Domestic business travel takes a dramatic leap forward with the Qantas Business Suite.
The flying kangaroo’s next-gen business class seat fulfils the wish list of Australian business travellers with everything from a fully lie flat bed and easy access to the aisle to plenty of working space and storage space to keep your carry-on kit close at hand instead of out of reach in the overhead bin.
The Business Suite will most often fly on the transcontinental routes of Sydney-Perth, Melbourne-Perth and Brisbane-Perth, although it’ll also appear on shorter ‘triangle’ legs of Sydney-Melbourne and Sydney-Brisbane as Qantas works to make the most of its twin-aisle Airbus A330s.
Australian Business Traveller flew on the very first A330 Business Suite service between Sydney and Perth to bring you this detailed review.
Don’t want to read all the way through to the end? Here's the take-out: the Qantas Business Suite is the world’s best domestic business class. Yes, it's that good.
- Up close with Qantas' next-gen business class
- Best seats: Qantas Airbus A330-200 Business Suite business class
- 10 things you didn't know about the new Qantas Business Suite
We flew on the first Qantas Airbus A330-200 that's been upgraded with the new Business Suite – it also sports a 'refreshed' economy cabin with new seat fabrics plus an updated inflight entertainment system.
There are 28 Business Suites at the A330's pointy end, down from the 36 business class seats in the previous domestic layout, with the space divided into a main cabin of 22 seats at the very front of the plane, and a second smaller cabin (sitting immediately ahead of economy) of six seats.
The seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, with one seat by each window...
... and a pair of seats in the middle of the aircraft.
Note that the partitions between the paired middle seats don't slide down – they're an integral part of the seat's design – which makes the Business Suite less than ideal if you want to chat away to your partner during the flight.
The Qantas Business Suite has all the hallmarks of the world's best and most modern international business class seats.
For starters, the 1-2-1 layout provides one-step access to the aisle – and that step doesn't involve squeezing past or clambering over your seatmate, as is the case with Qantas' current Airbus A330 or A380 business class (both of which are 2-2-2).
Another game-changer: the Business Suite converts to a 2 metre long lie-flat bed (shown in this PR shot dressed with Qantas' sleep service mattress and cover).
This is Australia's first fully-flat domestic business class bed and it's going to be a Godsend on overnight 'red-eye' flights from Perth, even though you've only got a few hours of kip time.
To help bleary-eyed business travellers make every minute count in their quest for sleep the Business Suite is also approved for a gentle recline during the taxi, take-off and landing stages.
Instead of sitting bolt upright until the plane is in level flight the Business Suite's 'relax and recline' setting allows the seat to tilt back on a 5 inch recline (equivalent to 21 degrees) and slide forward into an approximation of what you'd typically enjoy during the flight, except that the legrest can't be raised in this mode.
Here's how this position looks on demo models of the seats.
When you think about how long your soon-to-depart plane can sit at the boarding gate, or how often it slowly crawls along the taxi-way only to join a line of other aircraft waiting their turn for take-off, that's all time you can spend in a relaxed and snooze-friendly position.
This reclined position necessitates the use of a three-point seatbelt for maximum safety.
Qantas is among the very few airlines in the world to engineer a business class seat in this way – Air New Zealand and Virgin Atlantic have something similar, but the Business Suite has a greater degree of recline.
Of course, during the level flight stage of your journey you can hit a button on the control panel to bring out the legrest or convert the seat to a fully flat bed.
The seats themselves are covered in leather and range from 55cm to 58cm wide (depending on the location of the seat – more on that later).
On some seats the armrest retracts to effectively add an extra 5cm to the total seat width, so you don't feel quite as 'hemmed in' by the sidewall.
Not all seats get the vanishing armrest, however – only those with an armrest facing the aisle can do this trick, which is roughly half of all 28 Business Suites on the A330.
Want to make sure you get a solid serve of shut-eye? Hit the 'Do Not Disturb' button on the seat's control panel and the seat number glows red so that flight attendants know to leave you alone.
There's plenty of legroom, even for the tallest and most gangly-limbed traveller.
The generous footwell ends in a small cushioned ottoman, while the floor of the footwell is angled so that it becomes a comfortable footrest once you stretch your legs a little.
But the very first thing anybody will notice about the Business Suite is the copious amount of personal space it provides.
Every passenger has their own side table created by a console next to the seat.
This puts some 30cm of flat surface at your disposal – and if you're in a middle seat with nobody next to you, you can annexe some of that vacant space to claim a further 10cm.
