Roadtest: Virgin Australia Business Class, Melbourne to Sydney

By John Walton, March 7 2012
Roadtest: Virgin Australia Business Class, Melbourne to Sydney

It's been over a month since Virgin Australia's domestic business class launched -- so how are the new seats and service bedding in?

I took the 8.30pm flight from Melbourne to Sydney last Thursday to test things out on a real-world flight now that the service is up and running, after the initial catering hiccups many business travellers will have experienced.

The check-in side of things went as smoothly as ever, with the useful purple priority check-in line meaning I walked straight up to an agent, speeding my checked luggage on its way.

Lounge

Arriving at the airport a few hours earlier than necessary since my Melbourne appointments finished in the mid-afternoon, the lounge staff offered to put me on an earlier flight, but I declined, keen to test out the later evening service.

Virgin Australia's Melbourne lounge is probably the best in the network for size and especially for its very helpful staff, so it wasn't a hardship to spend the afternoon working there on the decently fast Internet.

I was glad I'd arrived early to stake out a spot, though -- at peak time on Thursday evenings the lounge is at capacity, with hot food running out and little choice of chairs available. The lounge upgrades Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti spoke to us about are definitely needed.

(The current wine list in the lounge could do with some attention, too. Call me a wine snob, but several of the better, more interesting drops from the previous list have been replaced by much more pedestrian bottles: very young Pinot, unoaked Chardonnay, fruity Riesling, grassy Sav and a forgettable sparkling.)

Boarding

Boarding was announced fifteen minutes before the scheduled departure time and I headed out of the lounge, with the staff bidding me farewell by name.

The priority security line was in operation, but very poorly policed by airport staffers, with non-priority passengers gumming up the works (yes, you do have to take your laptop out of the bag). I ended up giving up and going through the regular security queue.

On board one of Virgin Australia's Boeing 737-800, I turned out to be the only business class passenger on the evening flight.

I was welcomed by name and offered a glass of orange juice or water, and one of the crew members took the time to make some pleasant small-talk after hanging up my jacket.

Seats and service

I picked seat 1F to try out the legroom, but sitting in row 1 reinforced my opinion that there's more actual legroom to stretch out in row 2.

My 2030 departure from Melbourne meant that the evening snack service of cheese and crackers were on offer, served with grapes and the rather moreish fruit paste.

On the wine list were a choice of two whites (a somewhat forgettable Semillon-Sauvignon and a okay fruity Riesling) plus a decent Shiraz.

If you're a red drinker, you might want to get a glass of the Shiraz poured early and snaffle a glass of the white at the same time -- the red is pretty chilly when it comes out of storage, and benefits from a few minutes of warming-up time.

Entertainment was the usual cinder block-style dig-e-player, which can't be replaced by Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 touchscreens fast enough for my liking.

The headphones haven't been upgraded since the last time I travelled in Virgin Australia Premium Economy.

They're the squashy rubber in-ear sort, better than a regular earbud, but the sound quality's frankly dreadful. BYO.

After a bumpy descent into in Sydney, the crew held back economy passengers until business class had cleared the plane -- a nice touch.

And praise where praise is due: unlike Melbourne's very spotty priority baggage handling, Sydney's once again had my checked bag third out on the carousel.

Summary

All in all, the flight was a simple up-down evening flight between Sydney and Melbourne, executed well.

A speedy and pleasant airport experience at both ends, a couple of glasses of wine, a light snack, a more comfortable seat and the chance to relax at the end of the day were what I wanted -- and what Virgin Australia delivered.

Virgin Australia provided an upgrade to our reporter's paid economy fare to enable this review.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

17 Feb 2012

Total posts 121

Apart from the seat - everything else sounds particularly average.  With all the publicity generated by employing Luke Mangan to design their inflight meals - the cheese and biscuit offering is a joke.  You get just as much travelling economy on Qantas. + you get better beers!

 

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

05 Jan 2012

Total posts 335

If the business class is basically empty, they need to get high tier FFs to make themselves known to a FA for an upgrade. They could charge normal points rates for it or have it slightly cheaper with points or money.

23 May 2011

Total posts 32

I think the meal choice is appropraite for the time and legnth of the flight. Their lunch and dinner service is much better than the offering on Qantas. Overall when you take in the whole picture I think Virgin continues to improve in leaps and bounds and its refreshing to see some real choice in the market.


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