Australian Business Traveller was on-board Virgin Australia's first Sydney-Perth flight today as the airline gears up for what will be a three-times daily service from July, marketed under the 'Coast to Coast' brand.
This flight on the airline's new wide-body Airbus A330 aircraft also marks the debut of true 'business class' for Virgin Australia, whereas Virgin Blue's previous best offering was premium economy.
Here are our first impressions of Virgin Australia's new coast-to-coast business class service – a full review of the flight and experience will follow soon!
The journey started at Virgin Australia's Sydney lounge, which now sports a fast-track system that speeds you from kerbside drop-off to check-in, security and into the lounge in under two minutes.
Business class passengers on the cross-country flight enjoy limousine transfer to and from Sydney airport with a 60km limit (which basically covers north to Palm Beach, west to Blacktown and south-west to Camden.)
Upon boarding, the crew offered 1999 Lanson Gold Label Brut French champagne, orange and apple juice after we got settled. The flight was fully-booked, with Australian Business Traveller seated in 2A.
Cabin crew not only offered to hang our jacket but did so in a Virgin Australia suit bag, the kind you'd get if you sent your suit down to be pressed at a five-star hotel.
This was our first experience of the many classy touches with which Virgin Australia hopes to woo Australia's business travellers.
Another was the inclusion of these organic Australian-owned Grown toiletries in the A330's bathroom (they also feature in the new Virgin Australia lounges).
The leather business class seats have 62 inches of legroom, the most of any domestic business class in Australia (for more on Virgin Australia's A330 business class cabin and seats, read our report).
The reclining business class seats are comfortable for a day flight, although there could be more storage down by the seat itself. Hand luggage and anything that won't fit into the seat-back pocket has to go up into the overhead bins.
Fortunately, there's enough space, with one large bin for each window seat pair and two smaller bins above the centre section split between the three seats there.
Frequent flyer tip: if you're wheeling a carry-on along with you, aim for one of the window-side bins rather than the bins above the middle seats -- even if you're seated in the middle row. The bins at the side are lower down and larger, so they're easier to get your bag into.
Every business class passenger gets a Bvlgari amenities kit, which sets a new standard in domestic flying!
The flight (DJ553) left the gate approximately 21 minutes late. With congestion at the airport, we took off roughly an hour behind time but still arrived on schedule.
A hot towel service and a round of juices came round very soon after the seatbelt sign was turned off, with the meal service starting around 20 minutes after.
Breakfast was served in two courses: a tray with baked goods and fruit first, with the second hot course following at a relaxed pace after we'd finished the first.
The pace, style and flawlessness of the service was a real surprise for an inaugural run. Compare that with, say, reports that meals on Air New Zealand's flagship 777-300ER service to Los Angeles and London are still taking hours between courses months after the flights were introduced..
The first breakfast tray included a choice of croissant, wholemeal or sourdough roll with a selection of jams or vegemite; a fruit platter with Greek yoghurt and honey.
This is part of the new in-flight menu designed for Virgin Australia by award-winning Aussie chef Luke Mangan.
The fruit bowl was delicious -- top marks for blueberries and lychees, shredded mint and a delicious syrup. The yoghurt with honey was also great, although the honey is in a long, thin sachet like sugar sometimes comes in at cafés, so be careful not to get your fingers and tray sticky.
That was followed by a choice of a classic hot breakfast -- pork sausage, bacon, spinach, a goat's cheese frittata and roasted truss cherry tomatoes. This was one of the better breakfasts we've ever had in the sky. The frittata, sausage, bacon and tomatoes were excellent.
If the hot breakfast is a bit rich for you, the alternative is lemon and ricotta pancakes with pineapple, maple syrup and mint. Our seatmate in 2B reported that they were great.
Virgin Australia's 'Coast to Coast' service is also the only domestic Australian flight with an espresso machine.
Frequent flyer tip: if you'd rather have an espresso-based coffee than drip, get your order in early or you'll be waiting longer than rush hour at your local cafe. It's very popular.
Of course, there's plenty of time in-flight to enjoy the excellent wine list Luke Mangan has put together for Virgin Australia (click the image for an easier-to-read larger view).
Between meals we settled back for some in-flight entertainment, for which Virgin Australia provides a pair of noise-cancelling (not inferior noise-reducing) headphones. This is another international-class touch for a domestic flight.
There was a decent selection of movies available on the inflight entertainment system -- something that Virgin Blue passengers could never really have expected prior to the airline's relaunch as Virgin Australia.
The system loops the various channels one after the other rather than being an on-demand system. So you'll need to watch a film or TV programme all the way through without stopping. We're told by Virgin Australia that a complete revamp of in-flight entertainment will be coming later this year. In the meantime, if missing bits of the film irritates you, pre-load your iPad or iPhone with something to watch on the flight.
Cocktails were served just over an hour before landing in Perth at 11.15am local time. The Luke Mangan "The Australian" cocktail was delicious -- strong, with interesting notes of lime and ginger.
Our full flight review will follow!
While you're waiting, you can catch up with more articles on the new Virgin Australia, including:
- a photo-gallery of the lush new Virgin Australia lounge at Melbourne Airport
- plans for the renovated Virgin Australia lounges in Brisbane (opening in July) and Sydney
- how Qantas frequent flyers can enjoy free access to Virgin Australia lounges for the next two months!
- a photo-tour taking you inside Virgin Australia's new Boeing 737 with the futuristic 'Sky Interior'
Australian Business Traveller travelled to Perth as a guest of Virgin Australia.
About John Walton
Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.