Does Qantas need first class suites on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner?

By David Flynn , November 1 2016
Does Qantas need first class suites on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner?

TALKING POINT | It’s late 2018, and you’re about to set off on a Qantas Boeing 787 flying from non-stop Melbourne to Dallas, or Perth to London.

That’s a journey of around 17 non-stop hours on what will be the world’s longest Dreamliner routes.

Thankfully you’re booked into one of the advanced jet’s 42 Business Suites – spacious seats with direct aisle access which convert into a lie-flat bed.

But is that enough? Should Qantas have plumped for something better than business class on its new globe-striding flagship fleet?

Who’s on first?

Most airlines flying the Boeing 787-9 made the same decision as Qantas and top out at business class. Only some – among them British Airways (below) and Etihad Airways – set aside space at the pointy end for first class suites.

Yet at this stage, neither airline flies its Dreamliners over the ultra-long distances planned by Qantas.

There’s no doubt that the Qantas Business Suite is a superb seat: we rate it as ‘best of breed' in business class.

“It’s about trying to bring business class up a level towards what first class was offering previously so that you're giving a first class experience” explains Gary Montgomery, CEO of Thompson Aero Seating, which developed the business suite for Qantas from its Vantage XL design.

A role for super business class?

But is even the best business class good enough for the longest of long hauls, or is there appetite for something more – for even a compact first class cabin which takes things up another notch or two?

Thompson Aero Seating already cooked up ‘something more’: the Vantage First suite.

This adapted the Vantage XL module with "more personal space for relaxation, fine dining or sleeping", more space for stowing your personal kit and a greater focus on privacy, with a movable screen between the middle seats plus an option for suite doors.

Thompson suggests the Vantage First can be either a conventional first class suite or a "super business product" from as little as one row, for airlines "looking for additional revenue /upsell opportunities."

It's an intriguing notion: a way to offer something better than business class without fitting a dedicated and markedly different first class cabin.

Montgomery tells Australian Business Traveller that the Vantage First design “wasn't something we discussed with any length at Qantas. They have a fantastic first class product on the A380 but (first class) wasn’t something we were asked to do on the Boeing 787.”

Was this a missed opportunity for the Flying Kangaroo: should Qantas have first class on its Boeing 787s? Would you pay more for first class on that 17 hour ultra-long rage flight, or would you see first class suites more likely to be a points-based upgrade from business class?

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

11 Nov 2014

Total posts 34

I don't really see the incentive of First Class. I think from a paid customer perspective, you get better value for money in Business. I would find that a small first class cabin will just be full of Frequent Flyer upgraders.

10 Sep 2012

Total posts 151

The attraction of first is less tangible than value for money.  It's the privacy, the solitude and the personal service.  

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Mar 2016

Total posts 169

The difference between J and F on the A380 is larger than the difference would be on the 787 (assuming similar F). Would there be a market? Possibly. The F cabin on the A380 is commonly filled with points upgrade seats and people would probably still do this on a Dreamliner but from a QF perspective, the F cash seats were possibly a risk and they're banking on a solid enough J product to not lose top end clients. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2016

Total posts 26

Agreed, there will be a small difference between the new J suited ala B787 and A330 and the F. A larger difference for the A380 given the dated pod J seats. 

13 Nov 2015

Total posts 51

A resounding 'yes'!  I flew LAX-HKG on CX F.  At 15 hours I'm convinced that the amount of space, seat comfort, quality of service is not a luxury but a necessity in order to not go bonkers or require a hospital stay upon landing.  While J seats look good, a F cabin makes a huge difference on a 17 hour flight.  I've flown plenty of J flights of 10-12 hours and most were lie flats and were OK, but these ultra long hauls should offer an F cabin to those who can afford it and want it.  I mean I would never ever again voluntarily fly a more than 5 hours in economy!

11 Mar 2012

Total posts 298

I've flown HKG-JFK in CX J and it was great.  Not sure that F would have me feeling anymore refreshed upon arrival.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2016

Total posts 26

The CX J seats are tiny compared to the new QF A330/B787 suites so can't compare. Although overall CX J is a better product, the plastic box on CX is not the most comfortable for a guy that's 183cm

14 Apr 2014

Total posts 47

I mean... They have 28 First class seat going everyday to London currently. I'd assume there would be around 5 travelling to London to revenue First tickets (the rest could be points award bookings or connecting onto EK flights in other European destinations), so I think an additional 4 First Class (At most) seats wouldn't hurt. If QF decides to re-route QF9/10 to PER-LHR (just a 'if') then 4F would probably be necessary.

