What do you want in a transcontinental Boeing 737 business class?

What do you want in a transcontinental Boeing 737 business class?

TALKING POINT | Domestic business class is back on the radar, and in a big way.

Australia's transcontinental trek between east coast capitals and Perth has always deserved better than the same seats as a quick commuter-grade sprint from Sydney to Melbourne.

But the dogfight between Qantas and Virgin Australia for coast-to-coast corporate travellers turned into an arms race which gave us arguably the best domestic business class seats in the world, in the shape of the Qantas Business Suite and Virgin's The Business.

Fitted to each airline's Airbus A330 fleets, these are 'best in class' products – spacious wide seats which transform into fully lie-flat beds providing direct aisle access for every passenger – which put many other airline's international premium cabins in the shade.

But with WA's resources market coming off the boil and demand for business travel softening, high flyers are encountering more and more Boeing 737s on east-west routes – which means a business class experience well below that of the big Airbus A330s.

On Qantas, that's the difference between this...

Qantas Airbus A330 business class

... and this.

Qantas Boeing 737 business class

On Virgin Australia, it's this A330 seat...

Virgin Australia Airbus A330 business class

... or this Boeing 737 seat.

Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class

Virgin Australia is now promising an all-new "quantum leap" business class for its transcontinental Boeing 737s, to be unveilled before the year is out and take wing in the second half of 2018, while Qantas says it will stick with the airline's current Boeing 737 business class.

Given those two vastly different positions, we felt this would be as good as time as any to take the temperature of Australian Business Traveller readers on what you want from a transcontinental business class on the Boeing 737.

For starters: how vital is direct aisle access on these 4-5½ hour flights?

Is a fully flat bed a must-have, or will an angled bed – such as Virgin Australia's 2012 A330 business class, shown below – suffice, even for red-eye flights?

Virgin Australia's previous A330 business class, launched in 2012
Virgin Australia's previous A330 business class, launched in 2012

Would you be happy with something closer to a premium economy or regional business class seat, along the lines of Cathay Pacific's current (albeit soon-to-be-replaced) regional business class?

Cathay Pacific's regional business class

Or does Virgin need to somehow raise the bar even higher in its efforts to compete against Qantas?

There's been no shortage of speculation as to the shape of Virgin's new coast-to-coast Boeing 737 business class – including expectations that it could be based on the same platform as US airline JetBlue's Airbus A321 Mint business class (below).

US airlines JetBlue's Mint business class

It's noteworthy that seat manufacturer Thompson Aero – whose Vantage business class product provided the foundation for Mint – is said to be working on a 'next generation' lie-flat Vantage seat for the Boeing 737.

But for now, it's over to you. What do you want from a transcontinental Boeing 737 business class? Cast your vote in our poll below, and then share your thoughts with other readers in the Comments section.

David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.
 

50 comments

  • GBRGB

    GBRGB

    19 Jul, 2017 08:16 am

    I think people have been spoilt on the east west routes and need to adjust expectations, Darwin to Sydney and Melbourne are similar flight times with a standard domestic business class offering, people don't complain because that is all that has ever been offered.
    No member give thanks

  • willvill

    willvill

    19 Jul, 2017 08:35 am

    Doesn't alter the fact that it costs more East Coast to Perth return in Business than a Business Class return to Bangkok and Singapore etc..
    Members who gave thanks

    MattJelonek, TimWray

  • mviy

    mviy

    19 Jul, 2017 08:38 am

    Whilst extra leg room economy seats can be almost as good as business recliner seats to sit in, business recliner seats still offer more seat width which is handy if you're sitting next to someone with broad shoulders or have those yourself.

    Lie flat seats would be great for overnight flights, for day flights recliner seats are fine.

    The difficulty is of course what happens when there's a technical problem with an aircraft and they need to switch to another one that has inferior seating?

    Ideally from a customer perspective they should put the new seating configuration on more than enough planes so there's practically no chance of getting the old seating.
    Member who gave thanks

    TimWray

  • sgb

    sgb

    19 Jul, 2017 08:47 am

    a substitute aircraft.
    No member give thanks

  • Nick  Sydney 348

    Nick Sydney 2

    19 Jul, 2017 03:28 pm

    Suggest QF look at the Airbus 321T used by AA. Really great expeerince on those. 
    No member give thanks

