OPINION | I’ve been a loyal Qantas traveller since my first flight with them shortly after the first grounding of Ansett in 2001.
With the exception of a return Sydney-Melbourne trip on what was then Virgin Blue in 2003, I flew Qantas exclusively for ten years.
But towards the end of 2011, the newly-rebranded Virgin Australia did something that got my attention – the airline, eager to challenge Qantas, offered to match to my Qantas Frequent Flyer Platinum status with the equivalent status its Velocity rewards scheme.
This meant I could 'sample' Virgin Australia by taking a few flights and still have the benefits of top-tier status such lounge access.
The following year Virgin launched its new domestic business class and commenced a refresh of their domestic fleet.
While Virgin's business class was excellent it wasn't yet available across the entire fleet, so for some time an unexpected change of aircraft could mean you might miss out on the new seats.
Today that's no longer the case.
Virgin Australia's entire domestic fleet has been reconfigured and no matter which aircraft you fly – a Boeing 737, Embraer E190 or Airbus A330 on the cross-country 'Coast to Coast' service – its business class is excellent.
With that in mind, here’s a rundown of my recent experiences with both Virgin Australia and Qantas, flying domestic business class, and why Virgin has won me over.
Virgin Australia has completely refreshed its domestic business class, and regardless of which plane you're on you pretty much know what you are going to get.
While there are differences between the first two Airbus A330s and the later models, most A330s and all Boeing 737 and Embraer E190 seats are excellent.
Qantas on the other hand has more types of business class seat than I can count.
While I love the new Recaro seats on the latest Boeing 737-800 aircraft with the modern 'Boeing Sky Interior', the seating on the older Boeing 737-800s and 767-300s is really starting to show its age.
And 'business class' on Qantas' Airbus A330 Sydney-Perth flights? it's not in the same league as Virgin Australia.
My experiences with Virgin Australia have been consistently excellent with friendly and attentive cabin crew, with highly personal service and first-rate meals served individually from the galley.
I usually enjoy wine on afternoon and evening flights and I don’t think my glass has ever been empty unless we’re about to land.
On the other hand, cuts across the board at Qantas have not gone unnoticed.
Those small but welcome touches like hot towels and newspapers seem to have been removed, and there has been a noticeable decline in the quality of the inflight catering.
It also seems that Qantas staff tend to have a habit of disappearing after the meal service, and the crew on my most recent Qantas flight didn't even perform a final cabin check, resulting in glassware being left behind in the cabin for landing.
This will be a contentious point as many people have different requirements from a lounge.
There's no argument that Qantas has the edge. The domestic Qantas Business lounges are well ahead of Virgin Australia's lounges for meals, with a variety of hot dishes plus 'island dining' in the mornings and evenings.
But I don't ask for much from a domestic airport lounge.
All I really want is a quiet comfortable place to sit and have a juice or coffee in the morning, and a glass of wine in the evening.
I’m not usually after a meal in a domestic lounge – a quick light snack is enough.
So on my modest criteria, the Virgin Australia lounges are good enough.
The premium entry at Virgin's Sydney lounge is marvellous – I love that I can be dropped off at the door and be sitting in the lounge one minute later.
Sometimes I'll finish my day ahead of schedule and head to the airport earlier than planned.
When I enter the Virgin lounge the staff have always offered to move me to an earlier flight if one is available, whereas I’ve found that the Qantas staff do't always extend that offer.
The ball is in Qantas' court...
For Qantas to get me back will require a refreshed and consistent business class cabin and some customer service training for their crew.
Unfortunately I can’t see the refreshed cabin happening any time soon, apart from the upgrade to the new Airbus A330 Business Suite, which won't even begin until late this year and won't be completed until mid-2016.
The battle for my business class travel was always one for Qantas to lose. Now it's up to Qantas to win it back again.
What's your experience on Qantas and Virgin Australia domestic business class, and which one wins your business?
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