JTG
JTG

Singapore Airlines - The PPS Club

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 44

I don't believe there is a necessity for a first class for the Perth-London route as an A380 with Qantas or Emirates (QF ticket) is always going to be more comfortable. Where I believe a small first class section would have merit is on potentially new North American routes, e.g. MEL-DFW & SYD-ORD. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 135

There should ALWAYS be first class! This was a big missed opportunity. I remember when there was first (and business) on domestic 737s ;)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Nov 2016

Total posts 1

Hi turbojezz, which F suite is the best in your opinion? Qantas, Emirates or Singapore?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 135

For me I still prefer QF. I've flown Emirates, BA, JAL, CX and QF. The BA seat is very comfortable and there is a lot i like about it (flown 777 and A380, doing 787 in Jan17). JAL is very good, i would say second place for me. Emirates, I hate the bling. I haven't flown Singapore yet or Etihad... maybe next year. The above comments are purely about seats. QF has great service, the atmosphere of the entire F cabin is nice and spacious...the bathrooms are the only real letdown for me in QF F. Emirates wins there.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 135

For me I still prefer QF. I've flown Emirates, BA, JAL, CX and QF. The BA seat is very comfortable and there is a lot i like about it (flown 777 and A380, doing 787 in Jan17). JAL is very good, i would say second place for me. Emirates, I hate the bling. I haven't flown Singapore yet or Etihad... maybe next year. The above comments are purely about seats. QF has great service, the atmosphere of the entire F cabin is nice and spacious...the bathrooms are the only real letdown for me in QF F. Emirates wins there.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jun 2011

Total posts 91

In my opinion, a row of First would work. Qantas are targeting North America and London (Europe) and other destinations. Europe and NA are long haul and routes that carry premium traffic so there would be some paying customers. Plus Qantas advertises "aspirationally" but if there's nothing to aspire to (not that business class doesn't qualify for many) then I think they're missing out. Plus what a great way to use points!

08 Apr 2011

Total posts 25

For me the whole point of First is about the service... as well as the seat. For an ultra long haul you can get away with the J seat, but to have proper F service on board really matters to make the flight an event in itself, as opposed to somewhere to just get a meal and a couple of beers.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

15 Mar 2016

Total posts 169

For ULH I think the seat is more important than the service! You want comfort (from both plane type and seat), privacy and sleep! The food and service are great but second to those things on long flights for me. 

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 311

The bench mark of F class is now a high one think EY, EK, QR, SQ and carriers that can fly very high yield customers like a BA because of their global networks. F class is so much more than just first row of seats, it's exceptional product & exception service with exceptional finesse and I would say QF though good, is not in that category of exceptional. Yes I think F class is doable on ULH of any aircraft type but unless your product is going to be exceptional and you put in the effort, just stick to a very good J class. 

I see the benefit of First Class but why would you fly ultra long haul when you can fly a few medium/long haul sectors and rack up the Status Credits/Tier Points? All you need is wifi to stay productive. When you land, no matter how fantastic the seat is and how much space you have, you'll still be tired and jet lagged. Since the day is a write off, wouldn't you be better off with extra SC/TP? With medium sector flights Business class seats would be more than sufficient. Attentive service should be the hallmark of service in any cabin, not just First. 

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 334

By that logic, why don't we fly to LAX via Hawaii still. Or DFW via Tahiti. 

13 Aug 2015

Total posts 43

PR here seems a little schizophrenic on one hand touting this as the new flagship, but then not providing an aspirational product.

I am a big supporter of small First Class cabins, 4 - 8 seats max. That said, to have First Class there would need to be at least a dedicated bathroom (or two) plus a galley. Either go all out or don't bother, and I think the Vantage First suite alone doesn't do enough... Qantas clearly thought the same.

Personally I think it's a huge shame not to have First Class on the Dreamliner, and as a result even though I love Qantas, I'll choose another airline on those routes. However, I know I'm in a vast minority and QF have clearly done the math and realised they can't make it work.

I think it's safe to say though that anyone saying that they can't see the difference between Business and First, or justify First Class, are simply not the target market for the product.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2016

Total posts 26

I've been on EK and QF first on the A380 a few times. EK is not worth the upgrade as the J is already very comfortable and it's hard to justify the increase for a slightly bigger seat and privacy, larger screen, caviar, Dom Perignon, pyjamas, slippers and a shower. The difference between The classes for the B787 will be similar except QF already offers pyjamas and they don't serve Dom. 


A389 QF on the hand has a marked difference between J and F and is well worth it. 

