With fully-flat beds, an inflight bar with vintage champagne and even a row of completely private seats for VIPs and the like, Virgin Australia’s international Boeing 777 business class is dressed to impress.
Now running every day of the week between Brisbane and Los Angeles, daily from Sydney to LA and also to Abu Dhabi three times a week, we took to the skies to see what business travellers can look forward to on their next trek to the Californian coast.
A complimentary limousine transfer service is available for passengers booked in the most expensive J and C business class fare buckets, which can be arranged via the Virgin Australia website until 24 hours before departure.
The same applies on the return journey, although limousines aren’t available on other ticket types such as frequent flyer award bookings, upgrades and sale fares, or on arrival in America where your final destination is anywhere other than LAX.
Business class guests can check-in two 32kg bags for free via the dedicated priority lane, while Silver, Gold and Platinum members of Velocity can travel with a third 32kg bag at no extra charge.
If you’re connecting onwards from Los Angeles with Delta or Virgin America, including to New York, your bags can be tagged through to your final destination and your onward boarding passes printed in Brisbane.
On board, all pointy end passengers can bring two 115cm bags (up to 7kg each) plus a ‘personal item’ such as a laptop satchel, an umbrella or a camera.
Virgin Australia uses the Air New Zealand Koru lounge at Brisbane International Airport, located close to passport control and underneath the Qantas Business and First lounges.
There are basic amenities such as comfortable chairs and free Wi-Fi, although the wireless network gave us the boot every 15 minutes before again asking for the username and password, which became tiresome over a 90-minute stay.
At the buffet you'll find typical lounge fare including sandwiches, cold meats and cereals ahead of the morning VA7 departure, with spirits, beers and wines available for those so inclined.
Power points are scarce – we did a lap of the lounge and could only find outlets at one table opposite from the very noisy kitchen area, and in the adjacent business centre, which was a little too cosy for our liking and far from any natural light.
There's no tarmac view, although Air New Zealand's CEO told Australian Business Traveller in August that the Brisbane lounge is slated for "a complete upgrade" over the coming year.
Virgin Australia is one of the few airlines to serve vintage champagne in long-haul business class, with a generous pour of the full-bodied, Pinot Noir-based Champagne Ayala Millesime 2006 greeting us on our departure.
That's followed by a serve of warm nuts as soon as we’re airborne...
... plus pyjamas and VA's new male Mandarina Duck amenity kit:
Inside you'll find a REN skincare pack with facial moisturiser, lip balm and hand and body cream; a dental kit; socks and an eyeshade; ear plugs and a pen – handy for filling out immigration forms.
Ladies receive a similar kit (above), but one that also provides cotton buds, cotton pads and tissues... why the latter doesn't appear in the male version remains a mystery.
Virgin Australia's Boeing 777s boast fully-flat beds in business class, arranged in a 2-3-2 layout:
While it's great to have a flat bed, guests in the window and middle seats have to hop over the aisle passengers when going for a wander, which isn't ideal.
... adjustable reading lights with a three-stage dimmer, a privacy divider...... and full controls over the seat, with massage functionality and adjustable lumbar support:
When it's time to turn in, the crew will make the bed with a pressure-relieving memory foam mattress underneath a duvet and pillow as you change into your PJs.
It's even better if you're perched in row five, as each group of two and three seats can be isolated with its own curtains for complete privacy – perfect for high-profile travellers and stars of the silver screen en route to Hollywood:
That could be a little awkward if you've only just met your seatmate, but it's otherwise the ultimate business class suite for VIPs across the Pacific.
Deciding to power away on the laptop rather than heading straight to sleep, I was able to sneak in around six hours of uninterrupted rest until breakfast time, although could have easily made that a solid eight-hour nap.
Virgin Australia's business class menus are designed by resident chef Luke Mangan, who has assembled quite a lunch to follow VA7's 11:15am departure and with iconic Aussie salt and pepper shakers to match:Kicking things off are bread rolls or garlic bread – and who could pass that up in the air? That's followed by a choice of starter, with the hot smoked salmon Nicoise salad with mustard dressing taking our fancy:
The mustard gave the dish a nice kick, the salmon was moist and the salad fresh, so it certainly tasted as good as it looked.Next up is the main, with chicken and soft polenta, barramundi fillets and vegetarian lasagne all fine options – although the chargrilled lamb cutlets with lemon couscous, spring vegetables and mint pesto emerged as the winner: The meat was tender and easy to cut with a regular knife, the greens were nice and soft without descending into 'soggy' territory, and the pesto and couscous were as you'd expect.
Next is the cheese board, with a semi-hard Blumen-käse (St. Gallen, Switzerland), a triple-cream brie (Tarago River, Victoria) and a blue d'Affinois (France), plated with seedless grapes, Yarra Valley almond and pistachio paste and a latte – although the promised crisp bread was absent. The cheeses and their accompaniments were well-complemented, while the latte was smooth and creamy.
For the sweeter tooth is a flourless chocolate cake with spiced plum and mascarpone, however the Serendipity mangoes and cream ice cream does well as a small bite. If you'd rather work after take-off and then dine later in the flight, just inform the crew and your preferred meal selections can be put aside for whenever you're ready for a bite.
Snacks such as finger sandwiches and baked chocolate shortbread cookies are available to tide travellers over in between lunch and breakfast, as is a rustic pork and fennel sausage roll with chunky tomato relish for something casual, tasty and typically Aussie. Before dozing off, simply fill in the supplied breakfast card and you'll be woken around 1.5 hours before landing when it's ready to enjoy.
To sample a little of everything, we landed on the warmed croissant with jam; pear, pecan and spicy ginger toasted muesli; the seasonal fruit yoghurt and a smoothie to match. The breakfast ordering card doesn't have a checkbox for espresso coffee – only 'filter' and 'decaffeinated' – although writing 'mug latte' on the form fixed that oversight.
For a quick nightcap or a little social time with your fellow business class passengers, Virgin Australia’s Sky Bar is the place to go… A wide selection of spirits, beers and wines are on display, but you’ll need to press the call bell for a drink as the bar isn’t self-service.
We gave it a trial run and weren’t kept waiting long – so while it’s not in the same league as Emirates’ A380 bar with a dedicated cocktail bartender, it’s certainly better than being stuck in your seat for the entire flight.
Entertainment & Service
The system is very responsive to a brisk touch and is easy to navigate, although the screen needs to be stowed for take-off and touchdown – thus giving you nothing to watch at the beginning and end of the flight.
To curb any boredom as you're preparing to land, we'd suggest heading to the music folder and adding an album to your playlist before folding your screen down, such as Jonas Kaufmann’s brilliant new recording of Schubert’s Winterreise.
Service on today’s flight was top-notch – business class passengers were referred to by name in every interaction, the crew offered guests a tasting when pouring wine and remained friendly yet professional when engaging in casual chit-chat.
We were unfortunately seated adjacent to both a toddler and an infant, neither of which were particularly quiet, although members of the crew frequently stopped by to keep the children entertained and to minimise disruption to other passengers, which made the journey significantly more pleasant.
All things considered, Virgin Australia’s now-daily business class seats and service from Brisbane to Los Angeles are incredibly competitive to what you’ll find on Qantas’ daily Boeing 747 flights, with VA’s row five the ultimate destination for the discerning or VIP traveller.
And, once the Boeing 777s are outfitted with Virgin’s new business class seats – providing every pointy end traveller with more privacy, space and direct aisle access – it’ll be the seat to beat across the Pacific.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Virgin Australia.
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