Virgin Australia Vs. Qantas: How Do The Carriers Compare?

Qantas is Australia’s biggest airline and Virgin Australia takes second place. But is biggest always the best? In the battle for best airline status, does Virgin Australia outplay its larger rival? We look at the two airlines across several comparison points.

Qantas and Virgin Australia: how do they compare? Photo: Getty Images

Who has the best network?

Qantas wins hands down. The airline has an international network. Well, not much of an international network these days, but when long-haul flying normalizes, Qantas will once again link Australia to most corners of the world. Virgin Australia currently flies to Fiji and has aspirations to add New Zealand and Indonesia to the list.

Qantas also wins on the domestic front. The two airlines have a relatively similar footprint across key domestic routes, but Qantas usually has an edge with better frequencies. Qantas, via its subsidiary QantasLink, has a stronger regional network that helps beef up its broader domestic network.

But Virgin Australia gets points for having a red hot go. It has added a bit of capacity and new routes to its network in the latter half of 2021. In the process, it put some pressure on Qantas.

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Who has the best planes?

Qantas has the edge here too. Not so much on the domestic networks where both airlines roll out the stock standard Boeing 737-800. But Qantas has widebody aircraft, including A380s, A330s, and Boeing 787s, for use internationally.

As a bonus, Qantas sometimes deploys A330s and the Dreamliners on some domestic sectors. Both planes offer a far better flying experience than the Boeing 737. Having ditched its widebody fleet in 2020, Virgin Australia cannot compete with the various Qantas aircraft options.

Both airlines rely on Boeing 737-800 aircraft but Qantas also has other aircraft types in its fleet. Photo: Getty Images

Who has the best inflight product?

Again, it’s tough for Virgin Australia to compete with the Qantas widebody inflight product, especially in the premium cabin stakes. But if you compare the shared Boeing 737 aircraft type, it’s a far more level playing field.

It’s entirely subjective, but being promiscuous with his choice of airline, this writer flies both and thinks Qantas offers a slightly better Boeing 737 economy class product. In contrast, Virgin Australia provides a marginally better business class product.

Qantas offers a better food and beverage product in economy class while Virgin Australia has the nosh edge up the front of the plane.

It’s been years since this writer had a lousy flight attendant on either airline. On an average day, the flight attendants on both airlines are very good. On a good day, they knock it out of the park.

Virgin Australia & Qantas (pictured) flight attendants are consistently the best PR going for their respective airlines. Photo: Qantas

Best on the ground experience?

Qantas has far more lounges (although the standard of the lounges does vary) and generally decent terminals, so the airline kicks a goal here.

But Qantas has stripped frontline staff from airports, leaving passengers on their own when a problem arises. Qantas wants passengers to use its app. However, the Qantas app gets a big fail beyond performing the most basic tasks.

Worse still, Qantas will tell passengers to call the call center for help. Have you used the Qantas call center lately? The current Qantas call center is a joke and suggestive of an organization that doesn’t care about its customers. CEO Alan Joyce should hang his head in shame that such a substandard piece of infrastructure passes muster at his airline.

Virgin Australia’s IT is no great shakes either. Still, the airline maintains some staffed counters at airports, and what do you know… the Virgin Australia call center answers the phone and usually resolves the issue. Radical, I know, but Qantas should try doing that now and then.


Qantas is the bigger airline with better planes that fly to more places. It has clear market dominance – no issue with Qantas for that. However, when you rest on your market dominance laurels, cut costs by slashing customer-facing staff numbers, and think rubbish like the current state of the call center is okay, then Qantas trails badly.

People will judge airlines by their own criteria and personal preferences. Qantas isn’t a bad airline, just sometimes very lazy. Like a kid brother, Virgin Australia is smaller and usually has to try harder. That approach often sees it punching above its weight.