Flight test: Virgin Australia's new wifi entertainment system

By Liam Rasmussen, September 16 2013

With Virgin Australia now extending its wifi inflight entertainment system to travellers' own tablets, laptops and smartphones, Australian Business Traveller contributor Liam Rasmussen grabbed his iPad and went for a test-drive test-flight from Melbourne to Sydney to pen this report.

Virgin Australia officially launches its new wireless in-flight entertainment system today, although it's been operational in more than a dozen aircraft since the middle of last month.

The airline has now outfitted almost 40 aircraft with the new technology and extended it to selected flights to New Zealand and the Pacific Islands, and promises that the remainder of Virgin's Boeing 737 and Embraer E190 fleet will be upgraded by the end of the year.

Read: Virgin Australia, Qantas to start WiFi streaming to smartphones, tablets, laptops

The night before my Melbourne-Sydney flight I received an automated text message from Virgin to advise that I'd be travelling on one of the newly fitted-out aircraft.

 
This also included a link so I could download the software required to use the system inflight. It's a very smart move by Virgin to encourage travellers to try the system out.

In my case all that was needed was an iPad app although it had to be activated over an Internet connection before getting onto the plane.


At the airport the flight's gate and cabin crew made several announcements during boarding inviting passengers to download and activate the necessary apps prior to departure.

Many passengers were quick to take advantage of this, the most popular devices being used were iPads and laptops, although quite a few kids were also using an iPod Touch.

Once in the air and the seatbelt sign is switched off, we were free to connect and start using the app.


The system contains a considerably broader of content compared to the Samsung Galaxy tabs Virgin previously used. For example, rather than two or three episodes of a TV show, an entire season is available for viewing.

I'd estimate the flight was half full, and it looked like half of the passengers were using the wireless entertainment system during the flight. But it didn’t skip a beat, with no lagging or buffering of the video.

Unless you're in business class there is nowhere to charge your devices onboard, so if there's a long trip ahead of you or your device is already running low on battery, charge it up in the lounge before the flight.

The system also features a high quality inflight map, allowing you to zoom in on areas you’d like to explore.

It will also automatically pause during inflight announcements by the crew.

Read: Up next for in-flight iPads – multiplayer games and live TV channels

Just remember to bring your own good-quality earphones. (I find headphones are too big for carry-on so I use the Beats by Dre inner earbuds.)

Overall, I'm impressed. Virgin Australia has delivered a world-class an entertainment system for its Boeing 737s and I can’t wait to see it fully rolled out right across the fleet.

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

LiamR

A born aviation geek, when Liam's not flying a plane he'll be following the adventures of tech startups, airlines or getting lost in the backstreets of Melbourne

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

07 Sep 2012

Total posts 151

Sounds really good. One thing I've always found weird about Virgins current in-flight Foxtel service is that it's never once been available on any flight I've taken from MEL-PER. Of all their flights, I would have thought that would be the one it'd be most useful on

04 Dec 2012

Total posts 12

Headphones too big for carry-on? You need a bigger cabin bag!!

My Bose QC15 noise cancelling headphones share space with a laptop, toiletries bag, two changes of clothes and business documents and there's still space to spare.

Most luggage shops now sell bags that are designed to the regulations for aircraft use. Note there are two sizes - domestic and international. The latter being larger.

AlG
AlG

04 Nov 2010

Total posts 674

I agree with Liam, actually. Bose headphones (especially in their neat carry case) just take up too much space for a compact carry-on bag, the sort you would want for say short domestic flights like Sydney-Melbourne. If you want to do the full-size wheelie carry-on bag then yes, they fit, but anything smaller like a laptop bag, forget it.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

02 Aug 2011

Total posts 42

I certainly would have no problems fitting headphones in my carry-on bag. But I think it's space that could be better used in other ways.

Sound quality isn't a huge care factor for me, but I completely respect it might be for others!

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2011

Total posts 3

Great article Liam. I can't wait to try Virgin's new inflight entertainment.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2012

Total posts 43

Can you use it on Android devices yet?

There is an app available for Android devices, and I don't believe it requires the same activation that the IOS devices require. I have it, just waiting to hopefully test it out next week.

I can't see why, if there was an app available, it wouldn't be functional with the already working hardware. 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2012

Total posts 43

Cheers. After I posted the question I searched & found there was an Android app available. I'll have a few flights coming up next month, here's hoping I score one of the wifi birds!

VAA
VAA

04 Dec 2012

Total posts 2

What about Blackberry Q10?

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 736

No. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Nov 2012

Total posts 10

I had a crack at it from Gold Coast to Sydney, we had a full flight and there seemed to be quite a few people on it and it never skipped a beat. Quite impressive.

Lets hope the next phase is internet access via this wifi system. That would be the icing on the cake!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

29 Dec 2012

Total posts 22

Having tried the new wireless in-flight entertainment system myself, I must say it is very impressive. Not just because of it's user-friendly interface but also for is wide selection of content. The signal strength was also very good - not once did the I notice any lagging in the system. Just another incentive to fly more often!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards Plantium

19 Jun 2013

Total posts 120

I am geting sick of getting emails from Virgin saying it will be on my next flight, and it never is.  Has happened 6 times in the last 6 weeks!  I actually would like to try it, but Virgin NEVER look after the Adel-Syd route

Velocity

27 Jun 2014

Total posts 2

Flying Sydney to Brisbane yesterday I discovered Virgin are now handing out quality inner earbuds when a passenger requests a headset.


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