Review: Virgin’s ‘new concept’ Boeing 737 business, economy seats

These prototype seats represent a fresh take for Virgin’s business and economy passengers.

By David Flynn, February 4 2022
Review: Virgin’s ‘new concept’ Boeing 737 business, economy seats
Executive Traveller exclusive

  • Plush business class seats finally get leg and foot rests, AC/USB sockets
  • Slimline economy seats combine comfort with more legroom
  • Every seat includes inbuilt holder for tablets and smartphones

Step on board a Virgin Australia flight these days and you could be helping to shape the airline’s next generation of business class and economy seats.

Two of Virgin’s almost 80-strong fleet of workhorse Boeing 737 jets have been outfitted with new seats which are decidedly different – and markedly better – than what the airline has flown for the past 10 years.

Virgin describes these as “prototypes” which showcase a range of features that could make their way onto future aircraft “as our fleet grows.”

Join Executive Traveller as we check out Virgin's new 'prototype' Boeing 737 business and economy seats.
Join Executive Traveller as we check out Virgin's new 'prototype' Boeing 737 business and economy seats.

This will include the Boeing 737 MAX, which Virgin Australia expects to begin flying by the middle of 2023 on domestic and short-range overseas flights.

(That doesn’t mean these exact seats will appear on the 25 factory-fresh 737 MAX jets, although that can’t be discounted – it’s more that passenger feedback from real-world experience with these seats will shape Virgin’s decision, which needs to be made soon due to the lead time in design, production and safety certification.)

 

What’s the story behind Virgin Australia’s new Boeing 737 seats?

The two Boeing 737s fitted with these concept seats were formerly flown by SilkAir, the regional arm of Singapore Airlines (one give-away is SilkAir’s floral detailing which remains embossed on the bulkhead in front of business class).

The new business class seats which Virgin Australia is trialling on some Boeing 737s.
The new business class seats which Virgin Australia is trialling on some Boeing 737s.

Rather than install the same seats as the rest of the Virgin Australia fleet, the airline opted for a fresh take – ironically, one that employs the same business and economy seats as SilkAir’s own Boeing 737 MAX jets (you can read our review of the SilkAir Boeing 737 MAX business class experience).

The new economy seats which Virgin Australia is trialling on some Boeing 737s.
The new economy seats which Virgin Australia is trialling on some Boeing 737s.

These gussied-up Boeing 737s are circulating around the Virgin Australia network, so they can appear on virtually any route at any time.

“We can’t wait for guests to experience the new interior for themselves if they’re lucky enough to fly on either of the two aircraft that have initially been fitted with the new design” says Paul Jones, Virgin Australia’s Group Chief Customer and Digital Officer.

You’ll immediately know if you end up on one of these ‘surprise and delight’ jets: the most obvious giveaway, at least for now, is the lack of that familiar dividing wall and purple perspex panel between business class and economy class (Executive Traveller understands this will be added in the coming months).

A divider between business and economy cabins has yet to be installed.
A divider between business and economy cabins has yet to be installed.

To put Virgin’s prototype seats to the test, Executive Traveller jumped onto a Virgin Australia flight from Sydney to Hamilton Island and back (yes, there and back on the same day – no beach-combing holiday on the sly for your hard-working correspondents), with one leg in business class and the other in economy.

Review: Virgin Australia’s new concept Boeing 737 business class

Virgin Australia’s new concept Boeing 737 business class seat is an overdue equaliser against that of Qantas’ Boeing 737 business class, and in some areas it even pulls ahead.

For starters, an extendable legrest and footrest swings up from the front of the seat (which is the MiQ model from Collins Aerospace). That’s been missing from Virgin Australia business class for way too long.

More comfort above the clouds: an extendable legrest and footrest plus a deeper recline.
More comfort above the clouds: an extendable legrest and footrest plus a deeper recline.

Combine this with a deeper recline – an extra seven inches over Virgin’s standard business class seat – and you’re pretty much set for a power nap after that too-early start or at the end of a long day.

More comfort above the clouds: an extendable legrest and footrest plus a deeper recline.
More comfort above the clouds: an extendable legrest and footrest plus a deeper recline.

(For an added cradling effect, the front of the seat angles up slightly as you recline – although if you’re of average height you may find the footrest sits better against your feet when the seat’s not reclined.)

More comfort above the clouds: an extendable legrest and footrest plus a deeper recline.
More comfort above the clouds: an extendable legrest and footrest plus a deeper recline.

Even if the passenger in front of you fully reclines their seat, it doesn’t overly encroach on ‘your’ space and there’s still enough room to keep working away on your laptop – although if your legrest is full extended, the top of your feet can catch on the base of the seat ahead.

As you'd expect, Virgin's prototype Boeing 737 business class seat has plenty of legroom.
As you'd expect, Virgin's prototype Boeing 737 business class seat has plenty of legroom.

