Virgin drops complimentary snacks, moves to ‘buy on board’ in economy

A revamped retail menu will replace Virgin Australia's current food and beverage offering in economy class from early 2021.

By Chris Chamberlin, November 18 2020
Virgin drops complimentary snacks, moves to ‘buy on board’ in economy

Virgin Australia will no longer serve complimentary snacks in economy class from early 2021, with the freebies replaced with a ‘buy on board’ menu of meals and refreshments.

Tea, coffee and water will remain free for all travellers on all fares.

The move was tipped by Executive Traveller last month as part of a sweeping push to lower Virgin's cost base and reduce ticket prices – framed around the airline's new 'value' proposition – while also ensuring a solid margin for the company.

Virgin says the “exciting and fresh” inflight menu will replace the previous for-purchase offerings. Previously, the airline offered both complimentary bites and other items at a charge.

There's no word yet whether afternoon 'happy hours' –  where wine, beer and soft drinks are served without charge - would remain.

“Australia already has a low-cost-carrier and a traditional full-service airline, and we won’t be either,” says incoming Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka.

“We know that leisure travellers, small and medium businesses, and many corporates are now emerging from COVID-19 wanting better value. Virgin Australia will be a mid-market carrier appealing to customers who are after a great value airfare and better service.”

Read more: Bain reveals new 'mid-market' Virgin Australia 2.0

Service in business class will continue in its current form until early 2021, with Virgin Australia completing an “end-to-end review of the business class offering” before relaunching its premium proposition next year.

During its time in voluntary administration, the airline had been criticised for serving two-minute noodles in business class, before these were replaced with snack boxes.

Bring on board vs buy on board

Virgin Australia has previously considered removing complimentary meals and snacks from economy class, and in mid-2017 developed plans to partner with an airport food and beverage outlet such as Sumo Salad to offer packaged 'grab and go' meals purchased from catering carts at the departure gate.

Focus groups held in July 2017 including many of the airline's Velocity Frequent Flyers also floated higher-grade 'buy on board' meals priced at $10-$12 as an alternative to the 'bring on board' boxes.

"The grab-and-go boxes were well received in the focus group," one attendee told Executive Traveller at the time. "As long as they were of a reasonable quality without needing to be over the top, there was in-principle support."

"The idea of picking up pre-ordered boxes at the gate was interesting however, concerns surrounding gate crowding was an issue, hence why we preferred the lounge option."

"Also a lot of the time in peak flying hours we would have eaten at work or in the lounge, however the grab and go gave extra flexibility."

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

Wonder if you can get fantastic noodles in a cup in economy and if boiling water is extra.

That’s one way to feel like travelling on business class on a economy fare. Maybe that’s mid market for you.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 154

A case of nothing with more to be revealed in 2021. The lack of detail and strategy must mean Jayne still owns Qantas shares or is receiving a side payment from Alan. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 334

This really doesn't worry me. The most complimentary food I've ever received on a Virgin Australia economy flight was half a muesli bar, so no big loss, really.

24 Nov 2020

Total posts 4

What happened to the other half of the muesli bar?

SANDRAD

you mean the one you get on qantas

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 334

Another passenger got it.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 183

I gather from this article that Business Class Travellers from Brisbane to Perth will only get a "snack box" until early next year when they decide what to or not to serve in Business Class.!!!!

If that's correct it's quite pathetic, not looking forward to my Dec 15th flight at all.

Wish I had booked Qantas now .

BIG mistake.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

How much was the fare difference between QF business and VA business Rod H?

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

Someone on another ET article discussion said there was “basically zero” for something to eat on last evening’s TSV-BNE VA flight so not hopeful on that if they haven’t have food suppliers on side so far.

That’s of course assuming neither premier decides to close borders at the wiff of an outbreak in WA or Qld in the meantime. Seriously we cannot go on behaving like this which reflects more on the capabilities of contact tracing than simply restrictions “based on good medical advice”. 