That's ample room for magazines, tablets, ebook readers, work-related documents and what-not.
Running along the inner edge of this console is a deep L-shaped nook for stowing more stuff.
As a result, there's a riot of space to keep carry-on kit at your fingertips.
The recess also holds a crisp LED reading light with two brightness settings, a pair of noise-reducing headphones plus a small water bottle holder, while on the outside are sockets for the headphones, USB and AC power.
Got more gear that needs to find a home close at hand?
The pocket for the A330's safety card and Qantas' inflight magazine also has room for your own magazine or tablet...
... while under the console there's a deep pocket for your shoes or an amenity kit.
The overall effect is that as soon as you reach your seat there's room for you to offload whatever personal items you wish to keep close at hand – such as your smartphone, tablet, reading glasses, a magazine or book.
This isn't sparked by purely the amount of space provided.
It's the visibility of this, and the variety in the shape of those spaces and their proximity to you, which invites you to park your gear there and intuitively guides you as to what should go where. That's a trademark of smart, considered and well-informed design.
There are also several small yet thoughtful touches in the mix.
A mirror concealed inside the lid to the remote control makes it easy to touch up your make-up or do your hair before landing without having to queue for the loo.
A soft LED lighting strip built into the underside of the console's shelving provides gentle illumination around the workspace.
A cut-out slot in the shelf helps you spy any small items which you might otherwise overlook and leave behind.
Bulkhead seats get a pop-out hook for your coat or a coat-hanger...
... while the rest have a small plastic cut-out which serves the same purpose.
As you can see, there's plenty of goodness on tap.
However, the unique staggered layout of the A330's business class cabin means that not all Business Suites are the same – while some are potentially more comfortable than their siblings.
Here's why, and what it means to you when you're selecting your seat.
First, a quick revisit of the A330's business class seating chart:
You'll notice that the window seats (marked A and K) fall into two categories:
- seats located immediately next to the aisle, with the console bench between the seat and window (seats 1A and 1K, for example)
- and seats located immediately next to the window, with the console bench between the seat and the aisle
These alternate from one row to the next – window, aisle, window, aisle...
The same applies to the Business Suites in the middle of the plane. Each row has one passenger sitting immediately next to the aisle, and one passenger with the seat's console between them and the aisle.
Again, the layout swaps between rows.
This alternating arrangement is necessary because under each seat's console is the footwell for the seat behind it.
Now here's a shot of the space inside that footwell when the passenger stretches out...
... and when the seat is converted into a flat bed.
I've got average-sized feet which slip into an 8.0 to 8.5 shoe (that's Aussie sizing – equivalent to a European 42-43 or US 9.0 to 9.5). They sat well inside this cubbyhole, and no doubt would have a little more wiggle-room once I shed the shoes for sleeping.
But for passengers with much larger feet – say, size 10 and up – this is going to be a tight squeeze.
My tip is to book any of the seats facing the bulhead wall (rows 1 and 7), which don't need to neatly dovetail into a seat in front because there is no seat in front.
As a result, the footwell goes from being a cubbyhole to a cavern with a generously high ceiling.
The next point of difference between the Business Suites is the width of the seat, both in the actual seat cushion and whether or not the armrest slides down to give you a little more elbow room.
Business Suites which have the passenger sitting directly at the aisle have a 58cm (23in) seat width, with another 5cm (2in) once the armrest is pushed down into the seat's shell.
Business Suites with the passener next to the window and the console next to the aisle (as shown below) have the same 58cm (23in) seat width but the armrest is fixed in place.
However, the equivalent seat in the middle pair of Business Suites – the seat where the passenger has the console between them and the aisle – has a slightly wider 61cm (24in) seat.
A final obervation on the relative comfort factor of each Business Suite: if the seat's bench is between you and the aisle, the gap between the front of that bench and the rear of the seat sell in front is only 26cm.
That's the space you'll have to navigate every time you step in and out of your seat (to visit the toilet, for example). It's sufficient if you're of an average build, but 'plus-size' passengers will want to book the seats which let them step straight into the aisle without squeeing past the console.
AC and USB ports for each Business Suite are conveniently located at shoulder-height in the console rather than near floor level between the seats, so there's no clumsy fumbling around in order to charge your laptop, tablet or smartphone.
It's also a doddle to park your tech on the bench or in the recess while it's being juiced up.
The over-sized tray table has ample room for your laptop.
It's solidly constructed and firmly anchored to the console, but exhibits none of the bothersome 'bounce' of many large tables when you load them up with a laptop and start hammering away at the keyboard.