  • Say Mee

    mspcooper

    19 Jul, 2017 09:29 am

    I think VA should consider 2-2 lie flats over two rows, this may mean reduction of another 1-2 rows of economy seats, but they could use these aircraft for Bali/south east asia flights and also to Fiji/NZ etc where the premium sector pays well. I don't know if my maths are right regarding the length required vs width available on 737 to be able to fit 2-2 lie flats. if not 2-1? 
    No member give thanks

  • RealKid

    RealKid

    19 Jul, 2017 09:49 am

    Qatar, JetBlue, and American have 2-2 lie-flats on a32X aircraft.  They're not that much wider than the 737s, so i think it would be doable.
    No member give thanks

  • Boof

    Boof

    19 Jul, 2017 10:26 am

    The A320 series is 6 inches wider than 737's. Doesn't sound like much but it's enough to mean that already certified widebody seat pairs like the Thomson Vantage can fit in the A320's without changes. Thomson are working on a Vantage type seat that will fit in the 737 now, but at present there is only angled lie-flat seats available. 
    Member who gave thanks

    qickdraw

  • Deco.001

    Deco.001

    19 Jul, 2017 04:38 pm

    Thompson vantage is already in use on the 757 which is the same width as the 737, won't be a problem. 
    No member give thanks

  • Boof

    Boof

    20 Jul, 2017 08:47 am

    Yeah spot on. Vantage isn't certified yet for the 737 though. An interesting development on the Thompson website in the past few weeks since the MAS CEO stated he was putting Vantage seats in the MH MAX10's they have on order, there is now an LOPA for the 737 MAX showing either 4-2 or 3-3 combo's of the Vantage. 

    This wasn't on the website prior to the Paris airshow when MAS announced this as I only looked about a fortnight back. 
    No member give thanks

  • henrus

    henrus

    19 Jul, 2017 09:45 am

    Ideally, if they do come up with a new layout it would be great if both the existing and the new layouts are the same. If they need to remove a couple of Economy rows they can then remove the last couple of rows or something like that.

    What that then allows for is aircraft swaps without upsetting pre selected seats or requiring people to switch seats at the last minute during boarding.
    No member give thanks

  • Dave

    Grannular

    19 Jul, 2017 09:56 am

    I think people are getting too precious. The flight is equivalent to a half days work. I don't know about you, but I don't need a flatbed at my desk. To think of it, the current seats are considerably better than the chair at my desk now anyway.
    Members who gave thanks

    Boof, alexlips99

  • elchriss0

    elchriss0

    19 Jul, 2017 10:26 am

    People here in Oz are spoilt considering that flights across Europe can be last for a similar amount of time and have just regular economy seats with middle seat blocked.  Last year I was ecstatic to find that my overnight Aegean A320 flight from LHR-LCA (5hrs) in J had extra around 6 inches extra legroom vs economy since I was expecting the same 30 inches you get on LH and BA.  Also the armrest does fold over to give you an extra 2 inches width compared to economy.  A3 probably have the best J product available in europe.
    No member give thanks

  • StudiodeKadent

    StudiodeKadent

    19 Jul, 2017 10:38 am

    The seating companies are working on lie-flat/direct-aisle-access products for narrowbody aircraft anyway. BE/Rockwell Collins are making a "super super diamond" seat for this purpose and Virgin obviously will be looking at that. 
    Member who gave thanks

    qickdraw

  • Packetman21

    Packetman21

    19 Jul, 2017 12:00 pm

    I think something like AAs transcon BC would be beneficial.
    No member give thanks

  • highflyer

    highflyer

    19 Jul, 2017 12:25 pm

    I think the most frustrating thing is the inconsistency. I'm not as fussed to be honest about having a lie flat for a 4-5 hour flight during the day. It definitely is a bonus and a product like the Cathay Regional product would work well on a East/West daytime flight. The recline is sufficient for having a quick snooze too.  But having different seat types during different days and times bugs the heck out of me!  I don't want to pay for a product and get something else when I rock up
    No member give thanks

  • parishiltons

    parishiltons

    19 Jul, 2017 02:52 pm

    Definitely horizontal lie flats for any and all overnight flights, let's start rolling them out to DPS and Pacific island destinations, too!
    No member give thanks

  • grov

    grov

    19 Jul, 2017 03:11 pm

    Perhaps the question should be: "What would you be prepared to pay for". There is no way I would pay for the 737 J product as it stands on the east-west run, nor on the PER-SIN run. Perhaps a PE seat, at PE prices, would be OK.
    Member who gave thanks

    AJS

  • Andrew Stark

    AJS

    19 Jul, 2017 03:21 pm

    Well said 'highflyer' - it seems unfair to be charged the same amount for a second-tier product. The PER-SYD red- eye, for example, can be disastrously uncomfortable even in row 1.
    No member give thanks