At this rate we cannot even talk about international bubble properly the tourism trade, and fruit growers will be done dusted and buried, and universities on a diet, with no access to their cash cow.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

Great. It’s lockdown or circuit breaker for the entire SA for 6 days (so far)

Pretty much reflects the state’s ability to track and trace at this stage, despite the lessons from Victoria. 

If ever WA or QLD gets into trouble.... and Brisbane’s hosting the biggest sports event tonight 52K crowd, entering and exiting with masks..... oh sure......

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1124

XWu track and trace on a bug that is infectious within 24 hours is a big ask so a six-day lockdown while they do track, trace and test with several thousand people actually makes a lot of sense.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

@patrickk

I would agree that tracing contacts of a virus which can get a person infectious within 24 hours of exposure is a big ask, although the acting CMO Prof Kelly in his press conference did not have any information that the virus strain that is involved in SA is any more infectious than what’s been happening in the last 12 months (has it been that long?) or currently in Europe. 

It is also not clear what is actually the significance of 7 Nov date (even Prof Kelly, a public health physician, cannot offer a good explanation on the significance of that date) and why other states were applying a retrospective restriction and quarantine rules to SA travellers back  by 1 week if the infection turnaround time is just one day. 

It is also interesting that the first person identified in the cluster was actually seeking medical treatment for something else, and a junior doctor happened to hear her cough and decided to do a COVID-19 test.

Even more interesting was an Fri 13 Nov podcast episode from ABC coronacast, featuring sewage monitoring of COVID-19 virus, that the CSIRO scientist Dr Paul Birch was commenting that VIC, NSW, QLD, SA, WA is doing the testing but not everyone is sharing that information 

Not trying to start a new conspiracy theory but just the pointing out a few things there

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1124

XWu I am running off the SA health officer as reported today on the ABC suggested it was particularly virulent but of course if you have different information then of course you may be correct.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

@patrickk

I am only running off what Prof Kelly said on press conference and what many virologist/scientists said on today’s ABC news website article headed “

South Australian Premier Steven Marshall says the state is dealing with a 'particularly sneaky' strain COVID-19. Here's what we know so far”

tl;dr They didn’t know what she (CMO) and he (premier) were referring to and would like more details or data 

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1124

By the way XWu prof Kelly (who you quote extensively) definition of a hotspot of 10 days of 10 cases is patently absurd with such a virulent disease, and no wonder state governments have quite different views as they own the health systems that have to deal with it.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

@ patrickk 

I know I started the commentary on SA outbreak, mostly more in relation to border shutdown reaction by other states, but I wouldn’t want to let this misinformation pass unchallenged. I promise I would not mention the SA cluster in this article comment again in this discussion, unless there are more misleading info

You have misheard (you are welcomed to watch to abc video yourself). Prof Kelly said in today’s press conference the commonwealth definition of hotspot is 10 cases for 3 days which is consistent with what he had previously tabled himself to the national cabinet for the states to sign on. Of course, whatever the states said thy would do doesn’t mean they would abide to as to use as a criteria for border control.

From the PMO press release in September 

  • The Commonwealth trigger for consideration of a COVID-19 hotspot in a metropolitan area is the rolling 3 day average (average over 3 days) is 10 locally acquired cases per day. This equates to over 30 cases in 3 consecutive days.
  • The Commonwealth trigger for consideration of a COVID-19 hotspot in a rural or regional area is the rolling 3 day average (average over 3 days) is 3 locally acquired cases per day. This equates to 9 cases over 3 consecutive days

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1124

XWu as I said the commonwealth’s definition of a hotspot is patently absurd (and thanks for the detailed correction of what it is 10 cases per day) as this bug gets away very quickly and is quite virulent as Victoria found and SA is finding. I will go with the people who have to manage it every time, the local authorities; go hard and go early is the only solution as China, Vietnam, and NZ can attest. ScoMo and the federal government have simply got it wrong.

