Virgin Australia keeps new east-west business class up its sleeve

Virgin Australia keeps new east-west business class up its sleeve

Virgin Australia says it's not about to give any ground to Qantas in the ongoing Battle of Business Class, despite a third of its six-strong Airbus A330 fleet now being earmarked for Hong Kong rather than domestic routes.

The mid-year launch of Virgin's Sydney-Hong Kong service means one less of the twin-aisle jets will be available for transcontinental flights, although there's expected to be some alleviation as the Melbourne-Hong Kong flights are scaled back to five days a week.

By comparison, Qantas has twelve domestic A330s on tap for the popular and premium-heavy east-west services.

Virgin's retort is said to to be a new Boeing 737 'Coast to Coast' business class which the airline first revealed to Australian Business Traveller in July 2017, which it has described as a “quantum leap in domestic business class.”

However, airline chief John Borghetti is determined to keep further details up his well-tailored sleeve – including the timeline for the launch of what he's called 'the Perth product' and if these business class seats would also feature on the airline's factory-fresh Boeing 737 MAX jets, due for delivery from the tail end of 2019.

“What I will say is we will never have an uncompetitive product on a very important route like the east coast / west coast,” Borghetti tells Australian Business Traveller. “Of that, you can be sure.”

More A330s head to Asia

Virgin continues to chase landing rights in what Borghetti terms "greater China, including Hong Kong" to extend is nascent Asian network, with each new route potentially seeing another Airbus A330 pulled off the domestic schedule.

Virgin Australia Airlines group executive Rob Sharp told Australian Business Traveller in December 2017 that he expects “there will always be A330s” on the airline's east-west roster, saying "we’re not going to take all the A330s off the route.”

This could see some of the big jets remain on the red-eye run from Perth to the eastern capital cities and on the westbound flights which dovetail into those overnight returns.

At the time, with only Melbourne-Hong Kong flights announced, Sharp said “there’s not an immediate need” for the new transcontinental business class.

“At some point when slots become available (for Sydney-Hong Kong or Brisbane-Hong Kong) – and we’re certainly aiming for them – we will put A330s onto that route,” he forecast.

“But at the moment the (Perth product) decision’s not needed because we haven’t got those Hong Kong slots.”

Read more: Virgin Australia hits pause on new Boeing 737 business class

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.


  • MarkJohnSon


    2 Mar, 2018 09:08 am

    I think this is just some posturing by Mr. Borghetti. He wants to keep the possibility “out there” to keep the corporate accounts happy, but this thing is never going to see the light of day.
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  • patullose


    2 Mar, 2018 11:50 am

    They’ll never do it! All talk!! “We’ll never remain uncompetitive” means while QF have their current Business class on the 737 we’ll keep ours the same
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  • downdata


    2 Mar, 2018 10:28 am

    They’ve talked the talk... but...
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  • EK413


    2 Mar, 2018 10:50 am

    Honestly VA don’t know if their coming or going. The carrier launched PER-AUH only to cancel before the service got off the ground (PER-AUH never made any sense?!?). Stop playing catch-up with QF and run the airline JB, obviously still burnt after not being offered the captain seat at QF.
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  • Ceejay


    2 Mar, 2018 03:26 pm

    Are VA really trying to catch up? They pulled out the Middle East recognising that market is flooded, Qantas followed this move by returning to Singapore on its LHR flights. VA has identified the Asian market as a focus and this resulted in them delivering their best HY Results in 10 years. The addition of SYD-HKG will further strengthen these results going forward so I would say JB has done well running the airline.
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  • aniljak


    2 Mar, 2018 11:27 am

    Why dont Virgin grab the 747s and 777s Singapore airlines are getting rid of? Using 747s with Singapore's layout to Asia could be a winner with passengers!
    Virgin dont seem to know what type of airline they want to be!
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  • reeves35


    2 Mar, 2018 11:33 am

    Apart from the fact that Singapore's 747s became Coke cans 4 years ago, why would they want to hub into SIN? It wouldn't offer them anything that is not already available via codeshares on SQ.

    VA cannot radically expand its international operations because it doesn't currently have access to slots in ports it wants to fly to. Getting secondhand 777s doesn't help this except adding another type to its fleet along with the associated costs such a move this would bring.
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  • Dan


    2 Mar, 2018 02:38 pm

    A certain type of plane being a winner with passengers doesn't automatically equate to profit. Also, most passenger 747s are being phased out, and 777 are considered the "gas guzzlers" those days when there is the 787 and the 350 wide-bodies.
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  • Timmy22bc


    2 Mar, 2018 09:55 pm

    This is true, in BNE from gate to runway a 747 uses 650kg, 777 550kg & the 787 just 180kg of fuel.
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  • UpUpAndAway


    2 Mar, 2018 01:07 pm

    My wife always has a crack at me when I book domestic business whether it's Virgin or Qantas, and I can't repeat her wise cracks on here. Hopefully this is the next frontier the consumer gets a better experience.
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  • James Barker

