What do business travellers really want on 'triangle' flights?

Finding the business class 'sweet spot' for flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

By David Flynn , August 10 2020
What do business travellers really want on 'triangle' flights?

Australia's east coast is, in normal times, a bustling highway in the sky. The Sydney-Melbourne corridor alone is rated as the world's second-busiest domestic route, with almost 150 flights per day.

Meanwhile, the Sydney-Brisbane route ranks just behind the likes of Los Angeles-San Francisco and Cape Town-Johannesburg with 91 flights per day.

Together, those cities form a 'Golden Triangle' of aviation – sometimes also called the Golden Boomerang – threaded between Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. And it's a rich vein for airlines to tap, especially when it comes to filling those business class seats with premium passengers paying higher fares and delivering higher yields.

Even when Covid-19 is behind us, the pandemic's far-reaching ripples could take some of the shine off that golden triangle if cash-strapped companies look to conserve their spending and where possible embrace videoconferencing, which over the past six months has become commonplace.

At the same time, this could mean that airlines become more eager – and more competitive – for the business class travel that remains.

Business travel bounces back

The International Air Transport Association reports that "video conferencing appears to have made significant inroads as a substitute for in-person meetings," with corporate travel budgets expected to be "very constrained" as companies continue  face financial pressure, even as the economy improved.

But Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce says "we know personal contact, people interacting with each other, has a huge difference from doing it over the Internet."

Business travel will come back substantially, says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.
Business travel will come back substantially, says Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce.

“I’ve talked to a couple of our biggest (corporate) customers, and one of the CEOs said he was relying on contacts built up over decades to get through the pandemic, but he would eventually need to rebuild those contacts,” Joyce remarked at a Griffith University function on the Gold Coast in late July.

"Most companies" are "people organisations", Joyce reasons, "so I believe that (business travel) will come back. Maybe there will be a hit but it will come back substantially."

Virgin, Rex to chase value

Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah sees any travel budget constraints as favouring the rescued and rebooted airline, which will rely on value as its differentiator.

"We’re going to have a very low cost base, with a very strong high-quality value offering to corporates," Scurrah says, "a very good value but good-quality product."

"In the post-Covid world we know the economy is going to take a while to recover, particularly business travel budgets will be impacted, and people will be looking more than ever for value in their business travel as well."

"So our lower cost base and a stronger balance sheet gives us the opportunity to provide the best-value business option in the country."

Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah wants to find the sweet spot of value for business travellers.
Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah wants to find the sweet spot of value for business travellers.

Read more: How Virgin Australia 2.0 plans to win back business travellers

But traditional sparring partners Qantas and Virgin may face a common foe in regional airline Rex, which intends to launch flights between Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in March 2021, using an initial fleet of between five and ten single-aisle Airbus A320-series or Boeing 737-series jets.

Rex says its capital city flights "will be priced at affordable levels but will also include baggage allowance, meals on board and pre-assigned seating. Booking channels will include both Rex direct and Global Distribution Systems (GDS). Lounge membership will be available for subscription."

Read more: Rex to challenge Qantas, Virgin Australia on capital city routes

What do you want in business class?

With potentially three airlines vying for business class passengers on Australia's east coast triangle, and in a markedly changed environment, this is as good a time as any to ask what those passengers want.

As a busy business traveller, what's the role of lounges in your preflight experience: are they ideally a quiet place to get some work done before the flight, or are they more about relaxing? Do you rely on them for a decent meal, and a drink or two?

How important is a full meal in business class on a 90 minute flight?
How important is a full meal in business class on a 90 minute flight?

Speaking of meals: do you really see the need for meals on Sydney-Melbourne or Sydney-Brisbane flights where you'll spend barely 90 minutes in your seat?

Should those business class meals be restricted to morning, noon and evening flights, and what counts as a proper business class meal these days?

Given that at least for Qantas and Virgin Australia the business class seats are roughly the same in terms of leg room and overall comfort across a 90 minute flight, are there any other inflight differentiators, or would you rather exchange some of the 'frills' for lower fares?

Getting down to brass tacks: why do you fly business class, what do you value the most from that business class ticket, and what can Qantas, Virgin Australia and even Rex do to earn your business on Australia's triangle routes?

