Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Melbourne to Sydney

Introduction

How rude! 23 hours before my departure to Sydney, I receive two emails: one if from Air France and the other is from QANTAS. The email from Air France informs me that my flight to Sydney has been cancelled and I can request a refund of my FlyingBlue miles ticket. The email from QANTAS tells me that they’re working to rebook me and will get back to me within 72 hours. Great! A short while later another message arrives to inform me that QANTAS has found an alternative and booked me on the departure from Melbourne at 21h00 instead of 13h00. Alternatively, I can select another option under the ‘Manage booking’ tab on the app. Only, the other options are a departure at 06h00 or at 07h00 in the moring. So a refund it is. Luckily, I find an alternative flight on the Virgin Australia website, and it even has a better timing – with a departure from Melbourne at 14h00.

Getting to the airport

In Melbourne I was renting a flat in Southbank, very close to the Yarra river, the CBD and Flinders Street station. Check-out is at 10h00 in the morning. I then make my way with all my luggage to the southern end of the Elizabeth Street entrance to Flinders Street station. There’s a train from here to Southern Cross station roughly every ten minutes. The journe takes about four minutes and costs AUD4.60.

At Southern Cross I alight and change to the SkyBus for the airport.

The oneway ticket is AUD19. If you get a return ticket each way is slightly cheaper, meaning you’ll only pay AUD32.

The journey takes about 25 minutes.

Check-in

Virgin checks in at Terminal 3, which is the first stop on the Skybus. The SkyBus drops you off at arrivals on the ground level. Departures are one floor up.

Business Class passengers can either use the self-service check-in machines or one of the check-in counters, which is what I do. While the friendly lady checks me in, we have a little natter about the heat wave they’re having in Europe. While we’re at it, she tells me that weather in Melbourne is a bit like a woman’s mood: it changes four times a day but never the way you expect it too. I’ll take that into consieration, Ma’am. She gives me instructions to the lounge and sends me on my way.

The Virgin Australia Business Class lounge

The Virgin lounge is located right in between the E and F piers, before security. However, there are exits on both sides of the lounge that will eject you in a dedicated, segregated security- screening area for lounge visitors only.

The lounge is very big and not all that busy. It also doesn’t seem to be operating at full capacity, as not all the bars are open. There are also magazine shelves but no magazines, which I’m guessing is because of Covid19.

The large buffet is permanently manned, which makes it impossible to take pictures of it without getting the staff in the photos too.

The best feature of the lounge though, is the large window front that runs along the full length of it and that gives you good views of the ramp.

While I wait I track the progress of my aircraft. It’s running nearly two hours late on its previous flight from Gold Coast to Melbourne. Somewhere along the line, I notice there’s an aircraft change and our flight will now be operated on a different aircraft currently inbound from Hobart. That one will not reach Melbourne until 13h52, which means the 14h00 departure time is still not going to happen either way.

Once VH-VUS is safely on the ground and parked on its stand, I figure I might as well leave the lounge and go for a walkabout until boarding starts.

I reach gate 3 and they’re still unloading the cargo from the previous flight. The baggage carts with the Melbourne bound suitcases are already waiting, and I’m happy to spot my luggage on it too. The aluminium RIMOWA with all the stickers in the top left corner is one of mine.

Boarding

Eventually, boarding starts at around 14h35, which means we’re probably going to be running an hour late by the time we depart. Which actually suits me better. I step aboard as one of the last passengers. The purser welcomes me aboard, followed by “there you are”. Before I can even take my seat, she asks me if I’d like some sparkling wine or still water.

The seat

On my previous flight, I was seated on row 1. This time I’m on row 2. The seat pitch is geat. There is a large seat pocket and the seat has USB and electricity plugs.

The meal

I can’t seem to get it right. I don’t know, maybe the Aussies just struggle with my accent. On my last flight, the choice was between the chicken burger and a chickpea salad. I ordered the chickpea salad and all the purser understood was something with ‘chick…’, and immediately brought me the burger instead. Which was not good. So this time, the choice is between another chicken burger and a salad. The guy next to me orders the burger. And even though I clearly enunciate ‘salad’, all the purser hears is “same”. Only this time, I’m prepared, and I immediately correct her and specify that I want the salad.

