Qantas’ one in seven Business Suite seat problem is apparent

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Qantas’ new business suite, currently rolling out across the airline’s domestic and international Airbus A330-200 and -300 fleet, has received good reviews from passengers, including myself. Indeed, the seat is a marked improvement upon the Flying Kangaroo’s dated previous angled lie-flat or unacceptable premium economy style seats. Its design is efficient, its lines beautiful, and its details considered pleasing to both eye and body.

The problem is, within the A330-200 business class cabin, only four of the twenty-eight seats — just one in seven — are truly worthy of praise.

(The A330-200 aircraft are a clear majority of the A330 fleet, with eighteen compared with ten A330-300 aircraft where the numbers are only slightly better at six in twenty-eight. Every other seat is substantially sub-par for a modern business class.)

It’s about the difference between side-window, side-aisle, middle-aisle and middle-middle seats, a result of the Thompson Vantage XL seating that arranges seats in an alternating 1-2-1 staggered layout with a total of eight columns of seats. The good seats are the side-window ones: 2A, 2K, 4A and 4K below. I flew in 4A and it was delightful. I tried out a couple of others and they were disappointing.

Only four of the twenty eight seats on the A330-200 are any good. Seat map - Qantas

Only four of the twenty eight seats on the A330-200 are up to snuff. Seat map – Qantas

The “side aisle” and “middle aisle” seats suffer from the same problem: the staggered layout means that they are right next to the aisle, much less private, and much more subject to being disturbed by passing flight attendants or other passengers.

And they make up sixteen of the twenty-eight seats in the cabin — 58 percent of the seats — on the A330-200 fleet.

The “middle middle” seats, away from the aisle like window seats, suffer from a narrower foot area.

The staggered layout creates many losers and significantly fewer winners

The staggered layout creates many losers and significantly fewer winners

These seats are, at the end of the day, in the same eight-column arrangement as economy, with roughly the same narrowness of aisle. Indeed, during my flight one of the cabin crew went flying when the lights were dimmed and a “side aisle” passenger’s toes poking out from the seat tripped her up. Fortunately, she managed to catch herself on the shell in front of my seat, and she wasn’t carrying anything breakable or spillable at the time.

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It’s not a problem unique to Qantas, of course. But it is a serious issue that the airline needs to consider when deciding upon a new business class seat for its upcoming Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner cabins and for the overdue refresh of its eight-year-old Airbus A380 product.

The fact is, Qantas shouldn’t have let me — on a non-status partner redemption booking — select one of the four good seats in this cabin. They should be reserved for high-status frequent flyers, like the row one seats on the airline’s Boeing 737 aircraft.

But the fact that there are such strong winners and equally strong losers in this business class cabin, and in other cabins of similar style, should give airlines pause when selecting new business class options. I’ve certainly not been easy on Qantas’ primary domestic competitor Virgin Australia given the delays after B/E Aerospace was significantly late on both the Airbus A330-200 and Boeing 777-300ER refits after an increase in the angle away from the centreline.

But if Virgin or other competitors can offer a cabin where almost every seat offers a similar experience (taking into account the usual issues where seats near the front and rear of the cabin are usually slightly noisier and suffer from some disturbance from the light of the galley areas) it’s hard to argue that Qantas’ product — as well designed and engineered as it clearly is — is up to snuff.

Side-aisle seats are much less private and much more prone to disturbance

Side-aisle seats are much less private and much more prone to disturbance

John Walton paid for this ticket using frequent flyer miles from a partner airline; all images and opinions are, as ever, his own.

