This month the second Qantas A330-200 in the new domestic configuration will join the fleet. It will be heralded as an improvement in passenger comfort. But it's a harrowing indicator Qantas isn't competitive enough.
Until their retirement in 2008, B747-300s used to operate on flights to Perth from Sydney and Melbourne (the equivalent of NYC-LA/San Francisco flights in America). The B747-300s were known to be hangar queens and could have used an updated interior, but they did the trick.
Their replacement, the A330-200, was lauded as an improvement for passengers. Yet passengers probably would have preferred the B747-300: it had PTV screens in Y unlike the A332, and business class was in a 2-2-2 configuration while the A332 had a 2-3-2 business configuration. The tight configuration wasn't due to the A330's space parameters: business class on international A330s in the Qantas fleet had a better value configuration at 2-2-2.
It was thus interesting when Qantas announced last year (alas, a good week after I inquired about the matter to no avail) it was improving the product on the domestic A332.
All seats would feature USB ports for re-charging iPods and other devices, as well as Panasonic's eX2 on-demand system. A spokeswoman says existing domestic A332s will not be retrofitted, but elsewhere there is talk the existing A332s might go to Jetstar.
The connotation of the improvements was clear. Qantas thought it could fly high on its reputation for the flights to Perth and thus offer a product that was in the same category (except for a meal, checked luggage, and frequent flyer points) as Virgin, Jetstar, and Tiger for a whole lot more. Quick price comparison for a Melbourne-Perth flight mid-week in May: Qantas A$219, Virgin $169, Jetstar $159, Tiger $128.
These "improvements" (they should have been on the aircraft from the get-go) will help differentiate Qantas and make its product superior. It calls to mind a campaign British Airways had last year explaining its advantage over Ryanair and easyJet.
Whether the superior product is worth the added cost is another discussion. Globally, one thing is clear: full service carriers have to work harder to get passengers to see value in their product as low-cost carriers continue their encroachment.