QANTAS 787-9 premium economy review San Francisco to Melbourne

QANTAS 787-9 premium economy review San Francisco to Melbourne

Hmmm. I’m not even sure how I should start this one. Normally I would kick off a review of this caliber with uncontainable excitement and enthusiasm for what I was about to write, but I’m not feeling it just yet. Don’t get me wrong – QANTAS 787-9 premium economy was absolutely fantastic, but I thought I would be a lot more excited about writing my first ever trip report featuring the red and white airline from down under. Wait. Isn’t there another Australian airline with a red and white color scheme? Oops. But you know what I mean.

The problem is that this wasn’t the first time that I’ve ever flown QF, so it’s no surprise that it kind of feels like I’ve done this before. Yup, that’s right! Only the two (or three) of you who have ever read my entire flight log will know that I once flew QANTAS between Los Angeles and Australia on the 747-400, which was actually one of my first ever big international trips right out of college. I was a total travel newb back then, but it felt really good to scratch one of my favorite airlines off “the list” right from the get go.

Now that I think of it, writing about how this airline has changed over the years does seem kind of exciting actually. The 747-400 I flew to Australia so long ago seems ancient in comparison to the spanking new 787–9 I had the opportunity to fly on last week, so I take back what I said about the lack of enthusiasm. Let’s do this!

Spoiler alert: there was no Vegemite on the menu, and no real-life kangaroos were spotted at any point during the flight. Sorry. It isn’t going to be that exciting.

San Francisco, CA (SFO) – Melbourne, VIC (MEL)
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
Aircraft: 787-9
Registration: VH-ZNA
Duration: 14 hours 42 minutes
Seat: 20A (premium economy)

Qantas 787-9 side view
QANTAS 787-9 side view illustration by
SFO to Australia route map
Our route from SFO to Australia tonight on QF50 – a bit more over-water flying than I’m comfortable with if I’m being honest. I wonder how many hungry sharks we passed over on the way down?

The video for this flight down to Melbourne was a lot of fun to put together, though I will admit that it was scaring the hell out of me before I even started cutting the footage. I shot over 15 GB of video for this flight, which is just stupid in the grand scheme of things.

QANTAS 787-9 premium economy would’ve been a lot more fun if I didn’t have to wait so long for it

This trip down to Sydney (via Melbourne) was an award ticket obtained through the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan. It cost 55,000 Alaska miles, which I considered to be a fair price for a product as good as QANTAS premium economy. Especially since SFO to Australia is nearly 15 hours in the air. It was definitely worth it in my opinion.

Anyway, that award ticket didn’t include the cost of getting myself from San Diego to San Francisco, so I had to pay for an Alaska Airlines ticket out of my own pocket.

And you’re darn right that I made sure to get an early enough flight to protect myself against any unforeseen delays. I was so much of a worry wart that I ended up with a 3 hour layover in San Francisco before the flight down to Australia. Excessive? Absolutely. Especially since I’ve found international to domestic connection times at SFO (and vice versa) to be better than they are at other airports.

Qantas premium economy check in sfo
Just what I like to see. Nobody ahead of me in the check in queue! See? It pays to be early (and maybe a little stupid) sometimes.
SANspotter selfie sfo
SANspotter, ready and willing to fight off any rogue kangaroo that hops into the queue ahead of him.

As fate would have it, it turned out that this flight to Australia was also delayed three hours, which gave me a grand total of 6 hours to mope around the airport with nothing to do. I tried my best to keep busy writing blog posts and editing photos, but all I’m gonna say is that being stuck for six hours in terminal A at SFO is an unfortunate situation to be in.

Qantas 747 SFO
I spent at least 45 minutes of the 6 hour wait trying to get some artsy-fartsy shots of this QANTAS 747 (bound for Sydney). In the end, I ended up with about 75 identical pics and a feeling of being creatively unsatisfied. I hate when that happens.
SANspotter selfie San Francisco Airport
The look of exhaustion after spending 45 minutes taking pics of one thing from the same angle over and over.
Terminal A interior SFO
I totally lost count, but this might have been my 6th trip up and down the entirety of terminal A tonight. The first one or two times was fun, but by the end of the evening I was delirious from boredom and I even may have been hallucinating a bit. Was that a kangaroo I just saw hop into the ladies room?

The problem with terminal A is that there are very few electrical outlets to charge your devices, and the food is crazy expensive. Worse yet, there is no air side access to any other terminal here at the airport, so it was kind of like being in airport jail.