And it’s a good choice. The salad comes with little pieces of rice-shaped pasta, rocket, pumpkin, bell peppers and a yoghurt dressing. It’s very nice. With that there is another packet of crackers with cheese and a chocolate heart. God, I’m missing Swiss chocolate right now…

Arrival

By the time we pull onto our stand it’s 16h10, so we’re running over an hour later. Which suits me fine, because I’m picking up the light of my life today, who will be arriving at 17h20 at the international terminal. My late arrival means a shorter wait.

My suitcases arrive very quickly. I then make my way outside to catch the complimentary Tbus that connects the domenstic terminals with the international terminal. The Tbus is orange, and you really can’t miss it. It runs every 15 minutes. The journey takes about ten minutes, depending on the traffic on the roads.

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Sydney to Melbourne

Introduction

It had always been a dream of mine that one day I would watch a performance at the Sydney Opera House. This weekend the stars lined up for me, and I was able to get a ticket to watch the last performance of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. I tought it was a brilliant production. The whole cast were solid. But the soprano’s rendition of the fabulous Un bel di vedremo was literally a show stopper.

Getting to the airport

At 11h40 on Sunday morning I step of the ferry from Manly and walk the short distance to Circular Quay station, from where I can catch a T8 train to Sydney airport. The journey should take about twenty minutes to the domestic terminal.

As it turns out though, they’re working on the line today. So the station is closed and trains to and from the airport are only running as far as Central station. So instead, I walk a few extra steps and board the L2 tram from Circular Quay to Central station. The journey takes about twenty minutes and both the L2 and the L3 run to Central.

And then from Central Station I catch the train to the airport. All in all, the journey from Circular Quay to the airport takes me about 45 minutes instead of 20, but I’m good for time. So no harm done. On public transport in Sydney there’s no need to buy a ticket in advance. You can just badge in and out with your credit card as you go. The maximum amount you’ll pay for a whole day of travel is AUD16.

I alight at the stop for the domestic terminals, which serves both Terminals 2 and 3. Virgin Australia operates out of Terminal 2.

Considering how big Sydney airport is, the distance from the station to the check-in area is surprisingly short.

I’ve already checked in using the app, so I head straight for security. There is no separate queue for Business Class passengers.

The Virgin Australia lounge

It’s rather nice that in Australia, on domestic flights you only have to take out laptops, and not all your liquids as well. The entrance to the Virgin lounge is off to the right as you exit security. It’s quite busy, so I don’t take a lot of photos. The lounge has a wide window front overlooking the apron and the runways beyond – perfect for some plane watching!

There is a fairly large buffet with a selection of cold snacks, such as crackers and cheese, egg sandwiches, tuna wraps, and salads. There is also a choice of two soups.

At around 14h15 I start to get bored, so I figure I mights as well make my way to the gate. Boarding should start at 14h35.

Boarding

There is a separate queue for Business Class passengers and passengers travelling with children or with special needs. If you’re sitting at the back of the bus, you can actually take the stairs down onto the ramp and then walk across to board the aircraft through the rear door.

The cabin

Virgin Australia has two rows of Business Class. Each seat has an adjustable headrest. I think I prefer this seat to that of QANTAS simply because of the fact that the seat back is more upright. For my liking the recline of the QANTAS seat in the upright position is a bit exagerated.

The seat pitch on row 1 is good.

And there’s a small tray that can be pulled out of the armrest for a bit of extra space.

Service

The service begins on the ground with either still water or sparkling wine. Other than that, the crew are very friendly. What is perhaps the most noticeable difference to QANTAS is that Virgin seem to take the Covid measures a lot more seriously. As passengers board, they are reminded to put on their face masks and there’s also a recorded announcement reminding passengers how the face mask should be worn properly.

We move off stand just after 15h00 and make our way to runway 34R, which is quite a schlepp from the domestic apron.

We take off and make a sharp right turn towards the sea. In the distance I can see Bondi beach and the North and South Heads.