Share your thoughts as a regular business class flyer on the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne corridor in the comments 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 May 2016

Total posts 581

I wouldn't call myself a regular business flyer, but historically I have flown business when flying MEL-SYD-OOL or MEL-BNE-CNS on status runs. Having meals that are better than in economy is part of the experience and not offering them would look cheap. The business class passengers are effectively subsidising those flying economy.

There is more time to have the meals on MEL-BNE than say MEL-SYD as it's a longer flight.

I like visiting the QF lounges before flights.

Air Canada - Aeroplan

28 Apr 2015

Total posts 11

Three immediately come to mind 1. On time/reliable - and if there is a problem ample warning if at all possible. Flight cancelled or very late shouldn't come as a surprise either at check in or gate, yet so often it does. 2. Comfortable lounge with reasonable food, drinks & space if you need to do a bit of work 3. If you're not in business - a luxury these days few organizations will spring for - a bit more leg room - at 184cms economy is a pain...Virgin X is handy or exit rows if you're lucky. In flight - a glass of wine and bit of good cheese is welcome on late arvo flights; earlier in the day - water.

24 Feb 2012

Total posts 53

I think you need to keep meals even on the shorter flights as mviy stated. I didn't always choose to eat, but it was nice to have the option available, and that option should be a better offering than available in economy. For me, I value the space and it's why I choose to fly Business class over economy. I certainly don't think we need fully flat beds or direct aisle access for everyone on the shorter flights, but I wouldn't like to see us downgrade to a "Euro-Business" offering. I also appreciate a more "seamless" travel experience which is more possible flying business (priority check in, boarding etc). I used to love Virgin Australia back in the day when they'd call for boarding in the lounge, and almost always when you arrived at the gate you could board via the priority lane without waiting. It seemed in the latter stages of Virgin 1.0 they'd call boarding in the lounge but when you arrived, actual boarding hadn't started yet. So I guess in summary, for me, it's the space and not feeling cramped, and the seamless travel experience that counts most.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 68

I agree, you can do away with meals and ever 'snacks' in economy for these routes and save a lot, but they always need to be part of the business class 'package'. They don't need to be super fancy though.


Joe
Joe

03 May 2013

Total posts 514

Priority luggage delivered as a priority...not left to the whim of handlers. Also, an end to QF's 20 year, ad nauseum and uncaring excuse "they are contractors not Qantas staff"

24 Feb 2012

Total posts 53

I would agree with this. Although I have to say, Virgin 1.0 was very good with this most of the time

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1224

Frequency, cost and flexibility to move between flights.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 68

Bingo, all of those are very important to a busy person, especially flexibility to change to an earlier or later flight.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 68

For me it's going to come down a lot to 'value', which means price is really important. I don't need a fancy celebrity chef to do my inflight meals but I do like the idea of being able to have a good meal on a flight if I'm travelling in the morning or evening, so that I make better use of this time. I'd rather have a good meal and a drink on the flight and spend less time in the lounge.

Also, something I suggested in last week's article on Virgin chasing business travellers was that Virgin should consider selling a package of multiple flights such as ten SYD-MEL one-ways for $5,000, which would work out at an attractive $500 per flight. Virgin gets the money up front and stops me flying with Qantas as I've already 'bought' my tickets. Of course you'd have to have a LOT of trust in Virgin not collapsing again.


09 Mar 2015

Total posts 30

I actually avoided the Virgin lounges on my recent VA flights because they were absolutely packed during the peak hours in which I like many business travellers fly. I'd rather turn up closer to departure time at SYD and use the premium entry to go straight into the lounge, get coffee in a take-away cup and head to my gate even if that is cutting things a bit fine. Actually when my Amex card gave me Priority Pass credit to spend at airport venues I used to walk straight through the lounge and go to Movida at SYD T2 for a decent coffee and a meal. There's no sense wanting to work or even relax at an airport lounge when it's packed wall to wall, noisy and you struggle to find somewhere to sit. Maybe Virgin could make part of the lounges business class only or better yet turn The Club lounge into a dedicated business class lounge. Don't need Luke Mangan a la carte meals, just a lounge space that works for the business traveller.

If I pay a premium i expect a premium experience.

- Seamless & consistent experience, with the fewest ‘service experience' handovers. Qantas generally does this well at the airport but seriously fix your call centre wait times.

- Comfort - a better seat with more room. Don't go the euro business experience ever! (Remember the A330 east west plastic tray experience)

- Food and drink. Doesn't have to be a huge selection, but quality over quantity wins me.

