Qantas and Virgin Australia are ratcheting up their business class battle with all-new seats for their respective Airbus A330 fleets which fly the east-west routes.
It’s too early for a direct comparison – such an exercise won’t be possible until March next year when Virgin begins flying the first of its upgraded A330s, some four months after the Qantas Business Suite makes its December debut.
But we can draw some lines and connect some dots based on what we know already.
In design, both the Qantas and Virgin Australia products are closer to a suite than a conventional seat and offer direct aisle access.
Reflecting a trend among most airlines, the next-gen business class of both Qantas and Virgin Australia put every passenger next to the aisle so there’s no need to step over your seatmate.
Virgin’s layout follows what the seatgeeks call a ‘reserve herringbone’: the window seats will be angled towards the window, while the two middle seats angle in towards each other, albeit with a retractable divider screen between paired-up passengers.
The configuration of a Qantas Business Suite cabin will see all seats facing straight ahead, although it’s likely the layout will be ‘staggered’ – the middle pairs sitting slightly in front of or behind the window-side seats – to enhance that sense of privacy.
Both seats convert to a fully flat bed.
In the case of both airlines that bunk is just over 2 metres (80 inches) long, although Virgin’s new business class seat will be 71cm (28 inches) wide with the armrest lowered, compared to 63.5cm (25 inches) for the Qantas Business Suite.
However, travellers on Virgin Australia will need to be seated in the fully upright position for take-off and landing.
In comparison, the Qantas Business Suite will allow passengers to recline the seat (although not take it into fully-flat mode) from the moment they step onto the plane through to when it’s time to grab their carry-on bags and make a beeline for the door.
When it comes to inflight entertainment, both the Qantas and Virgin Australia A330 business class seats will sport a 16 inch screen, although Virgin’s Boeing 777 gets an 18 inch panel.
Qantas has an extra edge here, as the airline opted for Panasonic’s latest eX3 inflight entertainment technology over Virgin Australia’a decision to stick with the less advanced eX2 platform.
Should a passenger’s own screen lose its connection to the content server, or even if the entire system from tip to tail went down during a flight, a selection of the most recent movie and TV shows and other popular programs will still be available from high-capacity memory cards loaded behind each seat’s screen.
Qantas and Virgin Australia will also run their own inflight wifi streaming services, beaming video and music to passengers’ own tablets and laptops.
In addition to the de rigour AC and USB power sockets on the Qantas and Virgin Australia seats there’s also plenty of storage space.
Virgin Australia’s new business class will have the greatest advantage on the airline’s Boeing 777 routes to Los Angeles, where it will go up against Qantas’ Skybed II.
The Marc Newson-designed Skybed II remains a good seat but with a 2-2-2 layout, paucity of storage space and a 12.1 inch screen it’s clearly showing its age, having been designed for the first Qantas Airbus A380 some six years ago.
In the fast-moving world of premium airline seats, this generation gap between Qantas’ 2008 Skybed II and Virgin Australia’s 2015 business class can be a substantial one.
The Qantas Business Suite will begin flying on Australia’s east-west routes in December, with international flights to Asia starting in January 2015.
Virgin Australia’s six transcontinental Airbus A330s will be upgraded to the new business class seat between March and July next year, with the international Boeing 777s following in November 2015 to January 2016.
Source : Australian Business Traveller