Virgin Australia to launch all-new Boeing 737 business class

Virgin Australia to launch all-new Boeing 737 business class

EXCLUSIVE | Virgin Australia plans to reveal a next generation of its Boeing 737 business class seats before the end of this year as the airline continues to battle Qantas for the hearts and wallets of corporate travellers.

The seats will be dedicated to transcontinental flights running between Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, but will be fitted to the single-aisle Boeing 737 jets as Virgin shifts its larger Airbus A330s onto Asian routes into Hong Kong and mainland China.

Speaking with Australian Business Traveller during the inaugural flight of Virgin Australia’s new Melbourne-Hong Kong route, Virgin Australia CEO John Borghetti said the airline's six-strong Airbus A330 fleet "will be dedicated to Asia", with the first of those jets now being flown between Melbourne and Hong Kong – with Sydney or Brisbane tipped to follow before the year is out.

While there will still be some A330s flying east-west until Virgin has locked down sufficient Asian routes, Borghetti is mindful that travellers who have become accustomed to the spacious Airbus A330s on those 4-5 hour flights may recoil at the thought of shifting to the likes of a Boeing 737 – “but we have a solution, and you’ll hear about it later this year.”

"Quantum leap"

Borghetti says the new seat will represent a “quantum leap in domestic business class.”

“I’d say everything we've done product-wise has not been half-baked, and we would not put a product on transcon that was not up to scratch.”

The move could see Virgin Australia create a dedicated transcontinental fleet similar to those operated by US airlines such as American Airlines, United and its own partner Delta.

Virgin’s pointy end play is intended to maintain a competitive advantage over Qantas, which has a sizeable domestic A330 fleet sporting the Roo’s highly-regarded Business Suite seats.

“When we brought today’s A330 business class onto east-west routes we brought something new, and it’s still the best transcontinental business class. I'm confident we will continue to have the best transcon product (with our new business class).”

How Virgin's new business class could look

Virgin's new east-west business class seat could potentially take its cue from the likes of US airline JetBlue's Mint, which combines lie-flat seats with personal suites on US transcontinental routes.

JetBlue's Mint cabin provides 16 spacious seats at the pointy end of its Airbus A321 jets, with seats are arranged in a unique configuration which sees each pair of business seats...

... alternate with a single semi-private suite fitted with a sliding door.

Here's how that layout looks on JetBlue's A321 seating chart, with Mint at rows 1 through 5 providing 12 paired premium seats with four personal suites.

Mint is based on the Vantage Suite platform created by Thompson Aero Seating (Thompson’s Vantage XL variant is the base for Qantas' competing Airbus A330 Business Suite) but heavily customised by JetBlue.

David Flynn travelled to Hong Kong as a guest of Virgin Australia

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.
 

44 comments

  • PVM

    PVM

    6 Jul, 2017 04:30 am

    Don't HNA Group have a aircraft leasing division? Why can't VA just lease more A330's!
    Member who gave thanks

    dscorpcom10

  • damien

    damien

    6 Jul, 2017 05:30 am

    With the mining boom basically done, there probably isn't the demand for twin aisle services and frequency is more important. This makes more sense than empty seats draining cash
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  • Morgan Judd

    Mjudd

    6 Jul, 2017 06:02 am

    Damien,

    The mining boom nearly done? Sure, there was a massive downturn in commodity prices, which created a 'mini recession' in Western Australia. However, things have already turned around, and it is only a matter of time before it is back.

    That aside, most regular travelers on that route will ONLY travel on the A330, no matter what class. Therefore, I see Qantas having it to themselves basically. 

    Virgin is going to have to do more than just change a few seats at the front of their 737's if they wish to compete. They need to treat east-west flight completely different to say, a Sydney - Melbourne flight. 

    Member who gave thanks

    david2202

  • Jeffrey ONeill

    sydboy007

    6 Jul, 2017 06:12 pm

    seriously. WA State final demand has been negative for 15 of the last 18 quarters.  Pop growth is nearly 0 and still on a downward trend. Chinese iron ore pokey stock at 141M tones and still on the up.  There's not going to be some magical rebound of the WA economy.  Demand for Perth flights is going to be hard to come by.
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  • Alex Moris

    Alex Moris

    6 Jul, 2017 08:18 am

     Virgin Australia's is more of a premium airline then Qantas. Great to hear that  VA are investing money into updating seats. Whereas Qantas 380 is like stepping back into the 60's.
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  • Mark

    Mightyreds

    6 Jul, 2017 08:49 am

    Well maybe not the 80's but we get your point when premium airlines like SQ & EY etc are always looking to improve their product.
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  • howdoyoudeleteuraccountlol jefferson

    Logan.A

    6 Jul, 2017 06:13 pm

    Virgin more premium then Qantas?
    Funny joke. they are borderline lcc
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    6 Jul, 2017 08:05 pm

    All users are reminded to discuss the topic of the article rather than discussing the users engaged in the discussion.

