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Qantas new A330 transcons have ‘work space’ in the middle?

What was Qantas thinking when it reconfigured its latest Airbus A330-200?

Conscious of the criticism that Plane Talking doesn’t sing from the PR song sheets when it comes to Qantas, or anyone for that matter, the revealing of the latest Airbus A330-200 at Sydney Airport this morning had been anticipated as a possibly genuinely good, positive, story.

But no. Following the tweets and photos posted by Australian Business Traveller, this isn’t so.

Go to this link to see what has been done to the business class cabin. In particular, check out all of the photos showing the supposed ‘work space’ that has been created in what at first glance looks like six rows of seven abreast seating, with the middle seat in the triple in the centre of what is a crowded cabin.

With permission, one of the AusBT shots of the plastic pan in the middle

With permission, one of the AusBT shots of the plastic pan in the middle

Now ask yourself, if you are sitting in either of the outer seats that sandwich the ‘work space’, which consists of hard plastic depressions where two buttocks might otherwise has been planted, how exactly will you use it?

Will you really try to rotate your upper body through 180 degrees to use the keyboard and screen of a standard 15 inch screen lap top, with one hand somewhat constrained by the geometry of the supposed ‘work space’, or try to eat sideways, or what?

It is as if someone planning this new configuration has set out to make it fail.  Especially compared to the refurbished 744s that Qantas earlier in the year was quite correctly promoting to business travel account managers as having vastly superior fittings in those jets in any class to those in the Virgin Australia A332s.

But also announced today, or in reality, confirmed, is the removal of those jets from the Perth transcontinental services for a cross over to all A332 scheduling between Sydney and Melbourne and the resources capital of Australia by May.

Now, consider the competition. It also has A332s on these routes, and while the oldest two have three middle seats in a 27 seat layout, the newer ones have full sized two by two by two seating with superior legroom to the 36 seat layout Qantas is putting the same type of jet with the middle seat in each of six rows with inferior legroom blocked out for a so called work space that is ergonomically awkward and perhaps even painful to use.

The numbers are clear. In Virgin Australia there will be 24 or 27 seats in the same cabin Qantas sells up to 36 out of the installed 42 seats, with six of them blocked off for ‘work space’. What a joke.

The Australian Business Traveller story is a must read and look article. But ask yourself, what-the-hell was Qantas thinking?

The Qantas ‘contras’ who want board seats, Alan Joyce’s removal, and from all accounts, a distribution of all of the locked up cash and value in the Qantas enterprise and its coffers, may be mercenary in their approach. But they would never have contemplated doing this to a product which is supposed to be at the apex of the Qantas domestic brand.

This cabin configuration is, like some other recent Qantas domestic initiatives, a gift wrapped presentation of its premiere tier customers to Virgin Australia.

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  • 1
    Christopher Neugebauer
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Doing a bit of reading (and confirming with AusBT), the 42 business/268 economy layout for an A330-200 is actually a layout designed for Jetstar. Read what you will into that.

  • 2
    moa999
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    Umm.

    VH-EBO and EBP which were delivered in Nov-2010 and Dec-2010 were in this 42J config and refitted with this work space in mid-2011.
    So Qantas have been flying two birds in this config for 18 months, EBV makes three.

    There are also a few jets that Jetstar has in this config which will be likely returned to Qantas when the 787s arrive.

    The advantage over the other A330 configs is that the IFE screens are in the seatback rather than pullup which enables gate to gate IFE.

    The downside is the middle seat that Qantas decided they could fit after saving 2″ on the IFE units per seat. Didn’t wash well with the business class pax – when you pay $1000+ for the seat you want some privacy to read your “secret documents”

    Albeit Qantas Business passengers put up with the middle seat in the downstairs 747, and other airlines including Cathay, JAL and Singapore have a middle Business seat in the 777s.

  • 3
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    The Jetstar A332s I saw a few years ago only had 37 seats where Qantas this morning has up to 42. The difference from memory came about at the tapered front of the cabin, where there was no centred middle seat, so in the middle it was two rows of two, then three rows of three. Down each side there were six sets of doubles. This was the delivered layout on the first Qantas A332s at the start of 2003, and I was on the first flight in that cabin from Sydney to Perth. This layout persisted for a while on their transfer to Jetstar.

