For the budget conscious business traveller, flying economy is an important way of saving money. In Australia, often that means the choice lies between Virgin and Jetstar.
When you’re self employed, you tend to watch your pennies and choose based on what you get for your money rather than just being focused on the perks when somebody else is paying.
Generally freelancers tend to be flying at the back of plane where it’s not so much worrying about whether Krug or Bolly to entitled executives but whether you’ll get slapped a $70 surcharge for your bag.
In Australia, affordable business flying tends to be between Virgin and Jetstar with Qantas being the best example of an Australian business exploiting its domestic market position while running down international operations.
Tiger doesn’t qualify as an airline suitable for anyone who needs to be somewhere at a given time so it isn’t relevant to business travellers.
Much of the difference between Jetstar and Virgin are the underlying business models.
Virgin Australia was set up as a low cost carrier to compete against Ansett and Qantas but shortly after Virgin started operations, Ansett went bust and the startup airline found itself the nation’s number two airline.
Under CEO John Borghetti, any pretense of Virgin being a low cost carrier has been dropped and now the service competes on service against Qantas.
Jetstar on the other hand remains true to its roots as Qantas’ low cost operation and it plays firmly from the Ryanair book of screwing money out passengers at every opportunity.
While Virgin isn’t shy at trying to upsell you, booking a ticket though Jetstar involves twenty minutes of declining various options and additions. By the time you finish booking a Jetstar ticket, you’ll often find the price has gone up in the meantime and you have to start again.
Another irritation with Jetstar is its codeshare arrangement with Qantas which means the airline inherits its parent’s screwy seat allocation systems which block out availability based on a passenger’s frequent flyer number.
You will obey
A big difference between Jetstar and Virgin is the customer service, Virgin’s cabin crew tend to be helpful and cheerful while Jetstar’s seem to be on a KPI which encourages frowning and stern warnings.
Jetstar’s attitude to mobile phones is instructive. Unlike Qantas and Virgin who allow passengers to use phones until the cabin doors are closed, Jetstar order customers to shut down before boarding. This is a nuisance if you’re running your own business.
Another nuisance is the airline’s attitude towards laptops where Jetstar’s crew usually insist passengers have to shut down when the plane starts descending rather than when the pilot turns the Fasten Seatbelts sign on Qantas and Virgin.
This sounds trivial but just this alone should be a deal breaker for many small business travellers.
On a one hour Brisbane – Sydney or Sydney – Melbourne flight, this effectively gives a time poor business traveller twenty minutes work time from 90 minutes on the plane.
The Seventh Circle of Hell
While we’re on the topic of Jetstar’s Melbourne operations, a special mention should be given to their poorly signposted gates at the airport.
Situated at the most remote part of the terminal building – almost as remote as Tiger’s abysmal tin shed – Jetstar’s gates are disorganised mess that make boarding difficult. The airline advises getting to the gate half an hour before the flight and at Melbourne that is good advice.
For those arriving in Melbourne, getting off the plane involves fighting your way through queues, lost children, Bedouins building campfires and peasants clutching chickens. If you’re really unlucky you may find yourself accidentally trying to board JQ5749 to Wagga Wagga.
What’s good about Jetstar
Despite airline’s drawbacks Jetstar has some things going for it, the main one is the airline’s modern fleet compared to Qantas or Virgin. Jetstar’s A321s have better leg room than the 737s flown by the other carriers – Qantas’ 767s are comfortable like your grandad’s armchair and almost as old.
If you’re flying longer distances such as Melbourne – Cairns or Perth – Sydney, particularly the ‘red eye’ flights heading east from Western Australia, then Jetstar is the more comfortable choice for economy fliers.
Then there’s cost – usually Jetstar is cheaper than Virgin for most flights and at busy times the cost savings may be worth the irritations – but check fares from all three airlines before booking as sometimes the Airline Gods may decide Qantas has the cheapest fares for the time you want to fly.
As a low cost carrier, Jetstar is the reality of flying’s present and a vision of travel’s future. If you have visions of glamour when catching a flight, then shell out for a business class fare.