Photograph: Yannick Delamarre.
As the transcon Australian market heats up with Virgin Blue's forthcoming A330 services, Qantas today announced major upgrades to its transcon operation by increasing capacity by 15%, or 4300 seats a week into and out of Perth, removing its unpopular 2-3-2 business configuration, and deploying more premium, wide-body aircraft.
In doing so, Qantas has finally publicly acknowledged Virgin Blue's corporate push and A330 plans.
"Our competitors can simply not match the service that Qantas offers, particularly the Skybeds," Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce says in a statement.
The additional premium aircraft plying the country to and from Perth "will help further cement our position as the 'Best for Business' airline," Joyce says. Virgin Blue is in the middle of a transformation to attract business passengers, who bring in higher yields.
Joyce's words are a sharp contrast to his unperturbed comment about Virgin Blue last July that "for Qantas it's up to us to play our game...It doesn't matter what the competition will do in terms of those issues because Qantas is so strong."
As part of the changes, Qantas will remove its unpopular 2-3-2 business class configuration on domestic A330-200 aircraft and replace it with a 2-2-2 configuration, eliminating the middle seat, a spokesman confirms. The 2-3-2 configuration was created to allow Jetstar's A330s, which are in the same configuration, to be easily converted for mainline Qantas service once Jetstar replaced its A330s with 787s.
Passengers have been lamenting about the configuration's poor value for money since it was quietly shown last November. Qantas previously indicated it was re-evaluating the configuration. The spokesman says further details about seat pitch and in-flight entertainment will be released soon.
Qantas's 747-400s and international A330s feature lie-flat Skybeds and PTVs in all cabins. The newest domestic trans-con aircraft, the A330-200, does not feature Skybeds or PTVs in economy, a sore point for the sub-fleet.
Virgin Blue's forthcoming A330s are expected to keep the former Emirates interior in economy, but have new seat covers and the Panasonic "Red" in-flight entertainment system. The premium class interior has not been disclosed.
Over the coming months widebody aircraft will account for 90% of all flights to Perth, Qantas says. The Sydney-Perth route will see a 747-400 operating six round trips a week from May while the frequency of an international A330 on the route will increase to five from three. Qantas says this will contribute to 500 of the additional seats.
Brisbane-Perth will see daily A330-200 domestic services as well as six additional routes being upgraded from 737s to unspecified widebody aircraft, adding 1700 seats.
As announced last month, Melbourne-Perth sees 2100 more seats and four new flights, including three flights operated by A330-300 aircraft.