Is Qantas planning a new domestic business class for 2023?

With over 100 new domestic jets on the way, what can business class passengers expect to see at the pointy end?

By David Flynn, October 6 2021
Is Qantas planning a new domestic business class for 2023?

Qantas could be flying the first of its Boeing 737 replacement jets by the end of 2023, in the form of either an Airbus A320neo or Boeing 737 MAX: but will that next-gen jet also serve to debut a next-gen domestic business class seat?

We'd put money on it. New jets are typically the launchpad for new seats, among other upgrades to the passenger experience.

The airline's current Boeing 737 business class seat certainly isn't one for the 2020s, let along the 2030s – and Qantas says the delivery of over 100 jets will be staggered across the long stretch from 2023 to 2034.

Qantas' Boeing 737-800 business class seats are overdue for an upgrade.
Qantas' Boeing 737-800 business class seats are overdue for an upgrade.

Meanwhile, Virgin Australia is expected to roll out a new-look premium seat in when it pulls the wrapping of the first of 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10s in the middle of 2023 – six months before Qantas' chosen Boeing 737 replacement arrives.

So there's little room for doubt that we'll be looking for – and Qantas will be looking at – an all-new business class seat to crown the pointy end of either a red-tailed 737 MAX or A320neo.

There's far less certainty on what that seat will be.

Qantas says it's not even thinking about the seat right now – its immediate focus is getting the best deal on the right mix of jets to reshape its domestic fleet.

"It's only once in a generation you go through a major fleet renewal like this," says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce. "This is a really strategic decision for our future."

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce: not just new planes but new seats on the horizon?
Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce: not just new planes but new seats on the horizon?

But with Qantas planning to make that Max vs Neo call by the end of 2021 – less than 12 short weeks away – and place firm orders by mid-2022, attention will soon turn to what's inside those shiny new jets, and how Qantas will shape the domestic passenger experience of the coming decades.

Rethinking domestic business class for the 2020s

There have been plenty of advances in the seat space since Qantas spec'd out the Boeing 737-800: new materials and technology, fresh manufacturing techniques, more emphasis on the actual design itself.

We're certainly hopeful that David Caon – who worked tip-to-tail on the Boeing 787 seats, as well as the Airbus A380 refresh and Qantas' latest lounges – will turn his hand to styling Qantas' new domestic fleet.

David Caon took on design duties for Qantas' Boeing 787-9 project.
David Caon took on design duties for Qantas' Boeing 787-9 project.

In fact, with a few modifications – and definitely more legroom – you could do worse than a revised single-aisle version of Caon's Boeing 787 premium economy seat (a bespoke development in conjunction with Thompson Aerospace).


Qantas' second-gen premium economy seat – a model for its new domestic business class?
Qantas' second-gen premium economy seat – a model for its new domestic business class?

After all, it's not uncommon for international-grade premium economy seats to be pressed into service as a domestic or regional business class seat – it's a product that ticks all the boxes for better-than-economy comfort without pushing into the realm of flatbed business class, which demands more cabin space and thus delivers fewer seats in the same footprint.

Qantas' Boeing 787 premium economy: a good seat that deserves more legroom.
Qantas' Boeing 787 premium economy: a good seat that deserves more legroom.

Another possible model is Cathay Pacific's Airbus A321neo business class seat, which is another 2-2 recliner rather than a lie-flat bed.

Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.
Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.

Like its CX regional business predecessor, Cathay's A321neo seat – based on the Collins Air Rest platform, with styling finessed by JPA Design – is enclosed in its own hard shell cocoon.

Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.
Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.

As the seatback reclines, the seat itself inches forward while the seat pan angles up slightly, into a sundeck-style ‘lazy Z’ position while remaining inside the envelope of the seat’s shell and dedicated passenger space, so that the passenger behind doesn't lose any of 'their' personal space.

Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.
Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.

A sliding divider panel adds some extra privacy for passengers in these paired seats.

Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.
Cathay Pacific's A321neo business class.

Read more: What it’s like inside Cathay Pacific’s new Airbus A321neo

We know what you're thinking at this point: what about a business class seat with direct aisle access and which converts to a fully-flat bed?

JetBlue's latest Mint business class: fully private, fully flat.
JetBlue's latest Mint business class: fully private, fully flat.

