In aviation, a year can make a huge difference. A year ago Virgin Australia was Virgin Blue. They did not have A330s and they had no business class. All that changed in May, 2011 when the discount carrier became “ahem” less discount. Since then, my observation is that Virgin have continued to improve their product. Significantly, they managed to increase profits by 118 per cent last year. Not an easy feat in this industry. Today, I review their A330 Business Class product.
Booking: 9 out of 10
Virgin Australia has a very simple and straight forward booking system at www.virginaustralia.com.au
All fare classes and levels are displayed on the one screen. Scrolling between days of travel is very easy. When booking an economy seat, they prompt you to upgrade to business class for an extra fee. I was actually upgrading to Business Class using one of my four free upgrades gained annually for being a Platinum flyer. To upgrade that way or to use frequent flyer points requires a call to the frequent flyer service centre which is a small nuisance, albiet for a great reward! Be great if you could organise the upgrade on -line.
I then offset my greenhouse gases and chose my seat. All easy!
Check In: 10 out of 10
Online check in was also very easy with Virgin Australia. As a result, of this system, I by passed completely the check in desks at Perth airport. In fact I cannot even remember seeing the area! (I don’t, as a rule, check luggage in).
Lounge: 7 out of 10
The Perth Lounge was the one I used to visit when I flew the old Ansett Australia out of Perth. I was very pleased to see it is due for an update and I am really looking forward to seeing it when I am back in September. Be interesting to see how much like the Melbourne lounge it becomes. Staff were very welcoming.
Boarding: 8 out of 10
We started boarding a little late. The Boarding area, itself, seemed to be a little chaotic. It didn’t seem to be a very large gate area for the number of passengers milled around. People were scattered everywhere. I suspect the build up had intensified because of the late boarding.
I joined the Business Class/Platinum/Gold priority line which had a lot of people in it. When the announcement ewas made for priority boarding, there was a surge forward. Turns out most people had decided they would “self nominate” as Priority. The agent magically cleared the interlopers out of the way in seconds. The guy in front of me was asked if he was priority and he shrugged his shoulders and moved out of the queue.
After all that, I was one of the first to board. I am such a geek about planes. While I love the Airbus A380 and A340 and think the A320 is okay, I was not initially , a fan of the 330. However, after 20 flights in the last five years (and 94 ooo kilometres) with Qantas, Cathay, Virgin, Etihad, Royal Jordanian, Singapore and Lufthansa, I have fallen in love with the plane! As I boarded “Cable Beach” (the first of Virgin’s A330s delivered in May, 2011, I gushed to the crew how much I loved it. We got a very warm welcome from Johnny at the door. His smile lit up the gangway. Just the right touch. He directed me left into the Business Class Cabin and my favourite seat.
On Board: 10 out of 10
Business class has 27 seats arranged 2-3-2 (behind a single 2-2-2 row at the front). My favourite Virgin Australia A330 seat is 1K in the front row of business on the right hand side. I recently observed I think I sit on the right had inside of planes more than the left side. Whys that? Leg room is quite generous (as pictured). Pitch is 62″ between seats
The Business Class cabin was very calm and staff very welcoming. The load was very, very light with just five seats occupied.
Each seat had headphones, and blanket. The seat has a range of reclining options but doesn’t lie flat. Virgin’s A330s due to be delivered shortly, are rumoured to have lie flat beds.
A welcome drink (orange juice, water and sparkling wine) came around. Menu for flight followed with newspapers next. Finally, the amenities kit was delivered.
I learnt there are ten crew aboard the plane, when I presented the staff with chocolate eggs for Easter (I appreciated the team working at Easter for me and they liked the eggs!).
Economy was much fuller. The economy class cabin of 251 seats is set up in a 2-4-2 configuration with a few rows of 2-3-2. Each seat has its own seat-back video screen for in-flight entertainment. Standard seat pitch is 31″ with 33″ at the bulkheads.
Safety Briefing- 7 out of 10
Virgin has a cute video showing all safety features. Great video but I like to have more involvement from the Flight Attendants during the safety briefing. After all, I will be relying on them and not a video if I ever have to evacuate a plane quickly.
Takeoff: 10 out of 10
We paused at the runway for a few seconds as the two engines got louder. We started slowly, very slowly. Airbuses always seem to be slow beasts to launch into the air unlike the Boeings that thunder into the sky. As we moved down the runway with the Perth International terminal on the right, the front wheels lifted and we were aloft. The ride on the runway was actually quite rough – of course one feels it more up the front! Is the runway overdue for some maintenance- or are the fly in- fly out operations that take 1000s of people every week through the airport to mining sites and oil rigs throughout the state taking their toll?
Perth can be very windy and bouncy in climb but we had none of that. The suburbs flashed past and then we were crossing the dry farmlands , ironically re-tracking the same route, I had taken a few days earlier to Esperance. (see Trip Report April 10). The seatbelt was switched off very soon after takeoff.
The Flight: 10 out of 10
The crew brought around hot towels soon after take off. Adam, my cabin attendant introduced himself and asked for drinks and menu orders. After, he addressed me as Mr Cowling, I asked him to call me by first name. The guy sitting in 3K asked the same thing. I noticed the crew on the 737 going over did not address us by name. Is this an A330 thing or inconsistent Virgin service?
I ordered “The Australian” Cocktail designed by Chef Luke Mangan. Adam served it with a selection of mixed hot nuts (pictured).
We had a very smooth flight across Australia. We had some light turbulence 35 minutes into flight (almost at the town of Esperance ). This was nothing to be excited about. The seat belt sign stayed off.
Meals: 10 out of 10
I was very hungry so enjoyed lunch immensely (I had eaten sparingly in the lounge). There were two choices of starters, three main courses and two desserts. I started with Prosciutto and char grilled vegetables with bread, dukkah and olive oil. I accompanied it with sparkling water. The other option was a mildly curried pumpkin and coconut soup. Mildly curried always makes me nervous. The Proscuiutto was superb.
For the main dish, I went for braised duck served with chorizo. I was very, very happy with my choice. It was accompanied with a delicious white wine (which I cannot remember now..must have enjoyed it a lot!)
I am afraid I was a bit of a pig with dessert having both the coconut custard with lychees, strawberries and pineapple and the Australian cheese selection (King Island Blue, Jindi double cream and Heidi Gruyere)!
Entertainment: 8 out of 1o
The A330 In-flight Entertainment System in all classes includes six channels of movies, nine channels of TV and music videos, and audio entertainment. I found the selection okay.
Landing: 10 out of 10
Before landing, I had another of the delicious cocktails. We were given another hot towel which was lovely. A perfect ending to an almost perfect flight.
We touched down smoothly and I sadly farewelled the crew!
My rating: Overall 92% (4.6 out of 5)- my overall rating of Virgin Blue flights: 4.6 (based on 19 flights)
Skytrax Rating of Virgin Australia: 4 star
Positives: Service, Meals, Seat, Cabin Crew, Welcome Aboard, website
Negatives: No option on website to upgrade
Would I fly them again? Yes. Yes.Yes.
My last trip Report: April 10: Skywest Perth (PER) to Esperance (EPR) Fokker