Qantas 787-9 San Francisco
You know how it’s easy to feel irritated when someone you love shows up super late to a special event you planned? That’s kind of what I was feeling when she eventually rolled up to the gate. “You know I love you babe, but damn! At least you could have called or something…”
Qantas 787-9 at gate SFO
The feelings of irritation were short lived however. I mean, how is it possible to be mad at something so stinkin’ beautiful?!
Gate A4 SFO
Finally, five hours after I arrived, there’s activity down there at gate A4! Despite how tired I was feeling I was feeling at this point, its a miracle that I managed to stay awake and save myself from the total fail it would have been to sleep through the boarding process and miss the flight altogether. Don’t ask me how I know what missing a flight like that feels like…

A premium economy product so good that I was muttering expletives upon seeing it for the first time

Boarding started shortly after 10 PM, and by that point I was both physically and mentally exhausted. Walking down the jet bridge to the plane, all I could think about was sleep. And quite frankly, I didn’t care if it was going to be crappy economy class sleep…I was so drained that any kind of position I could get myself into where I could drift off for a few minutes would have felt like heaven.

Qantas boarding pass
I would have enjoyed this moment so much more if it wasn’t past my bedtime. Come to think of it, I may have blown a valve from all the excitement if I was feeling 100%. A bit of sleepiness was definitely in my favor here!
Qantas 787-9 boarding door
Ok, this is point where I need to take my mind off the fact that I’m stepping onto a flight that will be flying over open (shark infested) water for the next 14 hours. Who thought it was a good idea to stop making boat-planes anyway?

Upon first glance of QANTAS 787–9 premium economy, it almost felt as if I had been stabbed right through the chest with an injection of pure adrenaline and I was wide awake again. I say “almost” because I truthfully have no idea what that feels like (lol).

The point I’m trying to make here is that I was really pumped to discover that these premium economy seats are basically the equivalent to the first class seats the airlines are using here in the US. As a matter fact, I believe these to be a deluxe version of the same seats that are in the Hawaiian Airlines A321neo’s right now.

Qantas 787 premium economy seats
QANTAS 787-9 premium economy seats (row 20). I hadn’t even planted my butt in one of them before declaring it to be the best premium economy product I’ve ever experienced. Yes, that’s a direct shot fired right at the Air France A3550-900 premium economy experience.
Qantas premium economy seat
Leg room in these premium economy seats is generous – especially here in the bulkhead row. You certainly won’t feel like murdering anyone after 14 hours in these bad boys!
Qantas 787 premium economy leg room
The “magazine rack / foot rest” combo. I didn’t even realize it flipped up into a foot rest until 12 hours into the flight. Dang it! All the more reason to try QF premium economy from SFO to Australia again I guess…
Qantas premium economy seat reading light
Kangaroos everywhere (#eek). On a more mature note, these premium economy seats are downright beautiful. The integrated reading lights are an especially nice touch.

Not only is the QANTAS premium economy seat a huge step up from the standard economy seat, you also get extra perks such as noise canceling headphones (something you won’t get in Lufthansa premium economy), full size blanket and pillows, and enhanced menus. It’s essentially what international business class used to be 15 to 20 years ago. That’s what I call progress.

Qantas premium economy review
Noise canceling headphones, full size pillows and blankets, and an extensive menu. I wasn’t aware that I would be needing to raise my pinky on this flight, but I certainly wasn’t complaining.
SANspotter selfie Qantas 787-9
Uh oh. There I go thinking about hungry sharks again. Focus on the premium economy, Scott. Focus on the premium economy.
Qantas 787-9 business class
Do you think that perhaps Mrs. 12A was jealous of all of us back here in our fancy seats? Nope. I don’t either.

I personally found the materials and textures used in these premium economy seats to be really sharp. No, I don’t mean all pointy and prickly – I mean super stylish in a “omg I want these seats at home” kind of way. This is one of the best looking economy class cabins I’ve seen in a while. Yeah, the Air Transat A330-300 economy class cabin was really cool, but in a different way. That was just flashy good fun. This QANTAS interior is downright classy.

Is QANTAS premium economy food better than what you get in regular economy?

Without hesitation, I can say yes – absolutely, the food in premium economy is far better than what you would get in the standard economy product. For starters, there were three options (as opposed to the two) that is normally offered to everyone in back.

Qantas premium economy menu
Behold the QANTAS premium economy menu. What would you choose?

And then, there’s the presentation. Yes, the food is still served on a single tray just as it is in normal economy class cabins all over the world, but the difference here in premium economy is the fact that they use actual dishware. That’s right – the kind that you can smash over somebody’s head when you disagree with them in a heated debate about which airline serves the best food.

Qantas premium economy meal
Yeah, the chicken was really good, but I forgot to tell them that I’m just a white boy who grew up in Michigan (and I can’t handle spicy food). It had some zing to it!
Stay hydrated in flight
How bad is my intolerance for food that has a little kick to it? Let’s just say that they couldn’t bring me water fast enough.
Qantas orange and tumeric
Three hours before landing (and long after I could start feeling my tounge again), the flight attendants came around with this orange and tumeric wake-up drink. Amazing stuff.
Qantas premium economy breakfast
The perfect breakfast for a white boy who can’t handle spicy food. This was good as well (and not just because I could still feel my face afterwards).
SANspotter selfie Qantas breakfast
Pecking away at my breakfast thinking of how amazing this review is going to be. The problem is I didn’t take any notes and I totally forgot all the witty and interesting stuff I planned on saying…
787 LCD window tint
By the way, this was the view I had during the breakfast service. Purple tint courtesy of Boeing and those fancy LCD-tinted 787 windows.