The meal

To eat there are two choices: a chicken katsu sandwich with Japanese mayo or a Morroccan chickpea salad. It is perhaps a tad unfortunate that both dishes start with chick…, because I actually order the chickpea salad. Only, what I end up with is the chicken. I don’t bother to point out the mistake. The flight time is only seventy minutes or so. I think I’ll live. also on the tray is a package of cheese and crackers and a small chocolate heart.

And what a dreadful meal it is. The sandwich is incredibly oily and the chicken has a revolting rubbery texture. Needless to say, I put the thing down after one bite. The crackers are good, though.

Arrival

Our approach brings us in right over the city, with St. Kilda visible in the distance. The weather in Melbourne is not as nice as it was in Sydney. It’s overcast and also cooler.

We make a quick taxi to Terminal 3, which is where Virgin operates out of here in Melbourne.

Getting into Melbourne from the airport

Right outside the exit from arrivals is the bus stop for the Skybus, which runs into Melbourne every ten minutes. The journey takes about thirty minutes to Southern Cross station and a one way tickets costs AUD16.

And… it’s a double decker bus. Suitcases are stowed on the lower level, and passengers sit on the upper level. If you’re sitting on the first row, you get some great views as the bus approaches the city.

Virgin Australia, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-800: Sydney to Melbourne

Introduction

Next year I’ll be going on sabbatical for six months. Right now, the plan is that I will spend at least part of those six months working and living in Melbourne – if they’ll have me, of course. So today I’m on my way to Melbourne to introduce myself to the people at the language testing research centre of Melbourne University.  

Getting to the Airport

This has got to be just about the coolest commute to an airport ever! My day starts at 06h00 in the morning, when I leave the house I’ve rented in Fairlight and make my way down to Manly wharf for the 06h35 fast ferry to Circular Quay. The journey into Sydney takes roughly thirty minutes to complete and includes some of the most beautiful and spectacular vistas of the Opera House and Hanger Bridge.

At Circular Quay, I transfer to the railway station for the suburban trains to Sydney airport. The station is just opposite the wharf at Circular Quay and the journey to the domestic terminal at Sydney airport takes just over fifteen minutes. The trains run to the airport run frequently.

Check-in

I alight at the station for the domestic terminal, which is one stop before the international terminal. There are two domestic terminals. Terminal 3 is for QANTAS, while Terminal 2 is for everybody else. I’ve already checked-in online using the Virgin Australia app, which is a good thing, because the Virgin Australia counters look very busy.

The Virgin Australia Lounge

And so I head directly for the security checkpoint. Access to the Virgin Australia lounge is on the right side, just as you exit from security. I’m not entirely sure to beginn with, but upon inquiry with the very friendly and helpful receptionist in the lounge, it would appear that as an Etihad Gold member I’m entitled to use the Virgin Australia lounge, despite the fact that I’m travelling on an Economy Class ticket.

But it turns out that a) the lounge is way too busy anyway, and b) the views outside the lounge are much better, with the sitting area of the food court located right by the windows overlooking the domestic apron.

Boarding

Boarding starts exactly on time, thirty minutes before departure. There is a separate lane for Business Class and priority passengers. If this were Europe, the moment the gate agent announced that boarding had started, there’d be a scrum to get on the plane. But here in Australia, passengers obviously have much better manners and just wait until their group for boarding is called.

The Cabin

The cabin of this aircraft is nice. It looks and smells new and with the grey seats it looks rather elegant. The aircraft also has those new style overhead bins that drop down, instead of the old-school bins you still find on many narrow-bodies, where the lid opens upwards.

There are non power sockets and no inflight entertainmennt screens either.

Seat pitch on the emergency exit is good. In addition, the flight is not completely full, which means that by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat next to me remains empty.

And then we have a problem. The captain comes on the loudspeaker to inform us that Melbourne tower has had to be evacuated and it is unclear if they will be receiving traffic any time soon. Eventually though, we push back with a delay of one hour. The flight time is announced as one hour and five minutes.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of five attractive, slightly oriental looking young females. Whoever selects the female crew for Virgin clearly has a type, because they all look the same and they’re all wearing way too much make-up. Other than that, they seem okay, if not exactly very warm.