I'm easy with lounges however just make sure they aren't cramped and worn out if you're going to have one.

We're extremely lucky to have one of the best domestic business class experiences in the world so I think both qantas and virgin have kept each other on their toes and do it well!

04 May 2015

Total posts 262

Lounges: "are they ideally a quiet place to get some work done before the flight"?

Ideally, yes, but on the triangle, never so.

In any case, I would still expect a meal in business class on a business trips. These aren't leisure jaunts: I wouldn't want to be turning up to the airport an hour earlier just to eat breakfast in the lounge, before being stuck on a plane for the next 1.5-2hrs with no food (especially for an early morning flight, where arriving earlier means less sleep).

Similarly on the flight home after a day's work, I also wouldn't be heading to the lounge early for food, when I can just be on my flight and on the way home, and eat my meal when there's nothing else to do.

Inflight catering may cost the airlines money, but it's a big part of what I'm paying for, so I do hope VA doesn't remove it (and to follow, Qantas might then make theirs worse). When you're already gold or platinum, you already get the lounge and almost everything else, so business class for me is an inflight meal in a larger seat. The rest I get by status, so don't take my food away!

05 Jul 2013

Total posts 7

On time! On Friday evenings, it was very rare for either QF or VA to be on schedule. I understand the occasional weather or mechanical issues, but usually the cause for delay was "late arrival of the inbound aircraft", mostly because both airlines didn't allow enough slack between flights and delays had been accumulating throughout the day. By 5 or 6pm, the accumulated delay too often often was an hour or more, and there seemed no sense of urgency to make up any of the time or to communicate accurate departure times.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Nov 2012

Total posts 24

1. Self-service features that work: VA's biggest downfall (in my opinion) is their lack of self-service features, and the ones they do have rarely work as intended or give you the "you must call the guest contact centre to modify this booking". Using a system like Sabre there is absolutely no reason why 95% of tasks cannot be automated, which helps to lower your cost base, but it requires their end to completed from the half-baked transition they did a couple of years ago.

2. A meaningful rewards and loyalty programme: Velocity is great in many ways but it really takes a nosedive (pardon the pun) when it comes to Gold and Platinum status benefits and recognition. Not being part of an alliance already makes it a somewhat less valuable proposition, and navigating the patchwork quilt of partners and what they do and don't provide depending on which day of the week it is (and then having to deal with misinformed desk staff) just doesn't bode well for a business traveller.

3. Meal service: For any flight under 2hr30min, I don't see the need for a full meal service. A snack option is perfectly acceptable, but this needs to be complimented by a decent lounge offering and a good selection of vendors inside the terminals. OOL has one of the best selections of food and beverage of any terminal.

4. Re-checking boarding passes on the plane: I'm pretty sure this is a CASA thing and not airline policy, but this is one thing that really annoys me compared to US airlines. Unless you are being escorted to your seat, there is no need to show the boarding pass again. It's annoying and inconvenient having to keep your phone out on the aerobridge and then showing it to the cabin crew just to confirm what was already confirmed when you started the boarding process.

20 Jun 2020

Total posts 11

I think you'll find full meal service is important for many business travellers (I know I do anyway).

In my experience, I don't have time to fit in dinner between my dash from the office at 5:30 to the plane at 6:30 where I'm then home by 8:30/9pm. Any time I do have is a quick drink in the lounge and then off to the gate.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 68

I think most business class travellers are okay with the basics of the experience on the triangle routes but the fare itself has to come down, it's very very hard to justify the sort of prices that Qantas and Virgin were asking for before and businesses watching their budget in the next 12-24 months will simply want a better fare. I run my own business and I'd find it hard to justify even $500 SYD-MEL based on how Covid has impacted by business and earnings, certainly no more than that. I think that things outside of the lounge and the inflight need to be looked at, such as reliability and flexibility. And make sure that any checked luggage of a business class passenger is the very first to come out of the baggage carousel. It can't be that hard to load a single container of business class luggage and have this right at the front, as soon as the plane pulls up this luggage is grabbed and sent though, maybe even by the time you get to the luggage carousel your bag is out and waiting for you, it could even be taken off the belt and sitting in a special business class pickup area with a staffer there to check your ticket and grab the bag and hand it to you. Platinums can wait, their bags they should be next on the carousel but business class bags should ALWAYS be out first. It's small time-saving this like this that can really make a difference.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 327

I'm in a similar situation, but I have different expectations. when flying economy on the BNE-SYD, SYD-MEL and MEL-ADL sectors, I'm very cost conscious. I control my travel times and would prefer to eat a small/light meal in the lounge than the usual fare offered in flights (in economy). In return, I'd prefer a higher quality, complimentary first beverage (beer/mixed drink/wine) and snack (chips/pretzels w/ beer/mixed drinks and cheese/crackers w/ wine). Happy to then pay for 2nd and later drinks, but when in Economy-X I'd expect those drinks to be complimentary.

