Virgin's business class relaunch is just weeks away...

What remains on the to-do and to-announce list for Virgin's business class reboot?

By David Flynn, March 12 2021
Virgin's business class relaunch is just weeks away...

Four months after Bain Capital officially took charge of Virgin Australia, and just shy of a year after the airline's collapse in April 2020, Virgin Australia is set to relaunch its domestic business class in the coming weeks after completing an "end-to-end review" of the service.

Following a slow recovery for domestic air travel, which took on a decidedly stop-start nature due to successive state border closures, Virgin expects to reach 70% of pre-COVID capacity by the Easter holidays.

That's also the target for its new business class experience taking wing, which the airline has described as being "more accessible" and with a focus on premium leisure flyers alongside "price-conscious corporates" and small-to-medium businesses.

One of the most visible changes will be to business class catering, with the current snack boxes dropped for what's reported to be plated meals with a fresh, contemporary theme.

And while Virgin has reopened most of its lounges, and revealed its new-look lounge design at Adelaide, business travellers and frequent flyers are still waiting on several other key details to drop.

1. The reopening of premium lounge entry

Virgin's Sydney and Brisbane lounges boasted a premium entry facility with its own security lane, so that business class passengers and Velocity Platinum frequent flyers could enjoy a fast track straight to the lounge.

When will Virgin Australia's time-saving premium lounge entry return?
When will Virgin Australia's time-saving premium lounge entry return?

But while Virgin's Sydney and Brisbane lounges reopened across November-December, those time-saving premium entry channels have remained shuttered – which means high flyers are shunted into the main terminal and security queues without even a handy 'premium' lane.

Virgin has said it would reopen premium lounge entry once demand increases, and we must surely be reaching that point now – especially with the peak holiday season around the corner.

2. The fate of The Club

Many Executive Traveller readers belong to Virgin's invitation-only The Club (and the Qantas Chairman's Lounge, for that matter) but have heard precious little on the fate of The Club – leading them to suspect its days are numbered, with the exclusive digs being an ill-fit against the airline's 'mid-market' position.

Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka has assured The Club members the airline will retain "a VIP program" boasting "the high touch services you know and have loved in the past," but the most visible perk – those exclusive and well-appointed Club lounges which serve as a haven from the hoi polloi – may still be for the chop.

"I know that the future of the Club Lounges is a very important issue," she told members in an email on February 18, but noted "given the state of play in the industry at the moment... we are not in a position to make calls on how much infrastructure is sensible to carry forward."

"Once we have a better sense of the future of business travel, we will have more clarity on outlook."

Virgin's The Club was a sanctuary of schmooze for high-flying corporates and captains of industry.. Source: Supplied
Virgin's The Club was a sanctuary of schmooze for high-flying corporates and captains of industry.
Source: Supplied

Despite Hrdlicka's email, all of The Club members whom Executive Traveller spoke with expressed pessimism over the program's future, especially that of the lounges.

However, there's also room for Virgin to throw a curve-ball here: could The Club lounges be rebranded as Business lounges?

In most airports – Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Perth – The Club lounges are co-sited with the main Virgin lounge (typically secreted behind a door marked 'Private'), and their expensive fitout was long ago paid for.

Rather than leave The Club lounges idle, or reopening them for a market segment from which the airline could see questionable return, they could become lounges for business class passengers, alongside The Club members (by dint of their Velocity VIP membership), with Velocity Platinums perhaps receiving a handful of Business lounge passes per year.

3. What's happening with WiFi?

Inflight Internet on Virgin aircraft has been switched off since April 2020, and as business travellers return to the skies, is it time for WiFi to do likewise?

Virgin Australia launched inflight WiFi in April 2017 – the same month as rival Qantas – and while Qantas pitched its service as being fast and free for every passenger, Virgin settled on a combination of free and paid access.

The basic WiFi connection was earmarked as "suitable for lightweight Web browsing, email and social media at around 1Mbps", the airline said at the time, although many travellers noted free speeds in the vicinity of 10Mbps.

For $12, passengers could reserve a fast connection for what the airline described as "higher-bandwidth applications such as video streaming and downloading large files or attachments."

Inflight WiFi remains switched off and under review, Virgin says.
Inflight WiFi remains switched off and under review, Virgin says.

But is there a place for WiFi – which is exceptionally expensive simply to have on tap, due to the need to reserve space and bandwidth on the satellite-based system – in an airline whose new north star is 'value'?

One option for Bain would be to restart the previous tiered plan, albeit with stricter speed limiting enforced on the free service.

