Sydney - Wellington
- Friendly Virgin Australia service
- Bargain fares
- Slow check-in
- Hiking through duty free at SYD
- Exit row legroom
- On-board prices in NZ$
With the relaunch of Virgin Australia last week, we were keen to see how the experience of flying on a Pacific Blue flight to New Zealand has changed.
The answer seems to be: it's a little inconsistent, with some staff, airport screens and ticket information referring to Pacific Blue, and others calling it a Virgin Australia flight. We'd imagine that infrequent travellers could well be confused.
We picked economy class for our trip: the only business class option on the route is with Qantas. Air New Zealand also flies the route, but its top offering is "middle seat blocked" style (like Virgin Australia's Premium Economy) which Air NZ calls Works Deluxe.
Given the length of the flight -- generally under three hours eastbound and slightly longer flying westwards against the prevailing winds -- it's hard to imagine that the cost-benefit ratio for Premium Economy/Works Deluxe stacks up for most business travellers.
Virgin Australia flies between Sydney and Wellington three days a week -- Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Check-in for Pacific Blue flights is over the counter at Sydney's International Terminal (T1); We arrived at 7:30AM (for a 10:00AM flight), and at this point, only one operator was manning the check-in desk for both check-in queues (normal and priority).
The particular check-in operator also seemed quite slow, which did little for clearing out the queue of passengers. The operator did, however, offer an exit row seat without further prompting, which made arriving early for check-in worthwhile.
Note that unlike with Virgin Australia's domestic offerings, seat allocation before check-in is not available, so passengers with particular seat preferences should check in earlier.
Remember, New Zealand is in fact another country, so check-in closes 90 minutes before the flight departs.
Passengers with Silver or Gold status with Virgin Australia's Velocity Rewards programme, as well as passengers on the "Flexible" or "Corporate Plus" economy fares and Premium Economy passengers, are able to use the priority check-in lane.
That lane takes about five minutes to check-in, but other passengers should allow up to 30 minutes to clear the check-in queue.
Pacific Blue's check-in operates from desk K, and the check-in desk screens already have the Virgin Australia logo up.
The desk is the one of the furthest from both the terminal train station and entry to the Customs control point, so allow an extra five minutes' walking time in each direction.
There's currently no lounge access for former Pacific Blue flights departing from Sydney. (Former V Australia flights use Air New Zealand's Koru Club, but only for Business Class and Gold status passengers on long-haul flights to Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles.) Expect this arrangement to change once the Pacific Blue/Air New Zealand joint venture across the Tasman starts up.
For passengers travelling in the opposite direction, the Wellington Corporate Box lounge is available to passengers with Gold status with Velocity Rewards.
Our flight departed from gate 55: at the very end of one of the piers of the International terminal (with a walk through at least two inescapable duty-free stores).
Boarding was efficient (with the rear end of the plane boarding first), and the plane took off on schedule.
The plane was almost full (save for the Premium Economy seats at the front, and a few seats at the back). It took 2 hours 55 minutes to get to Wellington (about 10 minutes ahead of the timetabled schedule).
If you enjoy a nice view as you land, our flight (and most flights) approached Wellington from the North, so the best views of Wellington's picturesque CBD are usually on the right-hand side of the plane from E or F seats.
The walk to passport control and biosecurity at Wellington Airport is a short one, and the SmartGate passport clearance facility is available for Australian and New Zealand passport holders.
If you're not travelling on an Australian or NZ passport, avoid seats at the back of the plane -- Wellington's passport control isn't over-staffed, and can take an awfully long time.
The Boeing 737-800 aircraft on our flight appeared to be one of the older ones in the Virgin Australia fleet. The seats are an older form with a fixed headrest, and no at-seat entertainment screens but were otherwise quite comfortable.
The exit row seat had a pitch of 39" between our seatback and the one in front, which offered plenty of leg room for the flight.
For passengers not fortunate enough to receive a seat with extra leg room, the seat pitch is 31", but the upside to a lack of seatback entertainment is that there's no control box bolted to the floor at your feet taking up your legroom.
Pacific Blue operates the same buy-on-board food and drink menu that Virgin Australia uses. There's a decent variety of sandwiches, wraps and salads.
The initial service was offered about 40 minutes after take off, and the crew came round with a second round an hour before landing.
Top tip: Prices for Pacific Blue are sold for the same amounts of both Australian and New Zealand dollars. Credit cards are charged in New Zealand dollars, so Australian passengers paying by credit card will enjoy a healthy discount on their meals.
Entertainment & Service
In-flight entertainment is offered in the form of a rentable dig-E-player handheld unit, available for $15 per flight. These contain a variety of movies, television shows and games.
These are offered shortly after takeoff, and are collected by the flight crew when the plane starts to descend, so you get about two and a half hours' worth of use for your $15.
Also available is Virgin Australia's in-flight magazine, Voyeur.