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Virgin Australia's business class backdown for older Boeing 737s

By David Flynn     Filed under: business class, Boeing 737, Virgin Australia

EXCLUSIVE | Virgin Australia has backpedalled on selling the pointy end of its old Boeing 737-700 aircraft as business class and will downgrade the cabin and fares to economy by the end of April, along with offering rebates on business class fares already paid by passengers who ended up travelling on those planes.

Unlike the Boeing 737-800s, which all sport Virgin's new business class, most of the 13 older-model Boeing 737-700s in the airline's domestic fleet retain the original premium economy seats in the first rows.

While these seats have been recovered in new material, and include the same meals and service as business class on the -800 aircraft, the difference between the 'business class experience' on the old and new aircraft has become a sore point with many frequent flyers.

Following enquires by Australian Business Traveller, a Virgin Australia spokeswoman confirmed "our entire Boeing 737-700 fleet is now being marketed and sold as economy-only flights" – including the first three 'premium economy / business class' rows.

Rebates offered on business class fares

Passengers who've paid business class fares but landed in a 737-700 are entitled to a travel voucher worth 50% of the cost of their ticket, the Virgin Australia spokeswoman told Australian Business Traveller. This voucher can be claimed by calling Virgin Australia's Guest Contact Centre on 13 6789.

Forward bookings for travel not yet made will be offered travel credit equal to the difference between the cost of the business class fare and the lower flexi-fare for that flight. The spokeswoman says that Virgin Australia has already begun contacting some of these passengers.

Until the end of February the meal service in the 737-700's 'business class' cabin will remain the same as for 737-800 flights. Other business class perks such as lounge access will also remain.

From March 1st, meals served to passengers in those first three rows will revert to Virgin Australia's standard flexi-fare offering.

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About David Flynn

David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

 

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1 on 6/2/12 by Al

Great reporting by AusBT and a great move by Virgin. Sure it sucks to pay business class and get the old PE seats, that's what happened to me last week, but I like the rebate offer (didn't know about it until this story, thanks!) and I reckon it's a good move by Virgin to say "we got it wrong" and move to fix things.

2 on 6/2/12 by wilsoni

Agreed.  But they should be refunding money, not issuing vouchers. Oldest trick in the airline management book - collect money, never give it back. When do these credits expire? Cash never does. Hold their feet to the fire - they sold something they didn't have and the law is on your side for a refund. 

3 on 6/2/12 by chrisjrn

OK, so they're currently offering a VERY similar service to this on their Embraer E190 regional jets -- Prem.Ec seating, but with a blocked aisle seat.  Seems like an equally poor effort there, given they're charging the same as they would for 737-800 business class on equivalent routes.

What's Virgin doing in this case, or are they considering their offering on the E-Jets to be "good enough"?

1 on 6/2/12 by kevrosmith

Agree with this chrisjrn. The E190 Business Class service is not up to scratch.  CNS-SYD now has only one service with proper Business Class: one 737-800 flight, one 737-700 flight, and one E190 flight.  Okay, I'm sure this route not the highest priority on Virgin's Business market radar, but it's not acceptable to be saying they are now offering full Busisness Class service (yes, with the *on major routes disclaimer) and not offer a consistent product. I really don't understand why they couldn't continue to offer a Premium Economy service, along with the usual Economy and newly introduced Business Class service?  

1 on 6/2/12 by kevrosmith

Ha.. and now BNE-CNS typically only has one 737-800 flight out of a possible six (weekdays). It just gets better. 

2 on 6/2/12 by chrisjrn

Because the former "premium economy" service is basically the same as the new Flexi fares (at least it is, now that they're cutting down on the number of items on the menu).

3 on 6/2/12 by Al

"I really don't understand why they couldn't continue to offer a Premium Economy service, along with the usual Economy and newly introduced Business Class service?" Because this would be limited to those 737-700s, which would complicate the booking system, better just to have them as economy and leave it at that. I think they should however promote the front rows as being for Velocity Platinum and Golds and automatically put them into those seats on a -700.

1 on 6/2/12 by chrisjrn

My expectation is that rows 1 & 2 would be treated the same as in row 3 of planes with full business class (i.e. Gold + Plat gets priority, followed by flexi guests in the case of a full flight).

2 on 6/2/12 by kevrosmith

Offering 4 classes: no different to International airlines already.  Limited to those 737-700s: this implementation is already in place - e.g. do a search BNE-CNS and you'll see they offer Saver and Flexi Economy fares, but not Business. Surely it wouldn't be too complicated to add a fare class "Premium Economy" in between Flexi and Business. 

 

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