EXCLUSIVE | Virgin Australia plans to reveal a next generation of its Boeing 737 business class seats before the end of this year as the airline continues to battle Qantas for the hearts and wallets of corporate travellers.
The seats will be dedicated to transcontinental flights running between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, but will be fitted to the single-aisle Boeing 737 jets as Virgin shifts its larger Airbus A330s onto Asian routes into Hong Kong and mainland China.
Speaking with Australian Business Traveller during the inaugural flight of Virgin Australia’s new Melbourne-Hong Kong route, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti said the airline's six-strong Airbus A330 fleet "will be dedicated to Asia", with the first of those jets now being flown between Melbourne and Hong Kong – with Sydney or Brisbane tipped to follow before the year is out.
While there will still be some A330s flying east-west until Virgin has locked down sufficient Asian routes, Borghetti is mindful that travellers who have become accustomed to the spacious Airbus A330s on those 4-5 hour flights may recoil at the thought of shifting to the likes of a Boeing 737 – “but we have a solution, and you’ll hear about it later this year.”
Borghetti says the new seat will represent a “quantum leap in domestic business class.”
“I’d say everything we've done product-wise has not been half-baked, and we would not put a product on transcon that was not up to scratch.”
The move could see Virgin Australia create a dedicated transcontinental fleet similar to those operated by US airlines such as American Airlines, United and its own partner Delta.
Virgin’s pointy end play is intended to maintain a competitive advantage over Qantas, which has a sizeable domestic A330 fleet sporting the Roo’s highly-regarded Business Suite seats.
“When we brought today’s A330 business class onto east-west routes we brought something new, and it’s still the best transcontinental business class. I'm confident we will continue to have the best transcon product (with our new business class).”
How Virgin's new business class could look
Virgin's new east-west business class seat could potentially take its cue from the likes of US airline JetBlue's Mint, which combines lie-flat seats with personal suites on US transcontinental routes.
JetBlue's Mint cabin provides 16 spacious seats at the pointy end of its Airbus A321 jets, with seats are arranged in a unique configuration which sees each pair of business seats...
... alternate with a single semi-private suite fitted with a sliding door.
Here's how that layout looks on JetBlue's A321 seating chart, with Mint at rows 1 through 5 providing 12 paired premium seats with four personal suites.
Mint is based on the Vantage Suite platform created by Thompson Aero Seating (Thompson’s Vantage XL variant is the base for Qantas' competing Airbus A330 Business Suite) but heavily customised by JetBlue.
David Flynn travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Virgin Australia