When you fly domestically or on a short international flight with Qantas or Virgin Australia, chances are you'll be on a Boeing 737.
The nimble and versatile single-aisle jet is the workhorse of both airlines, but this doesn't mean the business class experience is the same. Executive Traveller tested out a range of Qantas and Virgin Australia Boeing 737 flights to bring you this overall comparison.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: routes
You'll find the Boeing 737 darting between capital cities and major regional towns across Australia, as well as on east-west transcontinental routes, most trans-Tasman and Pacific Island flights, and also treks as far as Denpasar/Bali, which is more than six hours from Sydney.
Transcontinental flights between Perth and Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, as well as the longer international flights, generally have a higher level of onboard service, compared to shorter domestic hops.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: seats
The Qantas Boeing 737s sport 12 leather reclining business class seats, spread across three rows in a 2-2 configuration, with a width of 22" and a pitch of 37".
The seats are comfortably padded and feature a swing-out leg rest and footrest – one of the major differences between this and Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class.
However, taller passengers are better off sitting in rows 2 or 3 and stretching their legs under the seat in front of them, versus row 1 with the bulkhead wall in front.
AC powerpoints are provided for each passenger on selected Boeing 737s equipped with inflight entertainment screens, which at the time of writing, is just under half of the 75-strong fleet.
Virgin Australia's Boeing 737 business class cabin instead has eight seats, arranged across two rows.
The seat width is narrower than Qantas at 19.5" due to the bigger centre consoles between each pair, but the pitch is slightly improved at 38".
You'll find the most space to stretch out in row 2. While there won't be a noticeable difference on a short hop such as Sydney to Melbourne, try sitting in row 1 between Sydney and Perth and you'll appreciate how restrictve that bulkhead makes things.
There are a few soft touches that make Virgin Australia's business class cabin a bit more 'Virginesque': coat hangers are easily accessible behind Row 2 and the business class cabin has a higher degree of privacy thanks to large purple perspex dividers and a magnetic rope that's in place while cruising.
Laptop power points are also provided between each seat pair on selected Boeing 737s, generally the ones with the new Boeing Sky Interior (think mood lighting and modern-looking overhead lockers).
Generally speaking, Qantas and Virgin Australia's Boeing 737 business class seats offer a similar experience to passengers, especially on a quick domestic flight – but Qantas has the edge due to greater width, an extendable leg rest, and either personal or overhead video screens.
Of course, on a short Virgin Australia flight where most of the time is spent on the meal service, it can be difficult to watch content on your device when there's the tray table is occupied.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: meals
Qantas business class meals are designed by Neil Perry's Rockpool Group. On shorter domestic flights, Qantas generally offers a single-tray service with a hot or cold option. Snack flights (such as between lunch and dinner) might see a choice between a toastie or a bowl of soup, pictured below.
Lunch and dinner flights will usually have a heartier option, such as chicken curry with flatbread (pictured below on a domestic Boeing 787 flight, but the meal service is the same as the Boeing 737).
Transcontinental flights to and from Perth – and some longer overseas flights – instead see an 'international-grade' standard of dining, which includes having a table cloth on your tray table and dishes being served individually.
There will also be multiple options for starters ('Small Plates'), main courses ('Main Plates') and desserts, except for overnight supper services out of Perth, as below.
Pre-departure drinks with Qantas on shorter domestic flights are usually limited to water, juice or a 'signature cocktail'. Virgin Australia offers water, juice or sparkling wine as a standard pre-departure drink on most flights.
Virgin Australia's business class dining is spearheaded by chef Luke Mangan and roughly follows the same service pattern as Qantas. Short flights offer one tray with a hot or cold option, typically with salad on the side.
Lunch and dinner flights have a substantial main option, such as this roast pork being served on a 70-minute hop.
On transcontinental and some international flights, the leisurely meal comes out in three courses (once again, except for overnight supper flights out of Perth, which has a full-size supper and breakfast should you request it).
Virgin Australia operates a buy-on-board menu for economy passengers. While business class guests previously could order extra nibbles and premium drinks from that menu for free, that is no longer the case.
Still, the 'pantry' is present on many Boeing 737 business class flights, offering a selection of snacks to munch on.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: entertainment + WiFi
Just under half of Qantas' Boeing 737s have built-in screens at each seat, with a selection of movies, TV shows and other content. You'll usually find these planes on transcontinental and international flights.
The other Boeing 737s have overhead screens and wireless Q-streaming throughout, which requires you to bring your device. You can plug in your headphones to listen to the content on the overhead screens, which often includes a current news broadcast curated for Qantas.
Almost all Qantas Boeing 737s are now equipped with inflight WiFi, which is fast and free for all passengers on domestic journeys, although this doesn't extend to international Boeing 737 flights – even if the aircraft itself has WiFi, it's switched off during overseas jaunts.
None of Virgin Australia's Boeing 737s have inflight entertainment screens. While the airline used to offer Samsung Galaxy tablets to stream content, that has now also been scrapped on all flights.
Instead, wireless streaming entertainment is provided, which requires the Virgin Australia Entertainment app on your Apple or Android device, or Microsoft Silverlight and Internet Explorer installed on your laptop (Macbooks are excluded).
However, the airline is going full steam ahead on the WiFi rollout which works internationally as well. On domestic flights, there is a free tier and a premium higher-speed tier. International Boeing 737 flights usually require payment to access WiFi. Around 70% of Virgin Australia's Boeing 737s are currently fitted with WiFi.
Qantas vs Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: lounges
These spaces have better quality food, drink and amenities than the neighbouring Qantas Clubs. The newer business lounges also feature themed kitchens – currently, that's fresh pizzas in Perth, Asian-inspired bowls at the Spice Bar in Melbourne, and baked dishes from The Oven in Brisbane (formerly a Mexican-themed cantina).The bar opens at midday, one hour after Virgin Australia domestic lounges.
In all other cities with a Qantas Club lounge, you'll generally find a range of beverages including barista coffee, wines and spirits. The food is simpler than in the Business Lounges, usually revolving around salad bars, a hot dish or two and a few sweet bites.
Qantas uses contract lounges at most other international Boeing 737 destinations, excluding Auckland and Wellington. If you have Qantas Platinum or Oneworld Emerald frequent flyer status (or higher), then access to Qantas' excellent first class lounges is granted when departing Sydney and Melbourne internationally.
Virgin Australia has domestic lounges in 11 cities across Australia. These one-size-fits-all spaces are open to business class passengers, Velocity Gold and Platinum cardholders, lounge members and more, so they can get quite busy. The bar opens at 11am at these domestic lounges.
The buffet has your typical array of salads and sandwich ingredients, but there's normally a special hot option during the main breakfast, lunch and dinner peak hours, such as steamed dumplings, curry with rice, or fish and chips.
Which airline is your preferred Boeing 737 business class experience and why?
The author travelled on all flights in this article at his own expense.