Qantas vs Virgin Australia business class flying Sydney-Perth

By David Flynn, March 14 2017
Qantas vs Virgin Australia business class flying Sydney-Perth

The dogfight between Qantas and Virgin Australia for business travellers has borne sweet fruit, as competition so often does.

A case in point: the east-west route which criss-crosses Australia in a five hour trek between the eastern capitals and Perth.

Both airlines are batting for a larger slice of this popular and profitable market.

The result of this transcontinental turf war is that Australia's east-west route is now graced by some of the world's best domestic business class seats, eclipsing what many international airlines fly.

But it's not just about the seats.

Qantas and Virgin Australia have enlisted named and famed chefs to upgrade inflight meals, while also investing in airport lounges to bookend the overall business travel experience.

So how do they compare? To find out, Australian Business Traveller spent a day zipping between Sydney and Perth on both airlines.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: the aircraft

Qantas and Virgin Australia both run the long twin-aisle Airbus A330 on most east-west routes, although some flights also see the smaller Boeing 737s.

And both airlines' A330 jets have been upgraded to the latest business class propositions.

For Qantas, that means the Business Suite (which also appears on most international A330 routes and will be seen later this year on the new Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner)...

... while Virgin Australia's business class is simply dubbed The Business (and also features on Virgin's Boeing 777 flights to Los Angeles, and from mid-year a new service to Hong Kong).

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: the lounges

The business travel experience begins on the ground, with passengers cooling their heels in airport lounges before the flight.

Qantas has upscale business class lounges boasting a cafe-grade breakfast selection including a plate of the day served between 6am and 8am.

On the day Australian Business Traveller flew, Qantas' Sydney business class lounge was serving sautéed mushrooms and goats curd bruschetta.

There's also a hot buffet with scrambled eggs, bacon and mushrooms, bircher muesli and porridge, plus a generous fruit salad bar and a healthy self-service juice station.

Virgin Australia's lounges offer a less extensive breakfast menu including pork chipolatas, baked beans, cereals and fruit salad.


Both airlines have recently opened new lounges at Perth Airport, too.

Virgin's Perth lounge follows the same design as its east coast siblings, with a coffee bar and wine bar, although the design leans towards a sprawling and unvaried open space.

The menu from Virgin's Perth lounge:

Qantas adopted a stunning contemporary design that's a welcome change to the classic corporate cut of Sydney and Melbourne, with two bars serving coffee and wine plus a pizza oven and a layout which provides for several differentiated spaces.

The menu from Qantas' Perth lounge:

Qantas' spread once again has the edge, especially with fresh lounge-made pizza on offer:

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: the seats

Taking to the air, what's best about the Qantas and Virgin Australia transcontinental Business Suite seats is what they have in common.

We're talking wide, comfortable seats with copious legroom, which convert to a fully flat bed if you're desperate for sleep or stuck on the overnight red-eye from Perth.

Each passenger has direct access to the aisle so there's no more stepping over your seat-mate.

Other shared traveller-friendly traits include large 16 inch video screens, AC and USB power sockets and plenty of bench space around the seat to spread out your work.

Virgin Australia's A330 business class seat offers a good degree of privacy due to high curved shell around the seat.

Window seats are angled away from the aisle and towards the window, while the middle seats skew in slightly.

A retractable screen between those paired middle seats can be lowered for chatting with a travelling companion.

All seats in the Qantas Business Suite face straight ahead in a staggered arrangement.

There's more useable space around the seat, including a wide benchtop plus a storage cubby for laptops, books and magazines.

However, it's a bit harder for travellers in middle seats to chat back and forth without leaving forward or sitting bolt upright.

The business class design aesthetic of both airlines is markedly different: Qantas plumped for a pared-back palette of slate, wood and champagne gold...

while Virgin Australia adopted a more BMW-look with black carbon fibre seat shells and silvered trim.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: the inflight meals

Business travellers can expect a restaurant-grade three-course meal with matching wines, spirits and snacks on their transcontinental trip.

Virgin Australia's partnership with Luke Mangan delivers inflight meals which I personally finder lighter and more rounded than the those of the Qantas-Neil Perry duo.

On my Virgin flight the starter was king prawns with chipotle, corn salsa and coriander.

For mains I chose a red curry duck with jasmine rice, lychee and Thai herbs...

... followed by a cheese plate.

That said, the Qantas flight's starter of cold smoked ocean trout with Asian slaw and wasabi mayonnaise was a winner...

... although the beef proved a little on the dry side.

Virgin's Airbus A330 also boasts a Nespresso coffee machine developed to suit high flight altitudes, so you can finally enjoy cafe-standard coffee above the clouds.

Qantas vs Virgin Australia: the verdict

While the superior lounge experience helps Qantas take the ribbon, Virgin Australia has noticeably closed the gap.

Either way, it's business travellers who are the real winners compared to the pre-Virgin era, with a choice between two premium offerings. Isn't it wonderful what a bit of competition can do?

If you've flown business class with Qantas or Virgin Australia on the east-west route, how do you rate the seats, lounges and service?

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.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jul 2014

Total posts 139

It will be interesting to see how the premium offering changes if we start to see more 737's scheduled onto the routes.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jul 2015

Total posts 223

They could take a leaf out of AA and its Airbus 321T. Four classes (F, J, Main Cabin Extra and Y). Superb aircraft and the way to go across the USA. Where it falls down is the F & B: pretzels and as much water or juice as you can drink. 

