Reviews

Review: Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: Brisbane-Melbourne

Overall Rating

By Chris Chamberlin, April 8 2014
Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: Brisbane-Melbourne
Route

Brisbane - Melbourne

Aircraft Type

Boeing 737-800

Airline

Virgin Australia

Flight

VA304

Cabin Class

Business

Seat

1F

Notes
The Good
  • Flawless priority boarding
  • Attentive, professional crew
  • Plenty of legroom in both rows
The Bad
  • In-flight entertainment unavailable for half the flight
  • When functioning, insufficient space for both tablet and meal
  • No USB power, leg rest or adjustable lumbar support
X-Factor
  • Trolley-free service in Business feels a little more like first class
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

It's been a little over two years since Virgin Australia brought real choice back to the domestic business travel market, ending Qantas' 10-year monopoly on domestic business class after the collapse of Ansett.

Virgin Australia has already won over many Qantas travellers as a viable alternative for business class. In this review I fly with Virgin Australia from Brisbane to Melbourne to give its Boeing 737 business class a real-world trial.

Check-in

Guests travelling in business class have access to time-saving domestic priority check-in counters. In Brisbane, you'll find these on the far right of the check-in area.

Business class passengers are entitled to check two pieces of baggage, while Velocity Platinum members can add an extra bag free of charge. In all cases, each bag can weigh up to 32kgs.

If you're only travelling with carry-on bags, you can proceed through priority screening (located next to priority check-in) and head straight for the 'Express Entry' line in the lounge – although there wasn't an entry queue to battle on this trip.

Other ways to obtain your boarding pass include online, mobile and kiosk check-in – available until 30 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.

Lounge

With boarding pass in hand, I headed to Virgin's Brisbane lounge.

Finding a seat was no trouble: at this very early hour of the morning, the lounge was almost empty.

Barista coffee is available throughout the day, and the morning staff here know how to make a mean latte.

The buffet features mostly continental options, with cereals, yoghurts, juices and bakery items filling most of the space – although we shouldn't forget the pancake machine!

Boarding calls are made at a reasonable volume, and staff kept their voices down when away from reception... with free wi-fi throughout the lounge, if you need to sneak in a quick email before a flight, this is the place to do it.

Flight

Virgin Australia's Boeing 737 Image: Supplied

Priority boarding is flawless, and moments later I'm seated with a drink in hand.

On morning flights, the choices are orange juice or iced water, with today's beverage served with a choice of morning newspaper – either The Courier Mail or The Australian.

VA304 left the gate exactly on time at 5:55am, reaching the gate in Melbourne just 10 minutes behind schedule due to "air traffic congestion" – in the aviation industry, the flight would be considered an 'on-time' statistic for both departure and arrival, as there's a 15-minute leeway before it's branded 'late'.

Seat

It's 38" from headrest to headrest in business class, with enough space in the first row for passengers in the window seats (1A and 1F) to easily access the aisle with a seatmate.

Legroom is more than ample for reasonably short domestic flights, although at 6ft, my feet could easily touch the bulkhead:

The leather seats feature adjustable headrests and a reasonable recline, although if you plan to sleep through the flight, go for the second row.

Why? There's no seat directly behind you, and with the wall between business and economy, you won't risk your seat being kicked by a misbehaving child (or a rowdy Velocity Platinum member) in row 3.

Here, the legroom is also quite reasonable – I'm able to stretch my legs forward without obstruction, and there's still room to work with a reclined seat in front:

Tray tables fold out from the armrest, and can support breakfast or your tablet.

Unfortunately, the seats lack a leg rest and adjustable lumbar support – all you can do is recline, which is a little average in comparison to Qantas' business class seats on the same aircraft type.

Also absent is a USB power port, something that's fitted on the Red Roo's newer Boeing 737 fleet.

Meal

Breakfast was a choice of either smoked salmon and corn fritters with tomato and avocado salsa (pictured) or Bircher museli served with yoghurt and peach cherries.

On the side was fresh fruit and a warm Laurent croissant, along with jams and butter:

The croissant was served at a perfect temperature with the butter easily spreadable, although the fritters were slighly overcooked and had hardened around the edges.

That aside, the salsa complemented the salmon and corn flavours rather nicely, while the fruit salad was fresh, juicy and tasty.

Cabin crew member Ruth offered coffee, tea, water and juice alongside the meal, while follow-up beverages (and croissants) were made available after the main meal service:

Interestingly, meals on this flight were completely prepared and plated in the galley, with the finished tray appearing from behind the curtain – a stark and restaurant-like improvement to the trolleys used in Qantas' domestic business class cabins, where passengers have a view of the crew preparing and presenting their meal.

Entertainment & Service

A Samsung Galaxy Tab was offered before departure and was quick to appear once airborne, along with a pair of 'in-ear' headphones.

