Next-gen business class seats: Qantas vs Virgin Australia

By David Flynn, November 3 2014

Qantas and Virgin Australia are ratcheting up their business class battle with all-new seats for their respective Airbus A330 fleets which fly the east-west routes.

So how do the Qantas Business Suite and Virgin Australia's 'business first' product stack up against one another?

It's too early for a direct comparison –  such an exercise won't be possible until March next year when Virgin begins flying the first of its upgraded A330s, some three months after the Qantas Business Suite makes its late December debut.

But we can draw some lines and connect some dots based on what we know already.

In design, both the Qantas and Virgin Australia products are closer to a suite than a conventional seat and offer direct aisle access.

Virgin Australia's business first' suite
Virgin Australia's business first' suite

Reflecting a trend among most airlines, the next-gen business class of both Qantas and Virgin Australia put every passenger next to the aisle so there’s no need to step over your seatmate.

Virgin's layout follows what the seatgeeks call a 'reserve herringbone': the window seats will be angled towards the window, while the two middle seats angle in towards each other, albeit with a retractable divider screen between paired-up passengers.

The configuration of a Qantas Business Suite cabin will see all seats facing straight ahead, although it's likely the layout will be 'staggered' – the middle pairs sitting slightly in front of or behind the window-side seats – to enhance that sense of privacy.

Both seats convert to a fully flat bed.

In the case of both airlines that bunk is just over 2 metres (80 inches) long, although Virgin’s new business class seat will be 71cm (28 inches) wide with the armrest lowered, compared to 63.5cm (25 inches) for the Qantas Business Suite.

However, travellers on Virgin Australia will need to be seated in the fully upright position for take-off and landing.

In comparison, the Qantas Business Suite will allow passengers to recline the seat (although not take it into fully-flat mode) from the moment they step onto the plane through to when it’s time to grab their carry-on bags and make a beeline for the door.

When it comes to inflight entertainment, both the Qantas and Virgin Australia A330 business class seats will sport a 16 inch screen, although Virgin’s Boeing 777 gets an 18 inch panel.

Qantas has an extra edge here, as the airline opted for Panasonic’s latest eX3 inflight entertainment technology over Virgin Australia’a decision to stick with the less advanced eX2 platform.

The Qantas Business Suite has a 'backup' set of movies
The Qantas Business Suite has a 'backup' set of movies

Should a passenger’s own screen lose its connection to the content server, or even if the entire system from tip to tail went down during a flight, a selection of the most recent movie and TV shows and other popular programs will still be available from high-capacity memory cards loaded behind each seat’s screen.

Qantas and Virgin Australia will also run their own inflight wifi streaming services, beaming video and music to passengers’ own tablets and laptops.

In addition to the de rigour AC and USB power sockets on the Qantas and Virgin Australia seats there’s also plenty of storage space.

Read: Up close with the Qantas Business Suite

Read: Up close with the new Virgin Australia 'business first' seat

Virgin Australia’s new business class will have the greatest advantage on the airline’s Boeing 777 routes to Los Angeles, where it will go up against Qantas’ Skybed II.

The Marc Newson-designed Skybed II remains a good seat but with a 2-2-2 layout, paucity of storage space and a 12.1 inch screen it’s clearly showing its age, having been designed for the first Qantas Airbus A380 some six years ago.

In the fast-moving world of premium airline seats, this generation gap between Qantas’ 2008 Skybed II and Virgin Australia’s 2015 business class can be a substantial one.

The Qantas Business Suite will begin flying on Australia’s east-west routes in December, with international flights to Asia starting in January 2015.

Virgin Australia’s six transcontinental Airbus A330s will be upgraded to the new business class seat between March and July next year, with the international Boeing 777s following in November 2015 to January 2016.

Also read: 10 things you didn't know about the new Qantas Business Suite

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter – we're @AusBT

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.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 531

I think I would be pretty happy to be seated in either one of these options!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1380

David,

Given you have seen both seats for VA and QR and they are both (I believe) B/E Diamond based - how does the VA 71cm (28") width work versus QR's 50cm (20") width (as per your QR A380 review).

I wonder if VA is including the kinked elbow room in its measurement??

--

That said both are very impressive products, and I look forward to flying in them.

20 May 2014

Total posts 79

I think from the article the 28'' stat is with the armrest down, taking into account the width of the seat at its widest in bed mode.

The Qatar 20'' stat is I think the actual width of the cushion whilst seated upright.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 303

Personally, I think they both look great. However, I have to question why Qantas announced their new product so far out as from its launch date. This was a poor business decision by Qantas. All it did was give the competition, in this case VA, enough time to develop an enqually good - if not better seat and deploy it even sooner. At the end of the day, I guess this is all good for competition and the customer is sure to benefit.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Jul 2011

Total posts 1380

As Customer's its good for us.