    The over riding shock in this is that Qantas has seen what Virgin Australia has done and not attempted to equal or better it.

    Is this arrogance, or stupidity?

  • 4
    ltfisher
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Sorry moa999 but Cathay 777s don’t have a middle Business Class seat…their Business Class is 4 across.

  • 5
    Banjo
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The usual unbroken chain of inept commercial & operational decisions by the the most overpaid 7 under accountable airline management on earth.

    It’s not hard to understand how Ansett went under when one takes into account how many of this bunch, presently occupying management positions in Qantas, have Ansett pedigrees.

  • 6
    Flyer Solo
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

    Qantas surely can’t be arrogant in face of reduced domestic revenues and increases in Virgin Australia business class marketshare. And while Qantas’ current strategy is very concerning, I certainly don’t think the airline’s decision-makers are stupid. It probably reinforces notion that Qantas’ current strategy is just plain wrong.

    The business class layout on 332 VH-EBV is self-evidently dumb at first glance. Qantas surely wants to ensure and maintain its corporate account dominance domestically over VA. In trumping all weekday A330 services from SYD/MEL-PER from May 2103 onwards, what’s the real benefit for the customer offerred over current 763s and 738s? Why wasn’t BNE included? They’re not guaranteeing IFE in every seat. There’s no boost to cabin service. In business class, I’d say domestic-configured A330s have pretty much the same amenity as 763s/738s. Perhaps the only customer-plus is a quicker flight time over a 738?

    Why not furnish all transcon domestic A330s in same layout as international fleet? That’s an immediate and clear distinction over VA. QF could then guarantee Skybeds on all services, unlike the few selected flights now. It would allow greater flexibility to surge capacity between domestic and international. It would cement Qantas as the unrivaled domestic airline of first choice in terms of service and amenity.

    But what else might this layout indicate?

    * Is this airframe going to see Jetstar service – internationally, or even domestically – in next 12-24 months?

    * Has Qantas chosen a cheap business class layout as an interim measure because it will soon announce a major refurbishment of its international A330s and is still unsure how many aircraft to upgrade in total?

    * Does it indicate that the first 6-8 788s will go to QF International? (Because, if Alan Joyce is to be believed that QF will soon enhance/increase its Asia schedule, it will surely need more international-configured airframes to replace soon-to-be-retired 744s and provide for frequency on HKG/SGP routes.)

    * Is Qantas thinking of cutting business class from some international services in favour of only a Premium Economy / Economy layout?

    The answer is not as simple as ‘Qantas is arrogant or stupid’. But Ben is right: Qantas needs some really good publicity, really soon. Today’s effort was another missed approach.

  • 7
    bunkeight
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    ltfisher – You’ll find that Cathay’s regionally configured 777s (operating flights of a similar length) DO have a centre seat.

    As others have pointed out, this configuration (with or without the middle seat blocked) is not new. Is it competitive? Perhaps not. I remain hopeful that there is something else in the pipeline.

    The oldest eight Jetstar 332s (six of which also flew for Qantas domestically) have a 38J configuration where the first row is 2-2-2 and their is only five centre blocks of seats and six outboard pairs. The newer 332s share the same configuration as Qantas – minus the ‘work space’.

    The extra seats come from a repositioned doors 2 galley (further aft) and their being six full rows of 2-3-2.

    I am not defending the configuration in the current market. I just wish to point out that it has been around for a while. Virgin had four centre seats and a 2-3-2 layout on their leased 332s (with a superior international seat pitch of 50″, however).

  • 8
    ltfisher
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Correct bunkeight….it’s just that I have never flown a CX ‘regionally configured’ 777….and if I had to I wouldn’t accept a middle seat…any more than a business class middle seat on a QF747.

  • 9
    comet
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    Some senior Qantas managers are quite skilled at glancing sideways, so they will have no difficulty using the new workspace.

