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Virgin Australia: The New Spirit Of Oz? MEL-HBA J  
User currently offlinefabianbrimfield From Australia, joined Nov 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 5 days 4 hours ago) and read 13996 times:

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Hi Everyone. Welcome to my second trip report on Airliners.net.

My first one can be found here:

MH's New J: Where's The Malaysian Hospitality?

I apologize for the slightly worse photos. All the photos and videos for this TR were taken on my iPhone. My SLR had been thrown in the suitcase for this flight.

The video accompanying this TR can be found right here, and I encourage you all to watch it as well as reading this because it probably gives a better idea of what the lounge is really like.

Introduction

It’s an exciting time for commercial aviation in Australia. Our flag carrier is pretty much in the sh*t, with recent union strikes (the ones that QF CEO Alan Joyce grounded the fleet over) only just coming to an end, the future is bleak for the flying Kangaroo. By it’s own admission, it is hemorrhaging money internationally and the only profitable arm of its operations are the loyal business flyers, and… Jetstar, it’s LCC subsidiary. Furthermore Qantas have an ageing fleet on their hands, with the ancient 747’s only just starting to be phased out, and not to mention domestic 767’s which Qantas have just elected to keep flying for another 10 years. Qantas is dropping routes like a bad rash, and magically Jetstar is picking up it’s big brothers left overs. Some analysts have called it the ‘jetstarification’ of our national carrier. I call it years of poor fleet management and unrealistic pricing.

Amidst all of this has come the relaunch of Virgin Australia (formally Virgin Blue), as a new full service carrier going directly after Qantas’s last profitable domestic market: the business crowd. Virgin Australia are the first full service carrier to genuinely stand a fighting chance against the Qantas behemoth since the collapse (read: murder) of Ansett. Virgin has a snazzy new livery, uniforms, aircraft, seats and lounges. Best of all, they seem to be undercutting Qantas on nearly every fareclass, and are offering a much fresher product. Being early days at Virgin Australia, everyone is still on their best behaviors and standards haven’t started to slip. Cabin crew are youthful and polished, and the lounges are clean, quiet and modern.


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Photo © Allen Zhao
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Photo © Mehdi Nazarinia - Mehdi Photos



So where does my flight come in? Well, I had to come back to Australia after spending the summer in Hong Kong and Shenzhen on a Chinese law program. My flight back was with Cathay in economy, on those foul and revolting shell seats that no one likes, and are impossible to sleep on. I wanted to be back in Hobart with my family, and Qantas only runs 2 flights to HBA these days, a early morning red-eye, and the last flight of the day. Not convenient with my Cathay arrival. Knowing that I was going to be exhausted, hungry and unrested after the Cathay flight, a shower and breakfast in a lounge would be exactly what was needed. I had a lot of Velocity miles left over from the Virgin Blue days, so I purchased a full fare economy ticket and used points to upgrade.

The upgrade procedure was… frustrating. With QF, all you need to do is go into the Frequent Flyer control panel of the site, and select which flight you’ve booked to upgrade. With Virgin, you have to call up the Velocity call center, which is only open during the week days, and at rather inconvenient hours. Either way, it happened, and I had been ticketed.

Checkin

Virgin Australia at MEL are still operating all its domestic check in from the pokey area at T3 that was delegated to it when it was a small LCC. It’s a far cry from Qantas & Jetstars big open check-in halls at T1. As such, there were people everywhere, and lines for economy snaked everywhere. Thankfully though, the priority lane was clear. The attendant was friendly, and warm, and I was checked in quickly.

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Lounge

Unlike the Qantas club, Virgin’s lounge at MEL (simply titled ‘The Lounge’) is landside, before security.

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The entrance to the lounge is impressive, and a large print of the virgin ‘lady’ adorns frosted glass behind the entrance desk. As soon as I entered, I was approached by a friendly member of staff (who didn’t even check my BP), and asked whether or not I’d been in the lounge before. I admitted to her it was my first time, and I was usually a QF flyer, which seemed to make the chipper woman even more excited. She led me over to her boss, who kindly introduced herself and offered to give me a tour around the lounge. Of course, I obliged, and the friendly woman took me around the lounge, found a seat for me and made sure I had everything I needed. We had a decent conversation about Virgin’s relaunch, and possible membership into Star Alliance. It was most definitely the best reception I had ever had coming into a lounge before.

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My first priority was to have a shower. There is only one shower in the Virgin lounge (I think there may be 4 in QF’s MEL lounge), but it was no problem as no one else was using it. The room was nice with plenty of space and great amenities.

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Another good point about the Virgin Lounge is they have an all day Barista service, unlike Qantas who only runs it at peak times. That means you can get a proper coffee at the Virgin Lounge all day, instead of having to revert to the ghetto ‘cappuccino maker’ in the QF lounge.