It sounds good, and certainly some airlines are headed in that direction, but does it make sense for the sort of short-range and mainly domestic routes which Qantas flies?

The airline's top three routes on the east coast triangle – flights darting between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – are between 90-120 minutes. Nobody needs direct aisle access or a lie-flat bed for that.

Yes, there are longer routes – from the east coast to New Zealand spans 2-4 hours, while east-west transcontinental flights can nudge five hours – but generally speaking, only flights with an overnight leg would see passengers wishing for a fully flat bed.

There's little argument that a seat with more recline and comfort, more privacy and more mod cons wouldn't hit the sweet spot' for Qantas' domestic business class, without demanding the additional seat-stealing (and thus revenue-stealing) floor space of single-aisle lie-flat beds.

Thompson Aero's Vantage platform could be the 'suite spot' for domestic business class.
Thompson Aero's Vantage platform could be the 'suite spot' for domestic business class.

We'd love to be wrong on this score, if for example Qantas opted for something like Thompson Aero's original Vantage seat, which delivers lie-flat beds in a staggered layout so that paired seats alternate with 'throne' seats for the solo flyer.

Could Qantas split an Airbus A320neo or Boeing 737 MAX order across different aircraft types to create a 'sub-fleet' with such a primo business class, dedicated to the airline's longer flights?

In theory, of course. But the airline's history is not one of creating fleets within fleets – it's about standardising on a single product across the fleet.

This maximises the flexibility of the entire fleet in shuffling aircraft around the network, including when it's necessary to briefly ground one aircraft for technical reasons (aka 'going tech') and swap in another aircraft to ensure your flight is on time.

Beyond the physical form of the seat, other creature comforts we'd expect would be more storage space so that that passengers can tuck away items such as phones, tablets, laptops, books, reading glasses and what-not, while keeping them close at hand.

Both AC and USB-C power sockets should not only be present, but immediately visible and within easy reach (not buried at the base of the seat), with Bluetooth audio streaming so that travellers can use their own headphones or earbuds while watching movies or TV shows from the inflight entertainment system.

Executive Traveller readers: what would you like to see in Qantas' next generation domestic business class seat? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

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.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 339

Agree that the latest JetBlue Mint-style business class wouldn't be practical for any Qantas domestic jet, but the previous JetBlue Mint, the original one, is based on that same Vantage seat, in fact I think JetBlue was the launch airline, and the 'solo' seats actually had a sliding door, so they were highly-desirable 'suites'. If Qantas went down the Vantage road, it would be great to see something similar, it could ever charge a premium for the solo suites or limit their advance booking to Chairman's Lounge and Platinum One members as a perk, as long as the seat map opened up to everyone maybe 72 hours before departure.

I'm okay with something more like the CX A321neo seat or a more developed version of Caon's premium economy seat, but in addition to that privacy panel between the seats I'd like to see the 'shell' of the seat have more of a wrap-around wing, maybe a bit like Cathay's A350/B777 business class seats, so that passengers sitting at the aisle also have more privacy.

12 Apr 2011

Total posts 75

What if now is the time that qantas chooses to go the other direction and introduce euro-style business class?

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 214

I could have seen Virgin doing that under Bain, happy it didn't go that way, but I definitely can't see Qantas doing that and going down-market and losing the edge to Virgin when Qantas has always blown its trumpet about being premium, full service etc etc.

Lmc
Lmc

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Nov 2018

Total posts 100

Never going to happen, as Australia’s only premium airline. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 214

I wouldn't bet on it. They had a shocking configuration in Business on the initial A330-200's for domestic. 2-3-2 with very limited legroom, then they took out the middle seat and added a 'tray table' cover for the middle seat. It took Virgin to force them to add decent business class to the A330. Reduced competition from Virgin may tempt them again.

Happy to take any, long overdue, improvement.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Feb 2015

Total posts 332

I'd personally be happy with a CX style seat also, where a reclining seat does so within a cocoon, thus not to impact the passenger behind. As stated in the article, bluetooth audio streaming and the relevant ports to charge our many devices is a must as well.

Exciting times ahead. 

Jetstar Airways - Qantas Frequent Flyer

24 Aug 2018

Total posts 105

CX style seat for me on the domestic routes rather than the dreaded Euro cheapskate solution. It is highway robbery in Europe and would not fly in Aus.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Mar 2014

Total posts 200

While the euro business isnt great as people have said, the duration of the flights is often sub 2 hours and business class in Europe is often little more cost wise than economy - i actually think its not bad value in some cases.

