantas offers a 'mattress service' on selected flights, complete with pillows and a high-quality blanket.
If you're up late working or even flying during the day, the seat is much more comfortable with the mattress attached – so definitely ask for one if it's not offered.
Speaking of work, each passenger has their own power outlet for charging a phone, tablet or laptop.
This particular aircraft is nearing its 25th birthday, and while the rest of the cabin was spotless, the power points are overdue for a good cleaning...
Absent are USB outlets, although as travellers would normally be carrying a power adapter for use at their hotel, it's not a critical issue.
There's storage space at the side of each seat, which is where you'll find the headphones on boarding – but during the flight, it's a better spot for valuables and your amenity kit, which fits perfectly.
The design of the kits differ for men and women, but inside both are face, hand and lip moisturisers by Malin+Goetz, a toothbrush and toothpaste, earplugs, a blindfold and black socks.
Disposable razors and shaving cream can also be requested from the crew, helping you to look your best on arrival.
Ample dining options are available to business class flyers in the Qantas Singapore Lounge, so the on board meal from Singapore is supper.
With six main course options, I went with the slow cooked duck ragoût with pappardelle and broccoli, served with the three seed loaf and spreadable butter.
The dish was beautifully cooked, the duck was succulent and the portion size was generous for a supper service.
Having not eaten before the flight, I'd also asked the crew if they could leave a cheese plate aside for a quasi-dessert, which wasn't a problem.
Afterwards, I snuck in a Baileys on the rocks before getting some rest.
When travelling overnight from Asia, Qantas has been serving a somewhat underwhelming 'cafe breakfast' in business class, consisting of a beverage and one small item.
On this flight, the options were either a fruit salad with yoghurt, toasted museli or a spinach and ricotta pastry. I'd requested the latter, and wasn't disturbed until breakfast was ready to land on my tray.
While delicious and bite-sized, the pastry felt a little 'heavy' and dinner-like for a breakfast flight, so I'd likely opt for something else on future flights.
The crew remembered my coffee preference, and delivered an identical cup alongside the pastry – a nice touch.
Missing from the menu was an egg dish, but that's since been introduced to the breakfast lineup. From Singapore, the travellers can now opt for slow roasted tomatoes, English spinach and creamed eggs garnished with caramelised onion jam.
Even with the improved menu, the cafe breakfast concept seems at odds with the pre-flight dining set-up.
Passengers are encouraged to eat a proper dinner in the lounge before stepping on board and heading straight to sleep, which sees breakfast arriving some 9-10 hours after the evening meal (assuming that you've slept through the supper service to maximise your rest).
Even if made available exclusively through the Select on Q Eat system, we'd like to see an option for passengers to skip the supper service and indulge in a full-sized breakfast instead – ready to hit the ground running on arrival back home.
This type of arrangement would continue to minimise food wastage for the airline, while giving frequent flyers a real choice over when and where they dine.
Until then, there's no harm in asking for seconds if you're still ravenous.
Download: Full Qantas Business Class menu, Singapore to Australia [1.1MB PDF]
Note that the dishes available may vary between flights, including those on the same route.
Entertainment & Service
Throughout the flight, the crew addressed passengers by name in every interaction, and were always polite.
In fact, the crew were never spotted empty-handed, and were frequently refreshing drinks, serving or clearing plates, assisting with questions or just checking up on passengers.
As a result of their proactive (yet unintrusive) service, my plates were cleared within one minute of placing the utensils together on both occasions, and the call bell went unused – a noticeable change from other crews who tend to reside in the galley.
Seatback screens provide access to movies, TV shows and audio on demand, along with the moving map to display information about the flight.
The screens can also be tilted downwards for easy viewing when the seat is in 'bed mode', operating both as a touch screen and with a remote control.
A pleasing range of content was available, with some titles available in multiple languages.
Active noise cancelling headphones were provided, and the entertainment handset doubles as a telephone for satellite voice calls and SMS sending/receiving at an extra charge.
The Boeing 747s have now disappeared from the Singapore-Brisbane route (aside for their short-lived reappearance in July), although they remain until October on flights between Sydney and Singapore.
While the seats and service are virtually the same on the replacement Qantas Airbus A330s, the aircraft nose and the upper deck will be missed by many travellers – this reporter included.
When combined with the faultless service offered on board and the nostalgia of flying on VH-OJA (the 12th Boeing 747-400 ever built and the first to join the Qantas fleet), the flight was both enjoyable and highly memorable.
However, there's still work to be done on the supper and breakfast menus – not all passengers can arrive in time to dine on the ground.
Even if passengers have this opportunity and then sleep through supper, they wake to a relatively small breakfast and are hungry on arrival.
Nine Qantas Boeing 747 aircraft have been outfitted with the airline's newer A380-style fully-flat Skybeds – making for a great night's sleep – while this aircraft and two others retain the first generation Skybeds.
These are more than comfortable when getting some shuteye, but are a rung below what you'd expect on the A380.
The three remaining 'older' 747s are destined for an early retirement, but until then, these birds can be found on selected flights to Hong Kong, Santiago, Johannesburg, Tokyo Narita, Los Angeles and New York.
Chris Chamberlin was a guest of Oneworld and Qantas Airways.
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