Review: Qantas Business Class, Darwin to Perth

Flying different airlines in each direction between Perth and Darwin has provided a handy point of comparison between Australia’s two main airlines’ narrowbody domestic business class offerings. We’ve previously reviewed Virgin Australia business class on the same route and now it is Qantas’ turn. Which did we find better?

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Qantas 737-800 ‘BSI’ business class seat

Qantas operates double daily services from Darwin most days of the week to all Australian capital cities with the exception of Canberra and Hobart. All of these services are operated with Boeing 737-800 aircraft, configured with 12 business class and 156 economy class seats.

Within Qantas’ 737-800 fleet, there are many inconsistencies. We were fortunate to be one on of the newer ‘BSI’ (Boeing Sky Interior) planes, as the seating on the yet to be refurbished fleet is a bit tired.

Qantas 737-800 non-refurbished economy cabin

Yet to be refurbished Qantas 737-800 economy cabin

At the time of writing, the new interior is only available on 29 of Qantas’ 67-strong domestic Boeing 737-800 fleet. There are plans, however, to upgrade the remaining 37 aircraft from the middle of this year.

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Qantas 737-800 ‘BSI’ business class cabin

As you can see, the newer configuration does away with the cloth seating for business class in favour of a “Marc Newson designed seat (which shares design cues with the Qantas First Lounge Sydney), furnished in soft luxury leather with a 37″ seat pitch and up to 22″ width between arms” , offering 12 business class seats in a 2-2 configuration.

The seat itself is comfortable and well suited for the three and a half hour trip from Darwin to Perth. We do wish there was more pitch between the seats as we find the 37″ seat pitch is barely adequate to allow for a light nap.

There is really no way for passengers seated in the window seat to get out without the passenger in the aisle first getting up. These planes still run the occasional West-East coast flights, which are up to 5 hours in duration, and will soon be re-introduced on the Perth to Singapore route (where they are pitted against Singapore Airlines’ regional business class which offers 60″ pitch).

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Installed is Qantas’ familiar ‘iQ’ system which uses Panasonic’s ex2 AVOD product. This is the same IFE system installed on Qantas’ current domestic A330-200, A380 and refurbished 747 aircraft. The A330 fleet that are currently being refurbished to install Qantas’ Business Suite are receiving Panasonic’s newer ex3 product.

Standard headphone and basic recline buttons are located on the inside of the center arm of the seat.

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An IFE remote is supplied but not really required since the system is touch screen already (and the screen is close enough to your seat that you can easily touch it).

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Between the two seats are USB sockets and international power sockets, even though this example has clearly seen some better days,

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Qantas 737-800 scuff plate

In contrast to Virgin Australia, Qantas seem to have decided that water and a non-alcoholic sparkling red juice are going to be their only options for drinks prior to departure. We’ve seen airlines do this to avoid paying alcohol taxes in-country but this seems like a deliberate cost-cutting measure. Having said that, we find that the drink is actually quite tasty.

Non-alcoholic wine

Non-alcoholic wine

The meal service started shortly after take off. We were impressed that Qantas hand out paper menus on domestic flights of this length. Generally we find the meals to be of a good standard for domestic business class.

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Smoked almonds were offered, accompanied by a scotch and coke.

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The starter of wagyu bresaola with horseradish aioli, artichoke, and rocket was excellent. More wagyu would have been appreciated, but the artichoke was full of flavour and the aioli complimented the wagyu perfectly.

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For our main dish we settled on the meatball sandwich on brioche, with tomato ragoût, parmesan and Italian slaw. 

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Clearly this is a ‘sandwich’ in the American sense of the word but no matter, the bun was warm, sweet and soft, whilst the meatballs (which we assume were pork), were full of flavour, complimented by the tomato ragoût. The ‘slaw’ seemed like a bit of an afterthought though and wasn’t particularly tasty.

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Qantas have really cut back when it comes to dessert. We had to wait for this to thaw considerably before it was edible.

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The seat is definitely an improvement over the previous 737-800 iteration. Well cushioned and wide enough to accommodate most passengers, the design and colour gives the cabin a modern feel.

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The seat is fitted with a combined footrest and legrest.

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Taller passengers may find it more comfortable to leave the footrest in and just use the legrest.

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Such a feature is noticeably absent from Virgin’s 737-800 business class seat.

Virgin Australia 737-800 business class cabin

Virgin Australia 737-800 business class cabin

For the key markets that Qantas’ 737-800 serves, the cabin on these newer / refurbished planes are a nose ahead of Virgin Australia’s offering. Having said that, more space (and possibly a lie-flat seat for longer segments) would certainly be appreciated. The crew on this flight was exceptionally professional and provided great service, however certainly less ‘fun’ or personable when compared to Virgin Australia. Overall, we felt Qantas’ offering simply hit the mark better than Virgin’s for this trip.

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