Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Big USA Pilgrimage: Airline Choices or Why I heart Qantas

I get plenty of comments on this blog (when I actually find the time to post) from Americans who have recently moved to Australia for work purposes as well as other young American women, like me, who have fallen head over heals for their own Handsome Australians and have decided to settle in Australia. In either case, we all need/want to travel back to the USA at some stage. Some of us will do it often, some of us will do it rarely, but it will be done. In this post, I thought I'd outline my thoughts on the airline choice we make for the Australia-USA journey. I'd love for this to be a conversation where everyone shares their opinions and thoughts regarding the various airlines in the comments section. We can all learn something from one another right?

Here it is: We ALWAYS fly Qantas. This isn't meant to be an advert for Qantas, but over time they've proven to be the airline that best meets our requirements. Having lived in Australia for 10 years, Qantas, United, and Air New Zealand were originally the only choices we had to choose from regarding our travel to the USA. From Melbourne, United stops in Sydney before heading to LAX or SFO. Air New Zealand takes you from Melbourne to Auckland before continuing to LAX. Qantas takes you directly from Melbourne to LAX non-stop. Need I say more?

Before I had children, I didn't mind stopping in NZ or Sydney, but since I've had kids I've learned that the most direct and quickest route is the best choice. The fewer times you have to get on and off a plane, the fewer times you have to shift luggage, the fewer times you have to resettle a restless child--frankly, the better. Qantas isn't always the cheapest choice, they may be a few hundred dollars more than the competition at times, but during these long trips I'd pay far more than that for the sanity I gain through only having the one direct flight. (Obviously from other parts of Australia your choices will be different and in many cases, better).

In the past few years, the route between Australia and the USA has been deregulated allowing for more competition. New airlines have come into the market that weren't flying these routes 10 years ago. Delta, V Australia, and Jet Star are among the airlines that now offer services to different parts of the USA. As we only travel to the USA once a year and are heavily invested in the Qantas frequent flyer program, we have yet to try any of the other airlines. Some of you may have traveled with the other airlines and have valuable insights about them. Feel free to chime in with your experiences in the comments section. =)

So, the obvious reason why we fly Qantas is the ability to fly direct, but there are other things I like about the experiences we've had. Qantas offers an excellent on board entertainment system that makes traveling with children a lot more enjoyable. Each seat in Economy class (because that's where we fly!) comes equipped with a TV screen in the seat back in front of you. Your arm rest holds the remote control and at your finger tips are hours of "on demand" TV shows, movies and games. There is a plethora of child friendly content and the kids can pick and choose what they want to watch or play. (This has recently become even easier on the new A380s as the entire system is operated by a touch screen--so easy even my 3 year old can do it on his own). I love it! I don't have to carry a portable DVD player or lug a laptop. The kids don't have to argue over who gets to watch what--we all decide our own destinies! It's fantastic.

Qantas still offers a meal service and a 'kid's meal' option. I always book the children a 'kid's meal' and generally ring Qantas to confirm ahead of time because we've been caught out a few times. Their kid's meals are very kid friendly and offer a selection of items on the tray both hot and cold, sweet and savoury. This is something you take for granted and then one day you fly Jet Star and you realise how good you had it on Qantas...more about that another day.

Generally, there is a kid's activity pack that gets passed out at the start of the journey and my kids always seem to get at least 45 minutes of joy out of these. These packs are ideal for bridging the gap between take off and when the entertainment system is up and running (on the 747s anyway, the new A380s let you start watching videos before you even take off--hooray!). If you don't get handed one, be sure to ask for it. Once the initial excitement wears off, we tuck them away and revisit them later in our journey.

Qantas staff have been, in our experience, polite and helpful. I find the Melbourne ground staff to be really, really friendly. The flight attendants on board are generally nice and good with our kids and have given us extra help when we require it. The happiness and good will seems to end in LA though as the staff that work the counters and gates in LA seem to be missing the laid back and friendly Aussie spirit, and are more in keeping with the sometimes rough and unpredictable city in which they work. I have found that even the sternest of encounters can be softened by a smile from my son, so I keep him nearby to charm these tough LA gatekeepers. Hey, whatever works right?

The benefits of sticking with Qantas has meant that we've been able to take advantage of their frequent flyer program. Since we know we'll be making a USA trip each year, we've set ourselves up with credit cards that earn Qantas points and we take advantage of other opportunities like Woolworth's Everyday Rewards program, that allow us to collect more frequent flyer points. We are all members of the Qantas frequent flyer program--including the kids. We enrolled them when they were 2 years old and we had to start paying for their seats. This means we all earn points each time we fly with Qantas and their program allows you to transfer points between family members. So, all of these things add up and we get a couple of free tickets every second year or so. When you are looking at airfares for 4, every little bit helps!

There you have it, the many reasons why we choose Qantas for our USA trips. Again, I am not trying to intentionally promote the airline, bur rather outline the reasons why it's proven to be a sensible choice for our family. Would love to hear what everyone else thinks! Let the comments begin!


emseedubya said...

I also love Qantas! Have you flown VAustralia yet? My husband is in love with Virgin, but I'm still a Qantas girl through and through. Virgin doesn't fly to DFW yet though and even though the flights are really cheap to all places Virgin America flies, as soon as you codeshare with Delta it becomes way too high. I love that I can book straight through from Moranbah to DFW on Qantas if I want to, one itenerary and done. I also love that Qantas has unlimited drinks and snacks where Virgin puts a limit. I love the snack bag Qantas gives you too and that, when you land in LAX, your flight to DFW usually leaves through the gate next to the one you've just arrived in so you just have to relax until it boards. Love. :)

BUSH BABE said...

This was really interesting... I am really hoping to get to the USA in the next 12 months (preferably with family if I can). HAve flown Maylasian and KLM and Air New Zealand (all excellent) during previous OS trips. But it's been a loooooooong time since...

All advice gratefully received...

Abe said...

Hi Suz, Great summary of our Qantas airline experience. With a lot of airlines charging extra for everything now - baggage , drinks, food, DVD players, headsets, you name it - I now have a new appreciation for full service.

Jenny said...

Since we just fly SYD to LAX all the airlines offer direct service. V Australia has been great! They too have fabulous in flight entertainment and kids meals. They have unlimited drinks and snacks and even economy class is fairly comfortable. And the price is usually quite low. I'd highly recommend them to those that don't need to worry about connections.

suzinoz said...

@emseedubya- We haven't flown V Australia yet, but there have been good reports. See Jenny's comment above. =)

@Bush Babe-Good luck with your USA plans. Hope you can go and take the family, there is so much to see and do. Our kids love it every time!

@Abe-So no more Jet Star then?

@Jenny-Good to hear that V Australia is great too. I might consider them if they were significantly cheaper at some stage.

Thanks everyone for chiming in!

Margo said...

Just what I've been looking for! I read your ice cream post awhile back and will be dragging along my ice cream maker. We are just about ready to book flights and have been debating between VAustralia and Qantas as they both have direct from LAX. Looks like either way will work.

suzinoz said...

@Margo- Thanks for stopping by and good luck with your move. The ice cream maker is not a bad idea either. I've thought of bringing one back many times, but I can never be bothered with an electric converter. Hope it all goes well for you and feel free to get in touch if you have any Melbourne specific questions/issues/curiosities. I'm happy to help if I can. I'm at:

Nathan said...

Yeah, I try to stick to Qantas; it costs a bit more but reliability in an airline is kinda priceless. Especially that whole "one of the oldest airlines but never had a fatal crash" thingie.