Virgin Australia won’t rush into new domestic business class

The mooted transcontinental Boeing 737 business class could be set for a comeback – in the middle of 2021...

By David Flynn, December 9 2019
Virgin Australia won’t rush into new domestic business class

Virgin Australia will revisit plans for a next-generation domestic business class to debut on the Boeing 737 MAX 10, which will take wing in mid-2021.

“We will have very capable aircraft coming into the fleet with the MAX 10 and we will be considering what the cabins will look like, and have the balance of great seat, great service and great economics,” Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah told Executive Traveller following the company’s annual general meeting earlier this year.

That leaves a solid 18 months of transcontinental business travellers making do with the airline’s current Boeing 737 recliners on east-west routes, except for the handful of flights featuring Virgin’s better-appointed Airbus A330s.

But with two of the airline’s six A330s committed to Hong Kong and soon Tokyo, Virgin is easily out-gunned by Qantas’ 18-strong domestic A330 fleet and its impressive Business Suites.

Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah sees the Boeing 737 MAX 10 as a likely launch vehicle for a new domestic business class seat.
Virgin Australia CEO Paul Scurrah sees the Boeing 737 MAX 10 as a likely launch vehicle for a new domestic business class seat.

If that scenario worries Scurrah, it doesn’t show through his easy charm.

“I’m not concerned about that at all,” Scurrah says. “We have in previous years reduced A330 flying on the transcontinental route and we have maintained very good performance from corporates supporting us.”

“Given that feedback, I don’t see the need to rush a new business class into transcontinental.”

It’s a marked and very Scurrah-like measured approach to where Virgin Australia’s finances and focus needs to be right now, which is all about “turning a great airline into a great business.”

'Perth Product 2.0'

For John Borghetti, Scurrah’s predecessor for almost nine years between May 2010 and March 2019, the arrival of a new Boeing 737 transcontinental business class would have represented yet another milestone in reshaping the airline from the low-cost Virgin Blue to the full-service Virgin Australia capable of challenging Qantas for a goodly chunk of the business travel market.

Internally dubbed “the Perth product” in a nod to the western anchor of the coast-to-coast flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, the seat was already moving to the centre of Borghetti’s radar screen when he confirmed his plans to Executive Traveller in July 2017, promising "you’ll hear about it later this year.”

Borghetti boasted that the new seat would represent a “quantum leap in domestic business class.”

“I’d say everything we've done product-wise has not been half-baked, and we would not put a product on transcon that was not up to scratch.”

Was this Borghetti's pick for transcon Boeing 737 business class?
Was this Borghetti's pick for transcon Boeing 737 business class?

Details were scarce – Borghetti kept his cards very close to his chest, and the late-2017 reveal was pushed back to 2018 before the project was put into a holding pattern – but some speculated this would be a flat-bed seat along the same lines as US carrier JetBlue’s Mint premium cabin, based on the Thompson Vantage design which has also found favour with airlines as diverse as Singapore Airlines and Aer Lingus.

The Boeing 737 MAX was posited as a launch platform for the new transcontinental business class upon its delivery to Virgin in November 2019

However, barely four weeks after Scurrah was appointed CEO he pushed back the deliveries of the still-grounded 737 MAX until July 2021, when Virgin now expects to pick up the keys to the first of 25 Boeing 737 MAX 10 jets.

David

David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 454

Wasn't Borghetti bonus paid on customer satisfaction, so I would assume Scurrah bonus is being paid on profit.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 693

It was never going to happen before the MAX arrived anyway. The MAX10 makes sense for a revised poduct as a large business class seat will cause the loss of too many economy seats on the 738s.

The lie-flats on the A330s (both VA and QF) are very nice but really only come to the fore on red-eye flights. For daylight flying, the recliners are perfectly good on a 3-4 hour flight.

It's more than six hours in the seat BNE-PER including all the faffing about before takeoff. Almost 5 hours on the way back.

23 Oct 2014

Total posts 182

Virgins trancon schedule is much more extensive than a hand full of flights, on any day normally 1/2 of all services are 330.

04 Jun 2018

Total posts 18

You're right, on the busiest months on a select few weekdays.
More and more weekends this year have had zero A330 transcon service.
And of course PER-BNE is lucky to have 1 x A330 service a week, if that.

