Qantas and Virgin announce big changes to the business class experience in 2019

This year is shaping up to be a big year for both Qantas and Virgin Australia, with business travellers set to reap the rewards of competition in the skies.

Qantas and American Airlines are patiently drumming their fingers on a final decision from the US Government regarding their proposed joint venture – a proposal which is more likely than not to get the thumbs-up.

The long haul

This will see Qantas make good on its promise to launch non-stop flights to Chicago using its long-range Boeing 787 Dreamliner, although Qantas CEO Alan Joyce has name-dropped Seattle as an alternative destination should the Qantas/American alliance be knocked back.

And with six more of those red-tailed Dreamliners are joining the Qantas fleet from late this year, travellers can expect more non-stop routes to open up into Europe, with Paris and Germany sitting atop that list.

(These additional Boeing 787s will also allow Qantas to retire its ageing and fuel-thirsty Boeing 747-400 jumbo jets, with the new Dreamliners taking over flights to Vancouver, South America and South Africa.)

What's in store

From March, Qantas will begin upgrading its flagship Airbus A380s with new business class and premium economy seats – using the same as on the Boeing 787s – plus a refresh to the first class suites and two new passengers lounges on the upper deck.

The spruced-up superjumbos will make Qantas more competitive on key business routes to the US and London, although it's expected to take until the end of next year for all twelve A380s to be refurbished.

Sometime this year (the pundits are tipping sooner rather than later) Qantas will also announce the winner of its 'Project Sunrise' contest to supply ultra-long range jets for non-stop flights from Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York, among others.

Airbus is betting on a long-legged version of the Airbus A350-1000, while Boeing is talking up its next-generation Boeing 777X, which combines the best traits of the popular Boeing 777 series and the advanced fuel-efficient Boeing 787.

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Virgin's plans

The tail end of 2019 will also Virgin Australia welcome some factory-fresh aircraft into its hangars, in the shape of the Boeing 737 MAX

This is an update to the Boeing 737-800, which is the domestic workhorses of both Virgin and Qantas and is likely to include what outgoing CEO John Borghetti has described as a "quantum leap in domestic business class."

Widely expected to be a flat-bed design, similar to those introduced by several other airlines on their domestic single-aisle jets, this will sharpen Virgin's edge against Qantas on Australia's lucrative east-west routes as more of the challenger's larger Airbus A330s are redirected to Hong Kong and potentially mainland China.

Lounge room

Back on the ground, Qantas has two substantial lounge projects underway.

The first is an extensive and arguably overdue upgrade for Qantas' Sydney international business class lounge, taking the bustling yet lacklustre space from drab to fab.

A completely new design will offer more than 30 per cent extra seating, while the upgraded dining experience from resident chef Neil Perry will be closer to what's see in Qantas'  Singapore and Hong Kong lounges, including a choice of 'dishes of the day', alongside a tended bar with its own cocktail menu.

And speaking of Singapore, the opening of an all-new Singapore first class lounge by December 2019 will alleviate overcrowding at the current Singapore business class lounge as well as provide upmarket digs for first class travellers and Platinum-grade frequent flyers.

Those high flyers will enjoy similar à la carte dining to the Sydney, Melbourne and Los Angeles first class lounges.

The 240-seat lounge is being designed by David Caon in collaboration with Akin Atelier with the aim of creating "a relaxing, high quality environment for passengers to either start their international journey or transit through Singapore."

Few people spend more time on planes, in lounges or mulling over the best ways to use frequent flyer points than David Flynn, the editor of Australian Business Traveller magazine. His unparalleled knowledge of all aspects of business travel connects strongly with the interests of Executive Style readers.

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