Qantas upgrades economy meals and drinks

Hot meals make a comeback on short domestic flights, with complimentary beer and wine also returning to the skies.

By Chris C., February 8 2021
Qantas upgrades economy meals and drinks

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.

This Hokkien noodle salad features on Qantas' domestic economy menu.. Qantas
This Hokkien noodle salad features on Qantas' domestic economy menu.

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.

Also read: Qantas launched unlimited domestic flight changes

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.”

Read more: Hrdlicka says Virgin Australia's future is more JetBlue than Jetstar

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).

Qantas business class breakfast (Sydney-Hobart).. Nathan Cosgrove
Qantas business class breakfast (Sydney-Hobart).
Nathan Cosgrove

This hot Qantas lunch (from the diabetic special meal selection) was served in business class between Brisbane and Mackay.

Qantas business class lunch (Brisbane-Mackay).. Keith Smith
Qantas business class lunch (Brisbane-Mackay).
Keith Smith

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).

Virgin Australia's business class breakfast (Sydney-Melbourne).. Davida Leahy Pori
Virgin Australia's business class breakfast (Sydney-Melbourne).
Davida Leahy Pori

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.

Virgin Australia snack box (Cairns-Brisbane).. Anne-Marie Norris
Virgin Australia snack box (Cairns-Brisbane).
Anne-Marie Norris

Read more: What meals are Qantas and Virgin serving in business class?

Additional reporting by David Flynn

Chris C.

A Brisbane-based contributor to Executive Traveller, Chris Chamberlin lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.


11 Jul 2014

Total posts 711

The Chess Master (Mr Joyce) seems to be all over VA (Murphy) out playing them on all squares, several hard core VA customers are already complaining about bad flight times and non direct flights so they are hopping onto QF for a direct flight and at the right time. 

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 251

Competition is a great thing. None of this would have happened if Virgin did not stay around and REX was not starting service in March (when all these changes start).

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 68

And ticket prices are commensurate with the new offerings. 

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 224

This is how Qantas should be competing in the large part, not by dumping capacity and slashing fares across the board, but by lifting services. in keeping with being a full service premium airline. If Virgin wants to be the 'value' carrier with a stripped-back offering and much cheaper fares to match, that's great, this is also good competition because it creates a clear separation between the airlines. But let Virgin be Virgin and let Qantas be Qantas.

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 125

most sensible comment in the history of ET.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Dec 2016

Total posts 16

Even when forced to fly the kangaroo will not have the meal as I have never had anything that I would call edible and even if they had something that looked good they had run out and you ended up with some vegan garbage. Prefer to keep the eat and flying separate domestically now that Virgin has dropped meals as I ain’t paying $50-100 more for something that you can buy in Coles or Woolworths for 6 or 7 dollars.

09 Aug 2015

Total posts 92

Good to see some fruits of competition here, not just the competition from Virgin but Rex, but Qantas can beef up its menu as much as it likes, but if Virgin keeps offering seriously cut-price fares like it's been doing lately, especially in business class, then I'm always going to prefer to keep more money in my pocket and my travel budget and fly with Virgin. I'd rather buy something more decent, fresher, even lighter and healthier at the airport, have it with a good cuppa or a refreshing drink, and save hundreds on my airfare.


09 May 2020

Total posts 509

When is REx going to be asked about its product and services on the intercapital routes?

Surely with less than 8 weeks or so, everything should be finalised and the fanfare started in time to attract the right customers ASAP 

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

I think you mean "When is Rex going to reveal its product and services on the intercapital routes?", because we've certainly asked them, as surely have other media outlets, but the airline is for now keeping its powder dry. Once there are details to share, we'll certainly share them.


22 Jan 2013

Total posts 84

David, the article doesn’t say what time the free alcoholic drinks start? Will it be the old 5pm departure time?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2568

Hi Flyman: we don't have that info as yet.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 496

I don't understand why it isn't standard service at any time of day? You're paying the same price whether you depart at 3am or 3pm, it therefore makes sense to serve food and beverages, including alcoholic ones, on every flight irrespective of the time of day.

I don't like redeye flights, but if I have to take one, I still expect a full meal served at 1am just like I would at 1pm. Flyers who don't want a meal - up to them. But don't punish the rest of us by making assumptions about our dining habits.

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 496

Didn't realise they had previously downgraded their domestic meal service, but it has been years since I've flown domestic on Qantas. Anyway, these meals look quite appetising. Great to see the airline lift it's game relative to the competition. Over in the US, you're lucky if you get anything more than a can of coke or cup of water on any domestic flight, no matter the flight duration, unless you're willing to pay for it or are flying first class (which is the equivalent of our business class). And it's been that way over there since 2001! The Aussies and Asian competitors at least kind of know how to treat their guests.

22 Apr 2013

Total posts 13

Any updates on when special meal requests will be returning? 

08 Feb 2018

Total posts 125

I think this is good for both airlines as customers have a clear choice. Its will be better for customers rather than the race-to-the-bottom approach for both airlines before. 

But the big question is: will Qantas still charge for beers on Sundays? And if so can we please pay by card?! How many times have I had to suffer without......

08 Jul 2014

Total posts 12

On all flights across the Qantas network there is now complimentary alcohol 7 days a week. Currently only from 5pm (scheduled departure).  One of the main reasons for this is to streamline service as cabin crew numbers in flight have been reduced across the board

05 Oct 2017

Total posts 496

It's a start but they really should be offering complimentary alcohol across their entire range of flights, not just evening departures. Customers should decide for themselves whether they want to have a glass of wine at 6am or not. Every person is different.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 366

I agree with all the previous comments that it's a good move to see Qantas improving its F&B offering and putting its energy into creating very clear lines of differentiation versus its competitors. I would say most Qantas customers want to see high value and premium offerings at every touch point and F&B is always a stand out no matter what class one is flying.  

21 Apr 2019

Total posts 15

VA business class offering is at best very poorly planned,at worst insulting.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 527

Normally the two are mutually exclusive, but with Virgin now being operating as 'Murphy-Airlines' piloted by Captain Hrdlicka, I suspect they're both - for now.  

Hopefully the looooooong anticipated wait will be worth it, if not, the real choice will be between Qantas and REX.  

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 378

the trick on virgin depending on where you are flying from is getting something to eat before getting on plane in the airport food court or in the case of smaller cities such as adelaide or canberra relying on going the day before to their food courts for something decent.i recently flew virgin adelaide to brisbane return and the food on offer was a joke.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Sep 2013

Total posts 8

Pinot Grigio @ 09:30 ??? I’d need two to wash down kale & broccoli salad - YIKES ! 

05 Dec 2017

Total posts 11

My work has leapt at the return of interstate travel and I've already done three return trips. For double the price the QF offering has been pretty abysmal. They have to do something to justify the prices they charge. Might have to swap back to Virgin and just do the lounge thing. Onboard dining for under 2 hours is not worth it.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 Aug 2017

Total posts 24

This article should be removed as it is factually incorrect. No evidence in any of the flights in the last few weeks and no evidence of an attempt to increase service, indeed the ET article advertises significantly more services than Qantas own website. No drinks on an afternoon flight still... woeful

13 Jul 2011

Total posts 2

Not sure what the new QF meal enhancements in economy are? Sunday morning flight MEL-SYD was a muffin and a water or juice. No coffee or tea. Lunchtime SYD-CNS was a tiny muesli bar and a drink. No alcohol offered. I didn’t care as I’d eaten in the lounge but was surprised at this “full service” offering. Have I missed something? If you’re going to position yourself as premium and full service I reckon you need to do better than this. 

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