First look at Qantas's new business class seat

The business class battle between Qantas and Virgin Australia escalated this week with the unveiling of The Flying Kangaroo's new Business Suite, which will be fitted across its Airbus A330 fleet over the next two years.

This next-gen business class seat will make its debut on domestic routes between the east coast and Perth in late December, followed by international flights to Asia in January 2015.

But after close to two years in development, including a heavy dose of custom design work by Marc Newson, how does the premium seat measure up? Here's the exclusive High Flyer wrap.


The Business Suite easily beats the business class Skybed of the Qantas Airbus A380 in the comfort stakes, and comes close to matching the superjumbo's first class suites.

At 23 to 24 inches across, the Business Suite is actually wider than both of those A380 seats by up to two inches, while the bed is as long as that found in First Class on the A380.

(In case you're wondering, Qantas won't be upgrading its A380s with the new Business Suite, with Qantas CEO Alan Joyce stating that the superjumbo's current Business Suite "is highly competitive on the routes it's operating on.")

The design looks to be free of the mid-seat sag which some passengers find annoying on the A380 Skybeds, and there's ample room around the shoulders and waist so that you can move around in the seat rather than feeling wedged in.

Qantas chalks up a noticeable advantage against Virgin Australia's new business class seat in that the Business Suite can be reclined during take-off and landing.

This doesn't drop the seat into fully lie-flat mode – it's closer to the 'Lazy Z' of a plush armchair. But that's still enough to help speed you to sleep on those late-night flights out of Singapore and Hong Kong, when you can request to have the bed made up before you even board the plane.

If you're still awake once cruising altitude is reached, the seat can be extended to become a fully flat bed at the touch of a button.

Every traveller will enjoy being able to step in and out of the aisle due to the cabin's 1-2-1 layout, compared to the current 2-2-2 config of the Airbus A330s.

Inflight working

More and more airlines are waking up to the needs of business travellers who sadly must work during a flight, along with other travellers who want to be able to keep watching a movie on their laptop or iPad while they nosh.

On that score the Qantas Business Suite is very work-friendly, thanks to a long benchtop area next to every seat for spreading out documents.

A universal AC powerpoint and USB jack are thoughtfully located right at your shoulder, instead of down around the floor at the front of the seat (as it is on the A380s) for easy access to those ports.

I particularly appreciate that the AC socket is furthest away from the passenger, so there's no chance that the power adaptor of an Apple MacBook could be annoying rubbing against your arm.

There is, however, the risk of some bounce if you park your laptop on the tray table and start to hammer away on the keyboard, as the table is anchored only onto one side of the seat – it doesn't quite extend to sit onto the benchtop.

Space for your stuff

Closely related to inflight working is having the room to stow your work kit, while also keeping it close at hand.

This is one of the biggest differences between the Qantas Business Suite and, well, just about any other Qantas seat  (especially the A380's Skybed, where space for your personal gear is pretty much non-existent).

Above the side table is a generous bay for your laptop, tablet or smartphone, along with conventional books or magazines, reading glasses and what-not.

The tech gear is close enough to the AC and USB ports to be charging even when it's not in use.

I also like the small cut-out at the side of this bay which can act as a reminder that you've got small items stowed away there, rather than waking up bleary-eyed and leaving your reading glasses or expensive personal headphones on the plane.

You can also slip your shoes into the large bin at the base of each seat.

That's entertainment

Another leap ahead for the Business Suite is the inflight entertainment system, with a large high-definition 16-inch screen for every seat.

These new touchscreens will be matched to a new menu system with a tile-based user interface, so passengers can swipe their way through the catalogue of content.

The upgraded media box boosts the A330's entertainment collection from 400 hours to almost 1500 hours - similar to what you can browse on the Airbus A380.

And there's some clever thinking behind those screens.

Copies of popular latest-release movies and TV shows are stored on digital memory cards mounted behind each display, so that should the connection from your screen to the plane's media box fail, you'll still have plenty of viewing on tap.

Add this to the WiFi-based Q Streaming, to beam video and music to your own tablet or smartphone, and there's no way you'll be bored on even the longest flight.

What do you think of the new Business Suite? Will it suit your needs? Has Qantas missed anything?

David Flynn is a business travel expert and editor of Australian Business Traveller.

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