Qantas to take on Google?

The airline is surveying its highest-spending customers to determine the viability of the plan which appears to be an extension of its recent strategy of building dedicated meeting rooms at its major airport hubs in Australia.

A survey sent this week to the Qantas Customer Advisory Panel — made up of some of the airline’s most frequent travellers — asks whether they would make use of branded Qantas serviced offices in CBD areas and what facilities they would like to find there.

Options up for consideration in the survey include “a Virtual Online Office where you can remotely store access and download files securely” and “softphone facilities enabling VoIP calls to be made from anywhere with Internet access” Participants are also asked to rank the appeal of a basic serviced office ready for laptop connections and a fully equipped centre with working PCs.

The survey makes no commitment to actually launching such products and in a competitive market with rising fuel prices any such strategy would have to be warmly received by the panel to progress any further. The thought of Qantas selling (say) a branded version of Google Docs or its own variation on Skype is a fascinating one nonetheless and marks a new potential direction for other airlines looking to diversify their income and improve customer loyalty — especially when traditional frequent flyer loyalty schemes look like smoke and mirrors to frustrated travellers trying to book award seats.

Qantas has increasingly sought to offer business facilities in order to distinguish itself from cut-price airlines such as Virgin Blue and its own Jetstar subsidiary. Business travellers are generally considered to be more profitable by airlines owing to their willingness to spend more money and their tendency to book short-notice fares at higher prices.

Earlier this year Qantas launched meeting rooms at Sydney and Melbourne airport complete with broadband and wireless Internet access which can be rented by customers who want to organise meetings whilst in transit. (While the existing Qantas Club lounges currently being remodelled also offered meeting rooms access was generally restricted to people actually flying with the airline that day.)

Such convenience doesn’t come cheap: the cheapest meeting room costs $199 for two hours. High prices are also expected when Qantas rolls out in-air mobile data services later this year.