Analysis – how the new Qantas A330 business class seat measures up

written by John Walton | October 21, 2014

A330-Business-Suite-Fully-FlatQantas’s new Business Suite is set to take to the skies “from later this year” aboard Airbus A330-200 aircraft serving domestic transcontinental routes.

Asia services will see the new Thompson Vantage XL seat next year as refitted aircraft return to the 28-strong fleet from Qantas’s Brisbane MRO facility. The refit process begins this November and is expected to take approximately a month per aircraft.

Longtime Qantas creative designer Marc Newson has had heavy involvement with the seat. “The design was based on a real understanding of what Qantas customers needed on longer domestic flights and overnight international flights from Asia, with practicality, comfort, privacy and style in mind to create a relaxing environment to work, dine or sleep.”

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International A330 aircraft will also see a seat and entertainment upgrade throughout, with new seating from Recaro similar to the product on Qantas’s A380s, and Panasonic’s Android-based eX3 inflight entertainment system. The airline’s Q Streaming wireless entertainment service will also be available.

Domestic A330s will have the eX3 product in the new business suites, while economy passengers will have to make do with just a “refreshed” seat and either earlier generation on-demand seatback entertainment or Qantas-provided tablets.

A330 Business Suite 01Qantas uses the A330 fleet on domestic flights between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth. Internationally, it serves Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta, Manila, Honolulu and Shanghai.

The Qantas Business Suite is the first installation of Northern Ireland-based Thompson’s Vantage XL product, which has also appeared on US airline JetBlue’s transcontinental Mint product, but in a 1-1, 2-2 combination of individual suites and pairs of seats on board Airbus A321 narrowbodies.

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It will certainly be the best product on domestic flights, and will put Qantas back in the game on Asian flights, where other airlines’ fully flat beds with direct aisle access eclipsed Qantas’s angled lie-flat first-generation Skybeds, also designed by Marc Newson.

Qantas is also keen to highlight that it plans to achieve certification for the seat to be in recline mode from gate to gate. However, this recline is limited to a 21 degree angle for domestic flights and a 25 degree angle for international flights. While getting more sleep on transcons and brief Asian redeyes is a laudable aim, and the ability to go straight from slightly reclined to fully flat after takeoff will save time, 5-7in of recline gate-to-gate is less of a development than Qantas would like passengers to believe.

(Qantas’s assertion that it is the only carrier to have achieved gate-to-gate recline certification is a little over-egged, however – Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class Suite, also licensed to Air New Zealand, can recline from gate to gate, although the seat flips over for bed mode.)

As Australian Aviation’s Cabin Pressure column will discuss in detail in the upcoming November issue, Qantas’s staggered layout using the Vantage XL product is inherently inferior to Virgin Australia’s announced B/E Aerospace Super Diamond reverse herringbone seat.

While both seats are fully flat beds with direct aisle access — the gold standard in business class — Virgin Australia’s advantage comes from the fact that its product is consistent from one seat to the next, while 50 per cent of the seats in Qantas’s staggered layout are right next to the aisle, and are thus less private with a greater likelihood of disturbance from crew or fellow passengers walking past.

Business class passengers with the ability to book ahead in enough time to select the better Qantas Business Suite seats will be able to pick the window or centre seats separated from the aisle by a side table (which serves as an enclosed shell for the feet of the passenger behind when in bed mode).

But with half the seats in the cabin located right next to the aisle, business travellers will need to choose wisely.

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6 Comments

  • NobodyInParticular

    says:

    Hard to argue that Virgin Australia doesn’t currently enjoy product leadership in domestic business to Perth and also USA. Whilst the Qantas product looks ‘nice’ and is obviously lending design cues and colour material and finish definition from its First Suites on A380, the configuration issues makes it seem that for the first time Qantas compromised it’s brief…significantly ‘to be sure to be sure’. Privacy and aisle issues will dog Qantas’ platform and configuration. The typical Mark Newson influence is present but it also seems like he might have had some hard limitations to constrain his team by that Thompson crowd or the manufacturer in this instance. I really can’t understand that colourway on their economy class seat. Same back cover it seems but new leather headrest and bottom cushion cover? It looks like someone who got dressed in a hurry and in the dark. Perhaps they rushed this entire business and economy relaunch and didn’t take the time to hit their usual high standards in a pursuit for speed to market and lowest cost. It would appear Tangerine is the new black! To be fair, we know Qantas is hurting. Their new ‘suite’ is nice I guess… but so is Australian sparkling, well some of it, but its nothing compared to champagne which John would no doubt be swigging from the magnum atop the #1 place podium. I think Alan giving Virgin a massive heads up was a careless and perhaps terminal error. I think Virgin Australia’s product hit their brief precisely and certainly extends their lead over Qantas. With their partners in Etihad they will be hard to beat now. With the lounge roll out, new terminals and innovation across the board Virgin IS converting loyalty to their brand. The only benefit Qantas will have is speed to market. That won’t last long… It looks like Virgin will retake the mantle shortly thereafter. I wonder if Neil Perry will be redesigning his menu to include lipstick on a pig in an effort to compliment the Qantas business class cabin perfectly.

  • Tommy Ross

    says:

    Business class travellers will be very excited when selecting these flights/seats, July to be staggered at the clapped out old A330’s they’re situated within..

    When they go to the bathroom, look at the over bins, look down back at the 2000s seating tech, they will be dismayed with their selection.

    Why refurbished hand me downs (originally ups from big brother) from Jetstar, when the loss making enterprise that is Jetstar are given state of the art 787s with their superior cabin tech.

    The seat is only part of the equation, the relative humidity, climate control, cabin pressure/alt are just as big issues as whether a seat can fully recline to MANY business travellers..

    NIP is indeed right about putting lipstick on a pig, but in this case, it is a certain tired old 330 that is the pork.

  • Ryan

    says:

    @NobodyInParticular – you’re showing your bias if you think VA’s current international business product is leading edge. The design is hideous and food/overall service OK.

    In terms of Virgin’s new business product, I feel it is the one that feels rushed. Also it looks very ‘plasticky’. I agree Qantas have taken cues from QF first, and I feel that it is not nearly as elegant (I hate the Ikea lining of the storage area). Having said that, overall I think it is an excellent product and knowing Marc’s attention to detail, I bet it’s even better in use.

    And in terms of Qantas giving Virgin a heads up, you could argue it was a clever move, as it has changed considerably since the initial preview.

  • Matt

    says:

    @NobodyinParticular, what nonsense, Qantas obviously has the lead over Virgin. The Virgin seat was rushed and was a reaction to Qantas making the first move. I cannot believe that Virgin are ripping seats out of a new aircraft and replacing them after only 6 months. This sounds like they panicked when they saw the Qantas product. Virgin cannot afford to be wasteful like that. They are still losing a great deal of money while Qantas expects to be back in profits. I think that this not only keeps Qantas lead over Virgin but extends it. Mark Newson certainly raises Qantas to a different level. That’s probably why Apple are now using him. In the last 12 months there has be a very noticeable difference in the Qantas service levels. Their staff have really lifted their game.

  • Dave

    says:

    Tommy Ross – wow you’re onto it….they’ve hardly got the 767’s out the door and you’ve lined up the A330!!
    Brand Spankers for you only I guess
    Not sure how many business class pax are worried about the bins in economy 🙂

  • Eric

    says:

    Go Qantas !! – I still call Australia home and will never set foot on a Virgin aircraft.

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