In Economy Class, Virgin has a strange mixed service concept, the merit of which escapes me. Tea, still water and a protein bar are complimentary. In addition to that, there are various items to eat and drink which can be purchased on board. Payment is possible in cash or by credit card.

I order a Coke Zero to drink, which costs AUD3. The protein bar is a total abomination. It’s disgusting, which makes you wonder why on earth they even bother in the first place? Having said that, the bulging biceps on 13C seems only too eager to demolish his bar. Wouldn’t want to start losing muscle mass would we…?

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Melbourne at 11h35, only slightly behind schedule. I step outside and catch the Skybus heading for the city centre to Southern Cross station. The journey to the city takes about thirty minutes, and a return tickets costs AUD38.

Conclusion

This was my first time in Economy Class with Virgin Australia. While I like their branding and the design of their cabin, overall I thought they were a bit of a let down on this flight. Admittedly, the cockpit crew was proactive in keeping passengers updated about the situation in Melbourne, but perhaps that’s just it: I somehow got the impression that the cockpit crew seemed far more service oriented than the cabin crew, which somehow can’t be right.

Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Brisbane to Melbourne

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Introduction

This ticket was purchased using Etihad Guest miles. In the original booking, I would have travelled on VA334, which departs from Brisbane at 14h55. Really quite by chance, I realise that I’ve been rebooked to VA332, which departs from Brisbane one hour earlier at 13h55.

According to the IATA rule, until departure the entity which made the original booking is responsible for the passenger – so in this case, Etihad Airways. Quite frankly, I think it’s a piss poor show that they can’t even be arsed to at least inform me that I’ve been put on a flight that leaves a whole hour earlier!

And so I leave the Spicers Balfour in New Market and make my way to the airport one hour earlier than expected. The journey by car takes about 25 minutes, depending on traffic. My first stop though, is the BNE Service Centre – as I have to return the rental car with a full tank.

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Once the car is returned, I take the elevated walkway that connects the car park and the airport’s railway station to the domestic terminal.

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Check-in

There is a dedicated Business Class check-in section for Virgin Australia passengers only.

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The Virgin Australia Lounge

Right next to the Business Class check-in counters is the priority line for security. In Australia, on domestic flights you only need to take out your laptop from the bag. Not liquids.

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The Virgin Australia lounge is opposite gate 41. To be honest, I was expecting this lounge to be a bit of an anti-climax after having experienced the lovely Qantas lounge in Perth.

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But much to my surprise, this is also a very nice lounge. I don’t think I could say if it’s better or worse than the Qantas lounge, because they’re just so different. While the Qantas lounge is elegant in a very grown-up kind of style, the Virgin lounge has a much fresher, more modern look that is also very attractive.

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Food and drink offerings are good and include a range of hot and cold snacks. Although where the lounge food is concerned, I think Qantas is ahead of Virgin Australia.

Boarding

The flight is departing from gate 43. There is a dedicated line for Business Class passengers and members of the frequent flyer programme.

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The Cabin

Virgin Australia has a dedicated Business Class cabin on the Boeing B 737-800, with eight seats in a 2 + 2 configuration on two rows. The seat pitch is 38 inches and the seat width is 19.5 inches.

The appearance of the cabin is sleek, with the seats in black leather and a purple, see-through cabin divider. The seat is certainly comfortable and beats the European interpretation of Business Class seating any day. The disadvantage with this seat however, is that while it has excellent recline, there is no foot rest to put your legs up. On a flight of only two hours this is hardly an issue, but I’m not sure what it would be like on a longer flight.

What I really like on Virgin Australia, is that once the fasten seatbelt sign goes off, the crew will cordon off the Business Class section from the rest of the aircraft, which significantly diminished the amount of foot traffic in the Business Class cabin.

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The Crew

There are three ladies and one gent working in the cabin on today’s flight. The Business Class section is being taken care of by the purser, Sarah. I think this young lady does a really outstanding job in the way she goes about her duties. She has excellent manners, she’s friendly and approachable and throughout the flight she goes out of her way to ensure that passengers have everything they need.

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There is a choice of orange juice or water as a welcome drink. There are no refreshing towels though.

