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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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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