  • Joe Schmoe

    JoeSchmoe

    19 Jul, 2017 03:41 pm

    Who in their right mind selects angle-flat seats?  Either lie-flat or nothing.  Can't get remotely comfortable on angle-flat.   And if can't get lie-flat, then economy plus is good enough.
    No member give thanks

  • LP

    LP

    19 Jul, 2017 10:48 pm

    The sq regional business angle flat style seat is perfectly acceptable for a 5 hour transcon. Sure a fully flat bed is a better seat, but is it really necessary - not to me. 
    No member give thanks

  • Alex_upgrade

    alex_upgrade77

    19 Jul, 2017 03:43 pm

    As many have said, all a matter of expectations. In Europe, 4 hour flights, eg from UK to Greece or Turkey or Italy to Russia are operated by aircraft with standard economy seats in business. BA, Swiss, Lufthansa, Alitalia all guilty. Nobody expects more. In Oz, the transcon J suites have set a bar so high (but perhaps no longer as feasible) that the only way is down / disappointment. 
    No member give thanks

  • elemist

    elemist

    19 Jul, 2017 03:54 pm

    We're definitely spoilt with the current offerings. Personally i don't see the need for a fully flat bed on a 4 hour flight. Realistically by the time you take into account take off/landing there's what 2 - 3 hours max for sleeping. Thats assuming you don't eat, and don't get woken by the food services.

    All you really need for flights of that length are a comfortable reclining seat. Personally i found their angled flat seats worse than a normal recliner, i just couldn't get it into a comfortable position.

    Virgin are kind of in a bind when it comes to the trans con routes. They can't compete with a standard 737 business class seat with Qantas's new business class seats on their A332's, and they don't have enough A330's to do both. Thus to stay relevant they have to come up with a new product for the 737 to have any chance of competing.
    No member give thanks

  • Adrian Granaghan

    tungaroa

    19 Jul, 2017 04:09 pm

    As a semi regular traveller, my issue isn't with the different offerings on the 737s and the A330s but the price.If QF is going to charge me $2K for a PER - SYD flight one way, then I expect the service to be commensurate with the money I have paid. The 737 offering is not.
    No member give thanks

  • Ashley Gordon

    Hilton

    19 Jul, 2017 05:31 pm

    I just hope they don't put in those awful Cathay/Cathay Dragon regional business class seats.  It is impossible to get comfortable in those if you are tall. 
    No member give thanks

  • OCA

    OCA

    19 Jul, 2017 05:53 pm

    Why does Qantas fly a 737 to Sinapore from Perth (international flight 5hrs +) with those terrible sit up seats? Yet manages to fly flat bed seats across OZ (4hr flight) at the same cost? Qantas are simply ripping business customers off. If you run business class your fleet seats should be consistent. Qatar on a tiny A320 have flat bed seats for short halls, yet both airlines here give us sit up seats and expect us to pay top dollar for them. Why not offer J class sit up seats at a discounted J class because they are not truly a J class seat & keep J class flat seats at current price? Oh thats right Q & V really dont care! Oh while I am moaning British airways Club Euro class is economy seats with a blanked out middle seat. What a rip off this is, exactly same seat as coach including leg room, width and pitch. 
    No member give thanks

  • Patricka340

    Patricka340

    19 Jul, 2017 06:14 pm

    This article is about Virgin Australia, not Qantas' flight from PER to SIN or 'Euro' business class.
    No member give thanks

  • elchriss0

    elchriss0

    20 Jul, 2017 08:44 am

    Complaining about euro business is pointless considering that to price ratio of Y:J in europe is much less than here.  I was able to get J for 5hrs in europe for $600 return.  Looking here at VA syd-per they charge $500 in Y and almost $4k in J.  Now tell us again how much of a rip off euro J is...

    No member give thanks

  • traveller99

    traveller99

    19 Jul, 2017 06:27 pm

    Here's my list, and I'm not asking for much:

    1. For day flights ie a flight that does not involve an overnight, I do NOT need flat or angle flat.  But for an overnight flight I would want a flat seat.

    So existing 737 is fine for day flights.

    A330 for overnight.

    2. WiFi is essential. No negotiations around that. Qantas would need to add WiFi to the A330.

    3. for the 737 seating, the current seating is fine - but add some type of privacy divider between the seats.

    the end.
    No member give thanks

  • Ric OSHEA

    holden

    19 Jul, 2017 06:35 pm

    As a semi regular flyer on the BNE/PER route I am horrified at the price charged for business class and also economy flex. If I fly in the other direction across the ditch I can book a QF coded Emirates business class return flight on the A380 for considerably less ($1700 vs $4500). The distance is similar and so is the time in a west-east direction.

