Over the last 18 months, Qantas has been progressively upgrading their business class product on their Airbus A330-200 aircraft. The new business suites bring the product in line with the ever-increasing trend of direct aisle access for all business class passengers, as well lie flat beds — a first for Qantas on the domestic market. The upgraded A330-200 cabins are configured with 28 lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 configuration that can remain in the recline position during takeoff and landing.
It has been quite some time since I last had the opportunity to fly domestically in business class with Qantas, and with my annual trip to Australia, I thought I would burn some Qantas frequent flyer points to check out their new business suites on the popular Sydney-Melbourne route, a very short 95-minute flight.
Check-in for Qantas flights at Sydney Airport is always such a joy for me — I am a huge fan of their next-generation check-in and bag drop system. It really is an industry-leading innovation in terms of self check-in. From printing my boarding pass, tagging my bag, and dropping it off at the automated bag drop, the whole process took no longer than two minutes. And don’t worry, for those of you that are not so tech savvy or prefer human interaction, there is an abundance of manned check-in counters for you to complete the check-in formalities.
Qantas offers a fast-track security line for business class passengers, as well as top-tier frequent flyers. The Qantas business lounge was very quiet on this Sunday morning, as expected. There was a wide variety of breakfast items on offer from eggs and sausages, right through to sweet and savory items, as well as plenty of fruit and healthy dining options. Unfortunately the bar was still closed, but there was a barista on duty to provide a much-needed coffee boost.
Boarding was on-time and I was surprised to see Qantas using both jet bridges for boarding. However, it was was a nice welcome and added to the premium experience. Qantas has brilliantly captured modern Australian industrial design in not only the layout of the cabin, but also the use of light wood and dark leather finishes. The crew on this flight was very attentive and proactive. No sooner had I settled myself in was I being offered a choice of pre-departure beverages.
Unfortunately, one thing I did notice with the pre-departure service is that Qantas has done away with the hot towel service in domestic business class. Furthermore, there are no longer fabric towels stocked in the business class lavatory. There is only one dedicated lav to the whole premium cabin, so it can get a bit busy during the pre-landing rush. These so called “enhancements” really do annoy me. I mean is it worth it to diminish the premium passenger experience for the sake of a minuscule cost benefit to the airline? I think the little things can turn into big impressions.
Following our on-time departure, breakfast was served. There were two choices; either muesli or poached eggs with french toast. Given that poached eggs are one of my favorite breakfast items, I was rather excited to try them out on an airline other than Etihad. Unfortunately, the meal did not really live up to my expectations — the eggs were cooked solid, which I suspect was due to overcooking in the aircraft oven. The french toast bread was fairly flavorless as well. The redeeming factors however were the sautéed mushrooms and the natural yogurt.
Following the mediocre breakfast service, my spirits were lifted a bit when I began exploring the IFE while my seat was in bed mode. While the length and width are sufficient (I’m 5’11”), I am not a huge fan of the fact that when in bed mode, the seat is far too low and it is really impractical to watch the IFE. If the screen tilted, it could work, but it does not. Despite this, the seat is ideal for its primary purpose of sleeping. That said, it would be good if Qantas were to provide a duvet/mattress on longer flights, as the leather can get a bit uncomfortable.
In addition to the lie-flat mode, there are many other comfortable sitting and lounging positions available. There is ample storage at the seat, with plenty of little nooks for various items such as reading glasses, books, tablets, etc. For your carry-on luggage, the overhead lockers provide plenty of space, and thankfully Qantas have kept them in place above the center seats.
In terms of IFE, there is the classic in-seat touch-screen, (Qantas use the Panasonic EX3 system), which is a great system in terms of responsiveness. There was also a generous selection of movies as well as TV shows, documentaries, and reality shows. Really, the shorter options were good for the short domestic flights.
In addition to the in-seat IFE, Qantas has also recently introduced Q-Streaming on the A330 and select 737 aircraft. This allows passengers to view the IFE on their personal devices via WiFi streaming — just remember to download the app before the doors close.
Our arrival into Melbourne was on-time and once again two bridges were used. The only minor hiccup with the arrival was that the priority bags were not delivered first, but these things do happen and I am on holidays after all, so not in any particular rush.
Overall, Qantas has vastly improved their hard product on the Australian domestic market with the business suite. Their soft product has been subject to some recent “enhancements” which have really showcased the unfortunate and ever-increasing trend of airlines sacrificing premium experience for the sake of cost-cutting practices. Thankfully, the ground experience is still relatively premium and Qantas does offer one of the best ground experiences for premium travelers on domestic flights anywhere in the world.