Virgin Australia trans-Tasman business class: Sydney-Auckland

Review: Virgin Australia trans-Tasman business class: Sydney-Auckland

Route:
Sydney to Auckland
Airline:
VA (Virgin Australia)
Cabin Class:
Business
Aircraft Type:
Boeing 737-800
Flight:
VA144
Seat:
1C

service:

meals:

seating:

overall:

What's Hot

  • New, wider seats replace the previous 3-3 layout in premium economy
  • A full lunch service with a 'pantry' snacking menu for peckish travellers
  • Streaming wireless inflight entertainment plus supplied Samsung Galaxy tablets

What's Not

  • A reclining seat, rather than a lie-flat bed on Emirates or LAN

X-Factor

  • International-grade Grown amenity kits on flights after 7pm

Introduction

This week sees the debut of Virgin Australia's business class on flights between Australia and New Zealand. The challenger airline and AirNZ partner has previously offered only premium economy as its top cabin but that's now made way for proper business class seats on par with its domestic flights.

Australian Business Traveller flew on Virgin Australia's first Sydney-Auckland business class service  to bring you this exclusive first review.

Check-in

  • Priority check-in and boarding: Yes, dedicated lanes for business class, Gold and Platinum frequent flyers.
  • Checked baggage allowance: 2x32kg bags, plus a third 32kg bag for Velocity Platinum members.
  • Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x105cm bags or 1x105cm bag plus 1x185cm garment bag at a combined total weight of up to 7kg.
  • Priority security screening, passport control (Australia): Yes, but be sure you have an Express Path card before leaving the check-in desk – we had to ask for one.
  • Priority passport control, Customs clearance (New Zealand): No, although Australian passport holders can use SmartGate on arrival.

Lounge

Virgin Australia uses the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge in Sydney for trans-Tasman flyers – currently a temporary facility while refurbishments are completed in Air NZ's regular lounge.

Inside, the space is made up of several small zones including a dining room, relaxing lounge chairs and laptop working benches with the obligatory AC and USB power points.

A brisk walk from the departure gate used by today's flight, most of the basics are here – from espresso coffee and nibbles through to a selection of hot and cold dishes, and a hot dog cart for a sneaky pre-flight lunch.

Absent was true high-speed wireless Internet, with the provided connection struggling to reach download speeds of even 1mbps, albeit that the lounge was far from full.

Seat

With Virgin Australia's trans-Tasman business class seats exactly the same as found on Australian domestic flights, you'd be forgiven for confusing your hop across the pond with that regular trip to Melbourne or Brisbane.

To recap: there are two rows of black leather seats arranged in a 2-2 layout, with a central cocktail table, adjustable headrests, a generous recline and 38 inches of total space from seat to seat (known as 'pitch').

You'll also find a pillow and blanket as you board, although that blanket wasn't needed and the small, firm but foam-like pillow considerably less comfortable than something slimmer and softer that doesn't push you forward and away from the seat.

Crew offer to hang jackets behind row 2 as guests arrive on board, although the full 'coat check-in service' with complimentary garment bags originally planned for the Tasman didn't make it past the drawing board.

Also absent are leg rests and USB power – almost an essential and proving increasingly handy for charging smartphones and tablets – although each passenger does have their own AC power outlet for the same.

Yet none of the power outlets we tested were actually functional on today's service, and couldn't be enabled by the crew. Where fitted, these normally work quite well on VA's domestic flights, so we'll chalk that one up to 'opening night jitters'.

The legroom in row 1 is ample despite the bulkhead wall in front, with the tip of my shoe only just reaching that wall when stretching forward...

... while the seats in the second row pack in plenty of space around the knees and remain the best option for passengers inclined to completely stretch out.

There's also an indent under the centre armrest, making for a more comfortable journey if you normally keep your phone or wallet tucked away in your side trouser pockets.

It's admittedly got nothing on Emirates' Airbus A380 trans-Tasman flights with fully-flat beds and an inflight cocktail bar and lounge for business class passengers, but at just three hours from gate to gate, at best you'd sneak in a brief nap.

On a flight this short, having a flatbed is realistically a novelty rather than a necessity, although if the price and schedule is right, we'd always choose a spacious international-grade sleeper over a domestic-style reclining seat.

Meal

Passengers are offered a choice of orange juice or water before take-off...

... with the seat also packing in a second, extendable cocktail table: great to separate your beverage from that of your neighbour: particularly if you've chosen the same drink.

That's followed by a civilised white wine and olives once the flight is under way, with a choice of either Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

The olives were fresh and rather flavourful, but were served without a second container to keep the discarded pips separate.

For the main course, two choices were provided from the Luke Mangan-designed menu: a beetroot and marjoram salad with pumpkin purée, leeks, pine nuts, parsley and ravioli; and lamb meatballs with Middle Eastern spices, zucchini, chickpeas and coriander.

The former can be prepared with or without chicken on top to suit personal tastes and dietary requirements, while we chose the latter and found the meatballs rather tender and the overall dish a great size for the peckish traveller without being too 'heavy'.

On the side: a choice of warmed bread rolls with butter, a snack-sized (single) cheese plate with quince paste and crisp bread, and a glass of Shiraz to match with the lamb.

