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Tesla
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Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Wed Apr 05, 2017 6:20 pm

Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Background: While in Australia, I didn't have a chance to explore many unique Australian airlines or aircraft, but I wanted to experience at least a few. For my first domestic flight, I was able to secure a ticket on Qantas using AAdvantage miles before the March, 2016 devaluation. AAdvantage was charging fewer miles for a domestic-Australia Qantas flight in Business Class than for a domestic-US AA flight in Economy, making for a really great value and an easy decision to book the flight. My itinerary was CBR-SYD-BNE, a plan which would get me on the Qantas B717 connecting to the Qantas B738. The B717 is a bit of a rare bird, so it was a priority to fit it in to my trip. The B738, on the other hand, isn't very unique, but I thought it would be worthwhile to compare the Qantas B738 with the Virgin Australia B738...which brings me to my second domestic flight. I found a good fare in Business Class on the Virgin Australia B738 from OOL-MEL. After trying Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America, I had become a fan of each, so I was very interested in trying Virgin Australia on this trip. My domestic-Australia flights were set: The Qantas B717, and the Australian B738 comparison of Qantas vs. Virgin Australia.

Unfortunately booking a flight 11 months in advance (something necessary in this case to take advantage of the old, low AA mileage rates as well as the Qantas availability) leaves the door open to possible itinerary changes, and about a month before my flights I was notified of just such a change. My B717 flight time changed enough to result in an illegal connection. My connecting flight was changed into a nonstop CBR-BNE on a Qantas B738. I was disappointed to lose the B717, but seeing as how the change only occurred one month in advance, and I was on a mileage ticket from a partner airline, there wasn't much I could do about it. At least I would still be able to compare the two Australian operators of the B738.

Please enjoy my domestic-Australia Business Class comparison of the Qantas and Virgin Australia B737-800s, and I look forward to your comments.

CBR-BNE
Qantas QF1310
Departure: 17:45 (actual 17:48)
Arrival: 18:25 (actual 18:14)
Actual Block Time: 1h26
Actual Flight Time: 1h18
Seat: 3F Business Class
Boeing 737-800

My journey to Brisbane began on the 15:36 airport shuttle from the city. I arrived to CBR to find a very beautiful airport. There were plenty of self-serve kiosks and self-serve bag tag and bag drop stations, but I approached an agent for an in-person check-in. I was issued a cardstock boarding pass. There was no one else checking in at all. There was also no one at security, and I was airside by 16:00. Boarding was set for 17:25 and departure 17:45. I headed to the lounge, one of the largest and nicest I've ever been in. Hot fresh food was on offer, and there was a good selection of beers with full bar service. There were also computer stations and tons of seating of all sorts. And of course what is a lounge without great views of the runways and gates.

Shortly VH-NXI arrived, that's the B717 I was supposed to be flying on to SYD in order to connect onto the B738. What a plane, so close to flying on it but so far!

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I was looking forward to the flight that I did have today, the Qantas B738, and trying out the Qantas domestic service. They had set the bar pretty high with their international B747 flight and now the check-in experience and domestic lounge. I headed to the gate at 17:15. I found a very empty gate area with VH-VXO waiting outside. This Boeing 737-800 was built in 2002 and has been flying for Qantas her whole life.

At the gate in CBR:

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Two individuals in wheelchairs pre-boarded, and then boarding began at 17:33 with Business Class. The flight attendant at the door was greeting everyone and directing to your seats. I found new leather seats which looked very nice. Qantas B738s have three rows of 2-2 Business Class with no bulkhead behind. At booking I found all the seats in the first two rows blocked for elite frequent flyers, leaving only 3ACDF for assignment. On my previous Qantas flight on the B747, I had found 20/58 seats blocked from assignment, and now on the B738, they'd blocked 8/12. (For the B717 that I missed out on, they'd also blocked 8/12.) That seems just a bit excessive to me.