    James Barker

    2 Mar, 2018 02:00 pm

    Does the average passenger care if they are flying on an Airbus A330 or a Boeing 737? Once you are inside they're just different sizes of tin can and isn't the seat and meal and service all that matters? If that is so then from the perspective of the passenger there is no need for Virgin to fly any A330s east-west as long as the Boeing 737s have a good enough business class. If Virgin launches a special Boeing 737 'Coast to Coast' business class with lie-flat seats like JetBlue Mint has on USA transcon flights or some 'evolution' of those then I doubt that any travellers would care if they are on an A330 or B737.
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  • someonelikemark


    8 Mar, 2018 05:51 pm

    Not sure you'll get representation of "average passengers" on here :)

    My family & I certainly care though. The lack of IFE & power points in economy is what makes me avoid the 737s (especially having TV & USB for the kids). My family is also 4 people, so on the a330, we can take 2x2 or 1x4 seats all together with no neighbours. The 737s split us up and we have to sit with a stranger.
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  • Scott Brown


    2 Mar, 2018 02:02 pm

    Let’s just see, looking at the latest trend is towards narrowbodies with ‘Mint’ or mint like suites on the transcon flights in USA, this is the trend and the future, if you’ve ordered a new generation narrowbody (MAX) makes perfect business sense to move to the new generation hard product. Virgin have the worlds best current business class on 330 as the last 2 years awards have been judged, they must have the know how to bring this narrowbody product to life, They have always challenged the norms and rather than be pessimistic I’ll be positive and wait and see.
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  • MarkJohnSon


    2 Mar, 2018 02:16 pm

    I think you are overreaching by suggesting there is a "trend" towards narrowbodies with Mint-style suites. Yes, JetBlue has been particularly innovative with this concept in the American market. There is not much evidence of this happening elsewhere globally, or even in America.
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  • Simon Coveney


    2 Mar, 2018 02:19 pm

    [Deleted: personal attacks/remarks]

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  • Chris Chamberlin


    2 Mar, 2018 02:33 pm

    Covvers: Once again, we bring your attention to AusBT's published comment policy, which asks users to discuss the topic of the article and avoid making personal remarks about other readers, among other things.

    Please familiarise yourself with this policy, and as your last 'comment policy' reminder was less than two weeks ago, we will not remind you again.
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    QF WP

  • Lindsay Wilson

    QF WP

    2 Mar, 2018 02:48 pm

    Which is why I flew my recent C2C with QF. Got their A332 and the overall product and service IMO is not that far below VA's. When and if they do make a switch, it will mean more likely I'll take QF.
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  • grov


    2 Mar, 2018 02:58 pm

    My query is always: who would pay to fly Transcontinental J if the only choices were the current 737 J seats. My guess is almost nobody.
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  • reeves35


    2 Mar, 2018 04:44 pm

    Remember most people flying J are not using their own money.

    For an travelling executive who has work to do during the flight, a 737 is fine. Remember, such a person is unlikely to be too interested in sleeping or watching a movie.

    The only time the A330 comes into its own is during a red-eye where they will probably try to sleep.

    During daylight flying, the advantage of the A330 is more in Y class due to a bit more space etc and the increased likelihood that the person won't be trying to work meaning IFE etc is more of an attraction.
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  • Jazzop


    2 Mar, 2018 03:07 pm

    Would I choose a widebody over a single aisle for flights over 3+ hours, regardless of being in business or economy? Of course I would. But if the seat on the single aisle was better than the widebody, well that would trump it. So my point being, if VA want to compete, they need to invest in a better product across the board, not just business. Especially for those of us you fly economy. Economy X is a good start, but in seat charging is essential today (especially when they force us to use our devices for IFE), as is better catering. I would have thought VA would be looking at converting some 737-8 orders into 737-9 or even 737-10. This way they can put them on trunk and long routes, with MINT type business, larger economy X section, and then still have space for economy.
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  • John Ruming


    2 Mar, 2018 05:05 pm

    “At some point when slots become available (for Sydney-Hong Kong or Brisbane-Hong Kong) – and we’re certainly aiming for them – we will put A330s onto that route,” he forecast.- Rob Sharp VA exec. Simple...the A330s' are Asia bound when slots are awarded. Up the J class product on the 737s to a JetBlue standard and try to keep the majority of your corporate customers. But do it NOW! One jet at a time, (they did that with the 777s) big media release on the inaugural flight and east-west problem solved. Also a plus on shorter international routes. C'mon JB.
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  • Rod Harmer

    Rod H

    7 Mar, 2018 08:16 am

    I have always been a very Loyal VA customer and most of my flights are from BNE- PER in Business Class. I make sure I go via Sydney to enjoy the A330 and not the mediocre B737. If they start to make the SYD-PER a B737 then it's off to QF for me. There's no way I would pay for the J class on a B737 when I can travel on a QF A330 for much the same price and a far better experience. VA had better get their B737 updated really soon for the East- West service otherwise they will lose a lot of Business Class Pax.
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15 Dec, 2018 01:54 pm


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