Having already reviewed QantasLink's new Boeing 717 business class, we've stepped a bit further back on the plane to report on the experience from the other side of the curtain cabin divider on our recent Canberra-Brisbane flight.
Currently in service on selected flights between Canberra and Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the reconfigured Boeing 717s will soon expand onto Hobart flights – replacing the existing Qantas Boeing 737 services from both Sydney and Melbourne.
Passengers seated in economy can check one piece of luggage at no charge, weighing a maximum of 23kgs.
Gold, Platinum and Platinum One Frequent Flyers see an increased allowance of two checked pieces, each weighing up to 32kgs.
No increased piece allowance is granted to Silver Frequent Flyers and Qantas Club members, though the maximum weight restriction is increased to 32kgs – in line with other Qantas domestic flights.
Economy features a new 'slimline' cloth seat, complete with an adjustable headrest.
The seat itself is reasonably comfortable, though is a little more firm than a comparable 737 seat – particularly around the lower back area.
In regular economy seats, the pitch varies from 30 to 31 inches, while rows 4, 13 and 14 (the bulkhead and exit rows) enjoy additional legroom.
Given the cabin's 2-3 layout, seats in this twosome are highly desirable for couples or business associates travelling together – though consider avoiding the 'A' seats if you can.
While knee room is adequate, there isn't a lot of foot space in the 'A' seats – the curved cabin wall impedes on the left-hand side, and the support bracket for the row in front is well and truly on the 'A' side:
You can't really put your right foot on the other side of the bracket, as you feel as if you're encroaching on your neighbour's space, and extending your feet forward will find them easily reaching the luggage barrier underneath the seat in front.
With such limited foot space, you begin to feel 'squished' – and when you're seated next to an armrest hog, the feeling is magnified.
Our recommendations: Aim for the extra-legroom bulkhead or exit row seats (pictured below), or failing that, a 'C' seat – you'll have direct aisle access, only one seatmate, and will enjoy the extra foot space that the support bracket provides.
You may have noticed the empty seat pockets above – the slimline seats are designed to preserve knee-room by storing reading materials in a literature pocket atop the seat:
This flight is marketed as a dinner service, which consisted of a chilled chicken salad main – as you can see, the presentation is slightly better than you'd expect for a short hop in economy:
Though the main was quite tasty and had very subtle spiciness to it, absent was a bread roll or side dish, which would have made the meal seem more 'complete'.
Complimentary wine and beer is offered after 4pm, though unlike mainline Qantas flights, this also includes weekends – a bonus for leisure travellers, or if positioning for a meeting on Monday morning.
On this particular flight, the white wine option was a Westend Estate Richland Pinot Grigio 2012 – a sweet, fruity drop with nice pear and apple tones.
If you plan to drive after the flight though, bear in mind that the deceptively small 187mL 'piccolo' still contains 1.8 standard drinks.
Entertainment & Service
As made familiar on the Qantas Boeing 767s, the reconfigured 717s offer the same Q Streaming functionality – though economy class passengers on these birds are given an iPad mini instead of a regular iPad.
Regardless, the same content is made available, and although the screen is physically smaller, it's more than sufficient on such a short flight.
The seatback strap is wide enough to support a regular iPad, so if you've brought your own, you'll fortunately still be able to mount it.
My only gripe: the visual output from the Q Streaming service is really designed for the full iPad, so when trying to select an episode from a TV series, the system would often think that I'd bumped the one above or below it:
Once working, the system played the audio and video content flawlessly.
TOP TIP – Tap the address bar, and then tap the 'private' button in the bottom corner – while functionless without an internet connection, the privacy mode also darkens the address bar and navigation area, making viewing easier on your eyes – particularly so on evening flights when the cabin lights may be dimmed.
The crew were attentive without being intrusive, and took the time to explain the food and beverage options on board whenever a passenger asked them a question during the meal service.
Over the PA, passengers unfamiliar with iPads or the Q Streaming service were advised how to turn on, mount and use the iPad, with an offer to assist if requested.
Missing on board was the personal touch, though I'll concede that it's a little hard for the crew to personalise the travel experience for over 100 passengers on a reasonably short flight – or to do so for some without making other passengers feel left out.
With the personal inflight entertainment options, daily complimentary alcohol service and the lack of a middle seat (at least on one side), the 717 is a very welcome addition on routes to and from our nation's capital – and soon, to Hobart as well.
Chris Chamberlin was a guest of Qantas Airways and QantasLink.