Qantas has struck a pre-emptive blow against Virgin Blue's aspirations of evolving into a business travel airline by flooding the East-West route with thousands of seats on international-grade planes.
From April, 90 per cent of all flights to and from Perth will be done on larger and more comfortable international planes.
The airline, which recently admitted it was making good money domestically but haemorrhaging internationally, said it would provide 4,300 new seats each week on wide-body international planes equipped with seat-back inflight entertainment and laptop power sockets on some flights.
The international planes have a far superior business class offering, with SkyBed seats compared to the tired seats in regular domestic planes which are more comparable to international premium economy.
The aircraft will also have premium economy seating, giving Qantas the option of selling premium economy domestic seats for the first time, or upgrading its most valuable frequent flyers to premium economy when they book economy.
For the Sydney-Perth run, Qantas will shift 747-400 aircraft onto the route six times a week, as well as increasing its internationally-configured Airbus A330 flights (with power sockets in all seats, including economy) from three to five times a week. The changes to the Sydney route will start in April.
In the same month, Brisbane-Perth will get the Airbus A330 on seven round-trips a week, and Qantas says it will also be upgrading six of its existing Boeing 737 planes (these upgrades may involve the new 787-inspired Boeing Sky Interior that Australian Business Traveller recently reported).
A month later, in May, Melbourne-Perth will get thousands more seats on the larger and more comfortable A330 aircraft with international flight perks.
Qantas said in a statement that new A330s being delivered to the airline would be reconfigured to provide more space for passengers in the Business Class cabin -- a 2-2-2 seating configuration rather than the unpopular 2-3-2 configuration it introduced in some A330s only two months ago.
“Increasing the premium service we provide business customers flying from east to west will help further cement our position as the ‘Best for Business’ airline,” Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said.
“Our competitors can simply not match the service that Qantas offers, particularly the Skybeds, which provide increased comfort on the longer routes between the eastern states and Perth."
Virgin Blue has been gearing up for the relaunch of the airline as a business-grade airline, since Qantas marketing chief John Borghetti defected and took up post as Virgin Blue CEO.
It has recently offered free-of-charge status matching for Qantas Frequent Flyer Gold members, has been upgrading its lounges in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, and has formed an alliance with international airline Etihad, to allow Virgin Blue customers to reach destinations all over the world. It also recently formed a tie-up with Air New Zealand, allowing it to tackle the lucrative trans-Tasman market which accounts for almost 2.9 million passengers per year, or 10.9% of Australia’s total passenger movements.
Borghetti has been outspoken in his belief that "no competitor is invincible", though he admits that he is forced to team up with other airlines rather than building his own international airline, because "to go out and spend three, four, five billion dollars’ worth of shareholders’ money on 30 or 40 aeroplanes is just not practical."
It is this weakness that Qantas is clearly playing on, shifting some of its heavy aircraft from its underperforming international division to domestic routes where it can quickly combat the threat posed by Virgin Blue.