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Qantas will remove the much-criticised middle seat from the business class cabins of its newest planes in response to complaints from its premium customers.
The airline drew fire from frequent flyers when it squeezed an extra seat into the middle row of two new Airbus A330s on the trans-contintental route from Sydney and Melbourne to Perth.
However, as part of a renewed push for bicoastal business travellers which will include adding Boeing 747s to the cross-country trek, Qantas will reconfigure new A330s to the conventional 2-2-2 seating configuration.
Qantas’ much-vaunted 'new domestic experience' appears to have backfired in one vital area: making long-haul flights a less comfortable experience for business travellers.
The airline launched its business-focused upgrade for check-in, airport lounges and flights last month in an effort to boost its appeal to local business travellers ahead of Virgin Blue’s aggressive push for the corporate market in 2011.
Part of the package was the introduction of two factory-fresh Airbus A330-200s for the long haul from Sydney and Melbourne to Perth. These were kitted out with Recaro seats, Neil Perry meals and personal video screens.
But travellers facing the five hour coast-to-coast trek have been dismayed to discover the new A330s have added a much-hated middle seat to the business class cabin.
Earlier Qantas versions of the A330-200 which still ply the trans-continental route have a more spacious 2-2-2 business class configuration – two seats next to each window plus a further two in the middle.
However, both of the new A330s squeeze a third seat into the middle row so that Qantas can boost business class capacity from 36 to 42. Business travellers shuttling between the east and west coasts have been quick to criticise the middle seat as more in keeping with a premium economy cabin and fare.
Now comes news that Qantas could be rethinking the layout, with Steve Creedy reporting in The Australian that the carrier is “revisiting its domestic business class strategy” ahead of the arrival of Virgin Blue’s own Airbus A330 Sydney-Perth service due to start in May 2011, with flights between Brisbane or Melbourne to Perth from 2012.
Creedy also notes passenger concerns over the A330‘s vastly reduced business class legroom compared to the Boeing 767s which often carry domestic passengers out of Sydney and Melbourne to Perth before becoming the Perth-Tokyo QF79/QF80 service.
While the international-class 767s have a generous 50 inches (127cm) between seats, the A330’s legroom is a more cramped 35-37 inches (89-94cm).
The very luckiest travellers flying between Sydney and Perth can still chance upon one of of the ‘international class’ A330-200s, which not only retain the 2-2-2 business class layout but use angled Skybeds with the same 60 inches of legroom as a Boeing 747.