The armrest at the aisle seats (1C, 1D, 2C and 2D) can be lowered for easier access by less mobile guests.

The aisle armrest on these business class seats retracts for easier access.
The aisle armrest on these business class seats retracts for easier access.

The seat has more of a ‘design' feel than its predecessor, and the padding and support of the ribbed upholstery hits the ‘just right’ spot between firm and soft, making it noticeably more comfortable than what you’ll be accustomed to – but this could also be because the seats are new, rather than having survived 10+ years of heavy-duty wear.

Smart design makes for better use of space on the back of the business class seats, too.
Smart design makes for better use of space on the back of the business class seats, too.

Another welcome win for Virgin’s premium passengers: AC and USB power sockets. Finally.

Keep your travel tech topped up thanks to inbuilt AC/USB outlets.
Keep your travel tech topped up thanks to inbuilt AC/USB outlets.

While a handful of Virgin’s Boeing 737s sport AC outlets tucked away at the front of their business class seats, these new seats make this less of an afterthought – and they pair that 240V port with a high-power USB-A socket so you can keep all your travel tech charged up.

As a bonus, the AC/USB outlets are where you need them – literally at your elbow – so there’s no fumbling around the front of the seat, AC plug in hand, trying to blindly slide those prongs into the socket.

Keep your travel tech topped up thanks to inbuilt AC/USB outlets.
Keep your travel tech topped up thanks to inbuilt AC/USB outlets.

You’ll find both power ports in a recess under the armrest – just flip up the lid, slot in your cables and start juicing up your gadgets.

The AC and USB sockets are easily accessed beneath the armrest.
The AC and USB sockets are easily accessed beneath the armrest.

That nook is plenty deep enough to stow knick-knacks ranging from reading glasses or sunglasses to an inflight amenity kit, notepads, books and tablets.

The under-armrest recess is a great place to stow small personal items.
The under-armrest recess is a great place to stow small personal items.

While Virgin Australia’s new business class seats still lack the personal video screen of their Qantas counterparts, many tech-toting travellers will prefer Virgin’s innovative approach of integrating a tablet or smartphone stand into the tray table.

We love this simple, smart and sturdy device holder built into the business class tray table.
We love this simple, smart and sturdy device holder built into the business class tray table.

In its half-open position, a metal flap swings firmly up – with a deliberately stiff movement – to keep your device confidently propped up at desired angle.

Bring your own entertainment and noise-cancelling headphones? This is the way...
Bring your own entertainment and noise-cancelling headphones? This is the way...

And there’s room in front for some snacks to nibble on while you watch your BYO entertainment.

Nothing like a few nibbles while you catch up on the latest ep of your favourite TV show.
Nothing like a few nibbles while you catch up on the latest ep of your favourite TV show.

Just make your selection from Virgin’s refreshed basket of business class snacks, which now features some healthy bites from Velocity partner Youfoodz.

Virgin Australia's refreshed business class snacks.
Virgin Australia's refreshed business class snacks.

Fully extended, the tray is quite stable and will provide ample real estate for even the largest laptop...

Road warriors will appreciate the sturdy table and nearby AC outlet.
Road warriors will appreciate the sturdy table and nearby AC outlet.

and of course for your meal, such as this chicken katsu curry and rice (although the vegetarian option of a ‘Burrito unwrapped' power bowl with brown rice, sweet potato, corn and beans looked delicious too.)

Lunch served during our flight to Hamilton Island in Virgin Australia business class.
Lunch served during our flight to Hamilton Island in Virgin Australia business class.

The Executive Traveller take: it’s hard to find serious fault with Virgin Australia’s concept business class seat, and we hope the airline carries the best features across to whatever new seat it actually settles upon.

Review: Virgin Australia’s new concept Boeing 737 economy class

Let’s be honest: there’s only so much you can do with an economy seat. Cabin space is limited, airline budgets are limited, and as a result legroom is limited.

But with Virgin’s Boeing 737 economy ‘demonstrator’ just a few small changes sum to a better experience, beginning with a little more legroom.

Virgin Australia is also trialling this Boeing 737 economy class seat.
Virgin Australia is also trialling this Boeing 737 economy class seat.

This is due to the seat itself being slimmer, although that doesn’t come at the expense of comfort: the same ribbed design as in business class appears here, and the seat is no harder on your back than Virgin’s regular Boeing 737 economy pew.

It’s simply that considered design aligned with modern manufacturing and materials can trim the seat’s profile and free up extra space where it’s needed: at the knees and shins.

The slimmer seat means there's a bit more room to stretch your legs.
The slimmer seat means there's a bit more room to stretch your legs.

And until the divider between business and economy is installed, row 3 has insane legroommore even than business class.

