Carrying passengers from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles, Virgin Australia's Boeing 777 premium economy experience is much closer to business class than 'normal' economy, with elevated dining and inflight service paired with a better-than-economy seat offering stacks of legroom – just without the beds, bars and Champagne.
Australian Business Traveller took the airline's premium economy service for a spin on a recent flight from Brisbane to Los Angeles to bring you this review.
- Frequent flyer program: Velocity Frequent Flyer, plus Delta Skymiles and other partner programs.
- Checked baggage allowance: 2x32kg, increased to 3x32kg for Velocity Silver, Gold and Platinum frequent flyers.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: One 115cm bag up to 7kg, plus one personal item such as a handbag or laptop.
- Airport fast-track: Priority check-in and boarding, but access to airport Express Path facilities isn't offered unless you're also a Gold or Platinum frequent flyer. As the sole premium economy check-in line was shared with Velocity Silver members too, the queue was longer than expected – I saw the line, went and had breakfast using a Priority Pass $36 dining credit at Brisbane Airport, and returned once the queue had shortened.
When it comes to baggage, Virgin's carry-on allowance is quite restrictive in permitting only one full bag when Qantas allows two in premium economy on the same routes, although Virgin's base premium economy checked baggage allowance (2x32kg - max. 64kg) is more generous than Qantas' 2x23kg (max. 46kg) on these flights.
As with most airlines, a Virgin Australia premium economy ticket on its own doesn't provide airport lounge access, although in Brisbane, a Velocity Gold or Platinum card gets you into the recently-revamped Singapore Airlines SilverKris Lounge before Virgin's flights to Los Angeles:
Before Virgin Australia flights to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane from Los Angeles, Velocity Gold and Platinum members get access to the Emirates Lounge at LAX (below), except for passengers on VA6 to Brisbane on Saturdays, where the adjacent 'Los Angeles International Lounge' is used instead.
(No, that's not a typo – in Los Angeles, Virgin Australia uses the lounges of Qantas' partner airline Emirates, but in Sydney and Melbourne, Virgin uses the lounges of its own partner, Etihad Airways.)
With flight times of 13-15 hours between Australia and Los Angeles, you'll find a pillow, blanket and amenity kit at your seat on boarding, the latter containing an eye mask, socks, tissues, a toothbrush, toothpaste, ear plugs, lip balm and a pen...
... and while the Boeing 777 doesn't have the kind of cabin-wide mood lighting you'd find on newer aircraft like the Boeing 787 or the Airbus A350, Virgin Australia still customises the jet's coloured lighting strips to match the time of day, whether that's a solid blue during daylight hours...
... or bright orange in the morning to represent a sunrise just before breakfast is served, aside purple lights which illuminate the cabin without making it too 'shiny' if you've just opened your eyes.
Virgin Australia flies daily from Sydney to Los Angeles, six times per week from Brisbane to LA and five times weekly from Melbourne, with these flights all served by Boeing 777s.
Nestled just behind business class, Virgin Australia's 24-seat premium economy cabin sits at a cosy three rows, arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration as AC-DEFG-HK:
A generous 41-inch seat pitch means there's no squeeze around the knees – that's nine inches more legroom than standard economy and six inches of extra legroom than Economy X on these flights.
At precisely 6ft (183cms) tall, I found the space more than ample even when stretching my feet all the way forward...
... and even when the passenger in front of me fully reclined their seat (tilting nine inches back), I didn't feel boxed in – I could still access the aisle without bumping anything, and their seat remained far away from my knees and legs, which is what you want when flying in a cabin sold as two rungs above regular economy:
In the second and third rows of the cabin (rows 16 and 17), a fixed foot rest is at your service – just push it down from its 'take-off and landing' position...