14 Oct 2016

Total posts 74

The snacks are gone, but is the meal gone on coast to coast too? If it has then they aren't really better than jetstar, so should be at least looking to match their airfares or better them.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

Haven’t flown with JQ during the pandemic but I assume you may be still able to buy something onboard?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

30 May 2013

Total posts 334

I flew HBA-BNE on Jetstar three weeks ago. Full flight and the food offering was very limited to the point they had ran out of almost everything by the time they got to me in row 26. The Flight Attendant said they they had only just started to reintroduce buy on board items and that they weren't back to a full stock yet.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 May 2012

Total posts 171

I feel bad for any Virgin Plats or golds. With the reduction of lounges etc not much benefit to it like once before. Glad I turned to Qantas a few years back, at least there are "some" benefits left. As small as the snack on VA was at lesat it broke up the flight a bit and was something small to munch on.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 551

How does taking away complimentary food and beverage items equate with better value?

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

Because airfares should be reflect a more valuable price then a full service carrier with all inclusive. It's really not hard...

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

The complimentary food on virgin economy had been hit and miss, in some cases awful. Business I can't recall ever having complaints - maybe portion size on small side.

Overall I have held the opinion that if VA have a much lower ticket price, then I am all for buying on board. It gives me options for what I want to eat and not just the penne pasta or low quality meat dish you would have found previously on VA or even other airlines currently. I want choice, flexibility - I don't fly an airline to eat and find it amusing so many people are whinging about this - wouldn't you want to to decide what you want to eat on your own terms or if you want a better quality cooked to order meal prior to flying, that is if the ticket price is cheaper then QF which all signs point to it will be. 

In the end business will remain business class with premium meals and drinks, economy is exactly that - flying economy class caus you want to keep $$$ in your pocket. 

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

@Dan22

If your benchmark for a price ticket is with QF, then it’s not hard to be cheaper unless QF goes into a price war with VA which will not happen for the foreseeable future.

But for many people in the economy class once you are not a full service airline and start an buy on board food and drink service, then it’s LCC no matter how well the service is delivered, since the price paid for the item includes delivering the item, hot or cold as advertised. And if the meals served at the business end can also be bought in the economy end then it’s no different from being on a JQ flight bar the name difference. 

Some commentators pointed out the good service by VA attendants but for most people who don’t buy on board, and thus have minimum direct interaction, or use the lounge, then they wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from JQ experience so why would they pay anything more than JQ prices?

Hence VA need to really try to chase those who will buy business seats, but as reflected by several posts in recent days, many are not going to accept a tokenistic “premium” service no better than a full service economy or JQ’s all inclusive business bundle. Reading between the lines, quite a few VA J class flyers here actually pay from their own pocket, or via their own business, rather than big corporate, many has been buying Y seats rather than J seats for their staff.

Just a comment. But it’s your choice how you want to spent your money

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

So is Air New Zealand a low cost carrier?

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

@Dan22

Don’t really care what Air NZ calls itself. And haven’t need to fly with them.

As I said those who actually pay out of their own pockets make their choice, and if the products looks like LCC then the pax will likely decide on what price point they are willing to pay accordingly to the service expected.

But if I perceive VA products is very close to JQ I would need to ask why I am flying with VA when I can get it cheaper with JQ with the latter ability to pare back to the very minimum (JH hasn’t revealed what’s is happening with the checking in or luggage, cabin and checked in). I sure ain’t buying VA seats just because it’s cheaper than QF offering.

And if REx is able to offer one economy product with a simple inclusive package like it had now, it’s already have an upper hand with the leisure travellers who don’t worry about loyalty points, rather the connectivity to regional destinations. It will be interesting to see if VA is going to wait to see what REx is offering in March before switching mode as they promised in 2021

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 Sep 2013

Total posts 1243

Yes they are, on trans-Tasman and domestic routes.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

07 Aug 2013

Total posts 203

And people who want greater comfort would choose to fly VA over Jetstar - Jetstar has a below airline standard seat pitch, something I value more then crappy airline food. Even VA offers 1 inch greater then QF - a small difference but extra room. But end of day majority of people do not care - it's the cheapest fare for a lot. And a lot of corporates book cheapest of the day fully flex tickets which includes all the frills of baggage and food/drink - so in this respect VA should remain included to a portion of the corporate market.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 551

.. which you won't do with BoB ..