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The Meal

The whole meal is served on one tray and consists of

  1. a small salad with parmigiano shavings and an excellent dressing,
  2. a small bun with butter,
  3. coconut and chocolate sweets for dessert, and for the main course
  4. a pork pie served hot,

or

  1. Baba Ghanoush, served cold with flat bread.

The salad is definitely much better and certainly larger than that miserable excuse for a side salad served on Qantas. For the main course I choose the Baba Ghanoush, which is really very tasty.

And the coconut chocolate sweet is lovely and goes well with a cup of coffee.

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Arrival

Eventually we land in Melbourne after a flight time of two hours and five minutes. As we taxi in, we pass a LAN Chile B 787, which seems awfully far away from home!

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Eventually our aircraft comes to a stop at Terminal 3.

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Getting into Town

In Melbourne I’ll be staying at the Novotel St. Kilda, which is right on the waterfront. To get to St. Kilda, your cheapest option is to take the red Skybus express shuttle which runs directly from Melbourne airport’s Terminal 4 to St. Kilda. The journey from the airport takes about 60 minutes, depending on traffic, and will cost you AUD19 one way. On weekdays the service runs every 30 minutes.

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Conclusion

So, Qantas or Virgin? It’s really quite hard to say. The food and the crew on the Virgin flight were definitely better. But the lounge and the level of comfort were better on Qantas. Although the latter point is not really quite fair, given that my Qantas flight was with a wide-body, whereas the Virgin Australia flight was with a narrow-body.

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Virgin Australia, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Adelaide to Melbourne

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Date: 09. February 2017
Departure: 19:20
Arrival: 20:20
Flight time: 1 hour
Seat: 2F, window on the starboard of the aircraft

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Introduction

I step off Qatar’s Airbus A 350 and make my way to immigration, which is deserted. From what I can tell, ours is the only international flight to arrive around this time. The guy at customs seems a bit surprised to see me travelling such a long way with only a small carry-on suitcase, but eventually he lets me pass anyway.

If you are catching a domestic connection, simply exit customs and then turn left. There is an escalator that takes you one floor up to the departures level.

Check-in

Virgin Australia have their own dedicated check-in area and there is a separate counter for Business Class passengers.

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It had not been possible to check me in for this flight already in Frankfurt or in Doha.

The Virgin Australia Lounge

Location: Opposite immigration for international departures.
Name of Lounge:
Virgin Airlines lounge.
Access:
As you exit the security checkpoint, turn left.
Toilets & showers:
Available in the lounge.
Food & Beverages: The food selection in the lounge is limited to junk food and toast. Drinks are ordered at the counter.
Connectivity:
Complimentary wifi is available. The password is given to you at check-in.

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Boarding

Business Class passengers and frequent flyers are invited to board first.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2.
Seat Layout: There are two rows of seats, making a total of eight seats in Business Class. The aircraft has a dedicated, proper Business Class cabin and seat.
Pitch: 38 inches.
Width: 19.5 inches.
AC Power:
Not available.
Audio and Video: Virgin offers wireless inflight entertainment that you can watch on your own handheld device. But you need to download their app for that first.

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The Crew

The crew seem friendly enough. They work efficiently to get the service through in just one hour, but without making it feel rushed.

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Taking off over Glenelg.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Sparkling water.

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Choice: There is a choice of either chicken or a salad with beetroot.
Delivery:
Individual tray service.
Type of meal:
Dinner.
Main course:
Chicken breast with creamed corn and tomatoes.

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Dessert: A really very tasty carrot cake.

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Cheese: A plate of camembert with fig chutney and rice crackers.

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Beverages: Coke Zero.

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Bread: One bun, served with butter.

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Coming from Europe, it is quite amazing to be offered a hot meal on a flight of only one hour and to have a proper Business Class seat at your disposal. I am certainly impressed!

Arrival

We arrive in Melbourne more or less on time. Virgin Australia have their own terminal in Melbourne.

From arrivals it takes me about five minutes to walk the short distance to the Holiday Inn hotel, where I will be staying for just the one night.

In summary, I rather like Virgin Australia and I am very glad to say that their service is still as good as I remember it from when I travelled with them last back in 2013.