As many of you know, I was in Australia for a couple of weeks last month and I gave you a sneak peek of my transcontinental Virgin Australia experience. Here, now, is a full review of my premium coast-to-coast flight from Sydney to Perth. In full disclosure, I flew compliments of Virgin Australia.
The route is akin to the premium transcon flights American, Delta and United operate from New York’s JFK to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Qantas and Virgin Australia are battling to attract as many business travelers on the route with both offering upgraded, international-style aircraft for most flights. Virgin Australia will soon exclusively fly Airbus A330s in this market.
Lounge access comes with the ticket and I spent quite a bit of time there before heading to the gate for my 8:00 p.m. departure.
A dedicated boarding lane is present for business class and elite members of Virgin’s Velocity frequent flier program and I boarded first. No, I wasn’t hovering there waiting (the term ‘gate lice’ is now prevalent amongst frequent fliers for those who do), but rather asked to board a bit early to take some uncluttered pictures.
This aircraft is the “ugly child” in Virgin Australia’s fleet, an ex-Emirates bird, with a business class configuration of 2-3-2. They actually have two in this layout, but I was told one was off for maintenance work. Their other A330s feature new lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration (I flew one back to Sydney, which you’ll see in a forthcoming review). This plane wasn’t ugly to me, though. What do you think?
Gorgeous, right? It turns out there were only two of us in business class that night, so it felt like a private jet in the cabin seating 27 passengers. Two separate passengers walking back to their seats in economy called the cabin “ostentatious” and “absurd.” Here’s the view from my seat:
The leather seats are very comfortable and offered 60 inches of pitch between rows, similar to the JFK-LAX/SFO flights. Here are the armrest controls and very snazzy embossed seatback:
In a total surprise, amenity kits are provided to business class passengers on this domestic route. I’ll have my uber-specific review of it in a future installment of Amenity Kit Reviews. A large pillow and comfy blanket are also supplied.
Pre-departure beverages were offered along with a selection of newspapers. Pushback was on-time and we were airborne within minutes. Something I love about non-U.S. airlines is that the seat belt sign comes off very shortly after takeoff. And it did on this flight, too. To begin, hot towel service along with warmed mixed nuts and a beverage of choice:
Virgin Australia partners with celebrity chef Luke Mangan and I heard a rumor that all business class meals are prepared within hours of the flight. The menu:
The video system is a bit dated on this aircraft and it offers 15 video channels playing on a loop. The coolest channels, though, were 16 and 17 offering the pilot’s view and a camera pointed directly down. Too bad this was a night flight! Channel 18 was the moving map. Noise cancelling headsets are provided.
Without further delay, on to the meal showcase. To begin, I went with the harissa spiced chicken with fattoush salad and lemon sumac dressing. Delicious!
For my entrée (err… main course), I selected the tomato and saffron chicken with green olives, peas and cous cous. It was packed with flavor, moist and left me longing for more. The small salad was fresh and was served with the main course.
I really need to bring up service because flight attendant Anneleise was so friendly, professional and exceedingly service-oriented from boarding up to this point. And then she did something I’ve never experienced before. She offered a second main course as they had extra as she was so pleased with my rave review of my first selection. I couldn’t refuse and had the massaman curry of pumpkin, potato, zucchini, French beans and Jasmine rice. It, too, was exceptional.
A fantastically plated selection of cheese with crispbread, dried apricots and walnuts followed.
And then toffee, banana and chestnut pudding with pecans and maple syrup. It was warmed perfectly and delicious.
Meal service concluded with a selection of coffee or tea, and in case you didn’t notice on the menu, they have an espresso machine onboard from which barista-style coffee is available. Just incredible.
I settled in for the rest of the flight and watched some of the programming. The seats are very comfortable and offer generous recline, equivalent to United’s premium service Boeing 757s. I’d give these seats a nudge up in ranking, though, as the seat cushion also reclines with you. One major downside: there are no power outlets – a situation corrected on new layout of this aircraft.
After landing, my sport coat was returned to me in a complimentary Virgin Australia garment bag. How about that for an amenity?
My flight was a marvelous affair and I wished it had continued even longer. Cabin supervisor Adam was a gem, too, and we had a fantastic chat about airlines and more. While I was a guest of Virgin Australia, I’m certain the level of service I received is the norm for all business class passengers. Richard Branson-envisioned airlines just have it goin’ on.