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The breakfast selection is okay, mostly muesli, fruit and toasts, as well as a Popcake machine that churns out mysterious pancakes at the press of the button! A couple of fruitjuices are offered, as well as the generously stocked alcohol fridges behind the bars (believe it or not, some Australians WILL drink beer and wine in the morning… not me).

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The lounge even offers some pretty good views

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The old livery hasn't quite been eradicated yet.
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Boarding

Boarding was called on time, passengers with Children and disabilities called first, and then boarding was called by row. No separate call for business class however.

Two male FA’s welcomed pax on board. I had already preselected 2A, because the second row has slightly more leg room than the first.

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Cabin & Seat

The aircraft is one of Virgin’s older 737-800’s, still in the old livery, which have been retrofitted with the new seats. The cabin looked worn, but the seats looked nice and new.

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The J cabin is separated with a funky see-thru purple divider, and then the J cabin is roped off with a little cord instead of a curtain. It means that people in economy can see into business, and vice versa. Not sure if I was a fan, I think curtains make the whole experience seem a little more private and special.

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The cabin only contains 8 business class seats, compared with Qantas’s 12 seats on their 738’s, but that doesn’t mean that they’re being filled necessarily, the load in J was 50% whilst being full in economy.

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The seat was wide and legroom was great. It’s nicely padded, and with 38” of seat pitch it reclines more than Qantas 35” pitch Millennium seat. What the Virgin seat doesn’t have that QF’s seat does it an extendable leg rest. QF’s seat also has a reading light, and the seat backs have 2 pockets instead of Virgin’s one. To be honest, I much prefer the old style Qantas recliner. Virgin’s seat is comfortable enough on short haul journeys, under 3 hours, but Qantas’s millennium seat is easy to sleep on, and can be comfortable for long haul journeys as well. After all, Jetstars “business” class uses the QF millennium seats on flights to Japan & Singapore.

Meal

The purser came over and informed me that the breakfast was a ham & cheese croissant. Not really being a fan, I asked if there was a vegetarian option. Sure enough, he found a vegetarian meal, which was a Mediterranean wrap. It was yummy, and a perfect size for a one hour flight. Was served on a funky tray with cute salt and pepper shakers, as well as real metal cutlery (2 forks and 2 knives? A bit excessive for my wrap).

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Service

Service was no better or no worse than I’ve ever experienced with Qantas on the same route. The FA’s seemed happy to be there, and were good with coming around for drink refills.

Conclusion

Virgin’s full on assault against Qantas’ last profitable market is well and truly underway with little signs of relenting. Promotions like their status match, and free lounge entry to QF Premium Pax strikes at the heart of all that Qantas takes for granted. So is it enough to turn a Qantas devotee? Well, perhaps. Their new lounges in MEL are fantastic, much better than the crowded and tired Qantas club. Moreover their prices and schedule are more convenient (for me anyway).

The one benefit that Qantas has left though is a biggie. Behind Qantas stands the expansive One World empire, and access to a massive worldwide network. Behind Virgin stands a few strangely regulated interline agreements with Airlines such as Etihad, Delta and Air NZ. Many have heralded VA’s recent agreement with Singapore Airline as a massive step forward in becoming a more serious competitor on the Australian market, but even that agreement is fractured. For example, you can earn velocity points on a SQ operated flight, but not Silverkris miles on a VA flight. Strange.

There’s no doubt that Australia needs a local Star Alliance carrier since Ansett failed, but the hurdles that VA would have to conquer seem insurmountable. What would entry into Star Alliance mean for all the other virgins (Atlantic, America) and VA’s agreements with Etihad and Delta? Until all these questions are answered (no doubt some committee somewhere are discussing it), then VA’s future is unclear. There’s no doubt that it’s assault against Qantas is working, it is, but I’m not sold yet. The new product is impressive, no doubt, but access to the One World network is keeping me flying Qantas… for now.

20 replies: All unread, jump to last
 
User currently offlineSingapore 777 From Australia, joined May 1999, 1015 posts, RR: 3
Reply 1, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 13861 times:

Fabian, that was a very nice trip report, and very representative of my own experiences on Virgin Australia. They seem to have some growing pains at the moment, but are actually doing very well otherwise. It is easy to forget that it is no easy undertaking to move upmarket as they are doing.

Quoting fabianbrimfield (Thread starter):
but not Silverkris miles on a VA flight

I believe you can actually earn KrisFlyer miles on a VA flight, but not the KrisFlyer elite miles (i.e. VA flights do not count towards elite silver or gold qualification on KrisFlyer). The converse is not true however - you CAN earn status credits on SQ flight through Velocity. You just don't get the elite bonus but then again, we can't have it all can we?  


