“I’ll have the confit duck leg with braised lentils, snow peas an mustard fruits, please,” I say, finally deciding on meat over the strozzapreti pasta with tomato and roasted capsicum. No, I’m not at a 5-star restaurant. I’m flying business class on Qantas on their BOEING 747-400.
The stewardess, who is dressed in a classy black and white wrap dress, refills my Champagne without being prompted.
Since I arrived at the airport and was escorted to the business class check-in, I’ve been in a heavenly daze. In true economy fashion, I wore baggy track pants, a fitted hoodie, Nike sneakers and messy top bun. This seemed like perfect airplane attire the whole way to JFK. That is, until I was in a crowd of perfectly primped men and women in pant suits and cashmere sweaters. However, when I entered at the Galleries Lounge – fully expecting to be turned away for my unkempt attire – the woman smiled, checked my ticket and graciously ushered me in.
“Welcome, Miss Festa,” she had greeted.
The immense room had been impressive, full of expansive dining areas, a dedicated WiFi room with computers and a sensational spread of salads, sandwiches, pastas, meats and desserts. The free wine didn’t hurt either. In the lounge’s Elemis Spa, I noticed those with a reservation could enjoy complimentary 15-minute shiatsu massages or circulation therapy. I made note of this for next time, as I’m already making plans to have this experience again in the near future.
When it had been time to board, I was brought to a shorter line.
“I’m sorry, Ms Festa. I know I checked you in before but may I see your passport one last time.”
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had someone apologize to me at an airport, especially when one really wasn’t necessary.
Now onboard, I am left gazing around in wonder and awe. When the five course meal is served – soup, salad, entree, dessert and turndown chocolate – I feel like I’m at a wine pairing with chef and sommelier. Actually, I am, as the airline has partnered with acclaimed Australian Chef Neil Perry to create a menu of gourmet meals matched with top Australian wines for a high class cultural experience. In charge both the development of the menu as well as the on-flight sommelier program, Perry regularly travels to all Qantas destination to train the culinary staff. In fact, Perry became so enthralled with the project he created the first ever in-flight degustation menu, and he’s now been working with the airline for 15 years.
The soup tonight is a creamy spinach and watercress with croutons, and my server-slash-flight attendant asks me what wine I would like.
“Surprise me with whatever you think pairs well,” I reply.
I know my stewardess will choose well, as she is wearing a silver grape-shaped pin on her dress. In-line with Qantas’ “Sommelier in the Sky” program, this means she has been formally trained in wine pairing.
“How about our 2008 Balnaves Cabernet Sauvignon from the Coonawarra in South Australia,” she suggests. “It’s a deep red wine with flavors of ripe cassis, licorice, spicy leather and French oak.”
I turn on my seat massagers as I sip, transporting myself to the Coonawarra. Actually, I could be anywhere right now. In South Australian wine country, relaxing in Saint Lucia, getting a massage in Japan. As someone who had never flown anything other than economy before, I had never in my wildest dreams imagines such a luxurious in-flight experience. To have the flight itself be just as good as the vacation is something I never would have believed possible, until now.
I’m broken out of my reverie by the passing of the dessert cart, where I’m told I can choose between fresh fruit, a seasonal cheese plate with accompaniments and/or chocolate bread and butter pudding. I opt for fresh raspberries, melon and pineapple, as well as a plate of Brie and blue cheese with an assortment of crackers and jam and a Haigh’s chocolate. This is paired with a flavorful dessert wine, 2010 Scarborough Late Harvest Semillon – Hunter Valley, NSW, which has flavors of Spiced-honeyed figs, candied lime and lychees.
I swirl the wine in my glass, allowing the sweet aromas to fill my nostrils. To further indulge, I unwrap the fine chocolate and rest it on my tongue, allowing the flavors to slowly unfold as each layer presents itself. Chocolate is known to transport people back to their childhoods, and this has always been true for me. Once again, I find myself figuratively leaving the plane and traveling back in time. I see myself making rich fudge cake on Christmas with my mother and challenging my father to see who could eat the most Hershey Kisses. It’s amazing how from 30,000 feet in the air, I’m still on the ground traveling the world.
On the second leg of the flight from JFK to Sydney there is another five course meal served, although I’m still stuffed. I opt to instead turn my seat into a bed, get into my complimentary socks and Peter Morrissey pajamas, freshen up with my complimentary Kate Spade amenity kit and snuggle under the plush covers. Flying business class on Qantas had transformed my view of flying from “uncomfortable but necessary” to “relaxing and luxurious.” In fact, after having my business class-cherry popped, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to fly economy again.
Have you ever had a VIP experience onboard an aircraft? Please share in the comments below.
This article was originally published on Love & Fly.