7 Comments

  1. S A

    This article is totally unfair. Also it is reflective of a purely pax view reflecting unreasonable economics. Do you realize how low a density airlines would have in the cabin to offer the seat config you’re talking about? And how do you expect them to be profitable? Having just flown this A330 product this weekend for the first time, I must say Qantas did an amazing job. The seats are wider than most comparable seats. It’s unfortunate to criticise the airline with this article when they have an excellent seat. Do you criticise all other airlines with this staggered seat config? Even though the QF seat is better than many comparable configurations? You’re going to run out of airlines quickly since so many have gone this way. The herringbone seat config, while nice for passengers, is an incredibly inefficient use of space. Are passengers willing to pay 50% more for the herringbone config? I must solidly disagree with this review.

    • John Walton

      Hi SA, and thanks for sharing your perspective! In answer to your various questions: yes, other airlines clearly manage to ,have a similar density with reverse herringbone seats. Virgin Australia seats twenty between A330-200 doors 1 and 2; this Qantas configuration seats twenty-two, with extra monuments in the VA cabin. Your suggestion that there is a fifty percent economics gap is thus off by a factor of at least four.

      Yes, I’ve absolutely criticised other airlines with a similar seat, most notably the Sogerma Solstys seat, which is getting on for a decade old if memory serves, and the older and slightly narrower versions of this Vantage seat on other airlines. Please feel free to refer back in Up Front to those articles.

  2. David Withers CEO digEcor

    Hi John,

    Whilst I agree with many of your articles I’m going to take you to task on this one. I fly a lot more than the average passenger and find the new Qantas A330 business class cabin to be exceptional. My preferred seat is 1K, one of your bad seats, as I love the storage and work space those seats offer. Of course it is more than just the seat and Qantas have upgraded their ammenities kit and the onboard experience generally as a part of this cabin upgrade. Can’t miss the opportunity to plug that digEcor’s Engage cabin crew connectivity solution has been an enabling part of this 🙂

    I guess the key point is that different passengers appreciate different cabin features and the new A330 business class cabin delivers on this.

    Cheers – David

  3. paul

    Are you joking ? It’s soooooooo much better then anything else on a domestic flight … just flew in it for the 43rd time yesterday and I can say its easily the best domestic business class service in the world. It kills AA first on their trans A321’s …it’s way better then Mint on Jet Blue and it’s better then first on Etihad or Emirates domestic regional.

    • Paul

      I couldn’t agree more with the points raised in your article. I recently flew business class from Singapore to Sydney on the Qantas A330. I was shocked by the blatantly discriminatory seating layout. Seated in middle aisle seat 2F I found the seat narrow, there was no privacy whatsoever and when I reclined into the flatbed position I was unable to turnover onto my side and ended up resting my arms uncomfortably on my stomach. I ultimately found the most comfortable position was sitting all night in a slightly reclined position. During the night a flight attendant banged a trolley quite hard into my seat and the trolley became entangled in my blanket as she moved the cart from one section of the aircraft to another. The huge difference in the quality of seating offered in this hopeless floor plan is truly amazing. I will not fly the A330 again.

      • Mark

        Surely you dont mean you had this problem with the new A330 layout described above? As I dont believe it is available from Singapore to Sydney, I fly the route quite often business class and it is the old terribly outdated 2-3-2 configuration they use.

        Seat 2F in the new configuration has a 1/2 privacy screen and side table between you and the isle so I would doubt your blanket would make it out there from where your lying? The old layout on the other hand I am not surprised at all if this happened! Would love to know this new configuration exists for Sing -> Syd as I fly it all the time, I have just never seen it. Fingers crossed as I will move my flights if it makes a difference!

  4. Zczc

    I find your work really fantastic; thanks for writing. So you’re suggesting that a window-window (e.g. 2a) has a roomier footwell than middle-middle (e.g. 2f?) — is that right?

    Incidentally my interest stems from my assumption it will be the same on an SAS A330.

    If this is the case for vantage xl, it didn’t seem to me the case with vantage on the Swiss 777. The throne and the middle-middle seemed to have the same size footwell. Two different flights so maybe I misremembered, it that’s how it seemed. I would be curious if you think the xl is better than the non-xl, even in xl middle middle? Thanks!