I think at the time QF was desparate for good news, and being the launch customer for the Vantage XL seat it takea a lot longer to get the necessary certifications for a new product.

At launch in Aug 2103 Qantas promised first install by end-2014, and so far they seem to be meeting that timetable.

Simarly both CX and US announced they were using the Sicma Aero Cirrus seat in early 2010, and neither had a product in service until mid-2011 (so long ago !!)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Sep 2014

Total posts 20

I think Qantas is giving away the obvious. Wait for the actual surpirses once they relsease the seat. Just think, maybe Virgin reacted to quickly. 

31 Aug 2013

Total posts 61

I think the biggest difference between the layouts is missing in this article.  Having flown similar designs, the Qantas layout results in a cabin that feels very open.  In this way you feel connected to others around you, and the cabin feels ambient.  The VA layout feel much more private (even when fully booked), with some level of prestige.

The other thing to note is that the Qantas layout results in the seat in front of you feeling rather close compared to the VA layout.  This will depends on the individuals if it matters.  Both of them are my prefered current business seats, however personally I still rather the VA style layouts as I can relax a bit more.

30 May 2014

Total posts 2

The B/E Super Diamond seat can be customised by the airline or B/E inhouse design team. Qatar was the launch customer. The seat cushion on the Qatar 787 is 20" but the seat width is 30" as both armrests can be raised and lowered. The Air Canada and (on first images Virgin Australia) Super Diamond seat only has the outboard armrest that lowers reflecting the 28" wide seat stats published.

undertheradar Banned
undertheradar Banned

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 662

we haven't been shown what the middle pairs on QF will look like yet...but im guessing(hoping) every alternate row will be more 'couple friendly' (2 seats side by side then behind 2 seats apart etc etc) ..i am preferring the QF design because there will be will be more choice of seat 'location' ... a seat right next to window...a seat a bit further from a window..a 'middle' seat further away...or 2 middle seats closer together... and if the 'window' seat is offset to the 'middle' seats..then that offers greater privacy accross the aisle no mattter what seat you are in

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2014

Total posts 131

The Qantas seat here feels a little bit more innovative and edgy. The Virgin product is a bit 'oh yeah here's our new seat, just like other new airlines seat'.

I will honestly probably never sit in the VA seat and I don't feel like I will ever be sad about that. I'm excited to the try the new QF seat, hopefully from Singapore in January next year :)

both are great improvements and both really are 'business first' seats...which funnily enough was a class coined by Qantas when they stopped their domestic first class many many moons ago ;)

07 Feb 2013

Total posts 14

I wonder if Qantas would consider putting a version of this seat on the Trans - Tasman 737-800s? I believe Jet Blue's 'Mint' uses a (heavily modified) version of the same seat on their new transcontinental A321s, alternating 4 abreast - 2 abreast, giving four private suites in a single aisle! I'm booked Mint from NY -> LA in a couple of weeks, going to enjoy road - testing the U.S. cousin of Qantas' new seat...

This seat trans - tas might just even convince a few QF J pax to book something other than Emirates' 380... though I can't see them getting a standup bar fitted to the front end of the 738!

09 Sep 2014

Total posts 55

Two wonderful seats, which I would rate both in the top ten business suites in the sky!

Cathay Pacific - Asia Miles

25 Apr 2013

Total posts 544

Ooh, I think VA's would easily get up there, but I'm not sure about QF. Factoring in the business seats of CX, AA, CI (777), AC (787), EK (A380), EY an a few other reverse herringbone/honeymoon staggered seats, I think I'd take them over QF anytime. That said, QF still has a good seat...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

AusBT have reported (in a previous article) that seat widths vary across the J cabin with the new A330 Qantas seating. AusBT advise that VA's seating is wider (length is the same) in this article, but is it known if VA's new seating is consistent with its widths or like Qantas will have a range of widths in the J cabin? 

I prefer consistent measurements in seating in a premium cabin (no indepth seating map study required), and don't like fixed armrests, so I hope more detail is forthcoming. 

I remain thankful I'm seeing much innovation in seat design of late, far faster than has previously been the case (both here and abroad). And even PY is getting some loving. Great time to be a frequent flyer.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

David, if Qantas is making at least one plane with its new A330 J seating available to the travelling public this December and Virgin Australia is doing at least likewise in March 2015 - isn't that three months later? The article says "some four months [emphasis added] after the Qantas Business Suite makes it December debut", or is there a delay expected from the previously announced dates?

24 Oct 2010

Total posts 2341

Gippsflyer: that's a good point... the previous version of the article was written based on start of Dec through to end of March as the timespan (as that's all we knew at the time) which is four months - but Qantas now says late Dec for the first A330, so I will shorten that ref to "some three months" at the outside.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 715

Thanks David, I appreciate the clarification.


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