Virgin Australia is betting that economy passengers will happily trade free snacks and drinks for lower airfares, as the airline moves to a fully 'buy on board' menu with the promise of cheaper tickets to come.
On all flights from today, Thursday March 25, Virgin will ask economy class flyers to pay for everything apart from water, tea and coffee.
(However, the airline says that passengers who bought their economy ticket before March 25 will be eligible for a complimentary snack "on request".)
Virgin Australia's new inflight economy menu launches with a limited range of snacks and drinks, but the airline promises more items will be introduced "later in the year when travel demand is expected to resume to near pre-COVID levels."
Until then, passengers on longer flights – especially transcontinental legs between the east and west coasts – would be advised to do some preflight food and drink shopping at the airport and bring their own bounty on board.
The shift to 'buy on board' is arguably the most visible change to hit passengers since Virgin Australia stepped away from what many saw as a 'Qantas Lite' model and, under the new ownership of US private equity firm Bain Capital, reset its trajectory as a mid-market 'value' carrier positioned between Qantas and Jetstar.
Cheaper airfares on the way
As a result of axing complimentary catering, Virgin says it will be in a position to unleash even cheaper economy airfares by June.
"By removing snacks that aren't valued by our guests we're able to structurally reduce airfares, making it even cheaper to fly," suggests Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka.
Virgin claims its own research revealed that travellers would prefer to choose and buy their own food and drinks on domestic flights, instead of receiving a modest take-it-or-leave-it snack.
"Today's customers are more conscious about what they consume than ever before," Hrdlicka reasons.
"We like to choose what we eat and what we drink throughout the day – we are simply extending that choice onboard as well."
Chips, cheese and instant noodles
Virgin Australia's new economy menu, which is managed by airline catering specialist Gate Gourmet, starts out as a very sparse affair.
The most substantial offering are gluten-free 'gourmet' instant noodles – your choice of beef or vegetable – at $7.50. There's some irony here, given that Virgin's decision to serve cup noodles as business class meals in late 2020 led to the uproar of #NoodleGate.
Economy travellers can also dive into chips, cheese and crackers for $5, or grab a pack of 'premium savoury nibbles' for $7.50, while Kit Kats and chocolate muffins sell for $5 each.
Soft drinks, juice and hot chocolate will cost you $3.50. Beer starts at $9 and spirits at $8.50, with Australian wines – red, white and sparkling – at $12.
Click here to view and download the complete menu as a PDF.
Passengers can purchase their snacks and drinks with Visa and Mastercard credit cards and debit cards, along with American Express – however, Virgin notes that payments using smartphones and smartwatches won't be accepted.
PREVIOUS [March 24, 2021] Virgin Australia will no longer serve free meals, snacks or even soft drinks in economy class as of this coming Thursday, March 25, as the airline switches to a fully ‘buy on board’ menu.
Ironically, the move comes on the same day as Virgin debuts its new fully-inclusive plated business class menu.
Virgin says that in a recent survey of its economy flyers, some 65% said they didn't require a complimentary meal.
While coffee, tea and water will remain free for all economy class passengers, anything more will be available for purchase.
"Our new economy buy onboard menu features the tried and tested menu items that we know guests love, including cheese and crackers and Australian wine, delivering greater choice and flexibility," a spokesperson for the airline said.
Virgin has today begun emailing passengers booked on economy fares for travel on Thursday and beyond to advise them of the change.
"Please be advised that as of 25 March 2021 we have updated our food and drink offering on all flights," the airline says.
"Guests will continue to receive complimentary water, with tea and coffee also provided. However, complimentary food will no longer be provided in our economy class cabin."
"We understand you have purchased a fare inclusive of a complimentary snack," the email continues.
"If you would still like to receive a snack, please make yourself known to cabin crew once you are on board and they will be able to assist."
Competitors Qantas and Rex are certain to respond by talking up their own inclusion of meals, snacks and drinks in economy class.
In February, mindful of the opportunity to underscore its reputation as a full-service airline, Qantas upgraded its food and beverage service on domestic economy flights, rolling out hot meals to replace hot and cold snacks while extending the availability of complimentary beer and wine.