Virgin Australia v Qantas: which airline is best flying east-west from Sydney to Perth?

The dogfight between Qantas and Virgin Australia for business travellers has borne sweet fruit, as competition so often does.

A case in point: the east-west route which criss-crosses Australia in a five hour trek between the eastern capitals and Perth.

Both airlines are batting for a larger slice of this popular and profitable market.

The result of this transcontinental turf war is that Australia's east-west route is now graced by some of the world's best domestic business class seats which eclipse what many international airlines fly.

But it's not just about the seats. Qantas and Virgin Australia have enlisted named and famed chefs to upgrade inflight meals, while also investing in airport lounges to bookend the overall business travel experience.

So how do they compare? To find out, High Flyer spend a day zipping between Sydney and Perth on both airlines.

The verdict on the aircraft

Qantas and Virgin Australia both fly the long twin-aisle Airbus A330 on most east-west routes, although some also see the smaller Boeing 737s.

All six of Virgin Australia's A330s have been upgraded to its latest business class proposition which is simply dubbed The Business.

14 of Qantas' larger fleet of 18 domestic Airbus A330s now sport the all-new Business Suite, with the remainder to be refitted by year's end.

The verdict on the lounges

The business travel experience begins on the ground, with passengers cooling their heels in airport lounges before the flight.

Qantas has upscale business class lounges boasting a cafe-grade breakfast selection including a plate of the day served between 6am and 8am.

On the day High Flyer travelled, Qantas' Sydney business class lounge was serving sautéed mushrooms and goats curd bruschetta.

There's also a hot buffet with scrambled eggs, bacon and mushrooms, bircher muesli and porridge, plus a generous fruit salad bar and a healthy self-service juice station.

The Virgin Australia lounges are positioned a little closer to the more mainstream Qantas Club, with a less extensive breakfast menu including pork chipolatas, baked beans, cereals and fruit salad.

Both airlines have recently opened new lounges at Perth Airport, too. Virgin's follows the same design as its east coast siblings, with a coffee bar and wine bar.

Qantas adopted a stunning new contemporary design that's very different to the classic corporate cut of Sydney and Melbourne, with two bars serving coffee and wine plus a pizza oven.

The verdict on the seats

What's best about the Qantas and Virgin Australia transcontinental Business Suite seats is what they have in common.

We're talking wide, comfortable seats with copious legroom, which convert to a fully flat bed if you're desperate for sleep or stuck on the overnight red-eye from Perth.

Each passenger has direct access to the aisle so there's no more stepping over your seat-mate.

Other shared traveller-friendly traits include large 16 inch video screens, AC and USB power sockets and plenty of bench space around the seat to spread out your work.

Virgin Australia's A330 business class seat offers a good degree of privacy due to high curved shell around the seat.

Window seats are angled away from the aisle and towards the window, while the middle seats skew in slightly. A retractable screen between those paired middle seats can be lowered for chatting with a travelling companion.

All seats in the Qantas Business Suite face straight ahead in a unique staggered arrangement.

There's more useable space around the seat, including a wide benchtop plus a storage cubby for laptops, books and magazines.

However, it's a bit harder for travellers in middle seats to chat back and forth without leaving forward or sitting bolt upright.

The business class design aesthetic of both airlines is markedly different: Qantas plumped for a pared-back palette of slate, wood and champagne gold, while Virgin Australia adopted a more BMW-look with black carbon fibre seat shells and silvered trim.

The verdict on the meals

Business travellers can expect a restaurant-grade three-course meal with matching wines, spirits and snacks on their transcontinental trip.

Virgin Australia's partnership with Luke Mangan delivers inflight meals which I personally finder lighter and more rounded than the those of the Qantas-Neil Perry duo

That said, the Qantas flight's starter of cold smoked ocean trout with Asian slaw and wasabi mayonnaise was a winner.

Virgin also boasts a Nespresso coffee machine developed to suit high flight altitudes, so you can finally enjoy cafe-standard coffee above the clouds.

The final verdict

While the superior lounge would help Qantas win overall, Virgin Australia has really closed the gap.

If you've flown east-west in the latest business class of Qantas or Virgin Australia, how do you rate the new seats and service? Let David know in the Comments section.

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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