Think about it this way: In Eco - The company buys cans of cola (approximate contact price $0.40 x 2 = $0.80) and maybe $0.20 for a packet of mini-pretzels or two. In-cabin purchase price for the pax likely to be $3.50 per can of coke and $1.00 each for pretzel pack. So the average Joe Blow in Eco will be paying a minimum of $9.00 for some tawdry items that cost less than $1.00 for the carrier to buy under contract. Since these things were previously 'free', there is now a cost attached.

How much do you think the airfare would reduce? It wouldn't be more than $5.00, given that the carrier would want to maintain a profit level on the sale of BoB items. Additionally, there will be a cost attached to every credit-card purchase which must also be factored in. Then there will be some no-cost "comp-ing" of product to Golds and Plats that may be travelling in Y on the day. Hmm, it would be mean to charge them .. (just look at AA, UA, DL or JB in the USA).

So, in reality, the cost of such 'hospitality' costs virtually nothing - and in fact, can engender goodwill and loyalty. Not quite as simple as you might assume ..

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

Agree basically with your premise, although the numbers maybe not as much... the price for provision of food stuff likely around $10, since you need to assume everyone wants the complimentary food/drink and you need to also provide a choice, hence extra itineraries than number of seats, whereas BoB you can almost be certain about 50% or less of pax will want to buy something, and all they want to do is to sell everything, and if everything is sold, all the attendant will do is to say sorry, we ran out.

What is interesting is that no one so far have commented about REx, whose pricing can be low or premium depending on routes and availability of seats remaining, yet everyone admits they have a very low cost base (although they are never seen as LCC) and they can still offer ‘sweet or savoury’ snacks, reconstituted apple or orange juice in a pack, water, coffee or tea and a mentos chewy (the one attendant walk up and down the aisle at least 8 times in the short flight for 38 people), so why we think VA can offer what they are offering as mid market AND gets away with it, is beyond my understanding.

Again it a matter of expectation, and whilst quite a few VA supporters will make allowances for what JH had announced as the new mid market offering, the greater public will soon vote simply on what is included and what’s not, on the price point they pay

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 551

@XWu - Re: prices .. today's Woolies catalogue has Coke 375ml cans at $0.74 each and Pepsi 375ml at $0.61 each retail. I would be very surprised to see an airline - which has constant daily demand - be paying anything close to retail, and would have a pricing structure based on annual demand. So, I think you'd find those costs pretty close to reality  ... :-) 

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

@kimshep

I am not going to pretend I run an airline but I made the following assumption for QF CityFlyer 

1. A half sized can of drink is about the same cost as a full size can of drink. The fluid product is cheap to make but the canning process is fixed costs (plus the fact that it’s special can size, extra costs). The airline doesn’t buy standard size drink since they know many doesn’t finish 350mL and they want to reduce weight of food item for freight 

2. For 100 people in economy service there is probably 30 cans of coke, 15 of Coke Zero, 20 of Schweppes lemonade, 15 of ginger bear, 15 small bottles of red and another 15 of whites, then 5 standard 750mL bottles of red, another 5 of whites and then maybe 5x2L of orange, another 5x2L of applie juice, then maybe 50 small bottles of mineral water, then 10x2L of mineral water

3. 65 hot meal, 55 cold meals [or sweet or savoury snacks for non CityFlyer flights)

For a full service they need to be able to give most people what they ask for, rather than make do.

On CityFlyer with meal service, all meals loaded on board including cold option is probably trashed or sent to charity rather than served on a later flight.

