Jane Lindhe Reporter

Jane is a retail and small business writer with a special interest in emerging companies and entrepreneurs. She covered the financial services industry before moving into general business journalism and has written for The Age and The Australian Financial Review.

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The sky’s the limit for business travel

Published 22 November 2012 05:05, Updated 22 November 2012 08:23

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The sky’s the limit for business travel

Domestic travellers are not the only winners in the continual consolidation and increased competition within the local aviation industry. Business and first-class prices have also been reduced as more services flood the market.

While airlines such as Virgin Australia and Qantas have captured a new market with their “premium economy” offering for price-conscious business travellers, higher-end airlines are scaling-up for quality-conscious customers.

Emirates’ fleet of A380s – complete with first class “cabins”, reclining beds (with real pillows and doonas), a fully serviced bar and lounge and hot showers – are among the most luxurious commercial aircraft in the world. And contrary to some early doubters, it’s a product offering Australians are appreciating.

In October the airline, which owns 25 A380s globally and has another 65 on order, began flying direct between Melbourne, Auckland and Dubai and in November it expanded its service to fly directly between Adelaide and Dubai.

“It’s not all about price, it is also about value. Competition, however, does have an impact on price,” Emirates’ regional manager for Victoria and Tasmania, Dean Cleaver, says. “It is a very competitive market. Our objective is to ensure good value for money at a superior quality.”

Investing in an Emirates A380 business or first-class ticket has its perks (even if it costs about $10,000 to get from Melbourne to London).

Undeniably, travelling in such style allows passengers to be productive, giving them ample leg room, a private mini-bar and a side table with storage, an extensive a la carte menu and wine list and wi-fi, access to more than 1000 television channels, mobile phone coverage and a fully serviced bar and lounge (and that’s just business class).

Business class passengers travelling with Qantas will benefit from the airline’s proposed partnership with Emirates in April (pending the competition regulator’s approval). The flying kangaroo is flagged to match Emirates’ door-to-door chauffeur service for business and first-class passengers, with 12-hour-plus long haul flights.

Following the recent $250 million upgrade of nine of its 747 fleet to standard A380 interiors, Qantas will also add new mattresses and other mod-cons to its business class cabins, bringing it up to the standard Virgin Australia business offering.

The Qantas food menu will also be updated through its new “Select on Q - Eat” marketing campaign, allowing passengers to pick the meals they want from a broader menu and choose when they want to be served.

Investing in a first- or business class ticket, however, does not prevent premium airlines from running into the occasional inflight problem.

Earlier this month passengers on board an Emirates A380 flight from Sydney to Dubai reported hearing a bang and seeing a bright orange light near the aircraft’s wing less than an hour after takeoff.

Emirates, which was forced to turn the flight around and return to Sydney, later said the incident was caused by an engine fault. Similarly, Virgin Australia was forced to turn around an aircraft leaving Sydney after the pilot reported an odour coming from the cockpit.

Despite the hype at Emirates and Qantas, Singapore Airlines rates at the top of the list when it comes to customer satisfaction, data research company, Roy Morgan says. The airline overtook Air New Zealand for the top spot in the 12 months to August 2012, with Air New Zealand second, then Garuda and Emirates.

Virgin Australia has undergone upgrades, with many of its aircraft sporting new Hans Hulsbosch fabric and plush leather seats. It has introduced business class on its Embraer 190 jets, with all 18 of them expected to be refurbished by the end of March next year. The airline has announced a partnership with Singapore Airlines to serve its South Australian customers travelling to Europe and Britain.

All of this competition has resulted in a a softening of business class and first-class flight prices. Airfares this year have dropped by an average of about 20 per cent and airlines and travel agents are continuing to offer more package deals – such as free stopovers or hotel vouchers – as sweeteners. Business class flights from Sydney to London in the off-peak season range in price from $6000 to $10,000.

Disclaimer: Jane Lindhe was the guest of Emirates on its inaugural A380 flight from Melbourne to Auckland in early October.

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