A sneak peek into first class

Recent troubles aside, Australia's iconic carrier still knows a thing or two about premium flights.

FOR the first time in a long time, Sky Report recently took a Qantas business-class flight to Bangkok and back.

Amid all the bad news about Australia's national carrier - last year's grounding, industrial disputes and reports of mechanical faults - Australians remain loyal to the Flying Kangaroo.

Certainly, when we were on-board as a guest of Qantas, the difficulties didn't seem to have deterred many premium passengers, with business-class and first-class cabins almost full.

Sky Report managed to go behind the curtain for a sneak peek of the first-class galley (we might have tried to make a run for one of those extra-special seats but the purser had a keen eye on us) and take a look at the menus and taste the wines on offer.

The wines change daily (first-class passengers tend to travel a lot and have quick turnarounds) so there's no point listing them.

Suffice to say, Qantas won six awards at the international Cellar in the Sky awards last month.

A Qantas group executive, Olivia Wirth says it's not the plonk that keeps the customers coming back, though. Nor those cute PJs with the flying kangaroo on the front.

"Our passengers and frequent flyers tell us one of the main reasons they choose to fly with Qantas is they get to their destination on time far more often than with other airlines," she says.

Hanging in the air

So you think that whole getting-stranded-when-the-airline-collapses situation is something that happens to other people?

Well, consider that Air Australia - the budget carrier that collapsed last month, leaving 4000 passengers stranded and a conga line of creditors - isn't the only airline in the world facing bankruptcy.

You might want to think twice about booking an Indian internal flight on the subcontinent's second-largest carrier, Kingfisher, which is owned by Vijay Mallya, who styles himself on Richard Branson (right down to being photographed with cute female flight-crew members). It's been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy since late last year.

Kingfisher management is trying lots of tactics to stay in the air but seems unlikely to receive support from the Indian government. The airline was operating at the time of writing (though many flights and services have been cancelled) but sources are increasingly pessimistic about its future.

American aims higher

Meanwhile, American Airlines is bankrupt but if you have flights booked with the airline (it flies daily from Sydney to Los Angeles, Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago and New York JFK via Narita and on to many other destinations), you'll be safe.

The airline continues to trade, having filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on November 29. Chapter 11 is unique to the US and allows a bankrupt company to continue trading. For American, that is the basis of its revitalisation plan. If you are a person who likes the pointy end, the airline might prove more attractive despite its financial woes. To get back in the black, American plans "to create the premier airline for high-value customers who choose airlines based on network, alliances, products and services", it said in a statement. That is, American is going upmarket in a bid to secure high-paying travellers.

"While the number of these customers is small, they provide a disproportionate amount of revenue and are critical to our success," the airline said.

Look out for new lie-flat seats and inflight wi-fi in American's bid for a bigger share of the premium market.

Scanner in the works

With Australia likely to start using body scanners in airports from July after successful trials in Sydney and Melbourne, it seems the majority of the travelling public is all for them.

Of 400 international travellers polled by travel website Skyscanner, 66 per cent said they supported the scanners because they would speed up checks and improve security. Thirty per cent disapproved of them, mostly for health and privacy reasons. Four per cent gave inconclusive answers.

A co-founder of Skyscanner, Barry Smith, says that "as long as the machines are safe and any potential privacy issues can be solved, travellers are in favour of anything that will make flying safer and security checks faster".

"If it saves me from having to take my shoes off, empty my pockets and remove my belt, I'm all for them," he says.

Route watch

Emirates will begin flights to Portugal from July 9. It will have a daily service to Lisbon from Dubai. Emirates will serve Lisbon with a Boeing 777-200ER.

Airberlin has joined the Oneworld alliance. This adds 70 new destinations to the Oneworld reach, including 18 in Germany. Oneworld partners include British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Qantas and LanChile.