Large drink bottles and cartons will be disposed rather than used for next flight. Unopened cans and bottles will be kept and stocks replenished.

And don’t forget the Lindt choc balls!

Hence the cost of the food drink service is not what each pax get but what the airline needs to have ready to service.

Haven’t flown much with VA for some time so apologies if my assumption based on the QF CityFlyer service doesn’t match anything offered by VA on a city shuttle flights between 6-8pm 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 551

@XWu, thanks for your comments. Following your point order:

1. I've never been served anything other than a 375ml or a 200ml Coke on an airline. Both are standard size cans. Whether you're carrying the larger or small (or a combination of both sizes), you still have to carry sufficient stock to cover demand. In the USA, some carriers actually pour soda's from a PET bottle, but they soon wake up to the possibility of carbonated drinks spilling or squirting under pressure - and are difficult to pour.

2. Most of these soda contracts are 'brand independent' so if you are dealing with Pepsi / Cadbury Schweppes, your contract price will usually be uniform for each brand, based on a volume mix. Ergo, lemonade, Pepsi, Pepsi Max, Mountain Dew, bottled waters and usually juice(s) will come at an identical price. The same is true with the Altanta company, who also offer an equivalent range.

3. I am not considering the price of meals in this discussion, since VA has not specified what their policy will be regarding full meals on longer flights. Hence I have specifically referred to 'snack' food only which appears on all flights, irrespective of time of day or distance travelled ....   

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1124

I note many fill a plastic cup from a 375 ml can rather than give it. I have been known to ask for it and got it.

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

@kimshep

Feeling a bit small now..... never been served a 375ml can of soft drink in J or Y class is either VA or QF..... Only in some lounge (not all stocks 375mL cans either)

Missing out all those years......

22 Oct 2020

Total posts 3

Air New Zealand is BOB plus you have to add bags, and access to IFE. What’s the difference. Hopefully VA goes to premium catering like David Jones Food, similar time what BA does with Marks and Spencer. I’d definitely buy that stuff. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 551

@EmDoyle - luggage (when separated out) represents a significant cost, whereas snacks and soda's generally don't.

The problem with 'designer' food such as that from David Jones or Marks & Spencer etc. is that it starts out as expensive (to the airline) and can end up as super-expensive, when it hits the cabin, due to mark-up and to wastage. 

Think about the last time you flew in the USA - without exception, you'll usually find that a simple cheese pack in Y is around USD $9.00 and a 184ml bottle of (very) non-descript wine will sell for USD $7.00 mini- bottle. These are all huge profit generators, despite costing the airline very little.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1124

Kim in the US generally you can’t get a $10 wrap or sandwich unless the flight is over three hours which excludes most of East Coast to mid west. Very frustrating in the evening when the lounge fare is also lean and mean.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

11 Oct 2014

Total posts 551

Hey patrickk - seems you've travelled on many of the same domestic AA / DL flights I have LOL. That's why I specifically referred to the Cheese platter snack, which is generally about the only sustainable on-board offering for those flights.  :-)

What would happen if you bought your own food say snacks, sandwiches etc and had it in your overnight on board luggage. Would Virgin allow it. 

XWu
XWu

09 May 2020

Total posts 279

There is no way they can force people to eat only BoB food/drink on the plane (what if people have specific food or fluid needs or exclusion), although I know of at least one international LCC servicing Australian destinations did try to enforce that.

Don’t remember they had a problem with BYO during VirginBlue era either.

I must admit though there is nothing specifically mentioned about what is allowed in today’s announcemen.

considering last time I flew Qantas domestic BNE/SYD I got a "FREE" cookie, so paying is no big deal.

Thai Airways International - Royal Orchid Plus

15 Jan 2013

Total posts 319

if the airport has it buy something there to take on plane with you.subway comes to mind or asian food.ex adelaide one could go to say charlies club sandwich or vilis for a roll and drink.


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