The tablets pull content from the aircraft's wireless BoardConnect entertainment system, which has its ups and downs (no pun intended!) – on the plus side, the airline can update content much more quickly than having to manually load it onto every device, and can beam content to smartphones, other tablets or laptops over the aircraft's wireless network.

On the down side, you might be left without any entertainment if the wireless network or server is having issues – on this flight, the system took over an hour to boot successfully, requiring several restarts before content was flowing – during which time the tablet was nothing more than a paperweight.

In cases like this, it's almost a downgrade from the previous Samsung tabs found on these jets – all entertainment content was saved locally onto the tablet, so if the battery had been charged, you were good to go without a wi-fi connection.

These days, the older-gen devices are found only on Virgin's Embraer E-190 fleet, and on Boeing 737s that are without a BoardConnect system.

Once up and running, there was a reasonable selection of audio and video content to choose from, in addition to a live map.

The supplied headphones were of average quality – they could more than handle spoken word, although they're not particularly suited to action movies or louder scenes.

While comfortable, with no low end (bass) output and their terrible performance when listening to chart music, I swapped them out for my own pair.

My other gripe with the tablets is that there's really nowhere to stand them when you're eating – they're half the width of the entire tray table, so unless the seat next to you happens to be vacant, you'll need to pause your viewing at meal times.

While most of the video content seemed to have been encoded properly, some of the back catalogue had been set at the incorrect aspect ratio – the characters on Keeping Up Appearances appeared a little wider than usual (below), although newer widescreen-native content (including the movie selections) was shown correctly.

Summary

Having flown in business class across most of the Virgin Australia fleet, I've definitely noticed a more 'polished' approach to the service as of late.

In the Virgin Blue days, and beyond, phrases like "Hey mate, how's it going?" were commonplace. Now they're replaced by a much more elegant "Good morning sir, and welcome to business class."

Comparing this flight to those past, I recall the crew seeming rather overwhelmed in the early days.

Drink orders were frequently forgotten, crew often seemed nervous to be working at the pointy end and the presentation of the meals wasn't what it could have been.

Today Virgin Australia's overall business class offering has been greatly refined – particularly on quieter flights, where the crew can provide a much more personalised experience.

However, there's still work to be done.

If the airline is going to rely on tablets or 'bring your own device' for entertainment, then it really should consider installing a mounting strap or bracket on which to hang these – allowing passengers to actually watch the in-flight entertainment while dining.

The current system isn't a particularly good one – passengers can opt for a movie after take-off and find themselves suspending playback during the meal service.

While it can be resumed afterwards, there's nothing more frustrating than having the device taken away 10 minutes before the credits start to roll – particularly when there was enough time on the flight to watch that movie straight through.

If I choose to dine and enjoy the Virgin Australia hospitality when travelling in business class, don't punish me for it by leaving my movie on a cliffhanger...

Chris Chamberlin was a guest of Virgin Australia.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!

johnnysfo

johnnysfo

15 Aug 2011

Total posts 33

WELL DONE VIRGIN YOU HAVE COME A LONG WAY AND SHOWING WHAT SERVICE SHOULD BE LIKE ON BOARD AN AIRLINE HERE IN AUSTRALIA AND PROBABLY THE WORLD AS WELL;-)))

ScottCC

ScottCC

05 Dec 2013

Total posts 3

Well done Virgin.  Always excellent service. Finally Qantas has some serious competition.

othy

othy

05 May 2012

Total posts 29

"These days, the older-gen devices are found only on Virgin's Embraer E-190 fleet..."

Flew J MEL-SYD 3 weeks ago, iPad Airs onboard as apparently the Samsung devices cause "issues onboard".

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2947

Interesting othy!

Just confirming that this was on an Embraer E-190? If so, I'll chase this up with Virgin.

othy

othy

05 May 2012

Total posts 29

Yep, VA875 on 22 March. E170s have all been moved on from the fleet now right?

iPad certainly superior to the Samsung device in terms of interface and stability.

johnaboxall

johnaboxall

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 734

Now review the same flight - but departing BNE in the late afternoon or evening. 

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2947

Have your experiences on evening flights differed to that above tronixstuff?

I flew back home in Business on the 6pm Melbourne-Brisbane flight, and observed the same level of professional service as I'd seen in the morning – even with a different crew, an open bar and a full business class cabin. :)

(Ultimately I decided to review the morning flight because there was a little more to talk about re: entertainment and it wasn't possible to take any good photos with a full business class cabin while respecting the privacy of the other passengers.)

johnaboxall

johnaboxall

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 734

The VA service can vary from great which you obviously experienced to "why bother?" - the amount of inconsistency is the only consistent factor with VA.

