CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Photo of Qantas Boeing 747-400LR by flickr user: Sheba_Also 

I’ve traveled over 70,000 miles on Qantas, with most of that mileage logged on long distance international flights. All of my long distance flights have been in business class, so I’ve been lucky enough to have quite a bit of experience with the Qantas busines class product.

I am a fairly low-maintenance flyer. As long as they don’t run out of Diet Coke and come by often enough that it gets refilled on occasion, I’m generally happy with the service. What does make a difference for me is my physical environment, or the hard product in airline terms.

There is no one perfect seat on any airplane because everyone has different preferences. To some it might be leg room and seat width and to others it might be storage space, table space, noise level, or a myriad of other reasons that cause someone to prefer a seat. I’ll try to explain why I prefer the seats I do and what flaws they might have for others.

Overview of the Premium Cabins

The 747 has formed the backbone of Qantas’ trans-pacific travel, although it is begining to be replaced by the Airbus A380. Over the years, the vast majority of my flight miles on Qantas have been on the 747. Qantas has several different 747 configurations, but there is little difference between them for premium cabin customers.

On the Qantas 747, the premium cabins are split into three areas. To the right of the entry door and in front of economy or premium economy sits the main business class cabin. The seating in this cabin is 2-3-2, meaning there are two seats along the window sides and three seats in the middle. On some configurations there is an extra two-rows behind the stairs a little further back as well with the same 2-3-2 layout.

Above this main cabin sits the upper deck, which is configured as a business class cabin on all Qantas 747s. Access to the upper-deck is through a set of stairs at the back of the main section of business class, which is also adjacent to the door normally used for loading/unloading passengers.

Within the nose and in front of the main business class section is usually a first class section, although on some flights Qantas has decided to no longer offer a first class service. In those cases, the first class seats are available to business class customers. Early booking in this section is reserved for Oneworld Emerald customers, but it can’t hurt to ask if any seats are available when you go to the airport. On some retrofitted planes, they have converted this to a business class cabin with business class seats. I have not seen this in person yet, so I’m not sure how well the layout works.

The First Class cabin

Panorama of table space in seat 4K by Noam Freedman CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Given the opportunity, this is my favorite cabin to sit in. These are not the newest Qantas first class seats, but they are still a nice upgrade from the normal business class seats. I try to choose flights that offer these seats to business class customers.

Given the curvature of the plane towards the nose, this cabin really changes from row-to-row.

Seats 4A/4K offer the most overall space as they have a pop-up bassinet. Since there are several more basinetts in the rest of business, there is relatively low risk of getting bumped from the seat but it is still a risk. The downside to seats 4A/4K is that, being farthest back, you are more likely to be bothered by noise or light from the galley.

Seats 1A/1K are the most private, but there is a flight attendent closet next to you that gets used during the flight. Seats 3A/3K are the next most private seats as there is a wide aisle at that point of the plane.

If you are traveling with someone, seats 3E/3F are great seats that also benefit from the wide aisle. Seats 4E/4K would be my next favorite, mostly because 2E/2F is quite exposed and there is more traffic there both because it provides a path from one side of the plane to the other and because of the flight attendant closet in front of you.

Unfortunately, Qantas has plans to convert this section to Business Class seats over time on many of their 747s. Having not flown on that configuration, I can’t comment on the pros/cons of the section.

Lower-deck Business Class cabin

The lower-deck section of business class sits behind the first class cabin and in front of galley and stairs for the upper deck. There are an additional two rows behind the galley and stairs on some Qantas configurations. As noted above, this section is 2-3-2 seating. Here is where personal preference really comes in to play. Some people like to have a window in this configuration as it means they will not be woken up by someone wanting to climb over them. I instead prefer to have an aisle seat, as I hate being on the other side of someone in deep sleep when I need to go to the bathroom.

Which side of the aisle to choose is a bit complicated for me. I prefer the window-side aisle if the window seat is empty. I have a slightly higher likelihood of having no neighbor, which means I can shift to the window mid-flight if I want to. On the other hand, if all the window seats are already taken then I will likely choose an inside aisle. The only time someone voluntarily sits here is when they are part of a couple that couldn’t get a window/aisle combination. In that case, they are much more likely to climb out over their partner than over me. If the middle seat is taken by someone traveling by themselves, then at least there is a chance they might go out the other side.

Given the option, I will choose seats towards the rear of the cabin on the left hand side of the plane (e.g. the side you board through). This will allow me to be one of the first people off the plane, which sometimes can make a big difference in Sydney when it might give you the jump on another plane-load of people entering immigration.

Upper-deck Business Class cabin

Due to the curvature of the plane, the upper deck of a 747 is more intimate than the main deck. Some people prefer the openess of the main deck and some prefer to be in a more intimate cabin with far fewer people around. In addition, the front rows of this cabin have the least foot traffic of any seats on the plane, so will tend to be much quieter. The seating in this section is 2-2 and the window seats in this section have a storage area below the window that gives you a lot of extra storage for your belongings.

I personally prefer the lower deck in general, but I would happily sit up here if I’m able to get the exit row seats in row 16. This is the one time I prefer the window seat as the exit row provides enough extra leg room that I’m able to get around the person in the aisle even if they are in a fully-reclined sleeping position.

Seat Maps

Qantas does provide seat maps on their website, but as is often the case I prefer to use the Qantas seat maps on SeatGuru instead. On SeatGuru you can find more detailed advice for the seats that might be available on your flight that I didn’t mention in this article.


18 January 2012


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