    Currently, what I do is book the economy flex on the A330 and use FF points to upgrade on the west bound leg and fly economy on the way back as it's considerably shorter.

    Next trip, I'm going to try out the 737 J class on the trip back to Brissie just to see if it's a viable option. It'll only cost me $180 extra For the flex option plus 10,000 FF points.

    What Qantas should really do is have a different price for J for the 737 and the A330. Economic conditions in WA might force this change anyway.
    No member give thanks

  • John Leslie

    drjl

    19 Jul, 2017 07:15 pm

    holden - your last sentence sums up my views too.
    It is a disgrace that QF charge the same for a Business seat on a 737 and a A330....just no comparison, especially for the Redeye.
    No member give thanks

  • Dave Thomas

    deethom

    19 Jul, 2017 07:27 pm

    I am not interested in "Super J class" on both airlines that offer this feature. Would rather have a good nights sleep in the Hotel, and do a daylight flight home (PER-BNE) or reverse. So who needs flat seats for a four hour flight?
    Would rather see the B738 seats priced at Premium Economy, which is what they are!!!
    No member give thanks

  • john hauser

    talkscheap

    19 Jul, 2017 07:30 pm

    I am less troubled by aisle access, lie flat is what I want most 
    No member give thanks

  • athols

    athols

    19 Jul, 2017 07:43 pm

    The A330 lie flats are great and at the price for domestic business are a good offering. The cramped 12 seat sit ups on the 737 are not worth the high cost paid and should be priced accordingly. Can't help feeling cheated when I am bumped into a 737 when schedules change, connections are late or min connect time changes. It is more like an international premium economy product. 
    No member give thanks

  • bsb

    bsb

    19 Jul, 2017 07:42 pm

    Offer lie flat both and recliner seats and price accordingly. I bet you'll see the recliner seat generate more revenue. 
    No member give thanks

  • Charles Furrows

    OOLflyer

    19 Jul, 2017 10:52 pm

    Why not keep Tigerair's 14 slightly wider A320 aircraft and turn them into a dedicated  Virgin Transcontinental fleet with:

    3 rows of 2-1 lie-flat seats as Business Class
    3 rows of 3-2 Premium Economy seats with 36 inch pitch

    As things stand, Qantas will be able to destroy Virgin by using A330's while Virgin is stuck using 737's.
    No member give thanks

  • Brayden

    ThePerthTrav

    20 Jul, 2017 01:41 am

    I like the idea, and seeing as Tigerair Australia is getting some of Virgin Australia's 737's to replace the A320's, it seems fairly reasonable. Except the Premium Economy part. Three classes on a narrow body just doesn't seem "profitable", or right. If there's three classes, that means reduced Economy seats, and less passengers who cannot afford to pay for the overpriced premium cabin tickets that Australians have to pay to get some luxury in the sky.
    No member give thanks

  • AB__CD

    AB__CD

    20 Jul, 2017 02:00 am

    American has 4 classes on its A321T. 10 first, 20 business, 36 Economy+, and another 36 Economy. The real money has, and always will be, in First and Business class. Economy is just there to fill up the rest of the plane.
    No member give thanks

  • AB__CD

    AB__CD

    20 Jul, 2017 02:02 am

    It's not really QF or VA's problem if they sell out of Economy, as long as the J seats are getting filled. They would rather charge other passengers 2-3x as much for a seat that only takes up about 50% more space than Economy.
    No member give thanks

  • Boof

    Boof

    20 Jul, 2017 09:05 am

    This couldn't be further from the truth I'm sorry. With the AA 321T they get a price premium by having F and J, but in VA and QF's case it is not like that at all. 

    Take pricing for MEL-PER on the 8/8/17 on VA677 a 73H service. Getaway: $272, Elevate: $332, Freedom: $602
    Bus Saver: Sold Out, Bus Full: $2021

    And let's make some assumptions that would be close to reality: 75% load factor, 2x J seats taken as upgrades/redemption's hence no Biz Saver, 20% of seats at Getaway, 20% at Freedom, 60% Elevate, and to account for rising price as date of flight approaches and tickets sell out lets round up each Y Bucket to the next $50 ($300, $350, $650). Revenue: 

    2x J seats @ VFF rates = $2000 (redemption's)
    4x J seats @ $2021 = $8084

    Total J cabin with 6/8 seats taken: $10,084

    25 @ $300 = $7,500
    76 @ $350 = $26,600
    25 @ $650 = $16,250

    Total Y cabin with 126/168 seats taken: $50350

    5x the revenue in Y, which explains why JQ can make real money without a J cabin. 
    No member give thanks

  • Himeno

    Himeno

    21 Jul, 2017 08:51 pm

    The AA "Main Cabin Extra" is not another class. It is economy with extra leg room, given to status pax or sold at a surcharge. No different to QF economy exit row seats.