User currently offlinebyronicle6 From New Zealand, joined Oct 2011, 415 posts, RR: 0
Reply 2, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 5 days 3 hours ago) and read 13858 times:

Fantastic report! I thoroughly enjoyed it. Virgin Australia certainly look like they have picked up their game since I last flew with them in January 2010 (then Virgin Blue)

User currently offlineqf002 From Australia, joined Jul 2011, 2968 posts, RR: 2
Reply 3, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 3 days 18 hours ago) and read 12640 times:

Nice report... Sitting down the back, I observed some very happy J class passengers last time I flew with VA -- it seems that they are certainly up to the task of working away at QF...

Quoting fabianbrimfield (Thread starter):
th 38” of seat pitch it reclines more than Qantas 35” pitch Millennium seat.

QF offers 38" on Millennium aircraft, 37" on Recaro aircraft (ie JetConnect and BSI planes)... Never trust seatguru or similar!!


User currently offlinestipica From Croatia, joined Feb 2011, 426 posts, RR: 8
Reply 4, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 12378 times:

wow Fabian you are moving so quickly on my list of "favorite writer" ... I didn't know neither expected that Virgin Australia have such nice offer in J ... did Virgin Blue had same offer in J or they had 3+3 EU like business class ... or this is new offer copy-pasted from Virgin America
thanks stipica  



Open your eyes and think
User currently offlinefabianbrimfield From Australia, joined Nov 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Reply 5, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 12314 times:

Quoting stipica (Reply 4):

wow Fabian you are moving so quickly on my list of "favorite writer" ... I didn't know neither expected that Virgin Australia have such nice offer in J ... did Virgin Blue had same offer in J or they had 3+3 EU like business class ... or this is new offer copy-pasted from Virgin America

Haha thanks so much! I'll try to have some more reports up soon!

Virgin Blue used to offer a premium economy product, priced at roughly 50% more than their average economy ticket (which was low because they used to be an LCC), for a short while they offered lounge access to their Y+ customers in big airports like MEL, but their lounge was crappy (think, automated coffee machine, some crackers, and uncomfortable seats in a dimly lit room). And the seats used to be just like many european carriers business offering, 3+3 with the middle seat blocked. So this is definitely a huge improvement.


User currently offlinefabianbrimfield From Australia, joined Nov 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 12309 times:

Quoting qf002 (Reply 3):
QF offers 38" on Millennium aircraft, 37" on Recaro aircraft (ie JetConnect and BSI planes)... Never trust seatguru or similar!!

Yeah I thought that was a bit weird when I read it on Seatguru, because i've always sworn the millenium seats recline heaps. Never tried it on their jetconnect aircraft.


User currently offline767747 From United States of America, joined Jan 2005, 1931 posts, RR: 24
Reply 7, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 3 days 8 hours ago) and read 12235 times:
Support Airliners.net - become a First Class Member!

Good report on Virgin Australia! It looks like a nice airline, and very similiar to Virgin America! Food looks good for a flight of a short length like you were on, and very cool looking seats and cabin.

Thanks for sharing a unique airline not covered on this forum very much!

Matthew


User currently offlineabrelosojos From Venezuela, joined May 2005, 5088 posts, RR: 55
Reply 8, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 3 days 4 hours ago) and read 12073 times:

Very cool report Fabian. I liked your objective comparisons between VA and QF throughout the report. The next few years will be interesting for the Aussievolution in the airline sector. Thanks again for sharing.

Saludos,
A.



Live, and let live.
User currently offlinefabianbrimfield From Australia, joined Nov 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Reply 9, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 3 days 2 hours ago) and read 12011 times:

Quoting abrelosojos (Reply 8):

Very cool report Fabian. I liked your objective comparisons between VA and QF throughout the report. The next few years will be interesting for the Aussievolution in the airline sector. Thanks again for sharing.

Thanks very much! Means a lot coming from a TR veteran like yourself, I absolutely adore your reports.


User currently offlineglobalflyer From United States of America, joined Dec 2005, 926 posts, RR: 3
Reply 10, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 2 days 18 hours ago) and read 11828 times:

Very nice TR! Great pics. I visited the DJ Lounge in BNE and found it quit nice. The cabin crew going down to SYD were very young and attractive "Ken and Barbie types" that really were quite friendly. I had a very nice overall flight with them. I really like the interiors of their aircraft. Something different. Cheers, William


Landing on every Continent almost on an annual basis!
User currently offlinefabianbrimfield From Australia, joined Nov 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Reply 11, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 2 days 11 hours ago) and read 11655 times:

Quoting globalflyer (Reply 10):
The cabin crew going down to SYD were very young and attractive "Ken and Barbie types" that really were quite friendly.

Hahah yes, they are quite like that. Sometimes a nice change from the old and sour 50-something Qantas veterans.


User currently offlineabrelosojos From Venezuela, joined May 2005, 5088 posts, RR: 55
Reply 12, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 2 days 2 hours ago) and read 11354 times:

Quoting fabianbrimfield (Reply 9):
Thanks very much! Means a lot coming from a TR veteran like yourself, I absolutely adore your reports.

