Review: Virgin Australia Boeing 737 economy class

With free snacks and 'happy hour' drinks axed, the Virgin Australia inflight experience edges closer to Jetstar territory.

Overall Rating

By Chris Chamberlin, June 16 2021
Virgin Australia Boeing 737 economy class
Route

Melbourne to Brisbane

Aircraft Type

Boeing 737-800

Airline

Virgin Australia

Flight

VA321

Cabin Class

Economy

Seat

10A (window)

Notes
The Good
  • Fare prices typically below Qantas – although that's reflected through the inflight experience
The Bad
  • Anything more than tea, coffee and water is now chargeable
  • Inflight Internet remains switched off
X-Factor
  • Baggage, entertainment, points, seat selection included with every economy class fare
Service
Meals
Seating
Overall

Introduction

Repositioning itself as a 'mid-market' airline rather than a close competitor to Qantas, Virgin Australia is charting its own path back to profitability.

This translates into fare prices that are often lower than Qantas, but with a pared-back inflight service to match.

Here's what to expect on your next Virgin Australia Boeing 737 flight in economy class, whether it's a quick hop, or a longer cross-country trek.

Check-in

  • Frequent flyer program: Velocity Frequent Flyer
  • Checked baggage allowance:
    • 1x23kg: standard allowance (all fares)
    • 2x23kg: Velocity Silver, Velocity Gold
    • 3x23kg: Velocity Platinum
  • Carry-on baggage allowance:
    • Most guests: 7kg combined total weight across two small pieces, or across one standard piece plus one suit pack.
    • Velocity Gold and Platinum: 14kg total, split either as 1x7kg standard piece plus 1x7kg suit pack, or 2x7kg small pieces.
    • Plus: One personal item for all guests, such as a laptop satchel, handbag, umbrella, overcoat, or camera.

Lounge

Virgin Australia offers lounge facilities at seven domestic airports:

When flying economy, pre-flight access is available to Velocity Platinum and Gold frequent flyers, Virgin Australia Lounge members, single-visit lounge pass holders, and AMEX Platinum Charge Card and Centurion Card holders.

Entry is also granted to eligible frequent flyers of Delta, Etihad, Singapore Airlines, South African Airways and Virgin Atlantic when travelling with Virgin Australia.

While the food and beverage offering currently varies between lounges, travellers can still expect barista coffee all day, along with beer and wine from 12pm, and something to eat.

At Melbourne Airport, a simple sandwich, latte, and chilled water was an easy go-to in The Club – currently welcoming Velocity Platinum and Velocity VIP members – with similar options served in the airline's separate pop-up lounge, for Gold frequent flyers and lounge members.

Plated options are also available in selected lounges, such as salads and wraps, as well as toasted sandwiches.

Flight

When travel is unrestricted between Victoria and Queensland, Virgin Australia runs 61 flights a week from Melbourne to Brisbane, and vice versa.

By October, that climbs to up to 84 weekly return flights – all of which are served by Virgin Australia's Boeing 737 jets.

Seat

Economy class comes in a 3-3 layout aboard Virgin Australia's Boeing 737s – so for most travellers, it's a simple choice between an aisle, middle, or window seat. 

With a pitch of 31 inches (78cm) in the standard rows, the knees of this tall traveller came close to – but weren't touching – the seat in front.

That wouldn't be true if the passenger in front reclines, or if the seat pocket is loaded up with large items, as this also sits at knee height.

Seats measure a standard 17 inches (43cm) wide, and offer a recline of four inches (about 10cm).

Meal

Virgin Australia no longer serves complimentary meals, snacks, or juice in economy class, which leaves just tea, coffee, and water as the only items available without payment.

A 'buy on board' menu covers everything else, but the current choices lack variety and freshness.

The most substantial bites include muffins, cups of noodles, or cheese and crackers. Soft drinks cost $3.50, and the wine selection ($12/glass) is an exact match of the drops served in the lounge at no charge.

Spirits are available too ($8.50-$10 ea.), and present better value when travelling with a companion.

That's because each spirit bottle is 50ml (just about enough for two standard pours), so when buying one spirit each – plus a mixer each – and paying for those four items together, Virgin provides a $5 discount.

