Virgin Australia eager to restart international flights

When international travel restrictions ease, Virgin Australia plans to be wheels-up to many popular overseas destinations.

By Chris Chamberlin, March 8 2021
Virgin Australia eager to restart international flights

Virgin Australia is keen to spread its wings and return to international flying when travel restrictions ease, with the airline mapping out the first destinations it plans to serve.

Predictably, New Zealand is top of the list – although a trans-Tasman ‘travel bubble’ has already been mooted and delayed several times, with NZ continuing to keep its borders closed to Australia – with destinations in Fiji and Indonesia also on the horizon.

“We are looking forward to short haul international flights coming back,” Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka told NCA NewsWire this month.

“It will be one of the first things we do. It will be anywhere where a (Boeing) 737 can fly, so that will include New Zealand, Fiji and Bali.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virgin Australia served Nadi in Fiji; Bali/Denpasar in Indonesia; as well as Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Queenstown and Wellington in New Zealand.

While Bali and Nadi primarily appeal to leisure customers, flights across the Tasman are in the crosshairs of business travellers too.

Virgin Australia’s Boeing 737s – as served all these destinations prior to COVID-19 border restrictions – offer eight business class recliners, 30 Economy X extra-legroom seats, and 138 standard economy seats.

Newer aircraft are needed for longer flights

For the nimble Boeing 737, routes like Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane to Denpasar/Bali are close to the jet’s maximum flying range with a full passenger and cargo load.

As Virgin Australia is now an all-737 airline, flying further afield isn’t currently an option: at least, without factoring in a fuel stop along the way, as rival Malindo Air had been doing with its Boeing 737 flights from Australia’s east coast to Kuala Lumpur, which detoured via Bali.

Prior to entering voluntary administration last year, Virgin Australia had been flying Airbus A330s to Hong Kong – and had planned to swing them onto Brisbane-Tokyo flights – as well as using Boeing 777s to the United States.

Both those aircraft types have now exited the Virgin Australia fleet, with either the Airbus A350 or the Boeing 787 a possible replacement for those long-distance routes, when the time is right.

Read: Virgin Australia eyes Airbus A350, Boeing 787 for next-gen fleet

“We did a lot of work pre-administration on replacing both those aircraft types (Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s) with a more efficient, newer version of a wide-body,” said Paul Scurrah in September 2020, then-CEO of Virgin Australia.

“We do think it will be a very slow recovery in the international sector… but we have no belief that we will struggle to get the aircraft to fly those (long distance) routes.”

As flights to Tokyo's Haneda Airport are limited by slot availability, both Qantas and Virgin Australia had previously requested extensions to their slots, to avoid losing flying rights to Tokyo's downtown airport.

Read: Qantas, Virgin seek delayed take-off for new Haneda flights

Also: As Australia gets travelling again, you could earn as many as 120,000 bonus Velocity Points from a single credit card application.

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.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 587

I really didn't enjoy 737s on trips longer than 3 - 3 1/2 hours, the main issue is the toilets, 2 down the back and after meal service there is a line the length of the plane waiting to use the toilet while the front 2 toilets are blocked for use only by business class. A couple of time I saw the flight crew in heated debates with people where they wanted to use the business class toilets and weren't allowed and the poor kids that just had to go. A couple of us are doing Fiji in December - January and for the above reason we will probably pick a larger aircraft than a 737.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 587

Sorry typo 1 toilet upfront.

24 Dec 2013

Total posts 93

I don't think I'd mind queueing up for a toilet on a longer flight. Being able to stand for a few minutes would be a good way to stretch the legs and break up the journey.

17 Apr 2020

Total posts 12

I agree that a B737 with 31" seat-pitch in economy is extremely uncomfortable to fly in on a long flight. I do question where the 2nd forward toilet is? I have flown 737's for many years, and the only forward toilet is immediately in front off door 1L. 

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

09 Jun 2016

Total posts 8

Agreed, I flew BNE-DPS 2019, I had the entire row to myself, if it were full it would have been an absolutely miserable 6 hrs. Even with the entire row i was keen to get off.

Qantas

19 Apr 2012

Total posts 1254

AA in the US has a toilet mid cabin on a single aisle so it is possible. Single aisles across the Atlantic and intra Asia is quite common. A cramped seat is a cramped seat whether it in one or two aisles.