... and plonk your feet on it. The paddles do rotate as needed, but with the seat's grounding frame mounted directly behind it, you're pretty much stuck using the foot rest at the angle of that frame:
If you're seated at the bulkhead (row 15), there's no seat in front of you, which means no swing-down foot rest:
Instead, you can make use of a portable foot rest during the flight, which the cabin crew will deliver and then collect before landing. Taller travellers may prefer to avoid these bulkhead seats in favour of something further back, to be able to stretch their feet further forward.
In terms of storage, the pocket in front of you houses everything from your water bottle to your headphones, with the back section large enough for laptops and the front-right netted space suitable for keeping smartphones and reading glasses at easy reach...
... and speaking of laptops, AC power points are scattered throughout the cabin. In the side seats grouped in pairs (A+C and H+K), there's one outlet per passenger, and you'll find it tucked below your seat facing forward, with the green light:
In the centre group of seats, there are instead three outlets shared between four passengers: one below the 'D' seat, another between the 'E' and 'F' seats, and one more below the 'G' seat:
As it happened, the power outlet below my seat (17G) was faulty, and the crew weren't able to reset it remotely or switch it on manually.
As the seat beside me was vacant and my laptop charging cable was long enough to stretch from the unused power outlet between 17E+F without being in anybody's way, I could still plug in and work – but on a full flight, this wouldn't have been possible.
The crew also offered to charge my laptop elsewhere on the aircraft if the cord couldn't reach and I ran out of power, which I appreciated: although I'd much prefer the at-seat outlet to be functional.
Installing just three more power points in the cabin (one in each row) would also give every premium economy passenger their own power outlet, avoiding the need to share: in 2018, it's almost expected that if you're flying overseas in a better-than-economy seat, you'll be able to plug in and continue working, regardless of what any other passenger is doing during their own flight.
As a backup to the AC power or to charge an extra device at the same time, each passenger does get their own USB charging outlet – better-suited to refuelling smartphones than tablets, of course – and here, mine was working properly .
In rows 16 and 17, the outlet is directly in front of you, being a good location if your smartphone is resting in the seatback pocket, while in the front row, you'll find the outlet after retrieving the inflight entertainment screen.
Most Virgin Australia flights to Los Angeles depart in the mornings, so the inflight service reflects that – beginning with a drink before take-off of water, juice or sparkling wine (Australian Bridgewater Mill Pinot Chardonnay)...
... or for a little inflight indulgence, mix things up with a Mimosa:
This is where you'll notice the absence of a fixed cocktail table: you'll need to retrieve the seat's actual meal table to rest your drink, but which can be kept folded in half and also slides forward and away from you, to provide some extra space.
(If you're in an aisle seat, do keep your drink away from that aisle, otherwise you may find it knocked over when passengers walking past you are swinging their bags around, as so often happens.)
After take-off, I began with a very nice latte, prepared using Virgin Australia's onboard Nespresso machine...
... followed by a three-course lunch. For the starter, there's currently a choice between a pea and potato salad with hot smoked salmon, or a corn and coconut soup, which was nice and flavourful:
For the main course, the options were as follows:
- Moroccan lamb stew with sumac potatoes, buttered green beans and peppers
- Roasted chicken thigh with bordelaise sauce, creamy mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables
- Harissa and coriander spiced couscous with a lentil, sweet potato and chickpea stew
I opted for the chicken, which was cooked perfectly, and the creamy mash was delicious. Given the generous portion of protein, I'd have loved a bigger helping of that mash to stretch further with the dish, but it was well-accompanied by a glass of the David Hook 2017 Pinot Grigio from the Hunter Valley:
Dessert brings a choice between a passionfruit cheesecake and a cheese plate, which I selected: combining a Heidi Tilsit from Tasmania and the Milawa Camembert from Victoria, and while I could have swapped wines to a Tawny or a Riesling, the Pinot Grigio from the main was sweet enough to match this course, too:
Throughout the flight, premium economy passengers can help themselves to drinks and snacks at the pantry, such as a tandoori chicken breast wrap, chocolate bars, cookies and chips...
