Qantas ups the ante in premium competition

Courtesy topnews.net.nz

AUSTRALIAN flag carrier Qantas is introducing improvements to its business class product, upping the ante in premium competition even as recovery in this segment continues to be slow. But, to quote poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but, while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.”

Among the improvements is the focus on the sleep factor for overnight travellers on the international routes, such that Qantas customers will “get a better night’s sleep” in a statement that the airline issued. Indeed, business travellers in particular value nothing more than a good rest before they arrive at their next destination (if they are not working on board). To facilitate that, Qantas’s new sleep service will offer a mattress placed over the existing Skybeds, duvets instead of blankets for extra comfort, Kate Spade New York and Jack Spade amenity kits, and, perhaps most importantly, more control by the travellers over their dining experience through the Select on Q – Eat meal service.

That last product mentioned above is not exactly new, as other airlines have introduced the flexibility although it is usually in the fashion of a light meal at the same time or a slightly later time. Qantas customers however will have a wider selection of meals, which they will decide before boarding and when they would like to be served. Qantas International CEO Simon Hickey said a trial of the Select on Q – Eat meal service on the Los Angeles route was very well received by customers.

Interestingly, Singapore Airlines – Qantas` rival on the kangaroo route – had one time experimented with pre-boarding dining at its premium airport lounge so that its customers could then look forward to uninterrupted rest on board. But the seemingly good idea became fraught with side issues that only made it a costly proposition that was not as streamlined as thought to be. Customers who opted to eat pre-board might still eat on board, which meant the need to double-cater; or there might be waste or short-catering if they changed their mind, on ground or on board; and there was the issue of having to arrive earlier than expected at the airport for that meal, or the not quite a good experience of being rushed through a meal to meet the last call for boarding.

The importance of the sleep factor has also been capitalized by other airlines such as Scandinavian Airline System (SAS) which used to advertise that its flights from Asia provide uninterrupted rest from Bangkok all the way to Copenhagen, suggesting that advantage compared to other airlines that might make a stop at, say a Middle-East airport, before continuing onward to Europe.  Now with Qantas planning to shift its hub for European flights on the kangaroo route from Singapore to Dubai, following its partnership agreement with Emirates, SIA may still be able to hold its own by capitalizing on the prospect of uninterrupted sleep for Australian travellers flying via Singapore to London or Frankfurt without being shaken out of sleep in the middle of the night in Dubai. So, as Mr Hickey said in the Qantas press statement: “Our premium customers travelling in Business have told us they want greater choice and the ability to maximise their sleep. That’s why we’ve made these changes.”

No doubt about it, Qantas is returning with a vengeance in the premium competition. Mr Hickey added: “Qantas is focused on putting the customer at the centre of everything we do, making Qantas International best for global travellers. This means listening to our customers, understanding why they fly with us and providing the best service we can.” The message may not be new, but the new man at the helm has new brooms that look like they are making good sweeps.

Qantas chief Alan Joyce, at a public address to the National Press Club (Australia) on Oct 9, 2012, said Qantas` main competitors were favoured by four attributes, namely: “their geographic location which allows them to aggregate passengers from multiple sources and disperse them efficiently; government‐backed infrastructure, especially 24/7 hub airports; low or no tax regimes for airlines and their employees; and a lower cost of labour.” Mr Joyce might have a different agenda in making those allegations, which are old chestnuts, and which are likely to be refuted by some of the competitors that he did not name. What Mr Joyce failed to mention was the deservedly earned reputation of those competitors in offering a superior product best distinguished by its excellent service.

Now that Qantas has upped the ante in the premium competition, we can expect other airlines in the region to be also looking at upgrading its product – if it has not already done so. SIA for one has announced it would be developing the next generation of in-flight cabin products that include new seats and in-flight system. These will come on-line next year in a move that SIA said aims at helping it “remain at the forefront of airline product innovation.”

The race is certainly back on. Business class passengers – and, of course, the exclusive few in first class if it is still being offered – can look forward to be not only spoilt to the hilt but also spoilt for choice.

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About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

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