Perth-London direct flight: What it's really like in economy class

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Thinking of booking the new Qantas direct flight from WA to the UK? Here's the lowdown on the 17 hours of nonstop flying...

“You have to let me know what you reckon, I’m thinking about booking it but I don’t know whether I can stand 17 hours on a plane.”

I must have heard a variation of this sentence at least a dozen times since I was booked on Qantas’ inaugural Perth to London flight.

Many of my fellow British expats were curious to know whether the Dreamliner’s nonstop route would make those trips home easier (after all, it would be quicker) or whether it’d just be a recipe for deep-vein thrombosis, claustrophobia and clock watching.

So, with 17 hours of nonstop flying under my belt and a little time to recover from the jet lag, it’s time to share a few thoughts which might make that decision a tad easier.

So, is one stop or nonstop the way to go?

First, consider your plans when you arrive. Do you plan to get stuck into the sightseeing the second you arrive or have you got long enough in London to take things a bit slower?

The nonstop flight arrives at 5am and, providing you’ve managed to get a little shut-eye, that’s plenty of time to check-in somewhere, get showered and hit the sights.

Despite only a couple of hours of sleep, I quite enjoyed being able to shower, hit the hotel buffet and start a fresh day.

But, if staying up all day on a very average night’s sleep isn’t your thing, you might want to consider a one-stop flight which arrives in time for you to fall straight into bed and wake up fresh to start your holiday.

Then, there’s the geography to think of. While Britain isn’t quite as vast as Australia, a few centimetres on the map can take hours, especially in the heaving London traffic — think twice as busy as Sydney.

If your sole purpose of booking a nonstop flight is to save a few hours, that’s hardly much good if you plan to spend your time, say, in Manchester or Birmingham.

It’s a solid few hours on a train to that part of the country. While you’ll save a few hours on the flying time, it’ll take you a good hour on the Tube to Kings Cross and another few hours on the train from there.

In my experience, bustling London train stations are far harder to negotiate than sleepy transfer terminals in the Middle East.

And if you’re considering domestic flights, make sure they marry up with international ones without wasting precious hours waiting in the airport.

But what about the kids, I hear you ask? I sat next to one of the only families on the inaugural flight on Saturday.

Dad John Dewberry suggested he and his wife Martina must have been bonkers for taking on a 17-hour marathon with their five-year-old and three-year-old in tow. They were certainly in a minority.

Yet, at Heathrow’s arrival gates I almost suspected the Dewberrys were part of an elaborate public relations stunt.

“To be honest that’s pretty much how I want to fly from now on,” Mr Dewberry told me.

The kids had slept soundly and were zonked out at the midway point — around the time their poor parents would have otherwise been considering forcing them to sit straight and prepare for a few hours being dragged around another airport.

For this family, having a break would have spelt an arrival with two grouchy little ones. But, we’re all different of course and perhaps you’d cope better with being able to break the journey or feed them something other than aeroplane food.

And finally, that’s the other clincher — the food.

Yes, yes, I know Neil Perry’s behind it and I know Rockpool’s a big deal but, while I’ve never seen “red rice” anywhere other than on this flight, I have a little news for you. This isn’t Crown Casino or Southbank and, while Mr Perry wasn’t far away on the inaugural flight, this wasn’t one of his posh restaurants.

Your meal isn’t woodfired, it’s not wok-fried, it’s heated in a tiny aeroplane kitchen and, while the food knocks spots off that godforsaken penne pasta you get everywhere else, it still comes wrapped in foil with a bread roll side.

If you’re a fussy eater who picks and pokes at aeroplane meals, I’d consider a flight with a stopover so you can find something else in an airport food court. Even on the inaugural flight, on an aircraft full of VIPs and media folk, the meal option had run out by the time it reached the final rows.

Don’t like ravioli? Well, you may have struggled on this flight. Then again, the meals I tried were fresh and tasty and even this fussy vegetarian coped just fine.

Finally, whether it’s nonstop or one stop that takes your fancy, remember that whenever anyone returns from a British holiday, the things they’ll be showing off about will almost certainly ignore the plane, the stops and whatever route it took to get them there.

Fact File


Natalie Richards was a guest of Qantas.


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