Amazing legroom at row 3 without the partition between the business and economy cabins.
Amazing legroom at row 3 without the partition between the business and economy cabins.

(Also slimmer: the armrest between the seats, which adds a smidge more room at your hips but makes it almost useless for resting your arm if you’ve a seat mate.)

The safety card and ‘buy on board’ menu have been relocated to a dedicated nook at the top of the setback, above the tray table, decluttering the mesh pocket at the bottom of the seat so that it’s yours to use as you see fit.

Economy seats now put two pockets at your disposal.
Economy seats now put two pockets at your disposal.

At the front of the safety card nook and above the latch for the tray table sits a clever plastic lip which folds out and acts as a perch for your tablet or smartphone, again playing to Virgin’s ‘BYO entertainment’ model.

Perhaps the coolest feature in Virgin's prototype economy class is the seatback device shelf.
Perhaps the coolest feature in Virgin's prototype economy class is the seatback device shelf.

What’s missing? The means to keep the battery on that tablet or phone topped up, especially on a long flight such as the 4-5 hour trek between the east and west coasts.

There are no shared AC outlets between the seats or even per-seat USB sockets.

However, look carefully: just to the right of that device holder is a black plastic bump, which is covered by a small adhesive square – and concealed under that lurks a USB power socket.

Lurking under that little black nubbin is a USB-A power socket.
Lurking under that little black nubbin is a USB-A power socket.

It’s not wired up or working – that’s why the socket is covered – but USB power outlets are a must-have for any modern economy seat, and there’s no way this won’t be on whatever seat Virgin Australia chooses the next time around.

We brought the tablet and the USB cable, but one thing's missing...
We brought the tablet and the USB cable, but one thing's missing...

With the tray table down and a bit of elbow room due to having the window on one side and an empty seat on the other, it was even possible to tap away on my 13-inch laptop – not a task you’d typically tackle in economy.

Decent space to work on a mid-sized laptop or a tablet with a keyboard cover.
Decent space to work on a mid-sized laptop or a tablet with a keyboard cover.

The Executive Traveller take: with more comfort, legroom and convenience features than Virgin Australia’s regular economy seat, this new model is a sensible step forward for the airline – now, about those USB sockets...

The author travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

20 Mar 2012

Total posts 231

Look like they’ve re-upholstered the business class seats from the ex-Silkair 737s they recently took on. 

They’re comfy seats and a definite improvement on the old product. Good stuff. 

23 May 2011

Total posts 35

Theyre brand new seats. Silk didn't have this type on their 737-800s

30 Aug 2019

Total posts 23

No divider between business and economy? Wonder if that will change?

Won't miss that purple perspex though! 

30 Aug 2019

Total posts 23

Would love to see a curtain instead!

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 324

And enforce C toilet for C pax (both QF and VA!!!)

06 Dec 2019

Total posts 3

There will be a new divider between economy and business. Will be installed after certification. (According to a VA employee on instagram) There will also be USB charging ports in economy that will also be installed, you could see the cutouts for them already.

05 May 2012

Total posts 32

I only just noticed that today!

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 780

I was waiting for this to happen, I just hope the longer flights (over 4 hours) get an even better seat option.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1087

I doubt they are interested in creating a small subfleet with a different lie flat J option.  Apart from the loss of fleet efficiency, I'm pretty sure VA has come to the conclusion that the economics of lie-flat seats on domestic services just don't make sense unless you can significantly hike up the J fares.  QF has probably come to believe the same.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1435

Reeve qantas does it on their A330s and I expect their A320 XLRs for the same reason 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 247

They may take that opportunity on the B737-Max10 aircraft. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 316

At most if there is to be any 'subfleet' of the MAX-10 (keep in mind VA did cancel the MAX-8 order), at most it'll be extra legroom seats in Y and/or more pitch in J.

Can't see lie-flats on a small subfleet for flights to largely low-yielding/budget conscious short-haul international destinations such as NAN and DPS.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1087

Is the black dot on the back of Y seats covering a USB charging point or just a space where one could go?

06 Dec 2019

Total posts 3

Yes it's a cutout for a USB charging port, although they haven't been installed yet in those pics.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 324

I personally didnt find any problem with the old seats except no power supply The footrest thing,  if its anything like QF C  is pretty much useless if your 6ft3   like me  - more comfortable to not extend it 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

15 Nov 2021

Total posts 1

In the same boat. Would have been great if they could have got the "Z" cradle to help.

As Borat would say... very nice.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 569

Pffffft !

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 117

It would be good to see an image of the J seat fully reclined and see ho much it impinges on the seat space behind.

