Raising the bar: Virgin Australia's swanky new Boeing 777 bar

By David Flynn, August 30 2016

A new weapon has been rolled out in the battle for business class travellers on the Australia-US route.

It's not a seat that converts into a fully-flat bed: all airlines flying this competitive corridor already tick that box.

Nor is it the convenience of being able to step straight from your business class seat into the aisle, rather than awkwardly climbing over a slumbering seat mate: Virgin Australia, American Airlines and Delta Airlines all offer that through their 1-2-1 cabin layout.

The latest twist for high flyers is the inflight bar on Virgin Australia's upgraded Boeing 777-300ER jets, which fly from Sydney and Brisbane to Los Angeles, where passengers can enjoy wines, beers, spirits (including a 12-year-old Balvenie single malt), cocktails and snacks en route.

It's part of an extensive overhaul that has arguably seen Virgin Australia snatch the crown for the best business class experience across the Pacific.

This includes a superb new seat (above) that's wide, comfortable, well-appointed and stretches to just over two metres in bed mode, with an insanely large 18-inch video screen.

AusBT review: Virgin Australia's Boeing 777 'The Business', Sydney-Los Angeles

But it's the bar – which is exclusive to business class passengers – that really stands out among the crowd, providing a generous serve of jet-set glamour to the 14 hour trans-Pacific trek.

Virgin's original Boeing 777-300ER jets featured a bar in the same space (below), but it was more of a shelf stocked with drinks.

The new design brings Virgin Australia's highly-regarded crew into play as bartenders and hosts.

"We did a lot of work in creating a bar which could let the crew interact with passengers, serving them food and drinks" explains Matt Round, Chief Creative Officer for London-based design agency Tangerine, which worked with Virgin Australia to create the new bar.

"It makes a significant difference to the experience," Round (below) tells Australian Business Traveller on a tour of the refitted Boeing 777.

"We wanted to create a space where you can really break out from the flight and your seat, so we did lots of layouts trying to figure out how we could make that bar area as big as possible."

This process included creating several full-sized mockups of the bar, which cleverly flanks the Boeing's main entry/exit zone – a space where airlines can't put much else, and certainly not seats.

"It's bit of residual space, so why waste it?” Round argues.

"It's such a great opportunity when you have this tube of aluminium packed full of people, to make the experience wonderful."

The new bar features a countertop light box and other elements such as a backlit version of the airline's Flying Maiden logo and the 'leaf pattern ceiling' also seen in Virgin's domestic airport lounges.

In addition to raised stools around the bar itself, there's a secondary area of banquette seating at the wall in front of the secondary business class cabin.

But it's not just about the drinks: the bar serves a range of snacks throughout the flight, and you can even take your breakfast there – an option which has proven popular with many passengers.

Up and about

The bar really comes into its own a few hours into the flight, as passengers stretch their legs and take the chance to socialise with colleagues and other business class travellers.

It's nice to get out of your seat, no matter how comfortable a cocoon it may be.

Visiting the bar breaks up the usual 'sit, eat, movie and sleep' routine, gets your legs moving (not to mention your elbow), and also makes the flight seem much shorter.

During a recent flight I was curious to see how much noise made its way to business class passengers in the first row of seats past the bar.

Fortunately, dense sound-deadening curtains cut the companionable chatter to a murmur, which then vanishes when you slip on the supplied noise-cancelling headphones to watch a movie or listen to some music.

The mile-high bar club

As it happens, Virgin Australia is among only a handful of airlines to offer an inflight bar.

The Branson-branded sibling Virgin Atlantic – which sadly no longer flies to Australia – also boasts sky-high cocktail bars across its Boeing 747, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A340 fleet.

Apart from the Virgin twins, bars are the exclusive domain of the spacious Airbus A380 superjumbo.

This includes the cocktail bar at the rear of Emirates' A380 upper deck (shown below); the bar/lounge area on Qatar Airways' superjumbo, with its sweeping sofa-style seating; and The Lobby nook on Etihad Airways' A380 with its semi-circular leather sofa, marquetry table and 32-inch screen with live TV.

Read more: Airbus A380 ‘bar wars’ – Qatar, Emirates and Etihad

Of course, inflight bars stretch back to those fondly-remembered days when flying was something special – albeit also something beyond the reach of most people.

Many airlines which flew the first Boeing 747 jumbo jet decked out the 'Queen of the Skies' with bars and lounges, most often in the plane's upstairs 'hump'.

This included the celebrated Captain Cook Lounge of the Qantas Boeing 747s (below), a 'restaurant in the sky' for Pan Am's first class flyers and a piano bar in American Airlines' jumbo fleet.

Read more: The fabulous bars, lounges and restaurants of the Boeing 747

Which airline's inflight bars have you visited during your travels?

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

David
David

David Flynn

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.

spacecadet

spacecadet

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

25 Jul 2013

Total posts 52

Looks pretty schmick! I think the continental breakfast service at the bar is a nice touch, they're a friendly bunch on Virgin Aus long haul.

Great to see the designers getting some credit where it's due, too.

sgb

sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 743

This is the distinguishing feature of service in J between and great and a good airline. On board bars need to be more than a sofa plonked against the wall.

reeves35

reeves35

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 513

Yes, this is a proper bar.  The "bar area"on QF's A380 is a pretty desultory effort for want of any better idea for what to do with the space.  Hopefully when the A380s eventually get an upgrade to their J class, QF also tackle this space with a bit more imagination.

undertheradar Banned

undertheradar Banned

28 Oct 2011

Total posts 662

QFs lounge area, (the sofa plonked against the wall) never was, and is not advertised as a bar (area). It's not QFs fault if some people can't read the info. 

reeves35

reeves35

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 513

I assume the lack of seatbelts in the bar area means that, at times of turbulence, the bar is immediately closed and everyone has to return to their seats.  Is this correct?

Litto

Litto

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Jul 2016

Total posts 4

Looks great, but who wants to go via SYD or BNE if you are travelling to LAX or JFK, when you can fly direct from Melbourne     9 times a week on QF.  

jenko13

jenko13

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

08 Feb 2011

Total posts 12

This bar is a hoot, travelled last month Bris-lax and spent some hours at the bar, we did get told off once for being to loud but the barman did not make much of a fuss about it.     It is a great little space on a long flight.

sgb

sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 743

Not sure about Virgins 777 bars, but over on EK A380 they don't have stools to perch on, it's curved sofas, and they do have seat belts for turbulance, when the glasses arn't filled as generously as otherwise. Absolutely no need to return to your J seat.

mitchimus

mitchimus

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

23 Mar 2012

Total posts 208

I've have used the bars on the QR and the EK A380. I preferred the QR bar, but both were great places to while away a chunk of the flight and meet some interesting people. A point in QR's favour is they dole out the F champers to anyone at the bar rather than EK who bring it to F customers in the bar.

Really think these are great spaces and there should be a lot more of them.  

sgb

sgb

Emirates Airlines - Skywards

30 Nov 2015

Total posts 743

Couldn't agree more with the usefullness of these bars. It would be nice to get the Krug on EK with J, I see alot of F use the J Bar and get served Krug, the J Bar has more atmosphere than the sedate F bar. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the J Moet, much better than some rotgut they serve in some other on board lounges/bars etc.

jgb59

jgb59

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

16 Mar 2016

Total posts 35

I remember flying Continental Airlines back in the late 80's or ealry 90's from Syndey to Honolulu and Guam and one of those flights had a bar area for economy class.


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