Corporate Traveller

How Virgin Australia is setting off a new battle for business class

It's been less than three years since the newest business class seats of Qantas and Virgin Australia began darting from coast to coast on each airline's Airbus A330 jets, but there's about to be another outbreak of hostilities in the transcontinental turf war.

Virgin Australia is readying a dramatic upgrade to its Boeing 737s – the workhorse of its domestic fleet – to what Virgin CEO John Borghetti promises will be a "quantum leap in domestic business class."

Borghetti's move comes as Virgin begins to redirect its A330 fleet towards the airline's planned Asia push, beginning with the Melbourne to Hong Kong route.

 
Disrupting the playing field

This will see more of the smaller single-aisle Boeing 737s – and their conventional business class recliners – shuttling cross-country between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth.

Given that Qantas runs the bulk of its east-west flights on A330s equipped with the impressive lie-flat Business Suite seats, shifting down to the Boeing 737s would put Virgin Australia at a severe disadvantage in attracting corporate flyers.

So Virgin Australia is once again playing the competitive disruptor, much as it did when it rebranded from Virgin Blue in May 2011 and launched international-grade business class on east-west flights.

That began a fierce dogfight which by late 2014 had seen both airlines upgrade the pointy end of their transcontinental Airbus A330 fleets to give Australia the best domestic business class seats in the world.

 
Hidden promises

Now the focus is turning to single-aisle Boeing 737s, for which Virgin expects to reveal an all-new business class before the year is out.

The move could see Virgin Australia create a dedicated transcontinental fleet similar to those operated by US airlines such as American Airlines, United and Delta.

Borghetti is keeping the details of the next-gen "Perth product" up his tailored sleeve, but tells High Flyer "everything we've done product-wise has not been half-baked, and we would not put a product on transcon that was not up to scratch."

Pundits are already speculating on what's in store, and wondering how you top the lie-flat bed and direct aisle access of Virgin's current A330 business class – and how you fit such long and wide seats into a narrow Boeing 737.

 
Is the bar set too high?

It also leads into an interesting question: when it comes to transcontinental business class, are Australian business travellers spoiled – do we have it too good?

Having raised the bar and flattened the bed, it's hard to image either Virgin Australia or Qantas daring to take a step back for transcontinental business class.

But while may sound like heresy, coming from a professional business traveller, do we really need seats which convert into long flat beds, on flights which last for just four-to-five hours?

Or would something akin to a regional business class – a deep recliner which is more like your favourite armchair at home, the one in which you can fitfully doze for a few hours – make more sense?

 

This article originally appeared on Executive Style. Credit: David Flynn/Fairfax Syndication