Ansett76

Ansett76

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Mar 2013

Total posts 13

lol, I experienced the'why bother' in my recent Bus class flight,  wish I had have got the 'great'.

chrisjrn

chrisjrn

09 May 2011

Total posts 294

For what it's worth, Chris, most of the Virgin 737 fleet have full power sockets (though not USB), which I find adequate for charging (I usually carry a small USB power supply in my carry-on).

Problem is that this is pretty sporadic.

cleaver

cleaver

25 Apr 2014

Total posts 3

HI Chris, great article.

Have you got any ideas about the food/drink service in J on the 737 doing short haul international services such as Perth-Phuket? Extensive googling has given me exactly zilch info about what to expect, not a trip report or even a menu photo!

cleaver

cleaver

25 Apr 2014

Total posts 3

Bump!

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin

24 Apr 2012

Total posts 2947

Hi cleaver, just saw this.

You'll find the details you're after on the Virgin Australia website, although not any photos I'm afraid. Cheers!

Ansett76

Ansett76

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

03 Mar 2013

Total posts 13

I flew them CNS-BNE - BNE-CNS last weekend, I booked and paid for an Exit row and thought i'd throw in a bid for business on the way down, but at the prices set (min$200) I didnt bid for the return.

However, thats where my trouble started, I got an email congratulating me on the upgrade to BNE, then two days later I got another, which I thought was strange. I opened the email to discover I had been upgraded and billed for the return leg.....which I didnt want. I called and was told the only option was to cancel, then ask for a refund. Funny really as I had to get home and wasnt willing to book another flight as the trip had now cost me in excess of $900(for a quick weekend away). I only wanted to 'test the waters' and compare to QF. My other half was travelling the return leg back also, so now we were seperated (after convincing the other half to come try VA being a loyal QF customer).

Then they aircraft was subbed for the old red clunker, and no wifi or Samsung tablets initially until the crew scrambled to find some after a passenger in front expressed her need for one! (first world problems, i know!)

After the experience, with crew both ways that 'did what they had to' and 'bare minimum' with really no personalised service and barely a smile. It almost seemed they now had a liitle bit of an 'attitude' now they had business class on their planes. The service wasn't 'bad' but the effort put in was pretty lacklustre.

The food? Well after rave reviews I have seen I was excited about trying the dishes offered, but really.....it was like the hot meals you used to get in economy standard in the old days . 

So essentially, all that extra cash fo a slightly wider seat with no , a very poor selection on the Samsung tablet (old content on the OLD subbed jet for return), lacklustre service, average food, two free glasses of wine, no USB ports and a dedicated toilet. I dont think I will bother with VA Business, unless its an A330. If you are shelling out the cash yourself and dont have the points to burn or having a work paid trip, then it's not really worth it at all.

I emailed as advised, but got a quite curt reply scolding me for agreeing to the terms and conditions (and just in case, they were cut and pasted off the website for my pleasure) saying that it was all my fault basically and no refund would be offered. I replied asking them to re-read my complaint as I pointed out I did not apply for the return upgrade and was given something I did not want or agree to. I'm not holding my breath.

The final killer is after all that, there is a special on Business on this troute coming up for $100 less then I paid and of course, I only earnt the same points as my original economy booked ticket.

I was dissapointed, maybe my expectations were far too high, obviously. Which is a shame, I have been spruiking how great it is to everyone that QF has real competition and how good they look now. 

You win some i guess, and you loose some.

the flight guy

the flight guy

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

22 Jul 2014

Total posts 25

Awesome review! I flew the 737-800 Business class Melbouren to Brisbane on VA328, it was great except for the fact my meal ws half frozen! The service though is very friendly!

msport2012

msport2012

Delta Air Lines - SkyMiles

14 Apr 2013

Total posts 313

I fly in J in both QF & VA and must say that when it comes to lounges that QF has it over VA. Boarding and in the air VA wins over QF. 

PHILLIP

PHILLIP

04 Jun 2017

Total posts 11

Disappointed  VA Gold member. In late July I flew Gold Coast to Sydney on VA510 Business class.  
The flight left on time but the omelet was very tough (like rubber)

The fruit consisted of a slice of rock melon, watermelon and pineapple. The slice of pineapple was not ripe, and there was no newspapers ( sorry Sir ) ,we didn't receive any today  - 855am flight, and no blanket available either. I could not eat the omelet and I usually eat most things put in front of me especially when they cost $450.00  

I have heard that VA's catering department has someone new person managing it,  but can't confirm this. Anyway, I really can't understand why people bother paying all this money for nothing.

Very disappointing , this is my third business class flight recently, the other two were with overseas airlines domestic sectors which were much cheaper and provided fresher food with all the things you would expect in business class.

I thought Virgin Australia needs a refresh.


Hi Guest, join in the discussion on Virgin Australia Boeing 737 business class: Brisbane-Melbourne