Seats 3DF:

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Headphones were provided at each seat. I found good legroom and a nice new seat, comfortable, like F in the States. There was an adjustable head rest. And a nicely contoured seat back for support. And a tablet display strap on seat back. And a leg rest. And foot rest. And adjustable lumbar. I stand corrected; I guess these seats, while similar in appearance to US F, are in fact better. This aircraft also had overhead screens.

Legroom shot:

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Safety card:

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Overhead panel:

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Seat controls:

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The cabin service manager welcome announcement advised a 1h40 scheduled flight time. A pre-departure beverage was offered, either water or apple-guava juice. I selected the juice, and it was quite good, a unique juice offering.

Pre-departure juice:

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Cabin overview:

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Beverage glasses were quickly collected, and the door was closed at 17:44. Today's load in J was 10/12, and I had no seat mate. Push back was at 17:48. The safety video played on the overhead screens, but with the flight attendants also performing it manually. We had a short taxi to takeoff at 17:54. It was a rolling start as we turned onto the runway. It had very good push back into the seat for a B737. The roll was long, but also high speed.

Climbing out of Canberra:

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The seat belt sign was turned off promptly, and overhead screen entertainment started. It appeared to be an Australian cooking show. Inflight service began shortly. I was honestly not sure what to expect regarding Australian domestic inflight service. It turned out to be a full meal service like domestic F in the States! That is, domestic F in the States where the flight distance is more than 900mi. My flight today wasn't quite 600mi, so if this flight was in the States, there would be no meal service included, even in F. Imagine my surprise, then, when not only is there a meal service, but it comes with a choice of multiple entrees! Either pasta salad, or the hot choice of lemon chicken with rice and vegetables. I went for the chicken which the flight attendant prepared with fresh lemon sauce to order, plus fresh cracked pepper. It smelled great, and tasted great, too. It also included a slice of sourdough bread, a dessert, and a small piece of chocolate to top it all off. And with the preparation of the entree to your order, it was really incredible inflight service. Apparently anywhere you go outside the US the airlines can figure out how to serve quality hot meals on short flights. I really wasn't expecting that!

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This meal was really nice. Beers on offer were James Squire 150 Lashes Pale Ale, Hahn Premium Light, and James Hoag Premium Lager, which I had tried on my previous international Qantas flight into Australia on the B747. I took the James Squire, A clean-finishing Australian-style cloudy pale ale for cracking refreshment.

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The IFE cooking show had ended by now, so I started listening to the inflight audio on the provided headset. It wasn't noise cancelling, but since when does an airline provide complimentary headsets on short flights? Qantas even provided them complimentary to economy passengers! Soon it was already time for the first officer's announcement: It was 17:48 (1h time difference to Brisbane) and we were starting descent, should be on the ground at 18:15. I took a quick restroom break before the seat belt sign was switched back on. Next up was the cabin prep announcement, and we had already landed by 18:12. We were at the gate at 18:14.

This was really a great flight. I was very satisfied with the unexpected hot meal service. The food and service were both excellent. Drink refills, coffee and tea were continually offered. I would have to say that Qantas continued to impress and live up to the high standard that I'd already come to expect after the international B747 fight, the domestic lounge and now the domestic B738 fight. A comfortable seat, incredible inflight service, and a meal, and all on a flight less than 1.5h long. I don't think you can beat that.

My domestic-Australia B738 comparison continues in the next post, with my OOL-MEL flight on Virgin Australia.
 
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Tesla
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Joined: Mon Dec 02, 2013 11:53 pm

Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Wed Apr 05, 2017 6:20 pm

After spending some time in Brisbane, I rented a car to drive to the Gold Coast. I spent a couple days at a beach resort in Surfers Paradise before flying out of Coolangatta Gold Coast Airport.

My BNE-to-OOL rental car was the Nissan QASHQAI. At the time of my trip, we didn't have this car in the United States, and I thought it had such a ridiculous name that I just had to try it. I believe that we are now getting this car in the US, but it is to be called the Rogue Sport. To me that's quite a downgrade as far as the name is concerned.

