Virgin Australia's launch of Melbourne-Hong Kong flights from July 5 adds a new contender to the business class stakes, squaring off against Qantas and Cathay Pacific – so which airline has the best seats for the business traveller? Here's how we rate them.
1. Virgin Australia
The newest entrant to the Melbourne-Hong Kong market is poised to prove the best in the sky, with Virgin Australia launching non-stop flights from July: all of which come complete with its latest ‘The Business’ business class seats and service.
Regardless of which particular seat you select, you’re guaranteed the modern staples of direct (and uninterrupted) aisle access and a fully-flat bed when it’s time to doze with pyjamas and a padded mattress on top – in this case, extending to 80 inches (203cm): the length of a queen bed on the ground.
Direct aisle access is achieved through a 1-2-1 cabin layout that’s also ideal for couples travelling together, with Virgin Australia’s centre pairs of seats featuring a moveable divider that can be opened for conversation or closed for privacy.
There’s also plenty of space around the seat to store your gear, and we particularly love this dedicated tablet holder to keep your device snug when not in use, while also allowing for easy charging via nearby AC and USB power outlets:
Beyond the seat: With Hong Kong a new destination for Virgin Australia, it’s not yet known whether the airline will support Hong Kong in-town check-in as adopted by Qantas, Cathay Pacific and most other airlines: a facility used by travellers to ditch any checked bags in the city, rather than lugging them out to the airport.
Virgin has also yet to reveal which airport lounges it'll use in both Melbourne and Hong Kong – those of Etihad Airways, Singapore Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines, SkyTeam and Plaza Premium are all possible contenders.
Schedule: From July 5, Virgin Australia flies to Hong Kong five times a week with late morning departures from Melbourne on Mondays and Wednesdays and near-midnight flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. All flights on the return journey run overnight to arrive in the morning.
In a close second place: Qantas, as long as your flight is on its Airbus A330 Business Suites.
And that's the trick: during peak periods and when the A330s need maintenance Qantas rolls out the older Boeing 747s between Melbourne and Hong Kong.
For business class flyers that means a downgrade to the previous generation of Skybed seats which are less comfortable, have almost no storage space around the seat and can even see you plonked into a middle seat.
Our tip: choose a seat on the jumbo's upper deck for an experience that’s more akin to a private jet than a commercial flight with space for just 18 passengers (if you're in a window seat there is also a large under-window bin for handy storage).
Also, because the (tiny) inflight entertainment screens swing up from within the armrests, you’ll have nothing to watch during taxi, take-off and landing when these must be stowed.
That all changes for the better if you're on one of the desirable Airbus A330 jets.
Here, the Flying Kangaroo offers fully-flat beds with mattress pads and pyjamas just like Virgin Australia, along with direct aisle access and power outlets at every Airbus A330 Business Suite, with beds stretching to a comfy two metres.
And there's plenty of storage options including a large shelf space and water bottle holder plus a further retainer for tablets, laptops, reading material, glasses, your amenity kit and more.
However, even with a 1-2-1 layout there’s no ideal pair of seats for couples or friends travelling together, with the centre duos finding a fixed privacy wall in between, which can’t be moved or opened.
Beyond the seat: Prior to the flight home, Qantas business class flyers have access to the fantastic Qantas Hong Kong Lounge with roving yum cha trolleys, plates of the day, signature cocktails and ample shower suites prior to the overnight flight home.
Qantas’ international business class lounge in Melbourne also proves a somewhat-uninviting place to unwind before your flight due to the very limited natural light: but does offer a morning 'plate of the day', WiFi, showers and AC (although not USB) power points.
(Your best bet is to turn left at reception and settle down in one of the few seats privy to 'real' light, above – it's an area often overlooked by travellers as it's further away from the buffet and coffee zones, so can be quieter, too.)
Jetsetters with Qantas Platinum or Oneworld Emerald frequent flyer status can, of course, visit the far superior Qantas First Lounge: but it's not an experience available to other business class passengers without those magic cards.
Schedule: Qantas jets between Melbourne and Hong Kong daily with a daytime service from Australia and an overnight flight home, although aircraft types may vary, along with the quality of the business class seats inside.
3. Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific's business class between Melbourne and Hong Kong offers much more consistency than Qantas: whether you're on an Airbus A350, A330 or Boeing 777 it's effectively the same seat, apart from some improvements in the latest A350 version.
Cathay Pacific's A350 is also the only Melbourne-Hong Kong service with inflight Internet, priced at US$9.95 for a quick one-hour browse or US$19.95 for the entire flight with no data transfer limits.
Direct aisle access again comes standard here with seats in a favourable 1-2-1 layout, which transform into fully-flat beds.
However, those beds are just 190cm in length: a full 10-13cm shorter than you'd find with the Qantas and Virgin Australia seats, proving a squeeze for overly tall travellers.
Mattress padding to soften the journey isn't provided either, nor are pyjamas – so BYO PJs or expect to crease your business attire as above.
Couples are also catered for on these jets, as they are on Cathay's A350s: simply select a pair of seats in the centre of the 1-2-1 cabin, close the central cupboard doors and inch your motorised seats forward to have a conversation.
Beyond the seat: Hong Kong's relatively new The Pier Business Class Lounge is worth arriving early for, so you enjoy the airline’s iconic Noodle Bar plus a Food Hall, tea house, cocktail bar, relaxation room and 14 private shower suites.
In Melbourne, passengers are directed to Cathay Pacific's own relatively small lounge; while the Qantas international business class lounge is also available under the Oneworld alliance lounge rules, neither is worth writing home about.
Schedule: Cathay Pacific runs three flights a day between Melbourne and Hong Kong, providing business travellers with the flexibility to choose flights based on when they prefer to work, or in many cases, sleep.
Which of these business class seats do you rate as the best between Melbourne and Hong Kong?