Dont forget QF used to have the converter business seats in the 737-400s.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jan 2017

Total posts 18

Agreed,

on BA, when adding luggage charges to basic fares, the Club Europe seats are sometimes a small increment more when bought a couple of weeks in advance. 

I tend to pay for cheap business seats if going to Greece, Turkey, Madeira or the Canary Islands if I have much more than a backpack's worth of clothes. The cabin crew are normally quite generous with the scotch as well, so that can quickly make up the differential from an economy seat.

Lufthansa increments for business class are normally quite small when adding a domestic flight to a Frankfurt or Munich sector, so are good value for a Star Alliance status run, and I'm not in a rush to get to the destination.

07 Nov 2020

Total posts 32

I agree the European business class is often not that expensive.  But you can bet your bottom dollar it would be on Qantas.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1000

I feel it may be possible that some of the A321LR fleet may have a lie-flat option but I would expect that sub-fleet to be largely dedicated to international routes such as ADL-SIN or SYD-CGK. Apart from positioning flights as needed, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect that this level of J class would regularly appear on domestic runs.  

It is also possible that the domestic replacement is the MAX which would mean the product differentiation would be less of an issue. International could still have the A321LRs including lie-flats which could be maintained by Jetstar who will have a number of the type whilst mainline Domestic has the MAX with the less glamorous but updated from current generation J class. 

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 619

Think you mean A321XLR which is different to A321LR. 

In any case would agree that something like that would justify a subfleet with lie flat beds. But no reason why those same planes couldn’t be used transcontinental as well. 

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 214

Put me down as another vote for something like the CX A321neo business class seat as the minimum standard for whatever jets Qantas ends up buying. The QF premium economy seat's also good but get ride of that clunky footrest mechanism and please give the seats enough pitch so you have good legroom and your knees aren't up against the back of the seat in front if the person in front hits the recline button.

05 Jan 2021

Total posts 9

It would not be difficult to improve on the current seat .

Protecting the pax behind from recline would be important to me.

I hope that QF will look  to improve the soft product as well - again there is a lot of room for improvement for food and wine offerings,

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 227

Yes the dreaded recline!  The seat is fine for  up to 2 hrs   but  a longer flight from ADL  or anywhere to PER or direct to Cairns (currently on a 717 mind you!)  I used to love VA The Business   or even the old QF A330 2-3-2

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 676

What will be really interesting is to see exactly what in-flight entertainment (IFE) model or configuration QF is planning for this next contract acquisition. This could be a variety of options across cabins including:

  • Business Class Individual Screen - Yes, Economy Class - No*
  • Business Class Individual Screen - Yes, Economy Class - Overhead drop-down every 3 rows
  • Business Class Individual Screen - Yes, Economy Class - Overhead drop-down every 3 rows, individual seat-back screen

* It is a 'given' that with the current B737 fleet already hard wired for either / both WIFi streaming and direct Internet access, that this would be expected to be replicated on each new mainline / regional frame. In the first option, providing NO screen in Economy will save QF the weight of each individual seatback unit, however that creates a situation where QF gives up the option to control weight, by allowing the passenger to dictate what they bring ie: a laptop with it's accoutrements and accessories will undoubtedly weigh more than a tablet or a cell phone.

Of course, entertainment such as screening of films increases in importance the longer the journey. Clearly, no-one is going to be able to watch a 110 min film on a 'golden triangle' 75-80 min sector such as SYD-MEL. But live streamed news broadcasts and 30 min sitcoms etc have validity on all routes.

Will QF do away with the weight of the monthly paper-based Australian Way in-flight magazine on domestic routes? Ideally, it should be digitized, as part of the IFE solution. Ditto, for food and beverage ordering.

It would be a welcome change to see Australia's premium carrier actually move into the digital age on-board their proposed new domestic fleets.