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OOL-MEL
Virgin Australia VA746
Departure: 16:55 (actual 16:53)
Arrival: 20:15 (actual 20:00)
Actual Block Time: 2h7
Actual Flight Time: 1h54
Seat: 2A Business Class
Boeing 737-800

The Hertz car rental return was located just outside the terminal. I headed inside to find no one checking in. There were lots of kiosks and bag drop stations, but down at the end I found a staffed priority line. I was issued a cardstock boarding pass. There was only a minimal security line. I was quickly through, and I went to the lounge. I was greeted by very nice agents at the entrance, who offered me a personal tour of the lounge since it was my first visit. It was a very nice small lounge with views of the tarmac, and the tour was a nice touch. I was looking forward to my third Virgin carrier, and to continuing my comparison of domestic-Australia Business Class services on the B738.

I was pretty early to the airport today, so I was in the lounge for about 2h. Boarding was set for 16:25 and departure for 16:55. My aircraft, VH-VUK, arrived to the gate at 16:10. VH-VUK is a Boeing 737-800 built in 2007.

My aircraft, VH-VUK, arriving to OOL as VH-YFC looks on, about to depart to SYD:

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My aircraft arrived on-stand and was set up with a ramp to the front door, and stairs to the back door. At this airport you simply walk outside and up into the plane.

On-stand in OOL:

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Two individuals pre-boarded, and then boarding began on time with Business Class, Platinum and Gold. I was third to board up the ramp, but first in Business Class.

Boarding:

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I was welcomed on board to the expected Virgin atmosphere with dark seats and purple bulkheads behind Business Class. The cabin was pretty beat up though. I settled into 2A, the last seat in the cabin. Virgin's B738s have only two rows of 2-2 Business Class, and unlike Qantas, they did not block any seats for advance reservation.

Virgin Australia B738 Business Class cabin:

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Seats 2AC:

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I found Virgin Australia to offer very good legroom, I'd say a little more than Qantas and above the average for domestic F in the States. But overall it seemed to be a much older cabin on this particular plane.

Legroom shot:

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Safety card:

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Overhead panel:

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Pre-departure orange juice or water was offered, and I took a refreshing orange juice. The flight service director's welcome messaged introduced the cabin crew and then the captain's message advised a 1h58 flight time. The load in J was 8/8, and the door was closed at 16:50.

Pre-departure juice:

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Cabin overview:

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Push back was early at 16:53. I noticed this plane had no traditional IFE on board, neither overhead screens nor individual screens. Announcements advised WiFi entertainment, though, but I'm not traditionally a fan of that option, so I didn't plan to personally bother with that. The manual safety demo began to recorded narration. Our taxi was straight to Runway 14 for takeoff at 17:01. I enjoyed another above-average takeoff for a B737. Maybe B737 takeoffs are more exciting in the southern hemisphere?

Climbing out of Coolangatta:

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At 10,000 feet the seat belt signs were turned off, and I immediately reclined as the curtains were shut to the galley. And I stand corrected regarding the IFE. Samsung tablets and headsets were to be given out to Business Class! Half of the passengers accepted one, including me. It turned out that the tablets accessed the WiFi entertainment. If you're going to offer WiFi entertainment, that's exactly the way to do it: Offer it on your own device, but have a tablet available to access it too, and complimentary in Business Class, you can't get better than that. I wouldn't be opposed to WiFi entertainment if more airlines offered a complimentary tablet.

My surprise inflight tablet:

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With only a short flight ahead of me, I quickly selected a film: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp. The flight attendant arrived to take meal orders. There was only one option available, but I happily accepted it seeing as how it was soup. I have found I am always a fan of airplane soup. I also ordered a beer. Beers on offer were Fat Yak Pale Ale, Crown Lager, or Peroni. A Fat Yak and a still water for me. Fat Yak - it's a big, hairy beer, but still approachable, like a yak.

The meal was quickly served. I found the soup to be pretty good, and way better than anything you'd get on an equivalent flight in the States. Overall, while the Qantas meal was better even though it was on a shorter flight, this meal still hit the spot, and I appreciated the good inflight service, too.

