Virgin Australia is raising the business travel bar with today's launch of its all-new Airbus A330 business class, which the airline will market as 'The Business'.
Touted as "a new world standard in domestic business class", the new seats feature wide fully-flat beds, direct aisle access for every passenger due to the 1-2-1 layout, and a wealth of space and storage nooks for keeping in-flight items close at hand.
Each seat also sports a 16 inch high-definition touchscreen, with a turndown service topping the lie-flat seat with a memory foam mattress and high-grade cotton pillows and doonas.
The inaugural flight of The Business will be today's VA559 service from Sydney to Perth on the first of Virgin's six upgraded Airbus A330 jets, with the remaining five to follow by the end of October 2015.
But it's not just about the seats.
Travellers at the pointy end will see a new inflight menu designed by Luke Mangan and available at any time during the flight so that passengers can dine when they want rather than to the crew's own schedule, as well as an 'express dining' service for when work (or sleep) trumps meals.
There's also a new Nespresso coffee service, using the world's first custom-designed Nespresso machine to be fitted to an Airbus A330, which Virgin promises will "deliver the finest coffee in the sky."
Virgin Australia also today announced that senior cabin crew will now have a grey uniform so they can be easily identified.
Today’s launch is an escalation of the ongoing domestic business travel war, the first shot in which was fired when Virgin Blue relaunched as Virgin Australia in early 2011.
In the subsequent four years, east-west flights have been upgraded from old-fashioned business class seat to the very latest lie-flat beds which you could comfortably fly from Sydney to Paris, let alone from Sydney to Perth.
"In 2011, we brought choice and competition to Business Class in Australia for the first time in a decade," said Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti.
"The launch of the Business Class suites today sets a new standard in domestic business class around the world."
Virgin v Qantas
Virgin's slick seats will go up against the competitive Qantas A330 Business Suite (below), which has now been fitted to five domestic Airbus A330s – with that number expected to grow to seven by late September.
Almost half of Qantas' transcontinental A330 services currently feature the upgraded birds, including all weeknight red-eye services from Perth to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
However, with Virgin Australia's A330 fleet numbering only six jets compared to Qantas' 18 red-tails, fleet, the upside for Virgin's passengers is 100% consistency in seeing the new business class on all east-west services from November 2015, while Qantas' A330 flights will be a mixed bag until late 2016.
Avoiding the business class 'lucky dip'
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller earlier this year, an always-optimistic Borghetti mulled that "In some ways this (delay) is good for us."
"The shorter the reconfiguration time the better off you are to provide consistency of product."
A longer upgrade cycle meant "you actually disappoint customers," Borghetti said, "because they get on a plane today and it's the new product, then they get on another plane tomorrow and it's the old product – it's like a lucky dip."
During the 12-week refit period from August to October, smaller Boeing 737 jets will replace the twin-aisle A330s on selected Sydney-Perth and Melbourne-Perth flights.
Reducing the time in which travellers may see some east-west flight temporarily cancelled or swapped onto Boeing 737 jets is "another reason why you want to do [the A330 upgrades] as quickly as possible" Borghetti says.
Last month Qantas also revealed changes to its east-west schedule, which will include dropping one Melbourne-Perth flight and swapping several Sydney-Perth services from the Airbus A330 to Boeing 737s.
Boeing 777 upgrade on track
Virgin's refresh for its international Boeing 777 fleet will continue apace so that the new business class seats can launch in November, one month before Qantas partner American Airlines begins flying between Sydney and Los Angeles on December 17.
Virgin's beefed-up Boeing 777 will go up against American Airlines' international business class seat (below).
This is based on the same design used by Cathay Pacific and, like the new Virgin Australia seats, offer direct access to the aisle, a fully flat bed plus sidetables and personal storage space close at hand.
Virgin Australia's fleet of five Boeing 777s will be refurbished in two waves: from October to December 2015, which is expected to primarily feed the Sydney-LAX and Brisbane-LAX services; and then February-April 2016 to bed down all three of Virgin Australia's international routes including Sydney-Abu Dhabi flights.
The upgraded Boeing 777s will also sport a revamped business class bar...
... plus new premium economy seats.
This short clip provides a virtual walkthrough of Virgin Australia's next generation business class cabin, beginning with a look at the Boeing 777's new business class bar.
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