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Virgin Australia will begin direct flights between Melbourne and Hong Kong on July 5, going up against incumbents Qantas and Cathay Pacific as the challenger spreads its international wings.
The flights will run five days a week – on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday – and adopt an unusual split schedule with some flights leaving Melbourne mid-morning and others shortly after midnight.
The return flights will all be overnights, departing Hong Kong shortly before 8pm to reach Melbourne at 7.20am the following day.
Here's the official roster, for which tickets will go on sale Wednesday March 22.
Virgin Australia flights from Melbourne to Hong Kong
- flight VA87 will depart Melbourne at 10.25am every Monday, reaching Hong Kong at 6.05pm; and 9.40am every Wednesday, landing in Hong Kong at 5.20pm
- flight VA89 will depart Melbourne at 12.35am – yes, that's half-past midnight – every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, arriving in Hong Kong at 8.15am
Virgin Australia flights from Hong Kong to Melbourne
- flight VA86 will depart Hong Kong at 7.50pm every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, arriving into Melbourne at 7.20am the following day
Virgin Australia has yet to advise which lounges at both Melbourne and Hong Kong its business class travellers and top-tier frequent flyers will be able to use, although it's expected that Hong Kong Airlines' Club Bauhinia lounge will be on that list.
The China connection
The VA89 flights which arrive into Hong Kong of a morning will dovetail neatly into routes from Hong Kong to mainland China on Hong Kong Airlines and Hainan Airlines, which are part-owned by Virgin stakeholder and Chinese aviation colossus HNA Group.
There will be some connections to China after the early evening arrival of VA87 but they'll see you checking into your hotel close to midnight – so this flight is more likely to find favour among travellers staying put in Hong Kong, at least for that first night.
Virgin is expected to codeshare its flights with Hong Kong Airlines, and Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti considers the inbound market from Hong Kong and China as integral to the route's success.
“Virgin Australia’s entry into Hong Kong and Greater China is a key pillar of our international strategy, allowing us to tap into Australia’s fastest growing and most valuable inbound travel market" Borghetti says.
“Melbourne is an international city in its own right and hosts some of Australia’s biggest and most spectacular events. We look forward to showcasing this great city to inbound visitors from Hong Kong and beyond."
Taking on Qantas, Cathay Pacific
"Cathay and Qantas have got (Hong Kong) by the throat" says Virgin Australia group CEO Borghetti.
"We intend to break that duopoly and bring competition not only from the price side but also from the product side."
Virgin will roster Airbus A330 jets onto the route, tempting corporate travellers with the promise of modern and spacious business class seats with direct aisle access for every passenger.
Providing the necessary number of aircraft for Melbourne-Hong Kong means that the Brisbane-Perth route will lose its sole A330 service, leaving all of those transcontinental treks running on the smaller and less comfortable Boeing 737.
Qantas has its own Airbus A330 and similarly-spec'd Business Suites running daily between Melbourne (departing 11.15am ) and Hong Kong (arriving 5.40pm).
However, during peak travel seasons Qantas shifts to the larger Boeing 747 and its inferior previous-generation Skybed seats.
Eating into Cathay Pacific's share of the market will be a challenge for Virgin, as the Hong Kong flag carrier not only boasts a similarly well-appointed business class seat but has more flexibility to suit the traveller's own timetable through three daily flights – one of which is its new Airbus A350.
Business travellers on a budget may also lean towards Cathay Pacific, as it's the only carrier regularly offering premium economy on the route.
None the less, Melbournians will consider Virgin's move as a welcome break to the entrenched Oneworld duopoly – and be watching for the inevitable price war sparked by the arrival of a new player.