This reduces the retail price from $24 to $19, which is then $9.50 each, or $4.75 per drink, as enough spirit and mixer is provided to make two drinks each.

Still, this positions Virgin Australia's economy cabin service below that of Qantas, as well as Rex – which continues to include a complimentary snack – and besting Jetstar only for those seeking water, tea or coffee.

If you are making an inflight purchase, payment is accepted by card only: you can use AMEX, a Mastercard credit or debit card, or a Visa credit or debit card, with no minimum purchase or surcharge.

Entertainment & Service

Even though this flight departed with every single seat filled, the crew progressed through the cabin quickly to offer refreshments, and the opportunity to buy anything extra.

There are no seatback or overhead screens on these jets for inflight entertainment – you'll instead need to bring your own device. 

Travellers with Android and iOS gadgets may be able to watch content through the Virgin Australia entertainment app over WiFi, although this option isn't available to MacBook users.

Virgin Australia's inflight entertainment also routinely fails to work on many Windows devices too, including the popular Microsoft Surface tablet – requiring Silverlight to be installed, which Microsoft will cease supporting this year in any case.

For users of most Windows devices and MacBooks, this renders Virgin's inflight entertainment unusable: and with no desire to watch that content on a smartphone when a larger screen stands available, generally BYO entertainment.

Virgin's inflight Internet service also remains disabled for now, in contrast with Qantas, which offers complimentary inflight WiFi aboard most of its Boeing 737s.

The verdict

With Virgin Australia no longer targeting premium business travellers, its domestic economy class experience now sits closer to Jetstar than Qantas, but still in between the two.

Virgin bests Jetstar by including complimentary tea, coffee and water on every flight, as well as inflight entertainment (for those who can access it), checked baggage, standard seat selection, and frequent flyer points (and status credits) with every fare.

However, Virgin ranks behind Qantas for inflight food and beverage, with snacks and meals being free on Qantas, along with all non-alcoholic drinks, plus wine and beer on selected routes from 5pm.

Qantas also provides free inflight WiFi where available: something Virgin is yet to reactivate following its initial 2020 shutdown.

Overall, booking Virgin Australia economy makes the most sense when fare prices are below that of Qantas – but still worth paying a slight premium over Jetstar, for Virgin's broader list of fare inclusions. 

Chris Chamberlin travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia and Visit Victoria.

Chris Chamberlin

Chris Chamberlin is the Associate Editor of Executive Traveller, and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins not just with a single step, but also a strong latte, a theatre ticket, and later in the day, a good gin and tonic.

05 Jan 2021

Total posts 7

I agree with the comments about the food offering - one of my recent flights was purchased prior to losing the free snacks . I asked the FA for the free snack for which i had paid on my original ticket purchase but was refused.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

16 Jul 2018

Total posts 17

It'd be great if Gold/Platinum Frequent Fliers got a complimentary drink or snack on board when travelling Economy.  Would add some welcome new benefits.

29 Mar 2017

Total posts 21

Virgin service is about 1000 times better than Jetstar in every way.

16 Jun 2021

Total posts 1

The big point of difference between Virgin and Jetstar for me is the baggage allowance and how they total it.  Virgine is ONE piece up to 23kg and Jetstar is any number of bags that add up to the total weight of your allowance.  I got caught with Virgin - 2 pieces with total weight 16kg and it cost me another $45 for the second bag on a Coolangatta to Melb flight last week. 

29 Mar 2017

Total posts 21

Actually that’s a really good point. Although Qantas do the same as Virgin (was recently caught out with Qantas!)

