When it comes to long-haul flights, the ends most often justify the means: tropical beaches, dazzling cityscapes, and culinary delights are invoked to temper the harsh realities of contemporary air travel. But when you’re Qantas—the Australian airline responsible for coining the term business class and one of the most recognizable brands in a country renowned for its infectious hospitality—you do things differently.
We spoke with Neil Perry, Qantas’s creative director for food, beverage, and service, and founder of Australia’s iconic Rockpool Dining Group, which operates such critically acclaimed restaurants as Spice Temple, Rosetta, and the eponymous Rockpool Bar & Grill. Born and bred in Sydney, Perry is dedicated to providing top-flight Australian hospitality before the wheels leave the ground.
“We take our responsibility very seriously,” Perry says. “Qantas is the most trusted Australian brand. When you walk down the gangway and see the red tail, we want that experience to transform the flight and airplane into Australian soil—so that you’re starting your journey before you’ve even landed.”
Tasting menu in the sky
Seared, sustainably farmed Australian barramundi with fried garlic and chili, ginger shallot sauce, bok choy, and rice. Green pea and mint soup. Pumpkin empanadas topped with pine nuts and basil, and served with a tomato and chili relish. Penfolds Reserve Bin chardonnay, a seasonal fruit plate, and local hand-churned ice cream. You’d be forgiven for thinking this was a Michelin-starred pre-fixe menu. Instead, it’s but one combination of the many dishes offered on Qantas’s in-flight dining experience, a veritable tasting menu 35,000 feet in the sky.
Perry and his team spend 11 months developing Qantas’s seasonal menus, testing hundreds of recipes, to ensure that every dish passes Rockpool’s exacting standards. Meals are carefully selected for each flight based on both the departure and destination city, and ingredients are sourced locally wherever possible. “We’re very blessed to be a multicultural country, and the food reflects that,” Perry says. “That’s one of the things that makes us Australian—how we embrace other cultures and are inspired by them.”
Indeed, Qantas’s in-flight food might best be considered an amuse-bouche for what Sydney has to offer when you land: cosmopolitan cuisine heavily influenced by its multicultural makeup and a deep-seated emphasis on sustainable and locally sourced ingredients. Visitors should make a point to try the cured hiramasa kingfish at Newtown’s industrial-chic Bloodwood, grilled Rangers Valley rib eye at Restaurant Hubert (tucked two flights down in a lushly outfitted old theater in the middle of the city’s Central Business District), or shopping for wild foraged mushrooms at the weekly Carriageworks Farmers Market.
Lighting the way to the future
There are plenty of great reasons to visit Sydney, but if you’re looking for another, it’s a city deeply invested in its future. Just take Vivid Sydney, New South Wales’s 23-day “festival of lights, music and ideas.” The event celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, playing host to more than 2.3 million visitors, including world-class musicians, artists, entrepreneurs, and thinkers.
Set against the backdrop of the city’s most iconic landmarks—the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and Royal Botanic Garden, all awash in immersive light—Vivid Sydney offers a forward-thinking way to experience the city. The 1.2-mile-long Vivid Light Walk, running from the Rocks and through the Botanic Garden, gives visitors the chance to experience some of the festival’s largest installations all in one go: the Nautilus Forest, an illuminated copse of spiraling trees; Bloom, a giant electric, metallic flower with mirrored petals; and He’e nalu—a surf-inspired piece consisting of two towering columns of light.
And then there are Sydney’s year-round attractions. The city’s recent restoration of the harbor’s former headlands into a mixed-use park, nature reserve, and event venue called the Barangaroo Reserve also serves as a prime example of how Sydney is investing in its future while preserving its past. (The park was restored to how the area appeared in the mid-18th century).
Qantas, which plays a critical role during Vivid Sydney by ushering in a global audience, adopts a similar approach. For the airline, “innovation means collaboration,” Perry explains. “In my experience, there are very few corporations, let alone airlines, that seek out advice and follow through on the advice they’re given to ensure that everything they offer is best of class.”
In addition to state-of-the-art entertainment systems, lay-flat beds, toiletry kits designed by local artists, and custom pajamas, Qantas recently doubled down on its carbon-offset program. The airline commissioned bespoke in-flight tableware that is 11% lighter, saving up to 535,000 kilograms of fuel each year, and partnered with Australian technology agency S1T2 on its own Vivid Sydney installation called Revive the Reef. For every social media post that includes the hashtag #ReviveTheReef, Qantas will offset the carbon emissions for a customer’s flight between Sydney and Cairns.
A spa above the clouds
Qantas First and Business Lounges might best encapsulate what people mean when they talk about Australia’s best-in-class hospitality. At the Marc Newson–designed First Lounge in the Sydney International Airport, passengers can book complimentary 20-minute spa treatments (massages, facials, and detoxifying scrubs) before tucking into a Rockpool-designed rotating menu of seasonal dishes. But the in-flight experience is what really drives everything home.
“When you arrive in Sydney, you immediately get a sense of the friendliness and hospitality of Australians,” Perry says. “That’s why the in-flight crew are our strongest asset. They have the most face time with our customers, and so we want them to be the face of Qantas. They work tirelessly to ensure that we—and Australians—are represented well.”
Perhaps that’s the best thing that any airline can expect to achieve—an experience that offers a seamless extension of your journey on the ground and helps ease what is arguably the worst part of any trip: ending it.
This story was created for and commissioned by Qantas.