Qantas on track for launch of all-new business class seat

By David Flynn, July 30 2014

Qantas says it’s 'all systems go' for the December debut of its new business class seat on domestic flights, with international flights to follow in January.

Dubbed the Business Suite, it will be fitted across the Flying Kangaroo’s entire fleet of Airbus A330 jets with the aim of helping the airline leap ahead of local and overseas competitors.

Will this be the world's best domestic business class seat?
Will this be the world's best domestic business class seat?

On its most popular Asian routes to Singapore and Hong Kong, Qantas will stack its Business Suite up against the highly-regarded business class of Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.

In domestic skies Qantas will fly its upgraded A330s on the lucrative east-west routes as part of its dogfight with Virgin Australia.

Virgin Australia is believed to be beavering away on its own next-gen business class seat – but for now, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has boasted that the Business Suite “will be the best domestic business class anywhere in the world.”

To that end, Qantas has tapped the experience of ergonomics experts and frequent flyer alike to help refine the seat’s design while Qantas executives have spent nights sleeping in prototypes of the suite.

And, aware that the competitive clock is ticking, the airline has fast-tracked the development of the Business Suite.

Qantas exec Kylie Morris: exhaustive trials have fine-tuned the new Business Suite
Qantas exec Kylie Morris: exhaustive trials have fine-tuned the new Business Suite

“In the airline industry you’re always working with really long lead times” explains Kylie Morris, Qantas’ Head of Customer Experience, who signed off on the seat’s baseline design in early 2013.

“What we’ve tried to do with the Business Suite is to take off about six months off the design and development process.”

That included parallel design of multiple mock-ups of the seat for user testing.

“A lot more mock-ups have been developed on this program than for a normal (seat) project so we can see what it feels like from the customer’s perspective and bring forward decisions over what’s working and what we need to tweak and change” Morris tells Australian Business Traveller.

From baseline to bespoke

The foundation of the Business Suite is the Vantage XL suite (below) by Irish airline seat designer Thompson Aero Seating.

The Vantage XL provided the platform for the Business Suite
The Vantage XL provided the platform for the Business Suite

Qantas was the first airline to sign a contract for the Vantage XL but has been quickly followed by Scandinavia’s SAS (below).

SAS will roll out its Vantage XL-based business class from early next year
SAS will roll out its Vantage XL-based business class from early next year

Read: SAS new business class seat is Qantas' new Business Suite

However, the Business Suite is being heavily customised by Marc Newson, with Newson’s team based in Thompson’s UK workshop to further speed up the process and create what Morris promises will be “an amazing seat which looks luxurious and is incredibly functional at the same time.”

London-based ergonomists have hired “around 90 ‘pretend’ travellers to come in and sit in the seat, to test it and sleep in it” Morris says.

“We’ve also engaged a set of our frequent flyers who fly often with us domestically and up to Asia to get their feedback on the seat, and we’ve done trials with our own staff.”

“We’re testing everything from how people sit to the viewing angles of the inflight entertainment screen and even the location and angle of the reading light, to make sure that your shoulder doesn’t cast a shadow when you want to read a book” Morris reveals.

The small stuff makes a big difference: Qantas has paid special attention to optimal viewing angles for the Business Suite's 16 inch HD screen
The small stuff makes a big difference: Qantas has paid special attention to optimal viewing angles for the Business Suite's 16 inch HD screen

The location of the controller for the suite’s 16 inch video screen is also getting close attention, and not just to ensure it’s within easy reach.

“When you’re flying at night and the cabin is dark, sometimes the lights on the controller get in the corner of your eye, so we’ve thought about how to conceal that to keep a dark environment.”

Also high on the list is plenty of personal storage space, which is too often a shortcoming of current business class seats.

Today’s business traveller brings on board “everything from their reading glasses to an iPad or books, a laptop, their own amenity kit” Morris reasons,  “and people want everything to be at their fingertips from the minute they step on the plane”

“So we’ve really had to think around what devices customers are travelling with, and how we provide the right stowage locations.”

Qantas says the Business Suite's many nooks and crannies will keep your travel accessories close at hand
Qantas says the Business Suite's many nooks and crannies will keep your travel accessories close at hand

Morris wants Business Suite passengers to be able to stow their carry-on items “into a space right next to them where they can leave them for the entire journey but also make sure they’re readily available, right at their fingertips, even during take off and landing.”

But for all its features, a business class seat has to be comfortable too, so tests of the Business Suite have involved travellers of all shapes and sizes, and “people that sleep on their back and on their side” Morris says.

“We’re looking at the contouring of the cushion foam, and whether people want it softer or harder. It’s like picking out a mattress for sleeping on at home,” Morris laughs.

Countdown to launch

With less than 20 weeks until the first Business Suite takes flight, Morris says the job is about “continuing to refine and refine until we get perfect comfort and experience levels.”

The Business Suite is now entering the home stretch for certification by aviation safety authorities.