Another would be to dial back the free service to cover only messaging apps – such as WeChat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, along with the chat programs of Apple and Android devices – in line with several overseas carriers, among them Virgin's US partner Delta Air Lines, with full Internet access only available via the paid service (which could in turn be complimentary for business class passengers).

A third path forward: to simply leave WiFi disconnected, although this would obviously provide Qantas with another competitive edge.

Inflight WiFi remains switched off and under review, Virgin says.
Inflight WiFi remains switched off and under review, Virgin says.

For now, inflight WiFi might not be part of Bain's business class reboot.

Sarah Adam, Virgin's General Manager of Product and Customer Experience, tells Executive Traveller that WiFi "is still under review."

"We have to make sure that we are prioritising where our attention needs to be," which included "making sure that we're prioritising our catering on board and then running in parallel is some work around the inflight WiFi.

Asked if the review would be completed in time for WiFi to be part of Virgin's new business class package, Adam said she couldn't "commit to a timeframe on when we would think that would be back."

If you're a Virgin Australia business traveller or frequent flyer, what else do you hope to see in Virgin's business class relaunch? (Comments will be held for approval – please ensure yours are on topic and add value to the article and the conversation)

Put some vroom into your Virgin Australia Velocity Points account – here's how you can pocket as many as 120,000 bonus Velocity Points from a single credit card application.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 229

In answering David's question " If you are a Virgin Australia Business Traveller or frequent flyer what do you hope to see in Virgin's Business Class relaunch"? I offer the following.

All I would hope  to see is it " actually happen "and not just be another announcement of which there have been a few over the last few months.

VA had one of the best Business Class Products there was and I fervently hope this new one is close to that for VA's sake and that of the Business Travellers as well.

Time will tell.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 415

@ Rod H

Being an armchair critic, I am not privy to many commercial details but what vexes me is the lack of details and a firm rollout date. 

If the CEO is unable to articulate what is the basic minimum of what the new business class product will be (back in Nov 2020, and even now), then people should be worried rather than hope for the best.

 If the accountants are still negotiating and finalising what is going to be in and what's out, (rather than envision what the product should be, charge accordingly to what the market can bear then figure out the profit) then the product is pretty much determined by the bean counters.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

21 Feb 2017

Total posts 35

Both Virgin and Qantas need to bring back spirits in business class and I'd like to see Virgin bring back their pre departure sparkling.

QFP

22 Jan 2013

Total posts 80

My list of top four:

Easy flow through the airport

Lounge 

Good wine and something substatale or a snack to eat (so depending on where your tummy is, your are sorted) on all flights

Flexible ticket changers policy without the cost

Value fare

Good luck virgin, look forward to your new product.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 636

I am seriously surprised that some clarification of the Velocity airline partnerships and their validity / longevity apparently isn't considered a relevant factor in this Business Class re-launch.

Woe-betide anyone ask "what of the Economy re-launch"? With all the anticipated 50% subsidised fares about to be dropped on the market, one would think that a cohesive, enterprise-wide set of announcements would be critically essential. 

Given QF's recent changes to luggage allowances (across all classes and FF tiers) and Virgin's desire to be the number 2 carrier, wouldn't a statement or two be appropriate?

I would suggest, on current appearance and whatever 'strategy' is being applied .. that Virgin are showing absolute disdain for their Y class passengers. So far, this 'hybrid' carrier seems to have management amateurism written all over it.

One thing that can be confidently said - Virgin is certainly giving Rex a very, very generous head-start. One has to wonder if that is part of their strategy to combat any red roo challenges?

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 288

With no international travel likely until at least the end of this year, I think Virgin's Velocity partnerships with international airlines is not top of mind for most people when they think about the domestic business class package, which is after all what this article is talking about. Yes, it would be good for Virgin to come out and say what is has planned but do you really think they have anything to say about that right now? Surely their focus is 100% on domestic.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 636

Sorry QFP1, but if I am a Velocity member and actively acquiring points / credits on Virgin, I would like to know at all times, where and on whom, my points will take me.

JetBlue (who Jayne seems to admire) is a purely domestic US carrier with partnerships with international carriers. Ditto, Alaska Airlines. Add Southwest. International travel into the USA is also virtually non-existent. Not an excuse, in my opinion.

To paraphrase your last sentence: Surely their (Virgin) focus is - or should be - a 100% dedication to running a coherent operation. Not a 'play-thing' where we'll develop policy ad hoc or if it suits us.

