Virgin Australia hints at new Boeing 737 domestic business class

By David Flynn, February 17 2017
Virgin Australia hints at new Boeing 737 domestic business class

Is Virgin Australia planning a new business class for its domestic Boeing 737 jets?

That’s one take-away from today’s news that the airline would launch flights to Hong Kong using one of its six Airbus A330s – an aircraft which has previously been dedicated to Australia’s east-west routes.

While Virgin hasn't yet committed to Hong Kong seeing daily flights, any international excursions by the A330 will leave a number of holes in the domestic schedule.

Those holes would be filled by Virgin’s Boeing 737-800 jets, Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti admits – but Borghetti is well aware that having raised the bar and passenger expectations with the A330’s spacious and lie-flat business class seats...

... the Boeing 737’s business class cabin with its two-across recliner seats is a massive step down.

At best it’s a spark for customer dissatisfaction – even though Virgin Australia would understandably work to keep the A330s rostered onto overnight red-eye flights, and restrict the Boeing 737s to daytime journeys.

At worst, passengers could decamp to Qantas and its own highly-competitive A330 Business Suites.

Virgin’s solution might just be to fit some of its Boeing 737s with an all-new business class seat which would close the gap between this

... and this.

Speaking with Australian Business Traveller about the implications of the Airbus A330 service to Hong Kong, Virgin Australia Group CEO John Borghetti said “do not assume that we haven’t taken into account the product aspect of utilising a Boeing 737 in place of an A330, should we do that … don't assume we haven't take into account what product will be available (on the Boeing 737).”

Asked if this meant Virgin Australia was considering a new business class for some transcontinental Boeing 737s, Borghetti demurred, replying with a smile that “Well I didn’t say that, you said that…”

Yes, we did say that. 

And given that Borghetti set off the transcontinental turf war in May 2011 with the debut of lay-back recliner seats on its A330 Coast to Coast service – launching a premium cabin arm’s race which resulted in new generations of seats from both Virgin Australia and Qantas – it’s not beyond the pale that he would look to bring a better business class seat to a number of Boeing 737s dedicated to the transcontinental trek.

Virgin Australia has scope to pare back capacity on east-west routes, due to the shrinking of the WA-centred resources sector and reduced demand from corporate and government travellers.

But it can’t risk seeing hard-won customers walk back into the arms of its arch-rival.

Virgin’s play could be to reconfigure some Boeing 737s with a wider reclining business class seat – something more akin to a modern premium economy or regional business class design, still with creature comforts such as more space for inflight working and AC/USB power sockets – while cutting back on the size of the 168-seat economy cabin.

What's your take: do Australia's east-west flights need a high-end business class seat such as on the Virgin Australia and Qantas A330s, or could a simply better business class seat than today's Boeing 737s be more suited to those 4-5 hour flights?


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.

Premium transcon services on narrowbody flights, kind of like AA's A321T subfleet? That would be very cool and innovative. You could even fit Virgin's "3.5 class" arrangement from international flights onto the jet (The Business, Premium, Economy Space Plus, Economy). 

I wonder though... will it be economically doable? 

27 Jan 2016

Total posts 54

Makes complete sense - Jet Blues Trans Con A321 config is a good guide. Every VA TCP flight I have been on has seen pretty poor J loads, so maybe all they need is 4 J class seats on a couple of 737's. Given the amount of flying these aircraft do to on short haul international, it would be a welcome change there too and give them a much more competitive product against the likes of Garuda who operate wide body.

I've always been of the opinion that both Qantas and Virgin went too far with their A330 business class at least when it comes to domestic flights. You don't need VA's The Business or the QF Business Suite for a five hour flight. I agree that a 'regional business' class like Cathay Pacific has would be a good starting point.

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 622

Martin Haynes:

<<I've always been of the opinion that both Qantas and Virgin went too far with their A330 business class at least when it comes to domestic flights.>>
By worldwide std outside AU, I agree.  QF's Biz Suite and VA's J on 330 are seat designs originally developed/intended for very longhaul intercon sectors of 15hrs or longer and almost all carriers which got them mostly utilize them as such.  No other carrier anywhere dedicate such J seat design specifically on 5hrs domestic/transcon sectors except VA and JetBlue(QF and AA @ least use the same design also on their longhaul intercon sectors).

But whether QF & VA hv gone too far re domestic J is no longer relevant.  As long as QF continue to use such J design on AU transcon sectors, I don't think VA has a choice but to @ least partially match it(e.g. some but not all frequencies).

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 May 2014

Total posts 20

On a 5 hour red eye most people would prefer lie flat seat on the QF/VA330s then a CX reigonal seat whilst sleeping....

13 Sep 2016

Total posts 178

I'm not sure about the economics of an A330-style direct aisle access seat on the Boeing 737 as Virgin would go from four seats across to just two, but maybe if it was angled for better space efficiency you could still get a good six seats in the front end. This might also be the time for them to introduce the premium economy which they have been looking into.


Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 Jan 2012

Total posts 171

Maybe they should order some of the larger Boeing 737-900 and then fit a better business class.  The Boeing 737-900 would give the extra space for a new Business Class cabin and also bridge the gap a little between the Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A330-200.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

12 Jun 2011

Total posts 148

They can't sell the seat as it is currently (often there is only 1 or 2 people on most flights i'm on), who is going to pay more for a more expensive and lavish product?

09 Nov 2011

Total posts 88

The Delta 757 trans continentals have very comfortable 4 abreast lie flats - something around that design would work - they would maybe need to loose a row of economy

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 622


<<Delta 757 trans continentals have very comfortable 4 abreast lie flats - something around that design would work>>
Considering all factors, I agree this is the most likely J seat design choice for VA's 737 if they decide to recoup some loss in J seat design std on transcon routes due to 332 redeployment fm domestic to Int'l.