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After the meal I decided Charlie and the Chocolate Factory wasn't for me. There was not much of interest on the tablet, similar to other flights on this trip. Maybe it was a weak time of year for IFE movie selection. I tried to listen to music on the tablet, but it kept crashing, so I decided to listen to music on my own device. With only 40 minutes left inflight, I didn't have enough time to watch anything.

A second round of drinks was offered. I relaxed reclined, listening to music the rest of the flight. We were soon beginning decent. Landing was at 18:55, and we were at the gate at 19:00 (make that 20:00 Melbourne time).

We've arrived to Melbourne:

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I enjoyed this flight, but if I'm honest, while it was a good flight, it was just a standard flight...It did not really live up to the cachet of Virgin Atlantic or Virgin America, which really offer a special experience. But for a "standard" flight experience, it was a good one, with a hot meal, complimentary tablet IFE, and good onboard service.

And so the outcome of this B738 comparison? I think that Qantas and Virgin Australia both offer compelling domestic Business Class service. Qantas easily won on the food front, with an incredible meal on a sub-600mi flight. I liked the complimentary tablet on Virgin, though. And both airlines had comfortable seats. Based on my experiences, I don't think you can go wrong by choosing either airline for a B738 Business Class flight in Australia.
 
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allrite
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Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Thu Apr 06, 2017 12:11 pm

Great report! I love Canberra Airport after the refurbishment. Pity that you missed the 717 as they are a great little aircraft, one of the few classics left in mainstream service in Australia.

Qantas provides iPads on their domestic A330 and some 717 flights and streaming on these and some 738s. I guess they are waiting to update the 737s with onboard WiFi internet before doing anything else. Just announced today that the trials have been successful. Virgin are planning the same.
I like artificial banana essence!
 
Kent350787
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Joined: Wed May 28, 2008 12:06 am

Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Fri Apr 07, 2017 4:47 am

My next flights, are also QF738 and VA 738 - but in Y :(

Thanks for the report, as its always intersting to see the persective of those from outside your home country.

As for the Qashquai, this British built Nissan was launched as the Dualis in Australia. They only adopted the European name with the model change.
 
jrfspa320
Posts: 391
Joined: Fri Sep 16, 2005 12:18 am

Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Sat Apr 08, 2017 6:55 am

Thanks for the trip report, I do think we are lucky in Australia to have such great airlines, although the price, especially premium classes does reflect this!
 
ExLibris76
Posts: 24
Joined: Fri Jul 27, 2012 8:42 am

Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Sat Apr 08, 2017 8:43 pm

jrfspa320 wrote:
Thanks for the trip report, I do think we are lucky in Australia to have such great airlines, although the price, especially premium classes does reflect this!


jrfspa320,

Very well said! Absolutely spot on when you say we're lucky to have such terrific airlines in Australia. I am not a blind advocate for either QF or VA. I happily fly both domestically in economy and business class. It was after experiencing domestic travel on another continental-sized market (albeit a much bigger one in terms of volume) in the US, on every major legacy carrier (as well as upstarts like JetBlue and Virgin America), that I concluded we have precious little to complain about in Australia. Since then, I have not taken VA and QF as well as airport infrastructure for granted.
Courtesy costs you nothing.
 
11725Flyer
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Joined: Mon May 30, 2016 4:51 pm

Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Sat Apr 08, 2017 9:06 pm

Nicely done. I especially liked the selection of beers you had. Thanks for all the great pictures!
 
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VapourTrails
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Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Fri Apr 21, 2017 6:13 am

Hi Tesla

I enjoy reading your reports on here.

Tesla wrote:
AAdvantage was charging fewer miles for a domestic-Australia Qantas flight in Business Class than for a domestic-US AA flight in Economy, making for a really great value and an easy decision to book the flight.


:thumbsup: :thumbsup: :thumbsup:

Tesla wrote:
The B717 is a bit of a rare bird, so it was a priority to fit it in to my trip.


