After being upgraded, I can never travel economy again

The first time I was upgraded from economy to business class was a quarter century ago. It was on a Southeast Asian airline, but only for the first leg to Europe; and that airline didn't serve alcohol on its flights.

Aside from that impediment, the 1990s were a long time ago in business class. In those days, the seating in the pointy end of the plane was more like that of premium economy today.

What else has changed since those times? In a spirit of investigation, I'm travelling in Qantas business class aboard an Airbus A380 from Melbourne to Los Angeles.

If your company isn't shelling out for business, is it worth using points or cash to upgrade yourself? Let's see.

Lounge living

The Qantas International Business lounge at Melbourne is quiet when I turn up at 6.30am.

In the centre is comfortable armchair-style seating with small tables. Off to one side is the Grand Island, a long table below funky white light shades.

Catering is simple but covers all the bases: cereal, porridge, pancakes, toast, sausages and small frittatas. There's also a selection of fruit and fresh juices.

Onboard space

Aboard, of course, is where it really counts. Being a big guy, in economy I angle for an aisle seat and hope the seat next to me stays empty.

By comparison, Qantas' business class is almost embarrassingly spacious; there's two metres between my seat and the one in front.


Storage is another thing I notice. Aside from a big seat back pocket in the curved shell of the seat ahead of me, there are odd little cavities all about the place. Behind my right arm is a square-shaped space which turns out to be perfect for storing a bottle of water.

Although I don't get to it on this flight, I notice there's an onboard lounge right at the front of the cabin. A handy spot for an impromptu business meeting, perhaps.

Personal treats

Extras that start rolling out the moment I take my seat: there's a glass of bubbly or juice, followed by a Jack Spade amenities pack containing Aspar lip balm, hand cream and moisturiser.

While I'm still taking in the hand cream, the crew distribute comfy-looking grey pyjamas. Within minutes, a woman ahead of me is wearing them with seat reclined, blanket on, watching a movie. Clearly a business class veteran.

Food a la sky

Lunch is up first; a selection designed by celebrity chef Neil Perry.

The mains have lots of interesting options – spatchcock, venison, and a tasty-sounding vegetarian dish of roast pumpkin, warm grains, edamame, green beans, toasted pepitas and sumac dressing. At the informal end of the spectrum is a toasted beef, mushroom and fontina sandwich.

I go for the green fish curry of ling with eggplant, beans, Thai basil, fried eschalots and steamed rice. Economy class food has improved a lot over the years, but clearly business class has evolved even further.

The rich dark chocolate tart with date cream is a great finale, especially paired with a Bailey's on the rocks (sometimes the classics are all you need).

Time for bed

It's currently 11.30pm at my destination in Los Angeles, so I fit the long thin mattress over my seat, get the compact duvet ready, then adjust my seat for sleep.

The simple approach is to press the "lie-flat" button. This fully reclines the seat, but it takes some fine adjustment of subsidiary controls before it feels fully comfortable (I decide I like my head tilted up slightly).

While you can't say a business class bed compares to the comforts of a hotel, it's definitely preferable to sleeping at a seated angle wedged between two strangers.

Jet lag be gone

It feels like I don't sleep much at all, but when I wake I'm surprised to see that I've actually managed five hours.

If there's a moment I decide that business is worth the extra money, it's now.

Having a decent chunk of sleep on a flight that lands at 6.30am means I can actually get the most out of the day once I've left the airport. It also makes me less likely to succumb to jet lag after crashing at my hotel at a random hour.

From a business point of view, that's ideal.

The service behind business

Breakfast is scrambled eggs on toast with lamb sausages, sautéed mushrooms and braised beans.

The meal is presented on a small white tablecloth. It occurs to me that such little niceties are what makes business class so pleasant; the sense of being treated well.

At one point I called a flight attendant over with a triple request: a) to show me how to retract the TV screen (push down); b) to drop the temperature of the cabin a little (easily done); c) to possibly provide a receptacle for my contact lenses as I'd left my lens case behind.

This he was regretfully unable to help with, so I made ingenious use of an empty water bottle.

Ah, the struggles of business class travel.

The author was upgraded by Qantas.