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.