Virgin Australia is gearing up for an unlikely flight from Brisbane to Paris this weekend; with scheduled pit-stops in Auckland and Hong Kong on the way there and a Project Sunrise-style non-stop marathon on the way home.
In fact, it's not a normal flight by any measure, with the Boeing 777-300ER heading out on a charter flight operated on behalf of the French government to return its citizens stranded in New Zealand.
"The seats will go as a priority to the following reported situations, vulnerable people, health personnel, young people in great difficulty and with no return solution," advises the French Embassy of New Zealand. "Those invited to take this flight will be contacted directly by phone and / or email."
"We continue to work tirelessly to find solutions for French transients stranded in New Zealand and without a return solution, in the North Island and the South Island."
"As a major Australian carrier we are pleased to support the Government in getting Australians home and maintaining important freight links into the country," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Executive Traveller. "We're also happy to help return others to their home countries."
Virgin's Brisbane to Paris flight
The Boeing 777-300ER will traverse 37,500km – just over 23,000 miles – on its epic and exclusive repatriation journey, although it will only take on selected passengers at Auckland – not Brisbane or Hong Kong.
Virgin Australia flight VA9940 will push-back from Brisbane at 8am on Saturday 11 April, before calling in Auckland at 1pm later that day.
It will then adopt a new flight number of VA9015, departing Auckland at 3pm to land in Hong Kong at 10:30pm for a 105-minute refuel, before continuing onwards to Paris with an arrival time of 7:30am on Sunday morning.
The jet will leave Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport on 8am Monday 13 April as VA9941, reaching Brisbane at 11am on Tuesday 14 April. With no stopover listed in the schedule, this is expected to be a 19-hour long direct flight.
Virgin, Qantas to the rescue
Virgin has said it will continue to participate in Government-arranged repatriation flights, despite grounding all of its scheduled passenger services apart from a single daily return flight between Sydney and Melbourne.
On Virgin Australia's Boeing 777 repatriation flights – flying to Brisbane from Hong Kong and Los Angeles, and vice versa – only flexible economy tickets are available at a fixed price.
Passengers can choose extra legroom seats in the Economy X section (rows 20-26 and 39), but won't receive any other Economy X benefits.
Both Qantas and Virgin Australia are trimming in-flight services on these repatriation flights, including the inflight entertainment screens and WiFi being switched off on Qantas flights.