There’s a lot to like about the reinvented Virgin Australia, including their superbly priced business class fares and very solid business class cabin product. But does the reality live up to the hype? This review road tests the current Boeing 737-800 Virgin Australia business class offering on a recent mid-morning flight from Adelaide to Sydney.
A pain-free Adelaide Airport experience gets the flight off to a smooth start
It takes around one hour and 40 minutes to cover the 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) between Adelaide and Sydney. Factor in pushback, taxis, padding for delays, and scheduled travel time becomes one hour and 55 minutes. VA413 is scheduled to depart ADL at 09:35 and arrive in Sydney at midday. The original booking on another flight was canceled, and the reviewer was shunted to this flight – but that’s standard Virgin Australia operating procedure these days.
Adelaide’s modern and moderately busy terminal is always a pleasure to pass through. Virgin Australia offers business class passengers priority check-in and lounge access. The check-in process was painless and quick with self-serve and staffed check-in options available. From there it was a hustle through security and off to the airside lounge for a caffeine hit. Virgin Australia business class passengers automatically receive lounge access where available. Luckily, there is a lounge in Adelaide.
Virgin Australia business class passengers can use their Adelaide lounge (pictured) before departure. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying
A very shipshape Virgin Australia business class cabin
Virgin Australia almost exclusively flies Boeing 737-800 aircraft that allow for a consistent seat product across their fleet. The business class cabin features eight seats across two rows in a 2-2 layout. The 19.5″ wide leather seats hit the spot for a short-haul hop east. The seats recline 5.1″ and pitch is a comfortable 37″. Some people like the first row or aisle seats. This reviewer prefers the privacy of a second-row window seat. Seats are selected during the initial booking process and, subject to availability, can be changed up to check-in time.
Boarding commenced on time and Virgin Australia does priority boarding well. The flight attendant at the aircraft door checks boarding passes and welcomes me back. On this flight the business class cabin is full, and the main cabin is also near capacity. Virgin Australia has been trimming its schedules, meaning those flights that do operate are now consistently carrying good passenger loads.
Before the front door closed, the cabin manager looking after the business class passengers came around offering glasses of water or juice. Later in the day, Virgin Australia includes sparkling wine in its pre-departure drinks offer.
Virgin Australia’s business class cabin seats. Photo: Virgin Australia
A bumpy departure & some small business class niggles
The door id closed, and we push back a few minutes ahead of schedule. That good start evaporates when the plane spends over ten minutes idling on the apron fifty meters from the gate for no explained reason. That has the plane turning onto the runway behind schedule.
Take-off is out over the Gulf before the traditional left-hand turn over Adelaide’s south and the hills towards the Murray River. There’s some chop on the way up as the jet climbs to around 38,000 feet. This plane, VH-YFX is only four years old, and the cabin remains in good shape. Looking around, you’ve really got to search for small scuff marks and scratches. The plane is clean and in very good condition.
Downloading Virgin Australia IFE app before departure allows you to track the progress of your flight. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying
While the WiFi logo is displayed around the aircraft, Virgin Australia is yet to turn inflight WiFi back on despite it now being nearly 18 since the airline emerged from voluntary administration. Competitors Regional Express (Rex) and Qantas offer passengers WiFi on their domestic Boeing 737 services. Virgin Australia also losses points for no leg rests and entertainment screens in their business class cabins.
An impending rollout of new seats across the fleet (which is likely to take two or three years) will include leg rests. As far as IFE goes, Virgin Australia encourages passengers to download their app before boarding and stream the airline’s entertainment choices inflight on a BYO device basis. On that topic, Virgin Australia seats do not yet feature USB ports. This too is likely to change when the new seats come online.
Virgin Australia’s business class strengths
With that out of the way, what are the positive points about the flight? The young cabin manager looking after us was great. But Virgin Australia flight attendants are always pretty terrific. After a slight delay turning off the seatbelts light, she sprung into action, went around to each business class passenger, said hello, and started offering something to eat.
A mid-morning fleet saw crunchy type offerings including sautéed mushrooms on a slice of sourdough or bacon, egg, corn, and beans toasted tortillas. I went with the latter. It came out hot on a ceramic plate on a tray with a cup of coffee and a pastry. Inside the proper linen napkin was real cutlery. The tray was lined to prevent everything from sliding everywhere.
Virgin Australia’s business class brunch offering. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying
The tortillas and pastry were tasty and refills of hot drinks were proactively offered. As passengers finished at their own pace, the cabin manager gradually cleared the cabin in time for the drop into Sydney. By the time the plane passed Goulburn, we were into the clouds and anticipating a rocky descent during a wet and wild weekend along Australia’s east coast.
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Aside from a demented tracking into Sydney, the landing was fine. We were at the gate right on time. Inside Sydney’s Terminal 2, it was great to see the place finally starting to jump again. The bags began arriving on the belts about five minutes later. But generally, the baggage handlers at Terminal 2 are always pretty on their game.
About 300 kilometers out from Sydney and approaching the storms. Photo: Andrew Curran/Simple Flying
What Virgin Australia is getting right with its business class product
All in all a pretty decent flight. What elevates this flight is the fare. Virgin Australia is charging AU$299 for business class fares on a raft of routes around Australia. Granted you aren’t going to get that price for a last-minute booking (business class fares on the ADL-SYD route run up to AU$769 as seats fill up) but generally up to four weeks before travel, these inexpensive fares are relatively easy to find. For $299 this reviewer will forgive all manner of business class sins. But honestly, there isn’t much to forgive.
That makes flying business class on Virgin Australia phenomenal value, especially compared to what rival Qantas charges. Is Qantas 737-800 business class any better? In this reviewer’s opinion, Qantas’ lounges are better (and they have more of them) and Qantas has free WiFi, but the food on Virgin Australia is better. Virgin Australia support in the event of cancellations or flight changes also runs rings around Qantas. This reviewer also appreciates the fact Virgin Australia does a straight down the line safety briefing whereas the current Qantas video safety demonstration is nauseatingly naff.
For the price, the Virgin Australia 737-800 business class product is exceptional. It keeps airline brand-agnostic people like this reviewer coming back. When Virgin Australia backs up this offering with other promotions like double status offers, they are on a winner.
This reviewer is seeing a lot of full Virgin Australia business class cabins. Partly that’s due to timetable consolidation. But the mix of people of the cabin is becoming more diverse – younger solo flyers, couples on leisure trips, Nana splashing out on a trip to see the grandkids. Breaking the stranglehold of the corporate crowd on the business class cabin is a good thing. Virgin Australia’s accessible premium cabin fares is allowing that to happen, and this reviewer is all for it.
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