I’ll be completely honest and say that I didn’t get a good look at the standard economy class meals on this flight, but based on pictures that I’ve seen from other reviews, QANTAS premium economy meals are far more substantial and are of higher quality then what you would get in the butt end of the airplane.

Is paying for premium economy worth it for such a long flight?

I’m going to answer that question by stating that it’s unlikely that I will ever purchase a standard economy class seat for a long international flight ever again. On second thought, let me rephrase that. What I mean is that once this travel blogging thing starts paying enough to elevate me out of poverty, then I’ll I have no problem paying for premium economy. Until then, I’ll be schlepping it out in regular economy dreaming of being a premium economy flyer (someday).

Qantas premium economy video screens
Another perk of Qantas premium economy? Huge video screens at every seat. It should also be noted that these are also a bit of a hindrance as well when you turn it on in the middle of the night to check your current position on the map. These things are bright! So bright as a matter of fact, that everyone around you will be annoyed with your selfishness. You’ll also be holding your eyes in agony from a near retina-burning experience.
Qantas in flight entertainment
They say you can tell a lot about a man by his entertainment choices. FYI, my entertainment of choice for this flight was Crazy Rich Asians and season 4 of Ballers. Think of me as you will.

It should also be noted that it’s possible to score some really good deals using points and miles for premium economy seats. My recent Delta A350 premium economy flight from Seoul to Detroit (trip report coming soon), was award ticket that I obtained for just 33,000 measly Sky Miles. It’s certainly a good deal if you can score it for that low of a cost.

Qantas pre landing snack
Little “QANTAS” candies were handed out during the descent into MEL. I didn’t try it, but I’ll bet it was kangaroo flavor.

Anyway, premium economy easily pays for itself in terms of comfort and overall well-being on flights over 12 hours in my opinion (such as LAX or SFO to Australia). It’s far cheaper than the cost of business class, yet you get a big seat that’s actually possible to sleep in. The extra bit of food is nice as well.

But for me, sleep is the big thing. Keep in mind that these QANTAS premium economy seats are not lie flat, but they do recline more than a standard economy seat does. And as far as I’m concerned, any economy class seat that I can sleep in is totally worth it and I’ll happily do it again and again.

Wrapping it all up

I think the fact that I didn’t do any research before this flight is what made it so impressive to me. This QANTAS 787 experience proved to me that premium economy is so good that its going to make me not to worry so much when I can’t find a business class seat for a decent price on a big international trip in the future.

Qantas 787 wing
Twisting and turning our way into Melbourne in the last 25 minutes of flight. And because this flight didn’t seem long enough…
Qantas in flight map
…air traffic control was staggering arrivals and we had to turn around and fly the other direction for a bit. It didn’t bother me any though. My connection to SYD had departed hours ago, so a few more minutes wasn’t going to matter.

Just knowing that premium economy is available (and viable) is a very relieving sensation actually – and I really like the direction that airlines are taking the concept of an enhanced economy product. Of course, it’s only viable if they can keep the cost down and affordable to the masses, and I really hope that we don’t see a gradual increase in price as the airlines start to realize that many people are willing to pay for such an upgrade in comfort.

And yeah – I realize everybody has a different definition of what “affordable” is, but for me, is long as it sits somewhere reasonably priced between the cost of basic bare-bones economy and business class, I’m good with that.

Approach and landing Melbourne airport
The landing and descent into MEL. Is it ignorantly American of me to admit I was keeping my eyes peeled for kangaroos all the way in? 
SANspotter selfie Qantas
The look of concern for exploded soap bottles when retrieving your bag from the overhead bin.

As far as comparing this premium economy experience to my basic economy experience to Australia many (many) years ago, the difference ended up being much bigger than I thought it would be. I actually walked off of this airplane in Melbourne thinking that it was one of the best flights of my entire life. I can’t remember the last time I felt that way after seated so long in any other economy class product!

More than anything else, its really crazy to think that the seat that I had on this flight was likely the equivalent of a business class seat on that other flight so long ago.

Mind. Blown. And I can’t wait to do it again…

Comments (16)

  1. James B.

    February 13, 2019
    • SANspotter

      February 13, 2019
      • James B.

        February 17, 2019
  2. Albert

    February 23, 2019
    • SANspotter

      February 24, 2019
      • Andrew

        February 26, 2019
        • Albert

          February 27, 2019
      • Albert

        February 27, 2019
  3. Ramon Cristobal

    June 18, 2019
    • SANspotter

      June 18, 2019
  4. Chris

    July 9, 2019
    • SANspotter

      July 10, 2019
  5. Stephanie

    May 30, 2023
    • Scott (SANspotter)

      May 30, 2023
  6. Luke

    August 13, 2023
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      August 13, 2023

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