  • 10
    keesje
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 3:49 am | Permalink

    Passenger research shows passengers don’t like middle seats and appreciate free seats next to them to put away stuff like bags, newspapers, comfort bags etc. QF obviously concluded a middle seat is no longer acceptable for a high fare passenger and introduced this cheap solution to remove the middle seat problem and make to passengers happy. For e.g a laptop they have these folding devices called tray tables ;)

  • 11
    pieter
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    In Europe – and possibly other places of the world as well – this layout is very normal for business class sections in 737′s and the A320 family. A.o. on AF,LH and SN planes the seats and the pitch are exactly the same in all classes, except for the fact that in business class you don’t have to fight over the armrest and you’ll get your wine in a proper glass.

    The advantage for the airline is they can be totally flexible with the number of seats in each class. On the outward leg you can e.g. have ten rows of business class seats and on the returnflight reduce it to only two.

    The disadvantage for the airline is that business class passengers might feel cheated and shop elsewhere, because they expect wider seats with more legroom for their enormous fare.

  • 12
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Pieter,

    Earlier this year my connecting boarding pass to AF was designated ‘premo’ and I was seated in row 2 and 1 in respective full A320s in which all the middle seats in business class were also occupied because as the lady at check in said while apologising, the flight is full.

    This renewed my impression that expectations in Europe have been clubbed into submission over the years, and it may be that Qantas thinks it can be part of the same process in Australia.

    It may be wrong.

  • 13
    David Klein
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    The thing Qantas have learnt from history with configuration of A330-200 business class, is that they have learnt absolutely nothing from history. Having issued the first certificate of Airworthiness for Australian operations of the A330-200 I have vivid memories of the 36 seats at the front causing a centre of gravity problem, which meant all business class passengers had to sit in economy for take off from Tolouse for the first delivery flight. Mind you it wasn’t a good look for the large media press contingent that were on board. With a full fuel load the forward movement of the C of G makes it critical there are passengers down the back if business seats are heavily loaded.

  • 14
    Ash W
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Umm Christopher, me thinks you are fogetting history in your Jetstar jibe. Do remember that the (early) A330′s that Jetstar have were orginally flying in Qantas colours on domestic routes. The newer Jetstar A330′s have the same layout as the newet Qantas A330′s, but that is because those a/c will be coming back to Qantas.

    So in relaity Jetstar international business class is Qantas domestic business class, not the other way around.

  • 15
    thebozeian
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    Errr,…. am I the only person on here to have cottoned on to the fact that not only is this a poor and inferior business class product, but that its not actually a business class product at all?

    This is NOT a business class seat but in fact a premium economy seat as fitted to QF’s A-380′s. So its short pitched, uncomfortable and STILL has that ridiculously hard to re-stow leg rest. Were it not early April I would assume this was a joke.

  • 16
    keesje
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 1:50 am | Permalink

    Who needs a flat seat on a flight less then 5 hours? Flat bed : 80 inch pitch. Better add 1 or two rows. Turn over per seat used to be 1 million a yr on long flights in business class. So add e.g 12 seats per widebody, on 24 aircraft that’s uh.. $264 million.

    Most guys in business class don’t pay there own tickets anyway so better invest in catering, FF points, ground services etc. then waste unnecessary aircraft space and loosing revenues. Adult revenue management.

  • 17
    moa999
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    thebozeian,
    It is not an International Business class seat (as now defined – lieflat or fully flat).

    It is however better than International Business in the 1980s, in-line with Regional Business offered by the likes of Cathay (who also use a similar seat for their longhall Premium Economy)
    and a helluva lot better than what passes for Business on European shorthall (ie an economy seat with no-one in the middle seat)

    As others have said you dont need a bed for the length (apart from the redeye which is too short to sleep properly anyway)

    It also means that Qantas can fit 36 seats in the front of the A330 and fill them, whereas Virgin only has 24 which at present they seem to struggle to fill

  • 18
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Without arguing whether or not Australian business class passengers on domestic flights are just getting it ‘too good’ the reality is that Qantas is choosing to compete with a challenging product with a deliberately inferior product, but at a higher price.

    I don’t think this is a particularly bright decision, and if Virgin’s business class cabins are less than full now that won’t be the case for as long as this difference prevails.

    Similarly if Qantas J class customers find they are as uncomfortable on the red eyes to the eastern cities as those photos indicate they will be, they may just downtrade to its economy product, which can be on offer for less than one third the price.

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