17 Jun 2020

Total posts 220

The B737 is fine for New Zealand and Fiji, but was terrible for overnight flights from Bali (I think Qantas used the B737 sometimes, maybe not any more?). 

Maybe VA can be creative and sell blocked out middle seats on these flights.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 286

QF used the 738 for MEL-DPS.  SYD-DPS had a older A330.

16 Oct 2012

Total posts 25

First things first.... Humbly suggest VA fix up their domestic offering before eyeing off a return to overseas flights. I flew Business with them over the weekend at it was still embarrassingly poor. 

Lmc
Lmc

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Nov 2018

Total posts 83

100% agree..... flew back to Melbourne from Adelaide last night and after 3 flight changes and a 4 hour delay finally made it back. 

Service in economy was non existent, a small cup of water (only choice) and a kids packet of soy crisps. 

First Virgin flight in 7+ years.... great way to reconfirm my loyalty to Qantas. 

01 May 2020

Total posts 2

I agree..., on my recent flights SYD-MEL-SYD boxed brownies, a sml pkt of chickpea snacks and lavosh with relish plus a square of chocolate was the offering which is a far cry from the previous Virgin menu in business.  How I miss the bubbles on arriving in my seat and the Luke Mangan menu offerings during the flights.  

15 Oct 2020

Total posts 4

The above might be words from a different CEO but they sure sound familiar, potentially History repeating at Virgin?

08 Mar 2021

Total posts 1

Agreed. Still can’t buy a can of coke and packet of pringles onboard so maybe get the basics sorted first before anything else. How long can it take to have a basic purchase menu onboard? , they came out of administration LAST year I thought.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

26 May 2014

Total posts 454

Have the 777s really left the fleet?  4 of them are still owned by VA and the 5th is still in Australia.   If VA wanted to re-start US flights, then bringing back the 777s would have to be a possibility, even if it is as an interim arrangement.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 286

The 777s are currently stored in WTB and may likely be heading to the financing (encumbering) banks shortly.  As reported  in Deloitte's report dated 21 October 2020, almost the entire 'owned' Virgin Australia fleet with the exception of the Fokkers were encumbered (mortgaged) to the banks.  

The formerly owned 738s/77Ws, which were roughly 40x 738s and 4x 77Ws were mortgaged (a.k.a asset-stripped) to the banks by the previous owners over the years prior to administration. 

Bain had made some of those 737s (the older 'owned' units) and the 4x 77Ws redundant by no longer paying the mortgage on those units, deciding to return those to the banks as they had encumbered those units on behalf of the former owners of VA.

It was reported that Bain had considered selling VARA, but had decided to keep the subsidiary by instead writing down the value of the Fokkers as it would receive very little $ in a 'strip and flip' that's typically known to PE firms.

05 Apr 2012

Total posts 27

I don't care about Bali........I want to know if after international travel is allowed we can book international flights with Virgin partners.

25 May 2020

Total posts 2

What partners? I'm told they haven't renewed any of their partnerships (certainly not EY or DL).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 286

Was reported on this very site that VA will retain scaled back partnerships with all 3 'major' partners (SQ, EY and DL) under separate articles in the interim.

Although whether if any of the major partnerships gets restored to the pre-administration/covid state is yet to be seen.  

However, imo, the Krisflyer-Velocity transfers aren't likely to be returning under Bain, and it'll be a long while (if at all) before VA looks at a return to long-haul.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 587

Bain (Private Equity) is all about the money, was it 20% market share by Singapore Airlines coming from the Australian market? What I'm saying is I would be suggesting anything about the future it's all about the cash going to Bain.

 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Nov 2017

Total posts 286

Exactly right with Bain's ultimate aim of "get a return on investment". 

In addition, Bain also has to work around with little to no mortgaged assets at VA (which makes the ol 'Strip and Flip' method unviable with only 'chump change' from the minimal assets VA has left).

If in the unlikely case of Velocity<>Krisflyer coming back, it would likely be cause Bain managed to get some money out of SQ to resume it (such as SQ paying Bain to cover the losses of operating the transfer).


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