... while the cabin crew brought around (warmed) chilli con carne empanadas during the flight:
Yoghurt, vegetarian omelettes and Weis bars are available on request, and the lights come on for breakfast around two hours before landing, with passengers asked to complete a hotel-style breakfast card before nodding off.
Brekky options include a selection of juices and bakery items, joined by Greek yoghurt, Nespresso coffee, Madame Flavour tea, filter coffee, hot chocolate, and your choice of main course (below) – just tick which one you'd like, along with your other food preferences, and return the card to the crew:
- Scrambled eggs with chicken sausages, roasted chat potatoes, herbed tomato and chive hollandaise sauce
- Buttermilk pancakes with apple, cinnamon and vanilla syrup
- Mixed pepper and potato frittata with sautéed field mushrooms and green beans
You can also indicate whether you'd like to be woken up for breakfast or left undisturbed to maximise your rest.
I tried a little bit of everything – Greek yoghurt with granola, apple juice, a wholemeal roll with Berenberg strawberry jam and another latte – with pancakes as the main course, which were light and fluffy, topped with sweet, cooked apple segments as you'd find in a good apple pie:
Frequent Virgin Australia flyers may notice a star at the bottom-right corner of the tray above in place of the usual Luke Mangan text – if you're curious, that's because Luke Mangan only designs Virgin Australia's business class menus, not premium economy.
The premium economy menu also lists the usual juices, soft drinks and mixers, joined by Carlton Dry and Fat Yak beers, and relatively entry-level spirits: Smirnoff vodka, Gordon's gin, Johnnie Walker Red Label Scotch Whisky, Jim Beam bourbon, Bundaberg dark rum, Baileys Irish cream, Cointreau, and De Valcourt Napoleon brandy, and three sparkling wine cocktails (Mimosa, Bellini and Kir Royale).
Entertainment & Service
Serving up a selection of movies, TV shows, games and music, each premium economy passenger gets a 10.6-inch touchscreen monitor, which also comes with a separate remote control if you'd rather use that instead:
The widescreen panel is quite clear on the menu pages (below), but not as crisp as you'd find further forward in business class when viewing movies and TV shows. Content selections are far broader than I've observed on long-haul Virgin Australia flights in the past, however, now featuring entire seasons of many TV shows.
One tap on the screen when you're watching a video highlights the time remaining to reach your destination. This information also stays prominent when choosing what to watch or listen to, and for a more detailed look at your flight and its progress, just tap the globe icon:
The supplied Phitek noise-cancelling headphones can be plugged in just below your seat's recline button...
... but I always prefer to bring my own, and was pleased to see that the somewhat-chunky size of Bose's standard airline adaptor didn't get in my way, with the 19.5-inch-wide seat offering ample space without leaning on the outlet – the trade-off of a wider seat being that single arm rests are shared between each passenger:
Two crew members are dedicated to premium economy, and on this flight, the service couldn't be faulted – passengers were addressed by name, call bells were answered promptly, drinks were topped up without needing to ask, and friendly conversation was had throughout the journey.
Overall, I'd liken Virgin Australia's premium economy experience to flying short-haul domestic business class on an international flight, with the premium economy meals and service comparable to what travellers would otherwise expect in business, but with a few extra advantages over a typical domestic service such as additional legroom, fixed inflight entertainment screens and the self-serve pantry.
But as with the airline's Boeing 737 business class seats, its Boeing 777 premium economy seats also lack swing-up leg rests, which would have made the flight more comfortable.
I managed to get about two hours of sleep between Brisbane and Los Angeles, but made the mistake of enjoying a full night's kip before stepping onto the plane, where the flight departs Brisbane in the morning and lands in the US at would be near-midnight Brisbane time, so while the seat was comfortable enough and there was nobody sitting next to me, my body just wasn't ready to remain sleeping.
Fortunately, the inflight entertainment system had a good variety of jazz and classical music to listen to while working on my laptop, and the movie and TV selections were broad enough to keep me entertained through the rest of the flight, which ended up feeling much shorter than 13 hours.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Virgin Australia.