A far cry from what they offered years ago, albeit to be fair to VA PER domestic pax still hasn't exceeded its 2012-2013 peak.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

25 May 2017

Total posts 73

Whilst the domestic product is good however not strong for the actual hard product. The IFE is very average compared to QF. The key issue VA has re the business class product is the lounges. QF do this exceptionally well. Not only for Business class customers also the top tier Platinum and Platinum One members. Event the basic QF Lounge in MEL BNE PER far exceeds VA bus sheds with very average food. VA lost my business as they do not recognize high value customers. I would suggest that for majority of business travelers. You just need to look at the taxi lines in Melbourne and Sydney all suits and VA certainty only represents JQ customers. VA not much better than JQ and from what is being reporting this trend will continue.; It is disappointing as it is a lost opportunity

QF

11 Jul 2014

Total posts 454

I agree VA can do a lot more for there 1%ers, like use the upstairs Sydney lounge for those FF only, food can be delivered from the other side of the wall. Those 5 calls a day could be extended to 8 calls a day and those 1%ers put into the call cycle. Life Time Gold with a few extra perks would be good. But seriously a bus trip from East to West having lie flat beds?, when the important trips where you want lie flat beds can be with Singapore or Etihad which is a lot better the QF. Also did I mention I have never ever seen a cranky VA staff member.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

27 Sep 2017

Total posts 37

Agreed. Something has happened internally at VA. They used to value their high tiered customers, but now show very little interest and more interested in short term profits, which we all know for does nothing for long term viability.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

21 Jan 2014

Total posts 250

Why does everyone expect lie flat seats on transcontinental flights east - west, but seem to fly DRW- PER, SYD or MEL on s standard 737 business seat without any issue, similar distances.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

04 Aug 2017

Total posts 6

That would be due to the $$ coming out of PER vs what's in DRW ;)

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

27 Sep 2017

Total posts 37

They don't. The reason why people are more vocal about Perth is due to the prices that are being paid on PER runs compared to DRW, which is more low yielding. Start charging DRW customers as you charge PER customers and a daily outcry will become a norm...

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

14 Mar 2017

Total posts 145

Iterative improvements on the regular Domestic business product would be a better spend. QFs basic business product is just better. A few lie-flats won't change that.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer P1

23 Aug 2014

Total posts 54

The inevitable slow, steady decline has begun. They are a shadow of their (former) selves, when Ayala was served in transcontinental J. With too few aircraft to truly expand, it is hard to imagine a bright future.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 151

All of my Domestic Flights are from Brisbane to Perth.

I make sure I fly via Sydney to get the A330 mid morning service to Perth on the days it does have the A330 on the run.

The A330 is vastly superior to the B737 comfort wise , It's really not even fair to compare them due to the huge difference in size and hence seat comfort.

The B737 could be a lot better with improved seating and NOT necessarily lie flat beds which take up lot more room.

There are several very good and much better seats available .

Of course the B737 galley would not really allow the range of service that's available on the A330 but it would be adequate.

Should VA update some of their B737 with a much better seat then I would be very happy to fly BNE- PER direct but not as it is now.

13 Dec 2019

Total posts 10

I recently took this trip. QF was consistently much higher in price. VA was almost half the cost to fly in J class. It seemed there was a $50 fee to fly the A330 flat bed product.

If I am paying for it, then I'd rather paying circa $1250 instead of $2400 on way on QF and only have a recliner.

As I was going with points it was a no brainer, QF all the way.

SQ
SQ

13 Dec 2019

Total posts 2

Did somebody say 737 MAX : )

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Mar 2014

Total posts 17

The BIG story here is the new (um old) 737 Max and not some seat choice! The fact that Boeing & 737 Max have a major trust & credibility problem and the plane should have never been built! If it was a simple software “fix” according to Boeing we would not be in 10 months plus of grounding. The 1960's design, the 1980's avionics and 2019 engines moved forward and higher on the wings is a deadly combination (literally). If Virgin goes ahead with the Max it will make a very simple decision even easier. If it's a Boeing 737 Max I'm not going!

SQ
SQ

13 Dec 2019

Total posts 2

Exactly!!

If it is a 737max I'm not flying..simple!!!!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

27 Sep 2017

Total posts 37

There is no reason to think that Max will be unsafe given the amount of testing that the aircraft will undergo. There is a lesson that was learned by all involved and for a company like Boeing, this was a huge lesson in corporate governance. I'm sure a lot will be learned from this. I have no issues flying on it. It's a beautiful aircraft to be in and hopefully lie flat product from VA won't be far away for DRW and PER flights.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

06 Mar 2015

Total posts 151

I would not to fly in the Max for a good long time after it is returned to service and it has a proven clean record . Can't see that happening for quite a while yet

The B737 is quit a nice aeroplane but if one does have a choice then the A320 is far more comfortable or even better the A330.

Must say I've not flown in the max so can only go on other B737's hence my preference for the Airbus types which I find much better than Boeing.

.It's going to take Boeing a very long time to regain the travelling public's trust in the B737 Max if ever !!


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