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If you’re among the many business travellers who regularly jet between Sydney and Hong Kong, Virgin Australia is about to bring competition and choice to the Oriental route which has long been a two-horse race between Oneworld frenemies Qantas and Cathay Pacific.
Virgin wants to carve out its own slice of the Sydney-Hong Kong pie - but how do these three airlines compare for the HK-bound high flyer?
Virgin Australia's daily flight VA83 will leave Sydney at 10am to reach Hong Kong at 5.40pm.
Qantas runs two flights, departing Sydney at 10.35am and 2.20pm, for arrival into Hong Kong at 6pm and 10pm respectively, while both Virgin and Qantas list an overnight return from Hong Kong.
Frequency of flights is where Cathay Pacific comes up trumps, with four daily Sydney-Hong Kong flights allowing business travellers to choose a flight to suit their schedule rather than that of the airline.
This is especially useful on the return leg from Hong Kong as some road warriors prefer to fly back to Australia during the day and reset the body clock with a good night’s sleep in their own bed.
The best of all three airlines are on display between Sydney and Hong Kong, and they boast the best traits of modern business class.
The seats are wide, comfortable and convert into a fully lie-flat bed, with ample personal space so you can spread out your work during the flight.
Choosing from this highly-rated selection makes the question of ‘which seat is best’ rather subjective, with one exception: Qantas' flight QF127 currently features a Boeing 747 fitted with last-generation Skybed II seats. That means a bothersome 2-2-2 or even 2-3-2 layout (depending on which business class cabin you’re in), a tendency to sag in 'bed mode' and very little space for keeping your kit close at hand.
The best inflight meals en route to Hong Kong also depends on one’s own taste – quite literally so - but all else being equal, my personal vote is for Virgin Australia.
Resident chef Luke Mangan’s meals are absolutely restaurant-grade but not overly heavy or fussy, and consistently calibrated at the right portion size and flavours to enjoy above the clouds.
Without its own international lounges, Virgin Australia relies on that of partners – it’s not yet known which lounge will be used in Sydney, although in Hong Kong Virgin shares the excellent Club Autus business class lounge of Hong Kong Airlines.
Qantas' Sydney business class lounge is frankly underwhelming for what should be a ‘flagship’ lounge, and the airline knows this – hence the extensive make-over due next year.
However, if you hold Platinum status with the Qantas Frequent Flyer program you’ll have entry to the superb Sydney first class lounge.
At the other end of the journey, Qantas’ Hong Kong lounge holds the crown in its international business class network.
Cathay Pacific’s business class flyers have access to these same Qantas lounges – including the Sydney first class lounge, should they hold Qantas Platinum or Cathay Pacific Marco Polo Diamond status – by dint of Cathay's membership in the Oneworld airline alliance.
(Qantas business class passengers and Gold and Platinum frequent flyers can also use the Cathay Pacific lounges, as both airlines belong to Oneworld.)
There's also the Cathay Pacific Arrivals lounge at Hong Kong airport where you can freshen up with a shower, grab breakfast and get on top of you inbox before heading to your hotel or first meeting.
I find this very handy when I’m on CX138 from Sydney, which sometimes lands before the airport express train to the city begins running at 5am.
Which airline gets your vote for the best business class experience on the Sydney-Hong Kong route?