Dec 30, 2010

PHOTO: A gift from Qantas to Virgin Blue

This photo of a newly delivered Qantas A330-200 has been circulating on the web since before Christmas. No, it's not economy class, where the self employed like the writer sit, i

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

A sneak peek inside the business class cabin of a new Qantas A330
A sneak peek inside the business class cabin of a new Qantas A330

This photo of a newly delivered Qantas A330-200 has been circulating on the web since before Christmas.

No, it’s not economy class, where the self employed like the writer sit, it’s the new domestic business class cabin of a recently delivered Qantas jet, with middle seats and crummy legroom.

Presumably it must also be seen as something like a gift to former Qantas executive general manager, John Borghetti, as he prepares to launch Virgin Blue’s own transcontinental Perth services with A330-200s starting in May, with brand new up-market premium seating options.

For Qantas to go back to the original 38 seat seven across seating in its A330-200s just when Virgin Blue is about to reveal a higher level of premium domestic seating is a great example of brand and service standard confusion in Qantas.

According to good sources, Qantas is actually fitting 42 of the ‘new’ less spacious business class seats in the forward zone of the A332 by shifting some of the galley fittings further aft, or maybe abolishing them.

Hell, it’s about time premium account travellers, the ones Borghetti is out to recruit to Virgin Blue, just toughened up! They’ll be demanding bigger glasses of orange juice again next if Qantas doesn’t resist their entitled bleatings.  Or am I being too hard on Qantas? To be fair, Qantas has done some very good things to its domestic lounges of late, and it continues to provide a very good product to loyal, but at times, perplexed customers.

Smaller seats, middle seats, and closer together seats can be a negative experience, if depending on the scheduling lottery, you might also fly in their less reliable but more spacious 767s, or those A330s which are six across in the domestic business class cabin, but also with disappointing leg room.

The seats on the Qantas jet shown above are similar in layout to those in Star Class on Jetstar’s international A330-200 services. You know, the ones where you get a meat pie on a plate.

The inconsistency in Qantas service offerings, including in economy, remain a weak point, as does scheduling where it apparently expects you to fly Jetstar instead of the full service Qantas product, rather than do the obvious, and fly Virgin Blue, which has a premium economy offering on all services. Bringing in a seven across format in the Qantas premium cabins on some of its domestic services seems contrary to the goal of achieving greater consistency, unless it is a signal that despite the marketing assurances,  its standards will continue to consistently go south in the cabin amenity department.

Not that Virgin Blue is without consistency issues. Ports like Canberra, where it has a large number of Embraer E-jet services, but which sometimes turn into 737 services, are a case in point. The E-jet may not be the most cost efficient jet ever flown by an Australian carrier, but it sure is desirable, with no middle seats in economy, and much greater ease for boarding and disembarking than a full single aisle Boeing.

Given that Qantas has an apparently well deserved reputation for picking trends in passenger needs, perhaps the return of tighter domestic seating in some of its A330s is a signal that, rhetoric aside, it sees a continued migration downscale in the price and quality expectations of large corporate account managers.

While it is true that sky warriors who fly on those accounts naturally want higher standards of service, they by and large do not make the decisions as to how they fly. The corporate account travel managers characteristically want the save their companies money, and are responsible for cracking down on hotel and air fare costs, as well as insisting that executives meet strict rules designed to enforce the use of the best fare of the day, and not necessarily one that will generate the most frequent flyer points of the day.

2011 is going to be such a pain in the knee caps.

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14 thoughts on “PHOTO: A gift from Qantas to Virgin Blue

  1. Tweets that mention PHOTO: A gift from Qantas to Virgin Blue – Plane Talking -- Topsy.com

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Deborah Rockstroh, Ben Sandilands. Ben Sandilands said: PHOTO A gift from Qantas to Virgin Blue? http://bit.ly/he76RR […]

  2. David Klein

    Interesting that the latest A330-200 will be equipped with 42 Business Class seats, as when I was involved in the certification of the first QF A330-200 there was a significant forward Cof G problem with the 38 seat configuration. During the delivery flight from Toulouse to Australia with full fuel and around 40 passengers, including journalists, all passengers were located to the rear of Business Class for take off. Even during service QF have to be very mindful of having economy passengers loaded to the rear of the aircraft when the total numbers of pax are low. In a worst case lightly loaded scenario business class passengers may even need to be moved back to economy for take off. The same problem does not occur on the A330-300, which is slightly longer and has no fuselage fuel tank to increase the forward C of G moment

  3. Mark Parker

    Firstly, 3-across in biz class… Isn’t this the configuration QF runs in business class on international flights (although with the more modern pod style seats)?

    Being self-employed like yourself I’ve got to admit that I’d be miffed if I paid for a biz class seat and found myself jammed between two fluoro-vest clad gargantuan mining execs or worse, two slimy banker-wankers…

    But if we look at this, for the business traveller the requirement has to be (1) give me room to get my laptop out and not have to worry about the idiot in front reclining his seat, or (2) can I read/write with some semblance of elbow room, or (3) can I get a least some sleep on this red-eye flight back to civilisation? So does this config deliver this in a way that minimises the gap between expectation and reality?

    Secondly, you touched on the upgrades to Qantas Club lounges – I noticed this during the later part of the year and personally found some of the simple changes to be quite appealing – a case in point is the change to the food being served – much better options and quality.