    As has long been AusBT policy, readers are welcome to express their own views and opinions on matters relevant to articles as comments under those articles, and we remind all users that just because you disagree with somebody else's personal opinion doesn't make their personal opinion invalid - nor does their opinion make your opinion invalid.

    (Yes, everybody is entitled to their own opinion and to express that opinion - we can't make it much fairer than that!)

    As our comment policy asks: "Don't attack others for their opinion: if you disagree, then make your case. But stay objective and stick to the topic."

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  • aussiflyer

    aussiflyer

    6 Jul, 2017 08:44 am

    Great stuff VA - Hopefully this actually happens, and they expand this better J product to Short Haul International routes like Bali, NZ ect. That will really give them a point of difference. 
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  • mcglynp

    mcglynp

    6 Jul, 2017 08:58 am

    This is great news,  as anyone who has done the perth flight and had a swap out for ops reasons to a smaller plane,  know its a huge drop off from the business to domestic J.  But this also raises a lot of questions,  how do you improve the current seat without losing Y seats , or do you drop the J seat count to 4.  Will this stay only transcon or will it go up against the QF business suite on the AKL route.   
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  • Yusef Danet

    Yusef Danet

    6 Jul, 2017 02:11 pm

    Maybe you use 737 Max 9 (or even 10) with longer cabin. VA has been hinting about the 9 for a while internally. 
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  • Andrew

    andyf

    6 Jul, 2017 09:05 am

    This is an interesting development. I guess the switch to use the A330 fleet outside the transcon market isn't unexpected given the waning economic importance of Perth. 

    I assume there are business class products used on the 757 transcon fleet in the US that are suitable for the 737 given their similar cabin width?
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  • Dave

    Grannular

    6 Jul, 2017 09:58 am

    One thing I really prefer about the A330 apart from the size, is the seat back IFE system. Having to balance between food, drink and tablet on the tray table frustrates me. Even if I have content on my tablet I would prefer to watch, I generally always find myself watching whatever is available on IFE due to the convenience and comfort. 
    Having the tray table down all flight also limits room available
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  • Darren

    DGP

    6 Jul, 2017 10:28 am

    Maybe we will see something like the Mint Service on JetBlue in the US.  That is a fantastic Business Class product on a narrow body aircraft.

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  • Chris_PER

    Chris_PER

    6 Jul, 2017 11:46 am

    I flew BNE-PER on a 737 on Tuesday evening.  It ended up being a 6hr 5m flight.  This is certainly a welcome upgrade, although economy really needs in seat power with the lack of the seat back IFE for such long domestic sectors.
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    Saffy22

  • AusFlyer

    AusFlyer

    6 Jul, 2017 12:44 pm

    Refurbished Business class or not... I will stick pick an A330 over a 737 for the trek to Perth.
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    david2202

  • Graham BLAMEX

    BLAMEX

    6 Jul, 2017 01:33 pm

    VA need to review the entire J class product. It is way behind QF domestic product. From the lounges offered to the food to the IE. QF is way ahead on this front.  If VA matched this at least to what QF has I would move across to VA as a J class customer.
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  • Yusef Danet

    Yusef Danet

    6 Jul, 2017 02:15 pm

    If VA replaced the 330 turns on with a comfortable more frequent tramscon service with A321T/Mint type seats they could get the upper hand. It costs less to operate 2 737s than one A330 on sectors under 5 or 6 hours. 
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  • StudiodeKadent

