Is Virgin Australia planning a new business class for its domestic Boeing 737 jets?
That’s one take-away from today’s news that the airline would launch flights to Hong Kong using one of its six Airbus A330s – an aircraft which has previously been dedicated to Australia’s east-west routes.
While Virgin hasn't yet committed to Hong Kong seeing daily flights, any international excursions by the A330 will leave a number of holes in the domestic schedule.
Those holes would be filled by Virgin’s Boeing 737-800 jets, Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti admits – but Borghetti is well aware that having raised the bar and passenger expectations with the A330’s spacious and lie-flat business class seats...
... the Boeing 737’s business class cabin with its two-across recliner seats is a massive step down.
At best it’s a spark for customer dissatisfaction – even though Virgin Australia would understandably work to keep the A330s rostered onto overnight red-eye flights, and restrict the Boeing 737s to daytime journeys.
At worst, passengers could decamp to Qantas and its own highly-competitive A330 Business Suites.
Virgin’s solution might just be to fit some of its Boeing 737s with an all-new business class seat which would close the gap between this…
... and this.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller about the implications of the Airbus A330 service to Hong Kong, Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti said “do not assume that we haven’t taken into account the product aspect of utilising a Boeing 737 in place of an A330, should we do that … don't assume we haven't take into account what product will be available (on the Boeing 737).”
Asked if this meant Virgin Australia was considering a new business class for some transcontinental Boeing 737s, Borghetti demurred, replying with a smile that “Well I didn’t say that, you said that…”
Yes, we did say that.
And given that Borghetti set off the transcontinental turf war in May 2011 with the debut of lay-back recliner seats on its A330 Coast to Coast service – launching a premium cabin arm’s race which resulted in new generations of seats from both Virgin Australia and Qantas – it’s not beyond the pale that he would look to bring a better business class seat to a number of Boeing 737s dedicated to the transcontinental trek.
Virgin Australia has scope to pare back capacity on east-west routes, due to the shrinking of the WA-centred resources sector and reduced demand from corporate and government travellers.
But it can’t risk seeing hard-won customers walk back into the arms of its arch-rival.
Virgin’s play could be to reconfigure some Boeing 737s with a wider reclining business class seat – something more akin to a modern premium economy or regional business class design, still with creature comforts such as more space for inflight working and AC/USB power sockets – while cutting back on the size of the 168-seat economy cabin.
What's your take: do Australia's east-west flights need a high-end business class seat such as on the Virgin Australia and Qantas A330s, or could a simply better business class seat than today's Boeing 737s be more suited to those 4-5 hour flights?