    If Qantas are going to run this config then I hope they use it well – they could learn a lesson from AA in this regard and use a flight where there is a light load of biz class travellers to bump some of their loyal flyers from economy to biz class for free. As we all know, the unexpected reward generates far more brand equity and loyalty than shiny bag tags or 3 more inches of leg room…

    cheers Mark
    PS. suprised you’ve not mentioned the December massive survey that Qantas undertook with customers in terms of rewards/club/carrier/loyalty options – really interesting reading…and close to 60mins to complete

  4. mrsynik

    Talk about mutton dressed as lamb. Yet another reason to avoid the tightwads at Qantas. Its sad and amusing that they’re actually becoming the Japanese pronunciation of Qantas.

  5. ronin8317

    Paying business class fare for seats that looks like economy? Qantas will need some marketing genius to pull it off..

  6. Ben Sandilands


    Yes the international business class configuration on the main deck of the assorted 747s is seven across in pod style slopers and two by two on the upper deck and in the tapered cabin area in the nose in those examples where that cabin is also used for business class but I hear that this refurbishment hasn’t spread as far as originally intended. There are about five different versions of the 744 seating arrangements currently operating for Qantas.

    These sloper style flat bed seats are the ones where you slide down toward the space under the seat in front of you while your pants remain in the original position, causing a wedgie. They are wider and more spacious than the ‘new’ J class at 7 across in the domestic A330s and which was also installed in the first Qantas A330s when they went into domestic service around 7 years ago.

    Then they were punted to Jetstar and a six across arrangement but with poor legroom began to appear on domestic A330s, and now at least some of them have reverted to seven across.

    Qantas cabin planning is anything but tidy, or consistent.

  7. moa999

    Having flown the jet (now two I believe) I didn’t mind it (albeit wasn’t in the middle seat).
    In my mind the middle seat it is no different to a window seat in biz – you still need to climb over one passenger.

    The 2x3x2 seat is almost as wide as the 2x2x2 edition as the tv screens have been moved from the side of the seat to the back of the seat in front and despite not being ‘small’ there was plenty of room on both sides.

    Legroom seems to be the same on both planes, but the ability to get gate to gate entertainment is a big plus over the other version of the A330s.
    (in fact this is the one let down of the Qantas A380 in Business)

  8. Peteyboy

    You can count the number of airlines offering a real business class product on domestic/short haul on one hand – they’re a dying breed. Their real business benefit of course is as points-burners, helping to reduce airline’s sometimes outrageous contingent FF programme liabilities. Apart from this (very real) value, J cabins seem to exist solely to position crew and provide a valued employee benefit. American’s Bob Crandall got it right when he called them ‘the world’s most expensive staff dining room’ !

    To me it seems no wonder QF’s going down market with the domestic J seats, but it does make me wonder why Virgin Blue is about to enter the fray. My money’s on their J initiative being an unmitigated financial disaster, but maybe that legendary Virgin contrarianism will trump everyone by being so far ahead of the game.

    Regarding economy seating domestically, given the vociferous public angst over the meaner seat pitches we contend with now a little part of me still thinks there might be a business case to be made for increasing economy to 32″-34″, and charging correspondingly more for the seat. Seems to be working for JetBlue in the US at the moment, although I admit that’s a much larger market with more room for niches.

    ps. Ben those QF sloper seats were shockers…I always wondered why you’d bother with the thing at all if it couldn’t go flat….I just don’t believe there are that many people that can sleep decently with a wedgie and swollen feet. BA had it over everyone when it introduced the world’s first fly-flat skybed, hard as they were on the back.

  9. Ben Sandilands


    Sure wonder myself what Virgin Blue is up to. There have been plenty of hints that it will be like Virgin America, with a very exclusive first class of 8 seats in a single aisle cabin (so maybe 12 in an A330) and several rows of ‘black leather’ economy select seats and the rest aimed at price driven customers.

    Part one of the dance of the many veils has already started with Virgin Blue taking delivery recently of a totally white new jet that is considered to be the candidate for the ceremonial launching of a new livery and branding or naming. I have a hunch that will be revealed soon, followed in quick order by product upgrade announcements.

    Will there be 8 customers per flight who don’t care what the fare is, as long as the offering is the best money can buy? Or will Borghetti keep that product for the wide body transcons and upgrade the single aisles in a two tier premium and standard Y format. He did say on the record that people flying the A330 red eyes to the east coast would be able to rest very comfortably but will that mean on a fully flat non-sloping seat?

    The answers are at most only a few months away.

  10. jtowns

    Don’t let facts get in the way of a good story Ben!

    If you re-check more carefully you will discover that infact about 20-25% of Virgins 737 fleet are flying with no premium offering whatsoever (and further also none of their failed ‘livetoair’ experiment).

    They are however still selling premium economy on all their 737 flights even though they know they can’t fulfill about a quarter of them – so they let their poor FA’s and customer service people deal with the irate customers who only find out they have been dudded at the airport.

    Hows that for consistancy eh??!

    PS as you mention its only 2 planes out of the entire fleet with the ‘dreaded middle seat’ and Qantas will probably re-configure once Virgin reveal their new business class in 2011.

  11. Asia Travel Cheap Flights » Find Great Cheap Flights to Singapore and Other Asian Destinations

    […] the competition. Not to be outdone, Singapore Changi Airport’s second most dominant carrier, Qantas Airways, also started its Asian offshoot, Jetstar Asia Airways which is based in Singapore. In […]

  12. Zarathrusta

    I refuse to play the Qantas/Jetstar Good Cop/Bad Cop game. As far as I am concerned they are they same airline with the same level of regard for passangers.

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    […] response to outrage’ would be more accurate, after business class passengers began to discover themselves flying in A330 cabins with tightly spaced seven across seating in the identical […]

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