    StudiodeKadent

    6 Jul, 2017 02:20 pm

    There's been quite a bit of research recently going into how to make direct-aisle-access-fully-flat-bed Business products work space-efficiently in A320s and 737s. Could VA be planning to deploy any of these?
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  • guy

    guy

    6 Jul, 2017 03:21 pm

    If they want to maintain direct aisle access from all seats in the most logical (for a narrow body) 2-2 configuration then perhaps the Oman/JAL solution of a little gangway for the window seat might be a goer
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  • reeves35

    reeves35

    6 Jul, 2017 03:38 pm

    I don't know if direct aisle access is a game-breaker on a 3-5 hour flight like it is on longer 8+ hour segments.  
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  • ajstubbs

    ajstubbs

    6 Jul, 2017 04:53 pm

    Agreed - with the A330 products on QF and VA we've almost become spoiled with domestic product where direct aisle access isn't actually an imperative. I agree that on transcontinental routes, a flat bed or even angled flat is highly desirable, especially for those awful red-eyes but direct aisle access? Not really a deal breaker and I don't know that VA could make it financially viable on a 737, especially when it would still be competing with QF's A330.
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  • ezihose

    ezihose

    6 Jul, 2017 03:43 pm

    What an absolute stupid idea! Why would Virgin spend years getting ahead of Qantas in Business class only to throw the lead away with utter garbage which is the 737-anything! Seriously this is not a good business strategy and all that will happen is that people will take their business travel back over to the dark side! You can not spend 6 hours flying from Brisbane to Perth in a 737 Business class seat as shown! Yes if they down graded it and said premium economy seating as shown and matched the price then ok they might keep maybe 20% of the business class travelers and gain X amount of economy travelers. But 70 to 80% will just pull the pin! You can not have 700,000 Points plus and then get shoved into overpriced rubbish like this! Even the current A330 Business class is 40% overpriced. Time to take ALL the company business back to qantas i am afraid. What a waste of time this has been building up points on Virgin traveling business class 12 times a year east west.
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  • Dave

    Grannular

    6 Jul, 2017 03:55 pm

    lol nice rant...
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  • THR

    THR

    6 Jul, 2017 09:08 pm

    They haven't even announced the seat yet... geez.
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  • ezihose

    ezihose

    6 Jul, 2017 03:57 pm

    If we want to fly into Asia we have too many other options that are better & cheaper in Business Class-Premium & Economy, so why would we want to jump on the A330s of Virgin? Cheap options Scoot and others, Top Class options, Singapore and Cathay!!!??? No need for Virgin and a bad business idea. Virgin will just dip out on a big dollar value and good margin here in Australia.
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  • THR

    THR

    6 Jul, 2017 09:09 pm

    They're hardly making margin here. 
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  • Dale

    hakkinen5

    6 Jul, 2017 05:34 pm

    David (or others),

     can you please explain how the JetBlue Mint seating as you describe above works? Are the single seats with the sliding door sold at a different rate/class to the double seats due to the extra room? Or is it a lottery?

    Thanks

    No member give thanks

  • Boof

    Boof

    6 Jul, 2017 06:52 pm

    It's first come first serve with the single seats on JetBlue. They don't differentiate them in the booking system and if available you can select them when booking on any fare. Maybe in the backend of the booking system they can restrict access to the single seats on the lowest fare for Mint if they wanted to but all reports indicate that isn't the case. 
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  • Lala295

    Lala295

    6 Jul, 2017 05:34 pm

    Virgin should stick to what their good at, Domestic and Trans-Tasman. Loss of domestic A330 really cements my loyalty to QANTAS, best night sleep ever on the QF A330 business and its nice to have a nap on Syd-Mel too!
    Member who gave thanks

    david2202

  • johnaboxall

    johnaboxall

    6 Jul, 2017 10:02 pm

    Wait and see. If VA go back to all 737 then QF can quite easily do the same apart from a token flight or two. It's a duopoly folks, you only need to be a touch better than the opposition.
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  • FrequentFlyer

    FrequentFlyer

    6 Jul, 2017 06:53 pm

    Really glad to hear this. As someone that travels J frequently between Brisbane and Perth with both QF and VA, I've always felt they'd both be better off doing with the US airlines do. Hoping to see more frequencies from VA on their (what I'm assuming will be) MAX aircraft with a comparable J and Y hard products. Economy is always packed on their 4/5 five daily flights but business about half full, this would be a good stopgap.
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  • moecat

    moecat

    6 Jul, 2017 08:38 pm

    Surely you would see the seats 1-1 on an angle 
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  • jenko13

    jenko13

    7 Jul, 2017 09:54 am

    I for sure will fly 330 every day of the week in preference to 737 not sure VA will be able to charge the same for buis when they downgrade as well, the flights I have been on have usually been quite full even the 0500 ones!   Not sure I could be bothered with VA to asia when the choice is so good without them.
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  • kimshep

    kimshep

    7 Jul, 2017 11:41 am

    All sounds very good and somewhat promising for domestic and short-haul regional.

