After several false starts and a near 1,000-day break, Virgin Australia is finally back in the air between Australia and New Zealand, with daily Boeing 737 flights to Queenstown from Brisbane and Sydney and a four-times weekly schedule from Melbourne.
Services from Brisbane and Sydney jet off this morning bound for the South Island’s idyllic adventure capital, with Melbourne joining the fray from tomorrow.
Of the three cities (from tomorrow), flights to Queenstown each day will see Melbourne take off first at 8:25am, followed by Brisbane at 9:35am and Sydney at 9:50am.
New Zealand is Virgin’s third international destination after Fiji and Bali, with Vanuatu entering the mix from March 10, 2023 and Samoa joining the network two weeks later.
Until now, the trans-Tasman flight paths have been dominated by Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin's one-time ally, Air New Zealand, all of which link numerous cities on both sides of the pond.
With Qantas a premium full-service airline, Jetstar flying the low-cost flag, and Air New Zealand playing the field with its tiered 'Seats to Suit' pricing strategy, the existing three-airline spread has the market mostly covered and could leave little room for Virgin’s own middle-ground push.
With this in mind, Queenstown is a curious test case for the rebooted airline, side-stepping the larger cities of Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, but the gamble could work in its favour.
Although a little late to the party for the 2022 winter season, Virgin’s Queenstown return is well-timed for the summer adventure crowd – hiking, biking and jet boating are just a few of the many reasons to visit – and, of course, the brilliant Central Otago wine region and world-class golfing.
Having recently reported its first profit since being rescued by Bain Capital, Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said she was proud of the journey the airline has been on during the past two years.
“Australians and New Zealanders have a close bond and we are proud to be creating a new gateway between the countries for friends and family to visit each other, businesses to flourish and holiday-makers to seek adventure with more choice and great value airfares," Hrdlicka said.
“Virgin Australia is an airline that’s doing things differently and we are having a lot of fun coming up with exciting new innovations to make every part of the travel experience more wonderful."
Instead, “a more pragmatic approach” in the form of renewed partnerships with Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and others, coupled with new bedfellows in United Airlines and Qatar Airways has given Virgin a strong international network without any of its planes needing to leave the ground.
Instead, the airline will focus on building out its domestic network and shoring up its market share in the face of competition from Qantas and Jetstar and attempting to see off the steadily rising threat posed by Rex.
And while inflight WiFi remains missing in action on its aircraft, it is set to make a long-awaited comeback in the coming months.