Disappointing that you didn't get the flight. :shakehead:

I have done that flight on the 717, and in J. I am hoping to do the same flight in J on the 738 this year, outbound or return.


Tesla wrote:
I arrived to CBR to find a very beautiful airport.


It is my local. :profile: The new airport (on the site of the old terminal) is a very positive experience and I enjoy every visit even more nowadays. :airplane:

Tesla wrote:
There were plenty of self-serve kiosks and self-serve bag tag and bag drop stations, but I approached an agent for an in-person check-in. I was issued a cardstock boarding pass. There was no one else checking in at all. There was also no one at security, and I was airside by 16:00.


Typical for the time of day, but it is still appears a relatively quiet airport, even at peak times. I think the modern design and the self-check in processes have really helped that along a lot IMHO. There are more people flying now, but last decade, pre the new terminal, the queues, particularly at peak travel times were just ridiculous. Now, any time of year is just like another day at check-in, at least that is always my experiences there.

Tesla wrote:
I headed to the lounge, one of the largest and nicest I've ever been in. Hot fresh food was on offer, and there was a good selection of beers with full bar service. There were also computer stations and tons of seating of all sorts. And of course what is a lounge without great views of the runways and gates.


You were in the Qantas Club Lounge, not the Business Class Lounge? The former is the one with the view. I've only been in the latter one so far, which doesn't have the airside view, that is the Business one.

Tesla wrote:
Inflight service began shortly. I was honestly not sure what to expect regarding Australian domestic inflight service. It turned out to be a full meal service like domestic F in the States!


After being on social media and this site, as someone who experiences what you experience in this report as the norm for Australia, I would now know what to expect in contrast, for travel in the States. I think it is important not to have that expectation as a traveller, as you have discussed here, they are quite different!

I hope the overall Australian domestic standard continues, particularly with regard to the catering for the foreseeable future. IIRC I remember when you used to get a hot breakfast in Y between CBR and MEL, now it is just a small muffin, and a hot drink if you are fortunate they are serving them on the particular day. I still prefer to expect catering in the initial fare though, without any post-fare costs involved.


Tesla wrote:
A comfortable seat, incredible inflight service, and a meal, and all on a flight less than 1.5h long. I don't think you can beat that.


Thanks for sharing. Cheers. = :profile:
"The best office in the world."
 
767747
Posts: 2144
Joined: Wed Jan 26, 2005 10:08 am

Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Thu Apr 27, 2017 3:19 am

Great report and photos! It looks like you had two good flights with some pretty impressive food for short flights!

Thanks for sharing

Matthew (767747)
I love to fly!
 
cricket
Posts: 2088
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Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Sat May 13, 2017 7:43 pm

I travelled QF domestic Economy back in February and the flights - one on a 332 and one on a 717 (score!) offered iPad Mini's to all passengers with the full QF catalogue - which was an excellent choice IMO. Agree with you Australian airlines, or Qantas at least have excellent service standards.
A300B2/B4/6R, A313, A319/320/321, A333, A343, A388, 737-2/3/4/7/8/9, 747-3/4, 772/2E/2L/3, E170/190, F70, CR2/7, 146-3,
 
rttlnsnk
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Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Sat May 20, 2017 2:54 pm

The seat pitch looks kind of tight for a J product comapred to the 738 that is used around my place (Malaysia) by Malaysia and Malindo. The service sure does look nice though.
 
325i
Posts: 15
Joined: Thu Mar 30, 2017 2:01 am

Re: Australian B737-800s: Qantas & Virgin Australia J

Sat May 20, 2017 11:25 pm

An excellent report. 3 years ago I had the pleasure of flying Sydney/Broome/Darwin/Cairns/Sydney. Outgoing and incoming were on B738's with internal connections with Airnorth E170 and B717. With the exception of the E170 leg all were in J class. QF really take care of the front end passengers, not only service but more importantly with a good attitude.A work ethic that is so important to look after the travelling public.Well done QF.

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