Qantas flight QF23 from Sydney to Bangkok last Thursday, carrying delegates heading to Thailand for the annual TravelManagers’ conference as well as other passengers, proved to be a lively flight with a bit of drama.
A passenger collapsed two hours before landing and the captain made a dramatic ‘go-around’ seconds before touching down at Bangkok Airport, aborting the landing and making another attempt, to avoid a thunderstorm crossing the runway.
I had decided to write a review of the flight earlier, so was taking notes. The flight turned out to be a bit livelier than I expected. Here’s the review:
Flight: QF23 Sydney-Bangkok. 18 August 2016. Aircraft: Airbus A330-300. Class: economy. Seat: 49B. Perceived load factor: Full.
Take-off is smooth and on time and I am soon contemplating the menu and the in-flight entertainment (IFE), although neither turns out to be quite what it seems.
A drink is offered shortly after boarding, a plastic cup of Bickfords cordial. “Welcome drink Bickfords signature range since 1874”, the menu proclaims. It’s quite refreshing, as cups of cordial go.
The seatback IFE screen in front of me appears at first glance to offer a wondrous array of music and movies, yet proves to be oddly handicapped. When I touch buttons on screen it tells me what I have done, in a clear but robotic voice through the headphones, as in: “Comedy TV button” or “Play album button”. It does nothing else. It does not play the albums, or screen the films.
I mention this to the flight attendant who investigates and says there is something wrong with the system in my seat and she will have it reset. She does but it still doesn’t work.
Never mind, I have a book and an iPod loaded with music. I look at the in-flight menu instead.
The menu looks promising. There’s a choice of three mains: chicken quinoa and brown rice salad with edamame and sesame dressing; or simmered pork with fried ginger, shallots, hoisin sauce and steamed rice; or classic veal Osso Bucco, with creamy potato mash, broccoli and peas.
I’ll go for that last one, the Osso Bucco.
A meal soon arrives – for a passenger in an adjoining seat who ordered a special meal in advance. Twenty minutes later, regular meal service begins in the opposite aisle. It continues there for maybe another 20 minutes and the aroma is appetising. Finally, in our aisle, a trolley is sighted in the distance. It takes some time to arrive, maybe another 20 minutes.
When it does finally arrive, the menu has dwindled. Instead of three choices of main meal, there is one.
“We only have the pork,” the flight attendant says.
“But supposing I’m Jewish?” I counter.
“Then you should have ordered a kosher meal,” she says.
(As it happens I’m not Jewish. The other faith that tends to avoid pork is Islam, so I could equally have said: “But supposing I’m Muslim?” But perhaps not.)
The simmered pork, which comes served in a sealed plastic foil-topped container, accompanied by plastic cutlery (plus salt and pepper sachets, but no toothpick) is very good. Not the greatest presentation, but you don’t expect bone china in economy class. The apple crumble dessert (also in a sealed plastic foil-topped container) is delicious.
Holding all this together is flight attendant Filippa, who handles it all perfectly, with ready smile, Aussie charm and flashes of humour. If your IFE doesn’t work and there’s only one meal choice (or no choice), you could become a little peeved, especially if there’s a screaming infant in the seat behind you. (There was, but only screaming occasionally.)
Filippa managed to deal with these problems in a disarming manner that put them in perspective. She and her equally hard-working colleagues form the Qantas front line, the place where interaction with passengers occurs and where memories are made. It’s hardly her fault that my IFE doesn’t work or that there’s only one type of meal left.
Filippa brings me another 187mm bottle of McGuigan Classic Shiraz 2014, and then a third one after coffee, with each one slightly better than the previous. The flight takes on a rosy glow.
The coffee, incidentally, is of good standard (especially considering that in-flight coffee can be dire). It’s accompanied by a small block of Cadbury Coco dark mint, 70% cocoa. The two go together very well.
About two hours out of Bangkok, a sudden loud thud catches the attention of everyone within earshot. A large young man has fallen over after leaving one of the toilets and is lying on the floor motionless. He appears to have fainted, collapsed or had a seizure. The Qantas team swings into action, with various people arriving and bending over the victim, several donning rubber gloves. A doctor – he appears to be a doctor – is on the scene with the flight director. There is equipment. Is that an oxygen cylinder? Blankets and cushions are brought up. The feeling is one of professionalism in action. The man lies there for perhaps 20 minutes, regains consciousness, then sits up. Finally he takes his seat. All seems well.
Flight QF23 comes into land perfectly on time but then, with seconds to go and only a couple of hundred feet above the runway, the aircraft suddenly powers up to full-thrust and roars off into the sky again. This is a ‘go-around’, the term for when a pilot elects to abandon the landing, go around and try again.
About five minutes later, the first officer comes on the PA and explains that a fast-moving thunderstorm, with high winds, was crossing the runway at exactly the same time as the plane was about to touch down, so the captain decided it was more prudent to make a second attempt.
As a result, the flight lands 15 minutes behind schedule.
On the ground later, Bangkok residents told me of a sudden storm that swept through the city, accompanied by a big temperature drop, at exactly the time the Qantas flight was landing.
Verdict: It is hard to score this flight because there were so many variables. Qantas should keep an eye on its IFE (though that’s a perennial problem that plagues all airlines, which is why rival Virgin Australia doesn’t have seatback screens) and it should take care with its economy-class meal service. Nobody flying on a full-service carrier should be faced with just one meal choice, let alone one that includes pork.
On the other hand, Filippa was a true professional and the same professionalism was evident in the way Qantas handled the medical emergency when the young man collapsed or fainted, and by the captain’s wise decision to go around before landing. The skill and judgement of Qantas pilots, some of the world’s best, are factors that you don’t see and can’t quantify, but which add inestimable value to the flight.
Score: 7 out of 10 overall. The score is reduced by the malfunctioning IFE and the one-choice meal.
Written by Peter Needham