I do think travellers would accept these changes provided it was clear when booking and there was a reminder icon/message on the boarding pass. After all, the air-side F&B concessions in most airports are now as good as food courts in shopping malls (not the case prior to, say, 2015).

But when flying J-Class, regardless of sector, I expect the service I've received until March.

My A$2.00 worth for what works with me. Am keen to read the thoughts of others.

I was just about to say that Virgin should look at everything it can do to make the business class experience about saving time and being hassle-free, Gold4Life mentions it above with regard to collecting your checked luggage and this is really the bottom line. Business travellers are normally pressed for time, they have all sorts of things on their mind, so Virgin or anybody else just needs to think of ways to make the business class experience one where the traveller has everything go smoothly, doesn't have to worry, makes the most of their time. Deliver that and do it consistently and you will have customers come back again and again.

16 Mar 2015

Total posts 1

The thing is, Qantas domestic biz class comes with things like power points, a leg rest, TV screens (either in the seat back, or overhead), and a separate lounge to the one earned by gold status. VA was already giving you none of that (well, some planes had power, but most I happened to fly on didn't), so VA was already at a disadvantage. This whole claim to 'value' is great marketing spin, but quite often, VA biz class was around the same price as Qantas, but gave far less. It sounds now like it'll give less again, but in line with that, it should cost way less then before. Otherwise, what am I really paying for?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 327

Hello Adam, your comment regarding VA business being "around the same price as Qantas" has caught my attention.  Are there any particular sectors where you see that, or is it a general observation?  I used to be a regular flyer from MEL to SYD, BNE and CNS and - without exception - QF J-class was always a few hundred dollars more than VA.  Perhaps I've been lucky?  You're not the first to have said that, so I'm curious to learn which sectors you've seen have comparable biz class fares.  

Thank in advance Adam,  

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 748

When I travel domestically I value things such as frequency (every 30 mins during peak times), ease of changing flight times, quick check-in and prompt luggage arrival on landing. Proper priority boarding is appreciated and I've never understood why Qantas is so bad at this.

Lounges are nice but I don't expect a 5 star dining experience and I understand that, in normal times, the lounges will be busy during peak times. The ability to get a nice coffee in the morning with some toast or a beer in the afternoon with sausage rolls or cheese and crackers is fine.

For a MEL-SYD sector, a seat towards the front of economy class is fine. If you do get Business Class, a recliner is more than enough for such short sectors. Airline meals are always various levels of ordinary so I don't expect much and see no value in trying to gulp down a 3 course meal on a short sector.

29 Sep 2015

Total posts 3

Based on how grumpy I am whenever I've been dragged out of bed for an early morning flight, I think I'd be quite friendly towards any airline that keeps an espresso coffee machine on board! (Both QF and VA had them on the A330s, but not the B737s...)

Failing that, a good coffee in the lounge, and one that doesn't require waiting for 20 minutes to receive, as I've often found with VA. Air New Zealand has this cool thing where your phone senses you're arriving at the airport, you tap a button to order a coffee, and it's ready for you when you get there. Qantas kinda has that, but you have to remember to order it (it's not location based).

Long story short, good coffee, however and wherever it's served.

21 Jul 2020

Total posts 6

I predominately fly BNE-DRW but do the odd MEL or SYD flight. The lounges are a must, I'm virgin gold have been for a few years and being able to get some work done before you jump on the flight is really handy. I tend to upgrade into business on Friday home legs after a big week to get some dinner etc. i always found the virgin service suited me and i wish i didnt get scared and spend 150k points when administrators were called in!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 168

Jeez, what a great and important discussion. I imagine QF is watching this keenly.

Short-haul - I don't eat on flights. I do though value the lounge. A quick coffee, bite to eat and a drink. If needed, a shower.  