As the Business Suite's debut was a standard commercial flight (QF571) which left Sydney at 5.30pm I was offered a three-course dinner service of a 'small plate' entree, a 'main plate' and desserts.
So while this is primarily a review of the Business Suite itself, here are some notes and photos of the meal.
From the two small plate options I chose a trio of tiger prawns on a bed of sesame soy Asian coleslaw, which proved to be a tasty and sharp starter.
Sadly, the obligatory salad turned out to be just a handful of lonely lettuce leaves. Halved cherry tomatoes, some grated carrots and perhaps corn would go a long way to making this simple dish more rounded and more enjoyable.
For mains I ordered the pork and veal meatballs, served with a tomato ragout, oregano and herbed risoni (a very short-cut pasta shaped like large grains of rice), matched to a Victorian Heathcote Estate 2013 Shiraz.
This one really hit the mark: robustly flavoured without being too heavy.
Fortunately there was room left for dessert: a warm banana and salted caramel cake with double cream, partnered to a sweet Lillypilly Noble Blend dessert wine.
Putting the sad salad aside, the business class dinner was exactly what I'd expect from in a good mid-range restaurant or brasserie – except that I was flying 40,000 feet above the Australian outback.
And thanks to the large side table, you can easily watch a video on your iPad while enjoying the meal.
While we're talking meals, the Business Suite's dinner tray is among the largest I've seen – although a determined stab of the release mechanism is needed to spring it open.
This kidney-shaped table is 53cm across at widest point, and 26cm deep, with a wide range of forward-and-back movement to find best position if you're eating or working.
It's also hinged to swing vertically up so you can more easily get in and out of your seat (but the table won't stay standing by itself, so keep a firm hand on it.)
Entertainment & Service
Each Business Suite gets a supersized 16 inch touchscreen with a slick new interface.
The look and feel is derived from the modern mobile world of tablets, apps and tiles.
The screens themselves are far more response to taps and swipes than earlier models, although a more conventional handheld controller under the armrest does the job if you've got short arms or have put the seat into lie-flat bed more.
Some handy features in the new system include a pop-up flight information window (just tap the airplane icon at the bottom of the screen).
This sensibly pauses any video being played.
You can also browse the library of content and add specific films, TV shows and albums to a playlist.
However, on this domestic flight the screen didn't include the food and drinks menu which will appear on the international A330s.
The content itself is similar to what you'd get on Qantas' flagship Airbus A380s, although there's less of it because of the shorter flight time. Even so, a Sydney-Perth trip is sufficient to knock over a movie or some recent episodes from Suits or Downton Abbey.
There's also some clever thinking behind the scenes, or perhaps we should say behind the screens.
Copies of popular latest-release shows will be stored on a flash memory drive mounted behind the display so even if the connection from the screen back to the plane's media box (which holds all the videos and music) fails, you'll still be able to watch a few movies.
Each screen also has a degree of tilt so you can angle it up or down to suit your height and seating position.
There's less upwards tilt than downwards, so passengers close to 1.8 metres (6 feet) or taller will unavoidably find themselves staring down at the screen unless they do some serious reclining or slouching.
The upgraded A330s are also fitted with Qantas' Q Streaming technology, which can beam any of the inflight system's video or music content over Wi-Fi to a traveller's smartphone or tablet. The Q Streaming feature hadn't been activated on this flight, however, so I was unable to test it.
Although it's fairly common to see business class passengers travelling with their own noise-cancelling headphones (the Bose QuietComfort series always make a strong showing on any business class flight I'm on), Qantas outfits each Business Suite with a pair of noise-reducing headphones.
I found these to be quite effective, as well as very lightweight and comfortable.
They also have a novel audio connector designed to plug into a standard audio jack – the kind found on smartphones, tablets, laptops, MP3 music players and such – as well as the two-pin socket for using the inflight entertainment system.
The audio connector itself is conveniently located on the side console, near shoulder-height to the passenger and alongside the USB and AC ports.
Over the past few years Qantas has been steadily ticking off the boxes on the Australian business traveller checklist with improved business lounges and inflight meals, and at the same time pencilling in new boxes such as its smartcard-based 'tap and go' Faster Smarter Check-in.
The Business Suite is the latest and perhaps most important part of the mix.
It raises traveller's expectations as to just how good the domestic business class experience can be (read: very, very good), and despite a few wrinkles, as we zoom into 2015 it easily takes the crown as the best domestic business class seat in the world.
David Flynn travelled on the inaugural Qantas Airbus A330 Business Suite flight as a guest of Qantas.
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