United Airlines - Mileage Plus

12 Sep 2011

Total posts 324

ypu  I dont recline because I have concern for the pax behind me - many are oblivious  Too many QF  C flights  squashed in  like a sardine   and cant see the ipad

03 May 2021

Total posts 37

Is there power outlets in economy class now?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 470

You might try reading the story, as that question is answered.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

05 Aug 2016

Total posts 5

As someone who temporarily switched to QF out of concern for the future of VA during the pandemic, I can say with certainty that the legrest/recline has never been a major concern of mine. I can't recall one instance of being pleased that I had a legrest on a QF flight, but I can recall a persistent concern about the service - no pre-flight beverage (not even water!), and a thoroughly disappointing meal/service experience was the norm. 

Since VA has launched its new Business Class menu, I've not once been disappointed with the meal - and the service has been exceptional, as always.

I recognise that not all will agree with me, but as someone of average height - the current (new) VA business class experience and the big price difference to QF makes VA a no brainer. This new seat is a nice bonus - but certainly not a gamechanger.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 225

Michael - I totally agree, not acknowledged enough in comparisons between airlines is PRICE of the product. And the gap is massive, but the product offered is basically identical, Virgin is a no brainer as you say on this alone.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

05 Aug 2016

Total posts 5

Absolutely... a no brainer on the East Coast. East-West is (sadly) a different story, but not many of us have been able to fly those routes since March 2020!

05 May 2012

Total posts 32

Has anyone come across the registrations of the two aircraft yet?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

29 Apr 2016

Total posts 7

When will airlines drop the term "guests" for passengers.

To me a guest is someone whom you have invited to spend time with at no cost to them.

I have not come across an airline that invites guests on board for free.

Lets stop being pretentious people and call passengers just that.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1435

Infrequently I think it is only one airline. I’ve never come across it anywhere else.

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

11 Mar 2015

Total posts 193

There should be an electrified chain put up between economy and business to control those who cant understand the rules that the front toilet is reserved for business class only-the crew never enforce the rule which is really stupid after all those who travel and pay for it deserve it!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2017

Total posts 107

VA crew do enforce.  QF crew are too lazy to do so.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 780

Haven't flown on one of the new seats yet but I notice the chicken with mustard gravy and rice (in the above review)  hit the right spot for me this week (10 out of 10), larger meals are starting to come out from VA.  I'm flying VA tomorrow and Qantas on Monday so it's going to be good to compare both airlines.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 389

An excellent write-up as always, love the photos and real-world details from a passenger's perspective. Although I'm a Qantas flyer it's great to see Virgin trying different seats which raise the bar in these small but sensible ways. Really like the tablet holders, especially the way the economy one lets you watch your device while also having a meal.

As this article mentions, these seats are the same type as SilkAir installed on its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. I did several flights in those, both business and economy, and agree 100% with this review's findings. They're decent seats for the routes that Virgin flies, although I wouldn't be too keen on flying more than four or five hours even in the business class seat.

07 May 2015

Total posts 30

Virgin still has a few more ex-Silk 737s to come, I wonder if they will also get these same seats? A shame about the USB ports in economy not working, I suppose the seats themselves aren't actually 'wired up' to the plane's electrical system because there's nothing on these seats that needs power eg no IFE screen, no reading light, mechanical recline, the call button is in the panel above the passenger etc.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 316

It's been reported in Trip Reports across the internet that a number of ex-Silk 737s (that are not the two aircraft mentioned here) are using recycled current VA/ex-TigerAir seats, sans the divider on the Silkair units.

20 Oct 2015

Total posts 227

These look pretty good for what's a 'straight up' domestic product. Nothing to make your jaw drop but that's not the point here, just to present some a modern take on the conventional domestic product. Maybe Qantas has set the bar a bit low over the years, because I would honestly rather fly on one of these new Virgin 'prototype' seats even without IFE screens. Can't remember the last time I watched IFE on a domestic flight anyway, at least not airline-supplied content. I'm more likely reading or working or watching a show on my laptop or tablet.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 243

I would  hope that VA try to use these as much as possible  on the Transcontinental Route where J class passengers  would have would more time to enjoy  appreciate the better seating. It is so sad to no longer  have that fabulous A330 seating and service across the Continent.  I always found it to have been about as good as it gets in J class on the A330 and always really looked forward to the flight but alas no more. One never knows , maybe in the future it will return.

These new style seats are a big improvement over the old ones. I'm looking forward to possibly trying them when I fly over to WA in mid April. That is of course very dependant on the Border Policy in WA.

From all reports I am reading  VA seem to be getting better and better with time.

Good to see!!! 

21 Apr 2019

Total posts 19

For a long sector no sign of a salad and desert!

06 Sep 2019

Total posts 18

I flew in one of these aircraft immediately after a fight with their normal seating. The leg room in row 3 is huge without the barrier. I'm not a skinny guy and the new economy seat felt a bit more spacious and comfortable than the usual seat.


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