Virgin Australia’s new Economy X service allows passengers to escape the confines of regular economy with extra legroom, priority security screening, priority boarding and dedicated space in the overhead lockers.
On longer journeys to Los Angeles, these flyers also enjoy priority check-in, are guaranteed their first meal choice from the menu and are provided with noise-cancelling headphones to use with the inflight entertainment system, rather than the typical economy headsets.
It’s certainly not comparable to a full business class experience with airport lounge access and upgraded inflight dining and service – instead, being a good fit for business travellers needing extra space to work or seeking a better-than-economy experience without the full pointy end price tag.
Australian Business Traveller put Economy X to the test on a recent return flight between Sydney and Brisbane: here’s how it stacked up.
Virgin Australia Economy X: costs and bookings
What you’ll pay for an Economy X seat varies from flight to flight, but always comes as an add-on to the price of your regular economy ticket. This means you’ll continue to book your Getaway, Elevate or Freedom economy fare as usual, and can then purchase Economy X on top.
This can be done either when booking your flight or via Virgin Australia’s ‘manage my booking’ portal for an existing booking.
The latter proves handy for business travellers stuck buying the lowest-cost economy tickets using their corporate travel agent or company credit card, as the traveller can purchase the Economy X seat themselves if desired, without needing to ‘change’ the fare which typically comes with extra charges.
On the shortest domestic hops such as Sydney to Brisbane or Melbourne, expect to pay $29 per person per one-way flight, while on longer routes like Melbourne-Perth and across the Tasman, the price is $49.
Sydney-Perth and Brisbane-Perth flights see that nudged slightly higher to $59, topping out at $149 between Australia and Los Angeles.
Velocity Platinum frequent flyers are the exception to the rule and can select Economy X seats at no charge on domestic and short international flights, such as to New Zealand, and can do the same for anybody else on the same booking too.
Just make sure the Platinum member’s frequent flyer details are attached to the reservation before selecting seats to ensure that the usual fees are waived – although the sticker price will still apply on flights to and from Los Angeles.
Virgin Australia Economy X: seating options
The location of Economy X seats varies between aircraft types, but on the Boeing 737-800 – the workhorse of Virgin Australia’s domestic and short haul international fleet – you’ll find them in rows 3, 4 and 5, along with rows 13 and 14 at the emergency exits.
Keep your eyes peeled for the purple-coloured seats when choosing your spot or completing online check-in, as these correspond to Economy X:
While all Economy X seats feature extra legroom, our pick of the bunch are those in row 3, with nobody in front of you to recline their seat and plenty of space to stretch out:
When row 3 isn’t available, our next preference falls to the exit rows…
… and with a generous seat pitch of 38 inches, we were still able to work on our tablet when the passenger in front had fully-reclined their seat.
(For travellers who BYO noise-cancelling or over-ear headphones, note that these can’t be worn in the exit rows during take-off or landing for safety reasons, but can be worn during the flight in those exit seats or from gate to gate in the other Economy X rows.)
If you can’t nab a bulkhead or exit row seat, rows 4 and 5 become the go-to choices: offering three inches of extra space over a regular economy seat…
… and again, even when the passenger in front has fully reclined, your knees still aren’t touching the seatback:
Compare that to a standard economy seat where taller travellers often find their knees squished in before their forward neighbour has tilted their seat rearward…
… and suddenly, the prospect of paying $29-59 for some actual kneeroom on a domestic flight doesn’t look so bad: and continues to be complimentary for Velocity Platinum flyers, who have long enjoyed stretching out in row three.
Virgin Australia Economy X: service
Along with extra legroom onboard, an Economy X ticket also buys access to the priority security screening and priority boarding lanes on the ground – but only in selected airports where these facilities are available.
Fast-track security lines exist in Brisbane, Melbourne (gates 1-10 only), Perth, the Gold Coast and Ayers Rock, but are notably absent in Sydney, Adelaide, Canberra, Darwin, Hobart, and elsewhere across the country. Yes, even in Sydney, you’ll need to join the back of the regular queue.
(Velocity Gold, Platinum and The Club members can access Premium Entry in Sydney to skip the lines and waltz directly into the lounge, but this isn’t an option for ‘regular’ Economy X passengers.)
Priority boarding is available at a wider variety of airports – this time, Sydney included – although none of the boarding gate signage we observed had been updated to reflect priority boarding privileges for Economy X passengers, with Economy X instead mentioned during boarding announcements:
Also promoted is “preferred overhead locker space”, signified via stickers affixed within the lockers above these rows, but the use of which wasn’t ‘policed’: so realistically, anybody could have placed their bags here before wandering off to their seat elsewhere.
That’s where the priority boarding part of the equation comes in handy, as Economy X passengers are some of the first travellers to take their seats, making it likely that space in the overhead lockers will still be available.
But despite all the business-class-like priority treatment, keep in mind that you’re still flying in economy – so expect to pay for soft drinks and alcohol outside of the 5-7pm ‘happy hour’ on weekdays, or for anything more substantial to eat than the complimentary snack, even at traditional meal times.
Virgin Australia Economy X: the verdict
Core to the Economy X experience is extra legroom, and on that count, Virgin Australia doesn’t disappoint: especially in the bulkhead and exit rows, but also in rows 4 and 5.
However, with priority security screening offered in only five domestic airports – Sydney notably excluded – priority boarding lanes not currently signed for Economy X and access to “preferred” overhead lockers not enforced, travellers may realistically notice very little difference to the regular economy experience until they take their seat.
It’s for this reason we'd suggest purchasing Economy X only for the added legroom on domestic flights, and if you happen to be departing from an airport that does have priority screening and boarding facilities, consider these to be a bonus before stretching out on board.
Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia.