Four Airlines In One Day

4Airlines Australia has four major airlines competing on interstate routes, with offerings from bare-bones budget to full service. But price aside, how do Jetstar, Qantas, Tiger and Virgin Blue really measure up? To find out, this Wednesday I'm going to fly on all four of them in a course of a single day.

Photo by sukianto

Why? At Lifehacker, I write regularly about flying and related matters, and I spend more time on planes than just about anyone I know. However, my flying experience is heavily biased towards Qantas, where I've accumulated a healthy number of points and perks. I've not flown Jetstar or Virgin Blue in more than a year, and I've never flown on Tiger. For the sake of more informed journalism, I figure I should sample them all, and doing all four in a day makes for a more interesting comparison.

So this Wednesday I'll be flying Jetstar from Sydney to Melbourne (taking advantage of its recent addition of a direct Mascot/Tullamarine service); Virgin Blue from Melbourne to Adelaide; Tiger from Adelaide to Hobart; and Qantas from Hobart back to Sydney (via Melbourne). There's no real logic to the routing, other than coming up with something that worked on a date I had available (which in practice meant working around Tiger's schedule more than anything else).

On each flight, I'll check out the leg room (an easy test when you're six feet tall) and the ability to use a laptop in your seat. I'll sample the food (and pay for it with everyone except Qantas), and any other onboard perks like Virgin Blue's live Foxtel service. In Melbourne, I'll test out the Virgin Blue Lounge, while I'll do the same for Qantas in Hobart.

Of course, there are limits to how much you can find out in a single day of travel. In particular, I won't be looking at how checked baggage works. That's largely a practical matter — I couldn't assemble an itinerary where I was comfortable with the gaps and in any case, if a bag did go missing, I'd have no easy way of receiving it in my transit cities.

I've been a longstanding advocate for travelling with minimal luggage, and on this occasion I won't have much more than PC, power, 3G dongle, BlackBerry, and deodorant and a change of underwear in case the flying all goes wrong and I get stuck in Hobart — don't laugh, that sort of thing has happened before. My schedule has fairly healthy gaps to allow for the recommended minimum check-in times, but if any one flight gets seriously delayed, the whole thing will collapse. (That's another reason for Qantas coming last in the day — given my frequent flyer status, they'll probably be the nicest to me if I need urgent rescheduling.)

Anyway, come this Wednesday we'll see how it goes, with regular updates here on Lifehacker and occasional whining via Twitter (I'll be using #4airlines as a tag). If there's any aspect in particular you think I should look into, let me know in the comments.

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman is spending more than usual on carbon offsets this month. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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Comments

    Good luck with flights not getting delayed. I'm hedging my bet that you won't be able to do all four legs in one day. My pessimism is based on experience :P

    Oh, Tiger doesn't have online checkin which will complicate the trip too.

    Can you compare online check-in for all four?

      No -- partly because (as Francis mentions below) Tiger doesn't offer it, partly because due to Project Cleanup I don't have a printer, and partly because I did want to get a feel for what the airport experience was like in each case. With that said, I expect I'll mostly be using kiosks rather than talking to staff.

    Great idea! Can't wait to see how it goes.

    From my experience last week, Jetstar doesnt have online check-in either.

    The Qantas Lounge in Melbourne is huge, but I prefer the Virgin one, as it isnt as crowded.

    Beware of which type of aircraft you are on. I recently got on a Virgin flight expecting the Foxtel service like my previous experience with them to find no on-board entertainment at all. The plus side was that there were only two seats in each row and a lot more legroom!

    Which such short trips you probably won't get any food. But good luck, I think the Tiger leg will be the deal breaker!

    Good luck, I can't wait to see your reviews and I'm spreading the word for you!

    Hmmm I think you'll probably find that you will get a rebranded / co-share Jetstar flight from Hobart to Sydney as your "Qantas" flight. I've spent a fair amount of time in the air over Tassie in the last 18 months and I've rarely seen an actual Quantas jet (although it has happened, so you might get lucky).

    All the best.

      Fortunately for the sake of the experiment, both legs (Hobart-Melbourne and Melbourne-Sydney) are Qantas flights. If I miss the connection all the remaining flights out of Hobart to Melbourne are Jetstar though!

      Valkyrie you couldn't be more misinformed! QANTAS and Jetstar do not "co-share" (sic) flights as such, and do not pick and choose what flights they service. If you book a "QUANTAS" (sic) flight with a QF flight number operated by QF, you'll fly QF. This is the same deal with Jetstar.
      QANTAS doesn't say "let's use a Jetstar aircraft today", that's totally incorrect.

    You should check out AirNZ, after being a Qantas FF for 5 years, travelling 2-3 times a week, I got sick of the delays and issues they had with their aircraft. AirNZ provides the best service to NZ; if in Aus, Virgin is by far the best.

    On Jetstar I can't get my feet under the chair infront as my knees are touching the seat.
    Virgin Blue's backrest's are almost leaning forward and very hard to sleep in. Virgin Blue also has the control boxes for the monitors underneath the seats, so some unlucky people lose foot space to these boxes.

    I didn't think that Qantas serviced Tasmania at all anymore. Good luck with the experiment.

    I would be interested to know how staff from each airline compare on the snobby scale...

    I'll be looking out for that one, Angus.

    Flew Virgin Perth-Sydney a couple of weeks ago and had a guitar case broken as well as 4 out of 5 awards trophies. All trophies were wrapped in bubble wrap...

    Will you be taking your own wheelchair?

    I've heard reports of people getting in trouble by airport security because of carrying "excessive electronic equipment". Could you please test this?

    Also make sure your carry on is within the weight guidelines for all companies, otherwise they will charge you

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