05 Mar 2015

Total posts 288

It doesn't fill me with confidence that after all this time Virgin still hasn't figured out what to do with WiFi. Sure, it's not a must-have on SYD-MEL for example, we managed to survive without it for a long time before Qantas and Virgin both introduced inflight Internet back in 2017. But not having WiFi will put Virgin at a competitive disadvantage to Qantas for people who want WiFi. The upside of course is if this lets Virgin keep their business class fares as low as they are now, which is 30-50% under Qantas, because those sorts of savings speak for themselves.

I know this article is more about business class but as we all know a lot of business travellers fly economy, due to their own budgetary constraints or a 'lowest fare of the day' rule, so I'd really like to see Virgin bring back its economy Saver Lite fare which was cabin bag only, no checked luggage, but was the cheapest fare it had. That's really perfect for a lot of frequent business travellers who have Gold or Platinum status so they can get lounge access and a few other benefits but are just hopping around the triangle for a day or an overnight in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane, and are quite used to being an efficient carry-on only traveller.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Jan 2018

Total posts 468

Was able to use The Club Lounge in MEL earlier this week.  Decor is miles (not Kms), MILES ahead of the sterile white 'halls' offered as the regular lounge.  As Borat Sagdiyev might say "Vary narce". 

The Club is indeed "very nice" and I like the idea of Virgin making it their business lounge. Might not have better meals and drinks than the main lounge, although it would be nice if there was something on the f&b front which differentiated it from the main lounge, just to help with that feeling that you're getting something more for your money.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

13 Jan 2018

Total posts 35

Regarding the cost of wi-fi, given that Starlink is now coming online (I received an invitation to sign up last month) I wonder how that will impact on the cost of offering in-flight wi-fi in the future. The Starlink satellites are in Low Earth Orbit and compared to "traditional" internet satellites, are like comparing the cost and performance of a 1950's computer with a 2021 laptop. The Starlink terminals cost $700 and download speeds of 300Mbps are being offered.

26 Jul 2015

Total posts 66

As to what I'd like to see, something happen, anything at this point! As a suggestion for them, Premium Entry with Valet, some decent food on the ground and in the air, spirits in the air would be a bonus (hey, this is a wish list), pleasant staff on the aircraft (like it used to be) and I'll be happy.

Here's an idea. JH has said that Virgin will keep some sort of VIP level to appease Club members. Why not open up that "Velocity VIP" tier to frequent flyers and make it like Virgin's equivalent to Qantas Platinum One?  Obviously this new VIP level won't really be much like The Club used to be, I'm told that most of the actual perks were removed or watered down a long time ago, but it would give those Club members some 'superior' status and also be a good way to reward the loyalty of very frequent flyers who regularly exceed the Platinum threshold but get nothing for it. If Virgin did this and also introduced lifetime Silver, Gold and Platinum status, just like Qantas has, this would certainly help make them a serious choice among flyers.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 628

I flew VA Business last night and they wouldn't even give me a bottle of water, they were to busy being nice to the VA Exec rather than looking after there customers onboard. Hopefully it's not going to be like those 5 Star Hotels in Qld giving 3 Star service. 

04 Sep 2019

Total posts 8

you mean, all of Australian tourist operators offering 3 star service and experience for a 5 star price

tourist operators in Australia are greedy and stupid at the same time. Ive just done 10days traveling syd to goldy and between and prices are just as outrageous as before the virus - yet they complain people dont want to vacation in australia.......... go to japan or bali, have a banging time, top service and a fraction of the price even with international flights

19 Jun 2020

Total posts 28

This has to be the longest wait for a re launch in history, the current Business offer is sub standard to what it was prior to new ownership. Lets hope the new one is better than the existing offer. 

 I am disappointed with the poor communication and as one of the Club members I wonder if I will ever see the so called benefit of this level of status coming back. As far as the standard Virgin lounges without sounding disrespectful, except for the club lounge, they are pretty average although I am yet to use the Adelaide lounge as I have been flying Qantas regularly to Adelaide as I need a lounge access for some of my business dealings. (will give it a go next week) So a Vip Membership without the Club lounge is really no better than Platinum so why bother .

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 628

No disrespect to anyone intended but business is like a war, you also need a heart and a brain working together. VA have someone that AJ knows their game plan before they know their own plan. @GiveFlight your comment "Let's Hope" is exactly that "Hope".

04 Sep 2019

Total posts 8

I would like to see virgins partnership with krisflyer/singapore airlines fixed up ASAP

singapore has the best business product and its very very easy to get reward flights if you plan ahead.

Now the only good earning krisflyer point card is amex. used to have heaps of options with virgin points transfer

09 Dec 2015

Total posts 11

Flew OOL-SYD 13/3, the Wi Fi was on for the flight, entertainment app worked perfectly! 


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