Now appearing on every Virgin Australia flight from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles, the airline's new Boeing 777 inflight Internet service allows business travellers to remain connected above the clouds on those long flights to the United States, with download speeds hovering at an acceptable 1Mbps.
Australian Business Traveller jumped aboard one of the airline's international jets to put the new inflight WiFi service through its paces.
Virgin Australia Boeing 777 inflight Internet: plans
With plans based on time rather than data, the only question is how long you'd like to remain online, with the following options sold in your choice of Aussie dollars, US dollars or NZ dollars.
- 1 hour plan: A$8.99 / US$6.85 / NZ$9.93
- Flight plan: A$19.99 / US$15.23 / NZ$22.08
Payment is accepted by Visa, Mastercard and AMEX (sorry, no Diners Club), and if you plan on surfing for more than two hours, it's most cost-effective to purchase a flight pass. There are no discounts for business class passengers or Velocity Platinum frequent flyers.
Officially, Virgin's WiFi portal says that each plan is valid on only one device, and if you'd like to browse from a second gadget, you'll need to purchase a second plan: a very different approach to the WiFi offering of most other airlines, which allow you to switch your connection between devices during the journey.
While that remains true if you pick a plan and shoot straight through to Virgin Australia's payment screen – as there'd be no way to log into that plan elsewhere – I found that by registering for an account through the WiFi portal before purchasing a plan, my purchase became linked with that account.
This allowed me to move the connection onto a different device at no extra cost, by keying in the username and password I'd created: the same way it works when surfing on most other carriers, where logging in on device #2 disconnects device #1, and so on, meaning that multiple plans are only needed if multiple devices need to stay connected simultaneously.
You can easily register for an account on the portal's payment screen by expanding the "sign in" section, clicking "create a new account", and filling out the information required, before then completing your purchase:
To move the connection to a different device, just open up the WiFi connection, click the person-like icon at the top right of the screen, key in the account details you created earlier, and voila, you're online.
By taking this approach, I was able to connect using my laptop at first to get some work done, switch the connection over to my smartphone during the meal service to handle a few easy emails, move the connection back to the laptop for more work after lunch, and then switch it back to my smartphone later in the flight to keep in touch with messages and notifications, all from a single flight plan.
Virgin Australia Boeing 777 inflight Internet: coverage
On a return journey between Brisbane and Los Angeles, the connection became available shortly after take-off on both flights, although the portal warns of two expected black spot areas along the way: when the aircraft is around four hours and also 1.5 hours from LAX, with each interruption expected to last 30-60 minutes.
Virgin Australia makes you aware of this before you purchase a plan, so that you're not disconnected unexpectedly, via a handy notice on the 'plan shopping' page:
In practice, however, I didn't find that warning very accurate. On my Brisbane-Los Angeles flight, the service was working beautifully for the first half of the jouney, before it randomly switched off entirely:
I checked every hour to see whether the connection had come back online, but it remained unavailable through to landing, even though the aircraft appeared to be flying within the area covered by its satellite connection:
From Los Angeles to Brisbane, I had no problems with the connection after take-off and went to sleep with the service still online – and when I awoke closer to Brisbane, I was still connected and remained so until the aircraft was only 200 metres off the ground before landing in Australia.
The portal had logged me off while I was sleeping – to be expected when the device was sitting idle for hours on end – and while the screen initially tried to charge me for a new plan even though I was still logged in, logging out of my account and back in got me reconnected.
Virgin Australia Boeing 777 inflight Internet: speed
The FAQ on the WiFi portal tells users to expect download speeds of up to 1Mbps and uploads of approximately 300kbps (0.3Mbps), but confirming the accuracy of this claim isn't as simple as running a SpeedTest, which the system blocks: along with a host of other bandwidth-hogging services like Netflix, YouTube, Windows Updates, Apple App Store downloads and the like.
Instead, I chose to sync my email inbox which caused several large file attachments to download, and, true to its word, download speeds experienced were indeed 1Mbps, as measured by my operating system:
Given Virgin's advice on upload speeds, I was expecting them to be sluggish – but using other software, I actually measured uploads averaging 2.76Mbps: almost 10 times as fast as the portal promises, which made uploading large files and images quite fast, with a typical iPhone photo transmitting via iMessage in about 6 seconds.
Normally, that'd take several minutes on other inflight WiFi connections, with the overall speeds I experienced being more than usable for the needs of most business travellers.
While the overall reliability of the service still needs some fine tuning, it's great that Australian travellers can now enjoy inflight Internet when jetting abroad with an Australian airline – until now, this has only been possible on Australian domestic flights, or when flying with overseas with a foreign carrier.
You'll now find the service on all of Virgin Australia's Boeing 777 jets, which fly from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles and back: so whichever flight you take, you'll now have inflight Internet at your disposal.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Virgin Australia.
More reviews of Virgin Australia's Boeing 777 flights:
- Virgin Australia premium economy flight review, Brisbane-Los Angeles
- Virgin Australia The Business business class review, Sydney-LA
- Raising the bar: Virgin Australia's swanky Boeing 777 bar