“There’s a lot of testing happening right now, we have to put dummies in the seats and make sure the seat will meet safety requirements.”

“We’re reeling in the regulatory stages right now,” add Morris, who may still spend a final night sleeping in the Business Suite before its December launch.

“We’re on point to deliver this, so I want to be able to look our customers in the eye and say that we’ve done everything to make this seat as comfortable and amazing as possible.”

For more details, read: Up close with the Qantas Business Suite

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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.

Lufthansa - Miles & More

29 Jul 2014

Total posts 185

When will Virgin Australia lauch a 4 abreast cabin then.... Hopefully not to long as a frequently fly Abu Dhabi Perth now vs has stopped flight to Australia 

Cathay Pacific - The Marco Polo Club

19 Apr 2014

Total posts 46

"Qantas on track". There's a first.

First route?

That hasn't been announced yet James, but you can be sure that once we know, you'll know too. :)

You could see something comparable from the opposition Sept/Oct this year.

am
am

15 Apr 2011

Total posts 586

The manufacturing and shipping lead times on these seats is a good 9+ months, which means that the final design was probably locked in at the end of last year. 

And 'December'! I've been desperately hanging onto "the second half of 2014", but should have known that they would push it back as far as possible! Hopefully the final product is as good as the photos, in which case they will be worth the wait. 

QF Platinum

24 Jan 2013

Total posts 141

Wonder what the impact fares and reward seats will be given there may be fewer J class seats in the cabin?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Sep 2013

Total posts 469

Simple less seats.less award seats and knowing QF a fare jack up and or surcharge.

19 Nov 2012

Total posts 41

The  J class seat count will be 28 on the international 333. Just a loss of 2 seats compared to the current configuration. We gain 2 seats in economy so the overall seat count is the same. 

QF Platinum

24 Jan 2013

Total posts 141

An efficient use of cabin space I must say given that 2 J class seats would be lost for each row. If they get this seat out on SYD-HKG in the not too distant future at the fares they are offering at the moment, I will have a serious think about flying QFi to HKG again...

undertheradar Banned
undertheradar Banned

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 662

thanks for the info QFcrew :-)

Virgin Australia - Velocity Frequent Flyer

28 May 2011

Total posts 81

Let's hope the A380 fleet will be refitted next! That would be a product turnover similar to Singarpore Airlines, so not too far fetched. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Frequent Flyer

28 May 2011

Total posts 81

Sorry for the awful spelling of Singapore....

am
am

15 Apr 2011

Total posts 586

Garr, that's alrrright!

12 Feb 2014

Total posts 228

Good point Noob. How will this seat compare with a Skybed II? Will Qantas aim to have a standard business product across its international and trans-continental fleet? It would be odd if this innovation proved a superior product to the A380 offering. On storage space alone you would have to say it has the edge.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 9

One thing that I haven't come across an airline yet toget right in J class is the ability to have full privacy when having to sit next to a total stranger but something more companionable when travelling as a couple. The emirates A380 comes close in the middle seats for couples but the ability to remove the "separating wall" that most J class seats have would be a nice touch for couples - especially long haul. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

19 Feb 2011

Total posts 54

Too little too late to bring us X Qantas customers back! Virging and Singapore would have to make some major mistakes! Qantas focused to much on Jetstar and missed the boat of the higher fare paying Qantas customers and the ripped off Business Class customers. Routes like Perth Syd were best serviced by the 747's for passenger numbers, as well as being comfortable for them, the A330's with the International Prem Eccon seating being passed off for true Business Class was a pain in the back end in more ways than one.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Sep 2012

Total posts 132

I still think QF are missing revenue on not adding a few rows of PE on the 330's they are refurbing for their Asian routes.

I'm a huge PE fan, and will be using CX on flights to HKG for example.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 140

Hi - As a regular to Hawaii I'm keen to hear if this seat will be on QF 3/4?

AJW
AJW

16 Nov 2011

Total posts 515

Consdering QF3/4 is changing to an A330 then yes it will be on the HNL route.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

01 Mar 2013

Total posts 140

Many Thanks AJW. Just when is another matter...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Jun 2011

Total posts 1

Kudos to you Qantas!. It's great to see that even amidst all the tough and turbulent times you're going through, you are still investing in and caring about your customers' experience. Well done; you've always had my vote and support. That's the true Aussie Spirit - never give up and keep looking forward. Live long and prosper our Flying Kangaroo.

21 Apr 2011

Total posts 43

Yawn.

Announced sometime last year with a 14 month lead time to the competition, and won't start flying (albeit on one aircraft) untill December. I predict VA will trump this by rolling out their new J product on the 2nd of the two new A330s joining the fleet (VH-XFJ would be it). 

Can almost see the post February advertising now. "New Business Seat, Guaranteed, Coast to Coast". 

05 Aug 2011

Total posts 16

And It Will Come With A Price To Enjoy It From Qanta$ ....


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