= Thanks. You are being a little too generous - but as I said, pretty impressive report.

Saludos,
A.



Live, and let live.
User currently offlineAv8rDAL From United States of America, joined Jan 2004, 462 posts, RR: 1
Reply 13, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 1 day 20 hours ago) and read 11162 times:

I was in the Virgin Blue lounge at SYD a couple years ago - far, far better than any Delta SkyClub or AA Admiral's Club I've ever been to. The Legacy carriers have a bit of work to do, thanks to competition and good old capitalism.

To Delta's credit, they have been re-vamping their SkyClubs. The ones at MIA, LAX, and ATL are much nicer now. But they don't quite have the food/drink and other nice stuff that I saw at SYD's Virgin lounge. A cinema? Yes please.



Maintain thine airspeed, lest the Earth rise up and smite thee.
User currently offlineroberts87 From Netherlands, joined Dec 2011, 980 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 1 day 20 hours ago) and read 11150 times:

Great TR, very well written.
The lounge sure looks amazing, and I'm quite fond of the Virgin Australia and Virgin America branding. Service indeed seemed okay for a short flight.


User currently offlineFlyboyOz From Australia, joined Nov 2000, 1985 posts, RR: 25
Reply 15, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 21 hours ago) and read 10735 times:

Nice report!!

Yeah lounge room looks nice, modern and stylish! Business class inflight meal look similar to the Y class meal. I have eaten similiar roll before and it tastes very good. Same chef and meals.



The Spirit of AustraliAN - Longreach
User currently offlineQuokkas From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 16, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 10631 times:

Hi Fabian,

Great trip report and despite your apologies about the photos, with my eyes I couldn't see anything to fault.

The new product is definitely an advance although my past experiences with DJ showed the crew always willing to be helpful and accommodating.

The lounge in MEL is impressive and has a feature that any decent lounge should have - a view over the apron.

I can see the advantages for the crew in having a see-through divider (particularly in terms of safety) but agree that the traditional bulkhead and curtain does lend a certain "exclusivity".

From the description of meals it would seem that Virgin is midway between the low cost BOB model and meals included model with availability determined by fare class purchased. That certainly provides greater flexibility for passengers.

Thanks for sharing,
Roy


User currently offlinefabianbrimfield From Australia, joined Nov 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Reply 17, posted (2 years 6 months 2 weeks 8 hours ago) and read 10420 times:

Quoting FlyboyOz (Reply 15):
Yeah lounge room looks nice, modern and stylish! Business class inflight meal look similar to the Y class meal. I have eaten similiar roll before and it tastes very good. Same chef and meals.
Quoting Quokkas (Reply 16):
From the description of meals it would seem that Virgin is midway between the low cost BOB model and meals included model with availability determined by fare class purchased. That certainly provides greater flexibility for passengers.

I'm pretty sure my wrap that I had as my meal was one of the BOB options for economy pax, and that the ham and cheese croissant they originally offered is a dedicated J meal. I think because they dont have a dedicated vegetarian J meal, they just got the wrap and made it look nice with all the business bits and pieces. Not complaining, because it was good.


User currently offlineMSS658 From Belgium, joined Oct 2010, 2474 posts, RR: 15
Reply 18, posted (2 years 6 months 1 week 5 days 14 hours ago) and read 9825 times:

Hi

Great trip report, thanks for sharing it with us.I must say I'm quite astonished by DJ's new seating, looks quite stunning?
.

Greetings
Marc



Next trip report: Well worn A330s and Hassle free MUC transfer
User currently onlinemelpax From Australia, joined Apr 2005, 1604 posts, RR: 1
Reply 19, posted (2 years 6 months 1 week 3 days 23 hours ago) and read 9547 times:

Quoting fabianbrimfield (Thread starter):
Virgin Australia at MEL are still operating all its domestic check in from the pokey area at T3 that was delegated to it when it was a small LCC. It’s a far cry from Qantas & Jetstars big open check-in halls at T1.

Terminal 3 is the old Ansett terminal, Virgin moved there in haste after Ansett's collapse. It just hasn't yet been extended in size like the QF side (T1). But there are plans to extend the Terminal 3 side to bring it into line with T1.



Essendon - Whatever it takes......
User currently offlinefabianbrimfield From Australia, joined Nov 2011, 35 posts, RR: 0
Reply 20, posted (2 years 6 months 4 days 20 hours ago) and read 8587 times:

Quoting melpax (Reply 19):
Terminal 3 is the old Ansett terminal, Virgin moved there in haste after Ansett's collapse. It just hasn't yet been extended in size like the QF side (T1). But there are plans to extend the Terminal 3 side to bring it into line with T1.

That's what I suspected, it's inadequate for their current movements.


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