Last year’s launch by Virgin Australia of direct flights between Melbourne and Hong Kong flights was VA’s spearhead into a 'Greater China' expansion. This has now been joined by direct Sydney-Hong Kong flights, with the new daily route operating from 2 July 2018.
While VA is operating a daily schedule between Sydney and Hong Kong, there's only one flight available – a 10AM departure from Sydney that gets into Hong Kong at 5:40PM. The return flight leaves Hong Kong at 7:50PM and arrives back in Sydney at 7:10AM. (Thos timings will also change once Daylight Savings come into effect).
In comparison, Qantas offers two daily flights, while Cathay Pacific has a solid four daily flights giving you more flexibility if you need to adjust your flight schedule.
With heavy competition from Qantas and Cathay Pacific on this direct route, can Virgin Australia bring the fight to its already established competitors?
As we reported earlier, Virgin Australia Business Class passengers on VA83 have access to the Etihad First & Business Class Lounge in Sydney.
Virgin Australia’s morning flight to Hong Kong (as well as its VA1 flight to Los Angeles) is well outside of Etihad’s own departure windows for flights to Abu Dhabi – which means that you won’t get a la carte dining options, or bar service.
Instead, you’ll find a well put-together breakfast spread consisting of hot favourites, lighter continental options, and a range of morning beverages like juices, tea and coffee.
The lounge itself is still a good offering, with plenty of seating to handle the passenger load, and a range of working areas for last minute tasks.
Despite being a few years old now, Virgin Australia’s ‘The Business’ is still one of the world’s best business class offerings in terms of both hard and soft products.
Boarding is delayed by around half an hour as the incoming flight is late. Attentive and friendly staff greet guests by name, and offer passengers a welcome drink on boarding.
On the day we flew to Hong Kong, VA83 took off close to 11AM, almost an hour after scheduled departure, but made up time on the way to put us in Hong Kong right on our original arrival time.
The flight itself takes just over 8½ hours, with most passengers opting to work or enjoy the in-flight entertainment.
It feels like the movie selection has grown, but it’s still not as expansive as we’d like. I watched the Michael Mann classic Heat before getting stuck into some work.
Working space is ample, with plenty of room to spread out with a laptop and documents – more at-hand stowage space would always be welcome, but Virgin Australia’s Business Class product already offers a good amount of storage so we can’t really take points off there.
Business class passengers receive a slick amenity kit from homegrown premium skincare brand Hunter Lab.
There’s also a new set of pyjamas that I haven’t had the chance to try before – they’re thinner than the last ones I tried, but feel better on the skin. Since I tend to get warm on flights, that's a welcome change.
Because this is a daytime flight not too many passengers take advantage of the fully-flat bed, but it’s available and more than comfortable if you want to get some shut eye.
I’ve got a late night ahead of me when I land in Hong Kong, so I asked the staff to set up my bed. VA’s high-quality sleep service includes a mattress topper and a completely separate duvet to the thin blanket you get for normal use.
For the second meal service, you receive a dinner wake-up card, so you can get some sleep without worrying about missing the meal.
We’ve reviewed Virgin Australia’s A330 business class seat several times – its combination of a 1-2-1 layout, direct aisle access for all passengers, and semi-private shells still makes it one of our favourite business class products in the sky.
Clever design means that you get plenty of space around your seat, whether it’s for documents and gadgets or drinks and snacks.
There’s both USB and AC power for keeping your devices juiced up...
...and a screen in between the two middle seats that can be lowered or raised if you want to chat with your seatmate or have some privacy.
There are two meal services on the flight, and the first meal service starts two hours into the flight. With our one-hour delay in getting in the air, that meant the first meal service didn’t start until 1PM local departure time – so it would be a good idea to have breakfast or brunch in the lounge beforehand if you tend to get peckish.
Before the actual meal service, snacks such as stuffed olives are offered.
The meal service itself takes almost two hours, which is very long – however the food was fantastic in terms of the way it was curated, cooked and presented.
Our options for the starters on the first meal service were:
- Beef wonton soup with Sichuan pepper and bok choy
- Beetroot, caramelised pear and goat's cheese salad with walnuts
- Smoked trout radish, cucumber and mustard lemon dressing
For mains, we could choose from:
- Snapper with cauliflower puree, broccolini, wasabi butter and chives
- Black bean chicken with egg noodles, mushrooms and sesame
- Lamb moussaka with eggplant, broad beans, peas and oregano
- Root vegetable and roast garlic ravioli with celeriac, raisins and almonds
I opted for the beetroot, pear and goat’s cheese salad starter, which was very tasty but could have done with some more greens – the sweetness of the pear complimented the other ingredients very well, and isn’t too heavy for a starter.
For the main I took a punt on the snapper – I’m not exactly sure how it’s possible, but both the snapper and the broccolini were cooked perfectly. Typically we’re expecting a rubbery mess when it comes to pescetarian choices in-flight, so top marks to Virgin there.
The third course was a selection of cheeses and desserts to round things off:
- Quicke's Oak Smoked Cheddar, UK
- Woombye Triple Cream Brie, Queensland
- Berry's Creek Riverine Blue, Victoria
Accompanied by Luke Mangan fig paste, grapes and lavosh crackers
- Chocolate fondant with banana and mascarpone
- Gundowring ginger ice cream
- Gundowring coconut ice cream
I went for a selection of cheese...
...and the coconut ice cream, both of which were tasty and well-presented.
For the second meal service, our choices were:
- Shredded cabbage and zucchini salad with mustard dressing, parmesan and almond
- Corn and chipotle salsa with tortilla chips
- Steamed barbeque pork bun, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf with chilli sauce
- Smashed avocado with tomato, feta and basil on toasted sourdough
- Char Siu pork with egg noodles, shiitake mushrooms and bok choy
There’s a great mix of light options available, but the Char Siu pork sounds too good to pass up and it doesn’t disappoint – both the pork and the noodles are well balanced and perfectly dressed.
There’s also a selection of Asian desserts, including some red bean options that we forego for a classic custard tart.
The wines are all from Australia and New Zealand, except for the Ayala Champagne that’s sourced from Ay, the same region as Bollinger. I stuck with the Knappstein Clare Valley Riesling, which was light, dry and a generally pleasing drop.
For whisky fans, Talisker 10yo was also on offer and was the perfect way to cap off the flight.
With a highly competitive business class product, Virgin Australia firmly places itself as a desirable alternative to both Qantas and Cathay Pacific on this route – just as long as the scheduling works for you.
Sid Raja travelled as a guest of Virgin Australia