Those who have to deal with corporate travel policies, or pay directly for their own travel, might be feeling bemused by the rhetoric coming out of Qantas and Virgin Australia as to what they are going to do to each other, and for business travellers.

The good news, abundantly covered in Australian Business Traveller, The Australian, and Fairfax, is that both airlines are rolling out highly desirable enticements at the luxury end of business travel.

But based on Virgin Australia’s cabin maps, its domestic business class can never amount to more than 4.4% of its 737-800 capacity, or 8.6% of its newest A330-capacity.

And it is a fact of life that large managed corporate or governmental travel accounts, which is the territory Qantas and Virgin Australia emphasise in their ‘nah-nah‘ and ‘nan-nah, na nah na‘ commentaries, are those in which the owner of the account makes any decisions as to brand or class of travel that is flown, not the executives.

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It is also a fact of life that these humorless, savings oriented, goal meeting managers cannot be convinced that one option for a scheduled 90 minutes flight between Melbourne and Sydney merits costing the enterprise an additional $300 one-way compared to the best fare of the day, or that the dead person walking, er, employee in question, couldn’t have reorganised his or her diary to fly more cheaply an hour sooner or later than at the peak hour fare that was purchased.

And as for an additional $1000 to fly trans-continental to or from Perth, that is a huge no-no.

There is also a disconnection going on in the emphasis on in-flight entertainment. The word ‘entertainment’ exists only in terms of how to manage a sacking when it comes to corporate travel managers.  Executives are not flown between the east coast capitals or to Perth in order to grab one third of a Hollywood blockbuster on a small screen, but they are flown to communicate and work.

Which is why Qantas and Virgin Australia will be given enthusiastic head time by corporate travel managers in terms of delivering connectivity to passengers so they can work rather than relax while flying. As soon as the airlines can work out the technical and billing challenges, which remain elusive.

Perhaps the problem for both carriers is that the luxury product is being used as a proxy for the real competition, which is for good value, frequent schedules, in economy seats with sufficient tray table space to use a larger tablet or average sized PC .

If the curious, and at times crushed frequently flown traveller searches diligently for clues as to their fate in what Qantas and Virgin Australia says, they will find partial relief.  The lounges are getting better, the catering is ….. let’s move on, and smart cards are making it easier to check in and locate lost luggage …. when they work.

But neither airline is talking about restoring a few centimetres of legroom in the seating they each continue to offer to  around 90% or more of their frequent flyers.

 

I subscribe to Crikey because I believe in a free, open and independent media where news and opinions can be published that I can both agree with and be challenged by.

As a Crikey subscriber I always feel more informed and able to think more critically about issues and current affairs – even when they don’t always reflect my own political viewpoint or lived experience.

Jess
Singapore

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