It was a case of "better late than never" as Virgin Australia's new Boeing 777-300ER business class seats made their debut on the Sydney-Los Angeles route over the weekend.
The airline will now push to make up for lost time, considering the upgrade – intended to catapult Virgin ahead of Qantas in terms of trans-Pacific business class – was initially slated to begin flying in November 2015.
Certification issues with the installation of the business class seat delayed that launch to "early 2016", which according to the original timeline was when the airline intended to have all five of the Boeing 777s refitted.
The first of the refurb'd birds is scheduled to fly between Sydney and Los Angeles "on even-numbered days during May, unless operational requirements require otherwise," a Virgin Australia spokesperson told Australian Business Traveller.
This Boeing 777 now sports 37 of Virgin's 'The Business' business class seats, up from 33 in the older configuration – with all of the new seats offering direct-aisle access (compared to the current 2-3-2 layout)...
... and converting into a wide fully-flat bed.
The seat is largely identical to that already flying in Virgin's domestic Airbus A330 fleet on most east-west and some domestic legs, but for a larger screen – 18 inches, up from the A330's already-generous 16 inch panel.
A second Boeing 777-300ER is now headed for the refit hangar in the US state of Louisiana, and Virgin now expects the fleet-wide refit to be completed "in the third quarter of 2016" and be flying on the Sydney-Los Angeles, Brisbane-Los Angeles and Sydney-Abu Dhabi routes.
Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti has predicted this will be "the business class to beat" between Australia and Los Angeles, and it certainly stacks up well against Qantas' older Skybed II seats on the Flying Kangaroo's Airbus A380 superjumbos.
Virgin's closest competitor from Sydney to stateside will be Qantas partner American Airlines, which has a similar seat design to The Business – albeit one based on that of Cathay Pacific – on its own Boeing 777-300ER jets (below) running daily on the Sydney-LA route.
Passengers at the pointy end of Virgin's Boeing 777 will also see a newly-designed business class bar with face-to-face service for up to four seated guests...
... plus additional lounge seating behind the bar.
And while Virgin's refitted Boeing 777 premium economy zone will be almost halved, from 40 seats down to 24, the revamped seats and smaller more exclusive cabin are being repositioned as a ‘business lite’ product with an extra three inches of legroom – up from the current 38 inches to 41 inches – and a new Luke Mangan-designed menu.
Premium economy passengers will also have access to a new 'Premium Larder' snack bar stocked with an assortment of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, light meal options and snacks.
"While we pitch our new business class at halfway between business and first, premium economy will be halfway between economy and business but certainly closer to business class," Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller at the launch of airline's new business class.
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