I don't see Qantas ever going back to those old-fashioned drop-down screens, or any airline for that matter. Easier just to either put a screen in every seat, which is what most airlines do, or leave out the screen and put the IFE content on WiFi so you can watch on your own device, which is what some airlines do, especially if they are low-cost carriers who also want to charge you for accessing that content. So nope, Qantas will have IFE screens in every seat. As to the content, far easier to have the same content loaded onto every plane, as a plane might do SYD-MEL and then MEL-PER.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

05 Jun 2014

Total posts 210

Not sure about giving up control of weight by using BYOD entertainment. Most likely said device would be in the overhead locker if not being used for IFE rather than left at home. Or do people really bring laptops on trips solely for IFE purposes?

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1000

I can't see dropdown screens ever returning but do see it likely that seatback screens in domestic Y will probably not appear either going forward and instead be replaced by BYOD solutions which are already widely used with very little resistance.  This is much cheaper for the airline as it only involves having charging available at each seat rather than the complexity and weight of screens as well as charging.

07 Nov 2020

Total posts 32

I'm hoping they follow the lead of United and Delta and put individual IFE screens in every seat.  It's a sorry state of affairs if you can get a better domestic product in the US than Australia.

Cathay's 'fixed shell' seat looks good but the catch with these is that the lower back support really needs to be great, this is the weak point of this design because of the way the seat reconfigures itself. As much as I would love to see something like that Vantage seat, which I've flown on Aer Lingus and JetBlue, it's is also what SQ will be installing on its 737 MAX jets from Silkair, I think it could be expecting too much from Qantas.

I would normally think that lie-flat business class would be unlikely for these jets but if Virgin is planning something like that for its MAX 10s then Qantas will have no choice but to do likewise. In fact there were suggestions that that Vantage seat, the one which JetBlue used for Mint 1.0, was what John Borghetti was planning for the MAX because they were going to take over east-west from the A330s. If Virgin has resurrected JB's plan and will be Vantage customers then Qantas will not only have to do a lie-flat business class but it wouldn't be able to use Vantage, it'd have to find something else.

31 Mar 2014

Total posts 374

Why would Qantas need to find something else if Virgin went with Vantage?

Seat companies usually can't supply the same seat to a competing airline in the same market, so if Virgin chose the Vantage for its 737 MAX-10 jets, Qantas couldn't also have the Vantage on its 737 replacements.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1000

I think it is unlikely that VA will pursue a lie-flat solution for its future fleet.  They use up too much real estate and, unless VA can ratchet up fares accordingly, they don't make sense.  Like QF, I think VA may introduce a new J product when its MAX-10s arrive but it will still fundamentally be a recliner not a lie-flat.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 101

Sorry everyone, but they must have a lie flat seat product. Why - because these new narrowbodies have significantly greater range than the current generation and I'm positive they will be used a lot for regional flights up to around 8 hours - which are generally overnighters in at least one direction. For example, I think they will be used on routes previously served by the A330, and to open up new regional routes with insufficient demand to warrant a widebody.

How many "regional flights of up to around 8 hours" does Qantas actually do in its Boeing 737s? I don't see either the A321neo or 737 MAX replacing the A330s on international routes, that's more a job for the A321XLR which Qantas already has on order, and I think that one will HAVE to have a business class bed for that reason.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 101

None at the moment, given Qantas only has older generation B737s with a shorter range. The A32x and MAX (depending on the version) can do much longer flights and are used, for example, on transatlantic routes, which of course are 7h+ and often overnight.

I think you are thinking of the A321XLR, they will be taking on regional Asian routes and some A330 routes and routes without sufficient demand for a widebody like an A330 or B787, but not these 737 replacements. They'll just do what the 737s do today which is domestic plus some short-haul international like NZ, Fiji, Noumea, maybe Bali for low demand times.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 227

Bali is a Jetstar destination    I'm surprised their owner QF fly there.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 238

There still is a premium market for Bali - think Nusa Dua etc. even if a large number of Aussies only know Kuta. Id always pay extra for QF VA or Garuda over Jetstar, Air Asia, Malindo or Batik if that is still flying.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1000

I do agree that some narrowbodies will have a lie-flat product and these will be the A321XLRs that do routes such as ADL-SIN or SYD-CGK.  What is unlikely though is that this same product will go across the new domestic fleet where these seats use up too much space and are unnecessary as they would rarely be used in lie-flat sleep mode anyway.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 101

Another thought - if QF gets a mix of types then a non lie flat could be used in smaller A200/Embraer types and a full lie flat in the larger A32x/B737 types, on a premise that the latter would more prevalent on 'longer' regional routes.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1000

Given most of the narrowbodies are used on routes under 4 hours and do very few red-eyes, there is no need for a lie-flat J class product on these aircraft regardless of whether they are 737s, A32Xs or smaller types.  

