If you want proof that competition is good for everybody, here’s how the east-west stoush between Qantas and Virgin Australia has played out over the last four years, leading up to today's launch of Virgin's all-new domestic business class.
Low-cost airline Virgin Blue rebrands as Virgin Australia, ditching premium economy for a full-service business class to tackle Qantas’ monopoly on the Australian corporate travel market.
This includes a new ‘Coast to Coast’ brand for Airbus A330 flights where business class travellers can enjoy lay-back recliner seats with twice the legroom of the Qantas A330s, limousine transfers, a coat-check service, amenity kits and premium inflight meals.
In response, Qantas rosters one of its international Boeing 747-400 jets with angled flat-bed business class onto the Sydney-Perth route.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce trumpets that “Our competitors can simply not match the service that Qantas offers, particularly the Skybeds, which provide increased comfort on the longer routes between the eastern states and Perth.”
Within months, however, Qantas pulls the fuel-guzzling jumbos off the transcon trek, replacing them with more of its own A330s which have domestic-grade reclining seats.
Bloomberg reports that less than a year into the pitched Qantas-vs-Virgin battle for business travellers, average domestic business class prices have tumbled by 27 per cent.
Virgin Australia unveils a fully lie-flat business class seat on the first of six new Airbus A330s, with plenty of storage for carry-on kit, larger screens and a video-on-demand entertainment system, and AC power points and USB sockets fitted to every seat.
Unlike Virgin’s first two A330s, which were leased after a decade of hard duty with Emirates, the factory-fresh birds ditch the detested middle seat for a simpler 2-2-2 layout.
Qantas reintroduces the Boeing 747 jumbo jet onto Sydney-Perth schedules as a temporary bulwark against Virgin Australia's all-new A330 jets, while also moving to increase the number of its own A330 services on the east-west route.
"A range of changes, including aircraft upgrades and additional frequencies, will be made to provide greater choice and convenience for customers," Qantas says as it wheels out the big birds and the big guns.
Virgin Australia announces a rolling upgrade of all Sydney-Perth, Melbourne-Perth and Brisbane-Perth flights to exclusively Airbus A330s, consigning the smaller Boeing 737 jets to the remainder of its domestic network.
Qantas announces that will shift Sydney-Perth and Melbourne-Perth flights to an exclusive A330-only service by mid-2013 as more of the older Boeing 767s are moved onto the Brisbane-Sydney-Melbourne ‘triangle’.
However, the airline is hit with a barrage of unexpected criticism when its newest Airbus A330 is kitted out with Qantas’ standard A330 business class seat – with a plastic shroud covering the middle seat to provide what the airline calls an 'inflight workspace' for use by passengers on either side.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce takes the hard words to heart, agreeing that both planes and passengers deserve “leading” new business class seats and tips flat-bed design for the international A330s.
Joyce reveals that Qantas will upgrade its entire fleet of domestic and international Airbus A330s with lie-flat business class from the end of 2014 as the airline steps up its game in the battle for domestic and international business class.
The all-new design seats are “very exciting, there's plenty of legroom and we're very confident that they will get an amazing reaction” Joyce tells Australian Business Traveller, joking that "I certainly swim in the seats given my size!”
“They'll be the best domestic product anywhere in the world, and it leapfrogs anything our competitor's doing.”
Qantas stuns everyone with the unheralded reveal of its all-new business class seat to be fitted across its domestic and international A330 fleet, although the final product remains more than a year away and will look very different to the original renders (shown below).
Dubbed the Business Suite, it adopts a 1-2-1 layout so that every traveller has direct aisle access, while the fully-flat seats can be left in a reclined position for take-off and landing.
Creature comforts include large video screens, Qantas' inflight Q Streaming WiFi, a spacious side table plus a nook for stowing tablets, laptops and magazines, and a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
The Business Suite “will leapfrog anything the competition is doing, and will be the best domestic business class anywhere in the world” promises Qantas CEO Alan Joyce.
However, with the new seats not due to fly until the end of 2014, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti says “my first reaction (on seeing the new Qantas suite) was almost to send Alan Joyce a 'thank you' note for showing me with over a year's lead time what he's going to be doing with the product.”
Hinting that he has something even better up his tailored sleeve, Borghetti tells Australian Business Traveller “we're certainly not sitting on our hands.”
“This is now business as usual. Product life-cycles are getting shorter and shorter and you have to plan faster and faster."
Aware that the competitive clock is ticking, Qantas reveals it has fast-tracked development of the Business Suite ahead of its debut on domestic Airbus A330 services from December.
“What we’ve tried to do with the Business Suite is to take off about six months off the design and development process” explains Kylie Morris, Qantas’ Head of Customer Experience.
“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.
“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” Morris says.
Virgin Australia begins retirement of its original and oldest A330s, although the now-reduced A330 fleet size means some Brisbane-Perth flights are downgraded to the smaller and less comfortable Boeing 737-800 jets.
Virgin Australia reveals its new business class seat for the Airbus A330 and Boeing 777 fleet, which Borghetti touts as being closer to first class than business class.
In common with the Qantas Business Suite and other next-gen business class designs, Virgin's new premium seat is generously proportioned: the wide seat converts to the long flat bed, surrounded by plenty of storage space, and every passenger is just one step away from the aisle.
First flights are slated for March 2015.
Qantas officially unveils its Business Suite, ahead of the seat's planned domestic debut in late December 2014, with international flights to follow from January 2015.
Much-finessed by the designers in its journey from drawing board to departure gate, the Business Suite now offers the ability to be partially reclined on take-off and landing.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce describes it "the best (business class) travel experience between Australia and Asia, and probably the best domestic travel experience anywhere on the globe."
The first of the upgraded Qantas Airbus A330 jets takes wing between Sydney and Perth on New Year's Eve as the inaugural flight of the Business Suite.
AusBT Review: Qantas Business Suite business class
Virgin Australia pushes back the launch of its new business class seats to mid-year, extending Qantas' valuable lead-time as the two airlines fight for premium passengers on the lucrative east-west market.
Qantas announces a wind-back of its transcontinental Airbus A330 flights in order to roster more of the big birds onto the busy east coast 'triangle' route and support changes to its international network, with two Melbourne-Perth services axed and four Sydney-Perth flights downgraded to Boeing 737s.
However, almost half of Qantas' transcontinental A330 services feature the upgraded A330s, including all weeknight red-eye services from Perth to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
August 17, 2015
Virgin Australia launches its new Airbus A330 business class seats as part of a total package to be known simply as The Business.
Photo gallery: Virgin Australia's new A330 business class seats
Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter and Facebook for coverage from this morning's launch and first photos of the new A330 business class cabin, and check back this evening for Australia's first review of the seat and service.
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