Such design will 1) still be a horizontal flatbed and 2) avoid too much loss in total seat count but 3) without direct aisle access for every seat and 4) has lesser privacy.  It's closer to VA's current J on 330 than the current J on 737.  1) is important for preserving sleeping quality during an overnite flight typical for transcon.  2) is important for a smaller type like 738.  3) is far less crucial if U are onboard for only 5hrs including times U won't be away fm your seat anyway such as meal/sleep time and seat belt sign on.  4) is an even more minor issue when a maximum of only 7(11 if VA add 1 more row of J on 738) other J pax will share the entire J cabin with you...unlike on the 332 where that cabin has 20 seats.

It's a very good J design tradeoff /compromise on a 737/320.

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 1191

I believe any move to an upgraded J class on 737s may be tied to the delayed 737 Max order.  VA seems to have moved away from describing their order as being for Max8s and is now just described as 737 Max.  This leads me to believe that maybe the delay is partly to enable VA to move from Max8s up to Max9s or Max10s both of which would enable the J class footprint to grow without giving up Y class real estate.

Obviously the JetBlue and American A321s are the standard that VA would look towards.  I don't know if the 6 inches the 737 gives up to the A320 significantly affects what type of J class product is possible.  As has been pointed out, UA and DL have lie-flat arrangements with their 757s but those products are probably a generation behind what AA and B6 are offering.

31 Mar 2016

Total posts 622

<<JetBlue and American A321s are the standard that VA would look towards.>>
Some BA 321s, mostly deployed on LHR-Central Asia/ex-Soviet states routes, also hv a similar J design(i.e. flat bed + direct aisle access for most if not all seats).

<<I don't know if the 6 inches the 737 gives up to the A320 significantly affects what type of J class product is possible.>>
Unlikely an issue if the numerous customization experience for a single horizontal flatbed J design being applied across diff widebody types is a guide.  A few examples:

QR vs QR=
J seat design+layout on their 788 and 359 are exactly the same except minor diff in dimensional specs.  5inches diff in cabin diameter 787 vs 350.

VA vs AC=
The J design on VA's 332 is basically the same as the one on AC's 788/789 while both layouts are in 1-2-1.  12inches diff in cabin diameter 330 vs 787.

QF vs others=

The basic design(Actually the developer+manufacturer too) of their latest Biz Suite on 333 is the same as the J design deployed on the 777 of many other longhaul carriers despite layouts being the same 1-2-1 abreast.  A whopping 26inches diff in cabin diameter 330 vs 777. 


14 Jun 2013

Total posts 354

+1 for a 'regional business class' type of seat. Here is Cathay Pacific's regional business class, which is also Cathay Dragon business class, I honestly reckon for 5 hours east-west this is good enough.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

17 May 2014

Total posts 35

I would rather prefer SQ's regional business class than CX's. CX's 'regonal C' is PY-standard at best and it's just horrible if you want some proper rest.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

24 Aug 2011

Total posts 789

VX first class seats would do nicely, along with AC and USB power fleet-wide. At worst, add some bl--dy footrests. Sick of watching people in row one put their feet on the bulkhead. Eew.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

09 Dec 2015

Total posts 9

Having just flown DPS-BNE in J on one of VA's overnight flights (only option this time of year) where I did not get any sleep due the totally inadequate seat; I would love to see upgraded J seats deployed on this route. I am planning my next trip and I will now only fly when VA operate a day time flight which severely restricts your choices.

18 Sep 2015

Total posts 130

I can't believe that some contributors are advocating the lowering of domestic business class standards. If it wasn't for VA, then QF would have 2-2-2 on their A330s.


14 Jun 2013

Total posts 354

We're talking about raising the domestic business class standards, specifically those of the Boeing 737. In case you missed it, Virgin will be putting more 737s onto east-west flights in place of A330s. I'm not sure what you feel is the answer to this but would like to hear it.

A decent trans-con business product in the 737 would be a game changer. No brainer. Bring it on!

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

13 Jan 2015

Total posts 593

It should be like their old A330 seats

20 Feb 2012

Total posts 67

As mentioned above I think the narrower internals of the 737 will play a sigbificant part in this.

No airline (to my knowledge) today has lie flats on a 737.
Don't get me wrong, I would love to see Virgin do something innovative and I know they have been talking about the 737 J replacement for quite some time so good luck to them.

"No airline (to my knowledge) today has lie flats on a 737."

United and Delta both have BE Parallel Diamond seats on a 757, which has the same cabin width as a 737.

Even BE Apex suites could fit on a 737 (just). 


14 Jun 2013

Total posts 354

I'm not expecting a lie-flat or anything close to the A330 but I think there are plenty of options for a modern 737 business class seat which is better suited to Sydney-Perth than the same seat you have for Sydney-Melbourne. With rumours that Qantas will also be swapping more 737s in place of A330s on east-west flights this is the sort of competitive advantage which Virgin needs.

Virgin Australia - Velocity Rewards

07 Dec 2014

Total posts 173

Could another way to take Borgetti's statement be that they will bring onboard (perhaps lease) additional A330s? 

I admit, given the financial situation of the airline, that's less likely, but perhaps the decision to push back the 737 MAX was actually because additional wide body aircraft were being considered instead?

Otherwise, can't the 737 lavatories be reconfigured to provide additional seats at the rear of the aircraft, to possibly minimise the loss of an economy row to fit a different business class in at the front of the plane?

06 Mar 2018

Total posts 1

BA have a great all-business product on their A318 LCY JFK service. Totally lie flat ; feels very bespoke like being on a private jet. The seats would be great for a Virgin 737 service.

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