BA Gold

01 Apr 2012

Total posts 160

I think a massive factor about whether an airline chooses to add a First Class cabin to new aircraft is whether they think it will be profitable or not.  Even a small First Class cabin will require more costs - higher crew complements, catering.  And I guess this is offset against how many passengers are actually prepared to pay the premium over (an already excellent) Business Class product for it.  


I remember reading in another article where the then Air France CEO said 'first class airline seats are little more than a costly marketing gimmick' as the bulk of passengers travelling in First are on points upgrades, redemptions, INVOLS etc.  And that most of the european airlines had reduced their F class capacity as have many other airlines around the world - CX, JL, NH, QF, QR - as better business class products come online.

So why bother offering the cabin at all if it's not profitable?
- it cements your brand as a 'premium airline'.
- having a F class cabin can help airlines secure large corporate deals.  For example BA uses it's F cabins as a carrot to large american and british corporations with big discounts for top ranking company employees.
- there is limited demand to some regions (eg mid east and some far east destinations).

I guess from a passenger POV yeah it would be great to see QF have a nice lil F cabin on it's 787-9 to hope for upgrades to or burn some miles.  But i'd imagine QF spent much time crunching the numbers on whether it would turn a profit for them or not.  And I imagine that if they thought it would make even a small profit they would have gone for it.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2012

Total posts 140

First - sure is a missed opportunity for Platinum and P1s. First class provides Q FFers with the opportunity to use some points which otherwise just accumulate. What else do you 'spend' them on if not on First class upgrades?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 135

Toasters!


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Jun 2014

Total posts 168

They are likely to lose some of their high yield clients ( p and p1) to airlines with f cabins where they can use points upgrades. Not only this but at present the majority of their j product is not competitive , in terms of hard product soft product and price with what else is out there. This may change with the new vantage seat although I disagree with the best in breed statement. Would you rather travel to Europe in a two abreast partly flat seat ( they always sag at the footrest) on at a380 or on a fully flat all isle access such as cx, at, at etc all of whose j product is nearly as good as qf first. I put my business in no small part to qf for award and upgrade access to f. 

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

14 Apr 2013

Total posts 333

I read somewhere that QF is still considering installing a small F cabin (only 1 or 2 rows) on the second wave of B787-9 once they confirm delivery of them.

10 Sep 2012

Total posts 151

I think one row of F would work, or six seats in two rows, ala CX.  A far bigger issue is the interminable terminal transfer at PER, especially coming off a non-stop from London and needing to connect to the east coast.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 211

Everything I have read is about Qantas using the current domestic terminal for the London flight, so there would be no terminal hopping involved.

12 Dec 2012

Total posts 994

2 rows of PE on the 330s is more needed then 1-2 rows of F on the 787

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 135

yes i agree wiht this

QFF

16 Nov 2014

Total posts 15

The points put CON QF offering F are well put. The only people "aspirationally" thinking of F here seem to be potential FF upgraders. Perhaps they forget that QF is trying to run the airline as a financial business to maintain its fat bottom line. Not too sure how the economics for the airline of upgrades using available FF points stack up against real people buying those F seats with real money (or company discounts etc). Airlines based in Middle East propped up by govenrments might be able to 'subsidise' F for prestige purposes. But QF is a small airline in the world scale of things and unless the route was relatively exclusive and had rich traffic (think USA NOT RSA and Chile) it simply does not stack up (which is what the accountants likely said).


And yes, a few months ago I snagged an award flight back from Europe in CX First from Zurich-HKG which cost a few extra points but it was fairly memorable and comfortable. Otherwise J is about as upgraded as I ever get, and not very often either with QF.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Oct 2015

Total posts 43

I am just short of 6ft and quite slim at 83kg but i just do not fit in the any of the current qantas seats when it comes to the lie flat configuration there is insufficient should room to lie on my back. So i would be all for first seats.


i am in hawaii at the moment and flew on QF3, this route has the old domestic configuration 2x2x2 in business with the bed that is on an angle, terrible sleep, not looking forward to the return flight.

i use first quite a bit, i have flown, Cathay, British Airways, Etihad and Emirates first this year and if Qantas are going to have first they will have to do something about the food and wine if they are going to even come close to competing. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2016

Total posts 26

Agreed, I thought QF F food and bev was average and didn't contain any premium ingredients or products 

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

01 Apr 2016

Total posts 6

As QF deserted PER it has a lot of ground to pull back, and I have first class pax frequently utilising AONE4 fares. They will not use a J class cabin all the way to LHR - they will take the grotty little 737 to SIN and then change to the BA F cabin.

