Qantas is ramping up its food and beverage service on domestic economy flights as rival Virgin Australia prepares to charge economy passengers for everything but tea, coffee and water.
Virgin's move to a ‘buy on board’ model is part of a sweeping push to lower its cost base and reduce ticket prices, in keeping with airline's new 'value' proposition while also ensuring a solid margin for the company.
In response, Qantas is burnishing its reputation as a full-service airline, with hot meals across the board and even a new Qantas Centenary lager joining the free drinks menu.
“People know exactly what to expect when they book with Qantas, whether its complimentary food and drinks, baggage, fast Wi-Fi or access to dozens of lounges around Australia," said Qantas Group Chief Customer Officer, Stephanie Tully.
What's hot on the economy menu
On the food front, where ‘hot snacks’ are currently served – being on domestic flights of 3.5 hours or more – these will transition to ‘hot meals’ this month.
Hot meals will also return to flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, to replace the current ‘cold snack’ on flights timed around breakfast and dinner. These, and other short Qantas routes, are planned for a March menu rollout.
Lighter options will include "gourmet beef pies and roast vegetable quiche" through to heartier dishes like beef and mushroom ragout, and roasted chicken with tomato, garlic, and lemon sauce.
'Cheers' for inflight drinks
Complimentary beer and wine will also become available every day “across domestic and regional flights.”
This will include selected routes where alcohol was previously only available for purchase.
As a belated celebration of Qantas’ Centenary in 2020, the airline will stock a “limited edition” Qantas Centenary lager brewed by James Squire on its drink carts, among other beer and wine choices.
Meanwhile, in Virgin economy...
Virgin decision to replace complimentary snacks in economy class with 'buy on board' meals and refreshments – first tipped by Executive Traveller in October 2020 – will see an "exciting and fresh" inflight menu replace the previous for-purchase offerings.
Previously, the airline offered both complimentary bites and other items at a charge.
There's no word yet whether afternoon 'happy hours' – where wine, beer and soft drinks are served without charge - will remain.
“Australia already has a low-cost-carrier and a traditional full-service airline, and we won’t be either,” Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka remarked when announcing the change.
“We know that leisure travellers, small and medium businesses, and many corporates are now emerging from COVID-19 wanting better value. Virgin Australia will be a mid-market carrier appealing to customers who are after a great value airfare and better service.”
Business class bites
At the pointy end of the plane, Qantas and Virgin are also plating up very different meals.
Qantas has bounced back from the abbreviated boxed meals of mid-2020 with hot dishes back on the menu, while Virgin remains in a holding pattern serving snack boxes until the relaunch of its business class offering sometime this quarter.
Virgin has moved on from the days of #NoodleGate, when business class passengers were handed a pot of Fantastic-brand instant cup noodles ($1.60 from Woolworths) and now distributes snack boxes, which are expected to be replaced by something more substantial in the coming months.
For example, one of Qantas' recent 9.20am Sydney-Hobart flights featured this kale, black bean and broccoli salad (matched with a Heirloom Pinot Grigio).
This hot Qantas lunch (from the diabetic special meal selection) was served in business class between Brisbane and Mackay.
Switching over to Virgin Australia business class: breakfast on the popular Sydney-Melbourne route is a boxed serve of cereal, milk, snacks and a bakery item (two chocolate brownies).
Post-breakfast, the snack boxes shift their focus to, well, a variety of snacks, where the closest thing to a simple sandwich is a bag of baked Lavosh crackers.
Additional reporting by David Flynn