Still peckish? There's also a 'pantry' menu with 16 snacks to choose from, including a slightly more comprehensive cheese plate that can be swapped out for the lone cheese soldier that comes as standard.

Skipping the basics such as potato chips and finger sandwiches, we decided to do a little 'sampling': ordering up the milk chocolate caramel popcorn, a Loving Earth caramel chocolate bar and a Californian chicken sushi roll with soy sauce.

The caramel and chocolate concoctions were, as you'd expect, quite satisfying, while the sushi tasted just-made and went down a treat.

Entertainment & Service

Again mirroring domestic flights, there's free streaming wireless inflight entertainment for all passengers to enjoy on their own smartphone, tablet or laptop, while business class guests are loaned a Samsung Galaxy tablet to view the same.

In-ear headphones are also offered, although you can easily connect your own pair.

Whatever your device, there's a great selection of TV shows, music and both new-release and classic movies on offer. We settled for a favourite: Jobs, which played back smoothly and without interruption.

Just be prepared to hit the power switch on the Samsung tablets every now and again to wake it up – remaining on the same menu will dim the screen after just six seconds, with the screen completely shutting off after another six.

This obviously doesn't happen when you have something playing, unless there's a cabin announcement of more than 12 seconds which temporarily pauses your device and triggers that annoying 12-second shut-off.

Amenity kits with Grown-brand products are provided on flights departing from 7pm through to 2:59am the following morning, yet not on flights pushing back between 3am and 6:59pm.

On these daytime and early evening services, a specific subset of amenities are available only by request: including a dental kit with a toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, a Virgin Australia pen, tissues, ear plugs, socks and an eye mask.

That's certainly not as great as pocketing your own fully-stocked amenity kit, but with competitor Qantas only offering these on trans-Tasman flights after 6pm and Emirates not providing them at all across the pond – even in first class – it's an understandable compromise.

All things considered, it's again not the lie-flat bed you'd get with Emirates or even LAN, but with friendly and attentive crew and a fulfilling meal service with a comprehensive snack menu, it didn't feel that anything in particular was missing from the experience, aside from a working power point and the full amenity kit, of course.

Now available daily between Sydney and Auckland, business class replaces premium economy on all Virgin Australia flights to New Zealand by March 31, including from other cities such as Melbourne and Brisbane.

Chris Chamberlin travelled to Auckland as a guest of Virgin Australia.

Also read: Five ways to fly Sydney-Auckland in business class

Follow Australian Business Traveller on Twitter: we're @AusBT

Chris Chamberlin
Australian Business Traveller journalist Chris Chamberlin lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

6 Comments

  • edy4eva

    edy4eva

    2 Mar, 2015 09:39 am

    Nice review. It's interesting how VA priced these flights, SYD/MEL/BNE-AKL is cheaper than SYD-MEL!

    Out of NZ the fares for inderict flights are marginally higher than direct ones, so one could easily maximise on points/SC by taking a detour (e.g. fly to BNE via MEL, MEL via SYD etc.).

    No member give thanks

  • RK

    Ryan K

    2 Mar, 2015 09:42 am

    I find the inflight entertainment tablet particularly annoying in VA business class. There's literally nowhere to put it down and watch a movie when there is food on your tray table. All that is needed is a small holder on the seat in front, similar to what Qantas have on its aircraft with iPad entertainment.

    No member give thanks

  • Koru17

    Koru17

    2 Mar, 2015 10:13 am

    Yes I agree,

    I mostly fly NZ, but last year had a trip to CBR and thought it would be easier to fly VA the whole way there from AKL (via SYD). Big Mistake. I was handed a (very fat) tablet and had to balance that and my meal on the tray table. It just didn't work. There was a small table on the covering the seat next to me (in PE) but i am yet to find the purpose of such a redundant seat? Oh well, this product seems better, but it still isn't going to lure me past the flat bed offerings...

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  • gippsflyer

    gippsflyer

    3 Mar, 2015 06:25 pm

    I've managed to eat with a full tray and an iPad or Galaxy Tab playing a movie at the same time, every time and I'm the most uncoordinated person on the planet :-)

    No member give thanks

  • gippsflyer

    gippsflyer

    3 Mar, 2015 06:29 pm

    Oh, should clarify that's flying J on VA, given Koru17's reference is to a regional PE VA flight (I've not flown VA's PE).

    No member give thanks

  • willvill

    willvill

    2 Mar, 2015 02:43 pm

    Cant see any mention here that you still cant check in online no matter what class you are travelling?

    No member give thanks

  • jpk77

    jpk77

    2 Mar, 2015 02:47 pm

    No champagne or sparkling? 

    No member give thanks

  • Fonga

    Fonga

    2 Mar, 2015 06:15 pm

    Nice to see Virgin poking its head up and has a bit of fight left.

    No member give thanks

  • Brendon Williams

    Kiwiscrew

    4 Apr, 2015 11:05 pm

    I flew Va101 31st in seat 1a, we got most of what was mentioned except no snack menu was provided, seat had not been completed with power, no dividing wall between 2nd and 3rd row which was a nightmare for the crew keeping people from the front toilet. We were also not advised about the amenity stuff available. Bit  poor I feel now

    No member give thanks

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24 Oct, 2017 12:59 pm

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