FLX
FLX

10 Dec 2015

Total posts 179

For a longhaul widebody to hv intercon F seats onboard these days is a bit like a 300-400 rooms 5* hotel with a few presidential suites.  Overall, they are mostly vacant across the yr.  1-2 presidential suites are filled on some days by the highest tier guests of the hotel frequent stay program on complimentary upgrade.  Many of them expect the upgrade to be a given but none of them are aware nor care that the space/real estate occupied by their presidential suites are usually empty and the related premium amenities+customized VIP conceirge care are 'installed'(i.e. fixed expenses and must be present & ready anytime @ short notice) but rarely utilized.  Occasionally, the presidential suites are actually booked & used by VIP guests paying full rate.


The hotel does not actually make $(May be even lose $) fm its presidential suites.  The real $ maker for the hotel is the smaller & less opulent Business/Executive suite with a far higher  occupancy rate.  And the numerous standard rooms are just there to provide econ of scale for the entire hotel ops.  The presence of presidential suites used to attract some guests to choose to stay @ this hotel even though they will never pay to stay in a presidential suite....hoping to leverage on the 'spill over' factor in terms of guest services quality std for their lower level room types.  Not any more.  Nowadays with much better info fm the web and social media, most guests choose a hotel based on what exactly they can get from the exact room type they can afford.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Jan 2016

Total posts 10

I tend to agree with the comments posted so far, first class isn't necessary with the modern business offering across the major airlines (BA excepted...its rubbish) however i disagree that the new Qantas business seat is best in class. i think VA takes the prize there with Qatar

Bra
Bra

QF

11 May 2015

Total posts 26

Anyone remember the days when QF 767s had a floor to ceiling  wall between J class and a few (3 or 4?) F class seats on the other side? I flew on the J side many times and became a Platinum FF but have not flown with QF internationally for about 10 years following a couple of very bad trips including racial abuse - not to me - but to other pax by a female FA. I have used SQ or TG to/from AUS ever since and if you want to go extra long haul in F then SQ suites are the way to go.

The SQ and now TG J seats are fine, and having flown SQ from New York EWR to SIN on the all J class A340-500 (longest trip for me 19+ hours) its the only way to go unless they provide F suites on the A350 but I think that's unlikely. 19+ in Y or even PY is something I would not wish on my worst enemy. SYD-LHR would take about 21+ hours and no doubt the equipment to do this will come - but why fly for this long even in F suites? I was more than happy to fly JFK-FRA-SIN on the SQ A380 when the direct EWR-SIN flights ceased.

So I hope that you loyal QF flyers get what you wish, in the meantime I will continue with the choice of 3 or 4 SQ BNE-SIN daily flights with Asia and Europe connections, while QF has ONE BNE-SIN flight per day.

Does anyone prefer a stop over in DXB instead of SIN or BKK?

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 517

This is clearly a 'no brainer'. Of course at least one row I'd say. Qantas has the market and flight times for some potential routes which are absolutely realistic F class contenders.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Jul 2015

Total posts 7

After a recent experience of a last minute plane change, I personally think Qantas would be better off upgrading all their old J class seats to the new fitout so all business passengers that pay to fly in that class get a uniform product on long flights. It's not fun on the Skybed 1 angle layflat of 2003 on an overnight flight of 8 -10 hour duration! Imagine if you'd paid for first class on a new 787 and had the plane change to a 747...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Mar 2018

Total posts 15

In the last two years I have flown LH F on EK (777 & A380), QF (A380), BA (777), SQ (777 and A380) - both points upgrades and fully-paid fares. BA F 777 JFK to LHR had ghastly service and food and the hard product felt like J and was claustrophobic. EK MEL to LHR (A380), and ADL to DXB (777) had terrific food and privacy despite the bling, and the wonderful showers on the A380, although service is regularly disappointing on EK. QF F MEL to LAX, love the seat, hate the bed (it's bumpy), ordinary food though good service. SQ First (777) MEL to SIN, good hard and soft product although bed less comfortable than Suites; SQ suites (old style) from SIN to LHR and SIN to HKG on A380 just terrific, best night's sleep and with enough room beside the bed to get undressed (unlike the others that require a visit to the bathroom); will be flying on the 6-only new F suite A380 from SIN LHR in June and can't wait (we'll have a double cabin). SQ has Book the Cook, although I have found this variable (I was once served in F a half-frozen lamb roast!). I used to be rusted-on QF until 5 or so years ago when they lost the plot on service and quality and I had too many delayed domestic flights. Having discovered other F products has been enlightening. I pay for about 50% of the fares. QF removing F from Perth is a mistake. SQ has become my LH F carrier of choice, although I'm still looking forward to trying LH Lufthansa F at some point.


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