Qantas has the edge on the ground with the business lounge, especially in Perth.
However, in the air I think Virgin's service wins.
Sparkling is offered on boarding, and not the awful non-alcoholic sparking shiraz Qantas is currently pushing.
After take-off, another drink is offered while the meal order is taken as soon as the seat belt sign is extinguished.
Whereas on Qantas the crew busy themselves preparing the trolleys for ages and no drink is offered by the crew taking meal orders.
On Qantas I have waited 45 minutes to an hour after take off to be offered my first drink.
I really think Qantas needs to lose the trolley and focus on passengers instead.  The direct service of drinks from the galley on Virgin works well and doesn't leave passengers waiting for ages listening to the bottles clinking and staff gossiping while they are thirsty.

06 Jan 2015

Total posts 69

Having flown on both products, could not agree more with your summary.

It's a bit tough for QF to move to a no trolley service. Given VA have a much smaller cabin of 20 served by 4 crew, and QF offer 28 seats served by 3, something has to give, and this is where QF relies on a trolley. 


Given this is a domestic service, and flight times can we quick, 3 crew serving 28 pax can take a bit of time. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 Oct 2013

Total posts 28

Exactly, Virgin are quick and generous with the drink service..

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 15

I'd agree, Qantas overall winner mainly due to lounges, which on long east-west flights are more important than say SYD-MEL. They'll pull further ahead when inflight Internet starts, especially if QF is first which they will be and free if Virgin charges for wifi. I have flown Virgin as I prefer to retain status on both, so I get to Platinum with QF and then switch to Virgin for Gold. Agree that Virgin has great service although on my most recent QF flights Qantas has closed the gap. Also agree with Luke Mangan's meals are better than Neil Perry's although this is largely subjective.

Aegean Airlines - Miles & Bonus

15 Jun 2016

Total posts 20

Both great options but I personally choose Qantas for the trip across the Nullarbor. Superior lounges and cabin crew are the differences for me, and I do really like the business suite on the A330. Very small detail, but QF's Terminal 4 at PER is easier accessed and has better pick-up/drop-off zones than Terminal 1.

AT
AT

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Sep 2012

Total posts 293

I think we are extremely lucky to have both Qantas and Virgin as our Australian carriers. It's great that they have their own uniqueness. 

Qantas Platinum

04 Dec 2012

Total posts 48

Flown both and I'm not picky. Certainly compared with domestic business class elsewhere in the world, both are top of the range. Currently flying through US to several cities with AA. Then you really understand that flights and lounge experiences are top class in Australia. Flew business (first here) from LGA to STL. Bagels and yoghurt from a beverage station in the Admirals Club, one voucher for a drink (from a bar that was not open) and during the 3:15 hour flight they only come through the cabin once with a basket of bagged potato chips! And if you're used to the generous smiles and great service from Qantas and Virgin flight attendants, you can only conclude that US flight attendants must belong to the most grumpy in the world.


Anyway, to get back on-topic, we are very spoiled with both these excellent products and I'm looking forward to use any of them on the next time I fly to Perth. G'day to you sky warriors. Marxx (the Dutchie)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jul 2015

Total posts 223

Whole heartedly agree. AA and all the other carriers are lousy when it comes to F & B in Y.. Last trip a week ago was from JFK to LAX and wondering why passengers were coming on with sushi, pizza and whatever else.. A bag of pretzels and juice does not quite cut it for the 5 hour run to LAX

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 9

Totally agree with esseeeayeenn.  I fly regularly east-west in business and prefer VA over QF.  Qantas have the better lounges but Virgin cabin crew are miles ahead on service and personality. Just 2 days ago I had QF staff snatching meals out from under me when I hadn't finished. Rude and abrupt all flight. Also agree Luke Mangan's meals better than Neil Perry's but then QF have Pepe Saya butter and that makes up for the shortcomings. I also prefer the VA seat layout for working during the flight. But yes both are miles ahead of many international airlines and any gripes are definitely #firstworldproblems 

13 May 2016

Total posts 13

wowrockangel

. I mean pepesaya butter is great... but it isn't so mind blowing to make up for other food shortcomings ;-) haha

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 247

Agree about Qantas crew and the amount of time they take to start service, on DRW to BNE last week and they took 40 mins to get first drinks out and then by the time they got meals organised was nearly 2 hours into the flight. This was not helped by a steady stream of people coming though to use the toilet at the front of the plane making things even slower.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Jul 2014

Total posts 22

Whilst GBRGB's experience doesn't relate to the East-West J Class topic of this article, Qantas sometimes uses the 737 on the route. I'm pleased to say that on a recent QF 737 medium haul flight the CSM promptly turned away all Y Class pax trying to use the J toilet up front. This certainly assisted his overall efficiency in taking and serving drinks orders not long after takeoff and serving the J Class meal with good time to spare. If only other 737 CSMs would do the same. There are signs on both of the cabin dividers stating "Business Class Passengers only Beyond This Point".

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Dec 2016

Total posts 11

Honestly as a regular flyer who, gives a toss about the lounge food if your going to have 5 star quality meal in the air, must agree that food and drink and over all service from Virgins staff eclipses any offering I have every had from Qantas, seating yes both are streets ahead of many international carriers but just look at Virgins partners for similar offerings for International travel, Air NZ, Etihad and Singapore, Delta are getting there. We are spoilt here in oz.

SMM
SMM

01 Feb 2013

Total posts 10

Two weeks ago the Red Eye from Per to Mel was a very old single aisle plane with the most crappy seats in BC! Absolutely rididulous for an overnight flight. Many many unhappy pax

02 Dec 2016

Total posts 91

I haven't flown QF's business, but have VAs to/from Perth a few times.  VA's suites are great as is the services and food.  Lots space and seats are comfortable. But, the strange this is the IFE is surprisingly limited.  Not many movies/TV shows and most are old.


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