    AA has 3 class (First, Business and Economy) domestic flights on 2 routes with the A321T, selected 3 class flights between hubs with 777s (such as 1 MIA-LAX/day) and 2 class (Business (marketed as First) and Economy) for all other domestic, while all flights have "main cabin extra".

    AA is starting to roll out "real" premium economy to wide bodies with the 787-9 getting it first.
    No member give thanks

  • Matt J

    MattJelonek

    20 Jul, 2017 01:32 am

    I'm gussing VA are getting AirNZ's old SpaceSeat! haha

    Just kidding! What about a Direct isle access herringbone seat like the AirNZ Business? You can easily do four on the left and four on the right with the isle...

    I would like to see what MintBlue's J is like... regional Cathay would be nice to see... J seat in a shell.
    No member give thanks

  • Matt J

    MattJelonek

    20 Jul, 2017 01:33 am

    Sorry, JetBlue. Though it's call Mint?
    No member give thanks

  • Brayden

    ThePerthTrav

    20 Jul, 2017 01:34 am

    If Virgin is going to use 737's on 5+ hr routes, then something that's comfortable, would be nice.
    No member give thanks

  • Adam T

    AT

    20 Jul, 2017 10:40 am

    It doesn't matter what we want, what matters is what is commercially and economically viable. There are very limited options to what is possible in J on 737, and that's a traditional recliner. The aircraft needs to service multiple domestic and short haul routes. 
    No member give thanks

  • Sharon  Groombridge

    Shroom1

    20 Jul, 2017 11:36 am

    The current wide-bodied offering is wonderful, but hardy a viable option on the Perth Mel/Syd/Bris routes at the moment, given that pax loads are so low.  If it is to be a 737 going forward, the they must improve the current offering or drop the price.  My preference is for the current Air NZ PE Space Seat or at the very least a comfy recliner with a decent padded footrest and privacy screen.  There really isn't enough time to get a decent sleep on the red-eye any way.
    No member give thanks

  • Charles Furrows

    OOLflyer

    20 Jul, 2017 11:48 am

    Again, the slightly wider Tigerair A320 fleet would be perfect for Virgin to use as a dedicated Transcontinental fleet.

    Virgin America has operated them configured with:

    2 rows of 2-2 sloping lie-flat Business Class (8 Business)

    2 rows of 3-3 36 inch pitch Economy X (12 Economy X)

    22 rows of 3-3 Economy (132 Economy).

    152 seats, of which every cabin could be competitive with Qantas.

    Yes, Virgin America domestic First Class is not as modern as Qantas A330 Business Class. But it's still a superb domestic Business Class product - and it fits into the 14 A320's that Virgin is planning to offload.

    Part of the magic formula might be to undercut Qantas' A330 Business fares while still offering an outstanding product.
    No member give thanks

  • Boof

    Boof

    20 Jul, 2017 12:00 pm

    The TT fleet are either coming to the end of the lease, or need to be returned to the now Scoot fleet in SIN. They won't be retained as they will need a heap of $$$ on deep maintenance shortly.

    I'm not knocking your idea, and the VX recliners would be a good product (and would fit in the 737). Something like that would be a good product for trans-con here in Oz. 
    No member give thanks

  • mickeyg

    mickeyg

    20 Jul, 2017 10:22 pm

    I agree with the VX product.
    I don't think the duration of the coast-coast warrants "lie flat" on any flight - day or red eye!
    A decent "cradle" recliner (doesn't utilise much more space than the standard business class = less loss of economy pax than if with lie flat) with the current 3 course meal offerings (as served on the a300s) is suffice.
    No member give thanks

  • Matt J

    MattJelonek

    20 Jul, 2017 07:19 pm

    I've just seen something... The A350 Club World business class story... with the perfect seat/s for these planes!

    https://www.ausbt.com.au/british-airways-on-track-for-new-a350-club-world-business-class
    No member give thanks

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27 May, 2019 03:41 am

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