As I have said upthread, I do think it likely that QF will operate a lie-flat on a smaller fleet of A321XLRs principally dedicated to routes such as ADL-SIN or SYD-CGK but won't use the same seat on its domestic fleet regardless of whether it is an Airbus or Boeing product.

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 363

Max routes these aircraft will do up to 5-6 hours e.g. Perth-Singapore, Sydney-Perth, Melbourne-Bali so a great recliner with all the mod cons & comfort necessary for business travel and high end leisure. They have the blue prints of the premium economy seat so there’s a great place to start. 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2546

Just a reminder: this article is asking readers for what they'd like to see in Qantas' business class seats on these new jets, not opinions on the jets themselves (that can be done as comments under the relevant article at https://www.executivetraveller.com/news/airbus-a320neo-vs-boeing-737-max-as-qantas-renews-domestic-jet-fleet).

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 227

Id  like a AA Transcon "First" A321T like I can fly JFK- SFO/LAX v.v.  with access to a First Dining Room as well as a first lounge  - full flatbeds 1-1 with 5 rows  LOVE AA Flagship FIRST 

AA Transcon C JFK -LAX/SFO v.v.  2-2 C  is reasonable but UA Polaris is better 1 - 2-1 but this requires widebodies 787-9  and 787-10

Yeah, sure, lie-flat beds and a first class dining room and lounge for SYD-MEL. Want to try being realistic?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Dec 2014

Total posts 175

Having done Sydney - Bali return on a 737 in Business Class, I would have killed for a private flat-seat on the horrible red-eye return flight. 

Having said that, I realise that as a leisure route its the least likely to warrant a beefed-up business class seat. But I can still dream.

Qantas upgraded Sydney-Bali to an A330 some time back, thought it was all year around but maybe it was just seasonal, would certainly make sense to have an A330 during peak times, eg holidays.

22 Sep 2017

Total posts 52

My humble suggestion if Qantas has any sway over the design with this fairly large order:

Move the main entry door as far aft as possible.

Firstly, by splitting the passenger stream it would decrease boarding times without resorting to rear-door stairs.

Secondly, business class would have a clear run to their seats even if they stay in the lounge for a last drink.

Looks like the earlier A321s had a door in the right place, but it was eliminated to cram in a few more seats.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 339

Not that this has anything to do with the issue of the business class seats, but Airbus or Boeing won't make major design changes like that for an order of just 75 jets.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1000

The second door was removed at the request of airlines who wanted extra seats onboard and the A321 was recertified with the revised door arrangement with more overwing exits in lieu of the second door.  I think it unlikely any airline would sacrifice this revenue.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Apr 2017

Total posts 136

Lie flat on anything that operates a red eye flight please.

Flew from Darwin on Monday night, and had to take the Tuesday off work because I got 0 sleep. Similar experiences when flying from Perth back when that was allowed. Reason I pay to fly business is so I’m more well-rested than if I flew economy, which just isn’t the case on a late night 737 flight.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1000

The problem is very few 737s flights are red-eye with most of them spending the nights resting at an airport bay or getting minor maintenance.  As the article says, the economics just don't make sense unless you can ratchet up fares to account for the extra 50% or so of space lie-flat seats consume.

 

Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 643

Qantas has a history of talking big but being underwhelming at introduction- as seen in J "mini first class"-anything but and prem Y so cramped it's hardly worth it. Even F on the A380 is only a deluxe business class at best.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Apr 2012

Total posts 309

QF have again and again proven to over-hype and under-deliver.

People forget when they first introduced the Domestic A330 longhaul, the product they delivered was Euro style compact seats with the middle seat blocked off.  It was only when Virgin came into the picture did they upgrade the seats.  So unless competition is upping the standard, i wouldn't really hold my breath for something revolutionary.

QF

04 Apr 2014

Total posts 193

These latest gen single aisle jets are optimized to maximize the number of passengers, not their comfort.  Just ask anyone who’s flown on an AA 737-Max.   Even the Loo’s are smaller.


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