04 Dec 2013

Total posts 137

Food is important.  You never know what stage of their day people are facing and there's nothing worse than being tired and hungry, and fed some token snack that just reminds you how hungry you are.  And a proper meal lets you skip breakfast at home or arrive back more relaxed.

The QF business lounges are always crowded, so I try to minimise lounge time and I'd hate to think what the QC lounges must be like.  PLEASE, PLEASE QF - turn the TVs off!  There's always a TV running and just adding to the background noise and stress levels.  People don't need to be blasted with Sky News or whatever on repeat.  And sometimes the only seats available are next to the TV (because everyone else has sat somewhere else trying to avoid them!) 

Seems like there's nowhere else in the world that seems to have this obsession with a bloody TV running in the lounge...   

12 Aug 2020

Total posts 1

The key is 'generosity'. That goes from being offered another drink, to snacks and food that are full of flavour, and re-offered if you want more. A shot of coffee proffered at your seat in the lounge (thank you Adelaide Qantas lounge). No ridiculous quibbling when you are packing 10.5 kilos instead of 10 in your carry-on, but a generous 'That will be OK, but can you try for under 10 next time.' A 'generous' notification as soon as they know boarding will be late, or your flight departs or arrives well after schedule. An extra word when you're recognised. Generous with space - not lavish pitch, just comfortable leg-room. A generous selection of wine, not just 'white or red'.

The things I remember on flights are the offer of a glass of a 'nice red I just opened' when travelling in row 4 economy urgently to see a dying relative late on a Saturday night. 'I've got a nice cheese plate if the snacks don't appeal' on an afternoon flight when I'd missed lunch. 'Three bags - should be fine, it's not a full flight' at the gate after asking. 'I can put you on the earlier flight if you want, but frankly, your flight is scheduled to arrive on time, and I'm not so sure about disruption to that earlier flight.' 

Their common characteristic is generosity, and customer focus. That's what I need as a business traveller on 'triangle' flights.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Aug 2020

Total posts 1

Totally agree with your points 2paxfly.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Apr 2018

Total posts 3

I'd usually fly in Econ X on on these short flights unless I have an free upgrade or feel like burning some points.

When up front meals aren't a priority on short flights for me but do appreciate nice cheese, olives etc (or fruit in the morning) and a better selection of drinks (e.g. maybe also offer a couple nice craft beers as an option) would be nice. If in Econ X better snacks than the recycled bird food that has become commonplace would go a looooong way as would bringing back happy hour, or for Plat's allowing us to have just one drink at N/C to show we are valued. And while I am at it, police the overhead lockers, I tend to board late and often find the bins completely full with unreasonable amounts of luggage, usually I get Row 3 so my bag becomes the crews problem but it is just another annoyance having the crew telling me my bag needs to go up - I already know that - if you had kept an eye on what old mate with a hardcase, a backpack, a suitbag and 3 bags of merino neck warmers and a sombrero from chadstone stuffed in there you wouldn't need to patronise me about my laptop bag being on the floor or find a spot for it - that really needs fixing to make the experience much more comfortable and efficient for all. 

As far as lounges go, as most have said they are getting too crowded, double status offers etc have only exacerbated this over the last few years and waiting in a 20 strong line to grab your morning piccolo with a twist of lemon is starting to feel a bit like I imagine cattle do when heading off to the abattoir. Sometimes I will just go buy a coffee in the food court rather than fight over whose latte that was.

Other than those items flexibility, fast check in, fast security clearance (premium entry in SYD is a sure fire way to get swabbed these days), and priority baggage that is priority are all important to me. I have always found VA's call centre to be easy to deal with, helpful and fast to answer.

I’d like bikkies and cheese, or a nice sparkling in the lounge, and not crowded please (I hate SYD and MEL in peak). Keep the baristas, thanks. And some more bikkies and cheese in the cabin. Yeah, the in flight espresso would win me; if TrenItalia can do an espresso machine on a cart, so can anyone. Please no more salads made of Neil Perry leaves and stones. I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

13 Aug 2020

Total posts 1

I cannot see the need to have a meal in a 90 minute flight. Surely we can do without food for 90 minutes: we do it at home, in the office etc. A lounge is fine but again, why do we need it before a Sydney to Melbourne flight? International is another story. As we have to be at the airport a fair while before a flight it is a nice place to relax and leave behind the traffic woes of getting to the airport.


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