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jan 2017

Total posts 12

Flew Adelaide-Brisbane-Cairns and Cairns-Sydney-Adelaide in the past two weeks, on tickets purchased in February (before comp snacks removed).  On each leg, I told the FA I had purchased my tickets in February and that I understood I was still entitled to comp. snacks.  Only one FA questioned whether I had that authorisation in writing from Virgin (which obviously I didn't) - but my wife and I each got those comp. snacks on all six legs.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jan 2017

Total posts 12

Sorry, that was four legs. - Packs of mixed nuts and fruits - quite OK.   Used my Amex Velocity Platinum card to access Virgin lounges.   BUT - we suffered FIVE schedule changes prior to flights and were bumped from Economy X row 3 to row 4 at boarding gate on Cairns-Sydney leg without apology or explanation - despite having booked those seats nearly 5 months in advance.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

20 Nov 2017

Total posts 106

Can't believe commenters are focused on the in-flight snack as an important issue. If you want a snack, grab a $1 chocolate bar from Coles/Woolies in town. I think it is the most trivial factor in deciding who I choose to fly with. In some aspects (price, customer service, priority boarding, more generous FF program) VA is better than QF, but in other aspects (breadth and depth of network, lounges) QF is better than VA. 

I do not agree that VA is closer to JQ than to QF. If anything, VA slightly shades QF, except if it doesn't fly to where you want to go.

29 Mar 2017

Total posts 21

Couldn’t agree more. I refuse to fly Jetstar wherever possible, and have a strong preference for VA (even over QF, even at the moment). I find I get far better value for money out of VA for all the reasons stmaus says above. 

Really the only difference between VA and QF is the food offering (debatable based on recent posts I’ve read) and the extent of the lounge network. On the flip side, I often find VA is just as cheap if not cheaper than JQ on the routes I fly. And I’m sick of being stuffed around by JQ and them not caring.

So saying VA is more JQ than QF is absurd.

17 Jun 2021

Total posts 1

I'd been a regular Virgin Gold customer for several years and was very happy with the service both in and out of the aircraft. I recently started flying with Qantas again after ditching for Virgin mainly on price/value and fact I travel overseas and Virgin is pretty limited in where you can fly and even to NZ on a 737 is average.

I don't care about free snacks as has been pointed out by others I don't even eat them anyway. I have to say going back to Qantas and now achieving Gold status is making me rethink Virgin. Lounge food is just average, planes are getting old now and looking tired, cannot fly to NZ yet and even Perth on the 737 is not enticing me to go Virgin.

I have the luxury as does others of continuingly choosing based on destination and price who I fly with so I am going to take full advantage.

Singapore Airlines - KrisFlyer

28 Jun 2019

Total posts 80

VA is not the same inflight experience as Qantas, but it's the flexibility and ease of making changes that matters most to me right now, and despite being someone who actively wants to fly Qantas and is willing to pay for it, Qantas' "Fly Flexible" policy is anything but and simply not competitive or reflective of the current border situation in Australia.  

As it stands, QF only allows changes to dates, not route, and even then the system has attempted to charge me the change fee in a few instances, resulting in 60+ minutes on hold even as a Gold member. 

By contrast, VA allows you to immediately convert a ticket online into Travel Bank credit that can be used for any flight, across multiple bookings, and even different passengers. I have no VA status yet have had my call answered within 10 minutes even on days where Qantas has taken well over an hour, and unlike QF, I've been able to do almost everything online (except convert a flight into credit that I'd already changed).

The uncertainty around border closures and the frustration / limitations in managing them with Qantas just doesn't justify the inflight experience at Qantas, or even the added perks I get being Gold. What I need is flexibility and the ability to get it without wasting half my day on hold. That means other than reward tickets or flights to places VA doesn't fly, I'm more likely to fly VA unless / until QF eases up on its change policies.

If VA had a more extensive lounge network (and at least in Cairns, Darwin and Hobart), the choice would be even easier (as I have the Amex Platinum which grants access).

26 Oct 2017

Total posts 7

Yes, it's a shame Virgin hasn't reopened its Cairns lounge. As a reasonably regular flyer to Cairns the lack of lounge facilities has an influence on my choice of airline.

JF
JF

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

04 Jan 2019

Total posts 2

50ml is barely a half-pour for me.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

09 Jan 2017

Total posts 12

Now that Virgin has begun direct Adelaide-Cairns flights (at last, Hurrah), and which is proving very popular in our southern winter (lockdowns excepted) it's a serious letdown to find its Cairns lounge closed, with no positive noises coming out of Virgin that it will ever re-open.  Such a shame.


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