    But the elephant in the room and the question I would ask is: where is the money coming from to do what would inevitably be a highly expensive refit across the fleet? Further, how much 'additional' revenue does VA believe it will generate, post refit?

    With VA predicting a max $50m profit for 2016-7 (admirable in itself, compared with the past 12 months), I think these are valid questions to ask.

    No member give thanks

  • Charles

    SteveCF

    7 Jul, 2017 01:46 pm

    Time will tell how this plays out, but my concern is they are lessening their domestic product appeal to try and get into the international market but without the infrastructure of their competitors. Qantas and Cathay have the networks, lounges, great product and both primed to compete hard. I just feel Virgin need to focus on their domestic business as they could now be doing a half baked job on domestic and international. I think international needs bigger investment in hard product, lounge network and alliances. Their going up against genuine premium competition, they can't afford to go half baked......again.
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  • vickiej

    vickiej

    7 Jul, 2017 03:44 pm

    That's great if you or your company pays for business class, but doesn't help much if you're stuck in economy on a 737 to/from Perth.  
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  • julius-grafton

    julius-grafton

    7 Jul, 2017 08:25 pm

    Perfect solution! Only issue is all the US transcon are 757 or 320 - I haven't seen a lie flat product on any 737 anywhere at all ... anyone know?

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  • julius-grafton

    julius-grafton

    7 Jul, 2017 08:27 pm

    Also the galley fittout / ovens very restrictive on current va 737 fleet.
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  • Hewnix

    Hewnix

    7 Jul, 2017 11:46 pm

    All of you ranting about a 737 transcon must be millionaires as evidenced by your premium taste. How is it that most JFK-LAX flights are on narrow body aircraft yet this is totally unacceptable for Sydney to the remote country town known as Perth? NYC and LAX fly celebrities and major executives between them on narrow bodies all day long, the flight is longer, and their combined metro populations are 40 million vs 6 million. I don't understand the freak out over a narrow body when you are sitting in a nice business class seat anyhow. The ceiling is lower - but you'll be okay. 
    No member give thanks

  • bsb

    bsb

    8 Jul, 2017 02:19 pm

    I've done those transcon US flights up the front they're nice enough but completely unnecessary. I think it would be a waste in OZ. Granted VA could do better than a QF J 737 seat, but seriously, 4.5hrs max is what we have to deal with and Hewnix has made some very good points above. 
    No member give thanks

  • Morgan Judd

    Mjudd

    10 Jul, 2017 10:01 am

    Lol, I actually kind of agree with Hewnix's comment.

    Providing Virgin does offer a premium J class product on the Transcon flights in their 737's, I think the massive advantage will be potentially more flights available on these routes. For instance, if Virgin offered, say, a 4am flight from Perth to Sydney, Melb, and Brisbane in addition to the Redeye, it could be a lot more convenient, for a lot of business travelers. 
    As I travel on this route multiple times a week, i suppose you just become accustomed to the A330, however, if Virgin do this right, it could be my preference.
    No member give thanks

  • Yota Takeshima

    japanair772

    11 Jul, 2017 09:37 am

    Why does VOZ fly their A330s Perth when a 737 flies to Depansar,Nadi,Bali etc. 
    No member give thanks

  • AgentGerko

    AgentGerko

    6 Apr, 2018 04:02 pm

    Well it's now Apr 18, VA is about to start on SYD/HKG and I've seen nothing further about this. VA is really starting to struggle. They've gotten rid of the Embraers so have nothing to compete with the QF B717's apart from a few old F100's leased from Alliance, Their ATR72's were the cheap option and are so much slower than the Q400's, and now with the VA/NZ split their 737s just won't compete for corporates with the A330's, B777's and B787's of NZ and QF. I expected really good things from John Borghetti but the airline seems to be taking giant strides backwards. Ansett couldn't make it on the Hong Kong route, neither could Virgin Atlantic, so not sure how VA thinks it can overcome the QF/CX domination of that route.
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21 May, 2019 08:56 am

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