This is a review of Virgin Australia’s business class offering on board its Airbus A330-200 aircraft flying from Melbourne to Hong Kong.
Virgin Australia launched its first non-stop route to Hong Kong in July 2017, connecting the city with Melbourne on a route dominated by Oneworld members Cathay Pacific and Qantas, which fly it 18 times weekly and once per day, respectively. Currently, Virgin Australia also flies this route daily, though this is set to reduce to five-times-weekly later this year when the carrier launches its second Hong Kong route connecting the city with Sydney.
Virgin Australia flies its wide-body Airbus A330-200 aircraft between Melbourne and Hong Kong – an aircraft that in August 2015 saw the launch of the carrier’s new “The Business” business class suites on domestic routes, before rolling out across its entire A330 fleet that October.
I left my hotel in the centre of the city for Melbourne Airport at 0815 on a Saturday morning, ahead of my 1100 VA87 flight – a journey that took me about half an hour by car. Virgin Australia’s counters are located at check-in area C of Terminal 2. Fortunately, Melbourne Airport was not particularly crowded when I arrived, and after five minutes of queuing I was checking-in and dropping off my luggage.
At check-in I was given an Express Path Card that allows for expedited security and immigration clearance, however at the time I mistakenly thought it applied only to immigration queuing and therefore ended up unnecessarily queuing up at the general line for security. Initially this appeared to be grievous error. It took me quite a while to get through the security checkpoint, with a number of people on my line being asked to open their bags and suitcases for a thorough check, though fortunately I was spared having to do so myself. After finally getting airside at about 0915, however, I noticed that the similarly long queues at the express path had not appeared to have moved that much quicker.
Virgin Australia only has its own branded lounge at the airport’s domestic terminal, so I was invited to use the Etihad lounge. This is located next to Emirates’ lounge on Level 3 and can be reached via the escalator or lift near Gate 10 (close to my Gate 6), about a ten-minute walk from the security and immigration area. A member of staff at the lounge courteously reminded me that there would not be any boarding announcement for my flight, but that she would tell me if my flight began boarding early.
Etihad’s lounge is a relatively new facility, having opened on May 9, 2016. As such it still looks very modern, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the runway and airfield providing plenty of natural light.
Seating options are plentiful and varied, ranging from individual chairs facing the airfield to long sofas, high tables and dining table setups.
There aren’t any computers in the lounge, however guests can nonetheless work on the high tables, which offer local power sockets and USB ports. I was impressed that the lounge also has a Family Room, allowing children to spend their time with toys and cartoon TV programmes during their stay.
As with the airport itself, the lounge was not especially busy that morning and I was easily able to get a dining table. The lounge offers a wide range of hot and cold dishes during breakfast, including mushrooms, hash browns, salad, yogurt, and muffins. Beverages, meanwhile, include coffee, fruit juices, milk and beer.
If you’re in the mood for a stiffer drink, there is a manned bar next to the window, offering a wide range of spirits from which to choose.
There is one shower facility in the men’s (and, I assume, the women’s) bathrooms, with towels, bathing kits and hairdryer provided. Dental, shaving, vanity and sewing kits, as well as combs, shower caps, and slippers are available on request.
After spending about 30 minutes in the lounge, I left at 1015 and proceeded to Gate 6 only to find that a Shanghai Airlines flight to Shanghai was now located at the gate. I hadn’t heard any announcements, and there were no notices at Gate 6 about the gate change for my flight. It wasn’t until I checked the information board that I finally found that the flight had been relocated to Gate 8 with the same boarding time.
I’d arrived about 40 minutes before the flight’s scheduled departure time, but even so there was already a long queue for boarding – the queue for economy class passengers had even managed to block off access to the gate, so I had to fight my way to the business class queue.
Despite this, boarding didn’t actually commence until 1045 due to the late arrival of the previous flight, at which point both business and economy class passengers boarded simultaneously.
The business class cabin on the A330-200 is located at the front of the aircraft and, due to the black and white colour scheme of the seats, has quite a contemporary feel. There are 20 seats in total (one reserved for the pilots) arranged across rows one to five in a 1-2-1 (A-DG-K) configuration, meaning each passenger has direct access to the aisle.
The Business is the most premium seat product offered by Virgin Australia (the airline doesn’t have first class product), which it describes as a suite – a fitting description, in my opinion, owing to the high degree of privacy the seats offer, even those located in the middle.
The curved “pod” that surrounds each seat largely shields you from view by your neighbours, with window seats offering a particularly good amount of privacy.
However, even if you are seated in the middle row and are travelling alone, you can simply close the purple divider and separate yourself from your neighbour.
Legroom on these seats is very generous. Given that I have particularly long legs, I can find it difficult to fit comfortably in some seats, however in this instance I still had plenty of space and was only just able to reach the footrest while sitting in an upright position.
Also notably with these seats are the numerous small storage spaces, such as the magazine rack and a tablet holder that’s located at shoulder level.
Just next to this is another small compartment concealed beneath a lid that contains an international power socket, headset outlet and a USB port. In yet another compartment located next to this is an in-flight entertainment (IFE) handset.
Overall this is quite a high-tech seat product. In addition to the 16-inch IFE touchscreen, there is also a touchscreen seat-adjustment panel, as well as controls for the lights.
In-seat lighting comprises a reading light at shoulder level, a night light by the tablet compartment and another light next to the TV.
I was in seat 5G, in the middle of the row at the back of the business class cabin. A cabin crew member took my order for a welcome drink and soon after delivered a glass of Champagne and a glass of water.
I was also given a set of pyjamas and a black and purple leather amenity kit, which comes with Hunter Lab facial moisturiser and lip balm, a dental kit, eye mask, socks, pen, tissues and earplugs.
Doors were closed at 1135 and the aircraft began pushing back five minutes later before taking off at noon – an hour later than scheduled. Soon after departure, I was handed a hot towel and had my pre-meal drink order taken – I opted for the newly added Petaluma White Label Sauvignon Blanc 2016 Adelaide Hills.
The cabin crew member also explained to me that a new menu was available on this flight and the Sichuan chicken noodle soup immediately grabbed my attention, though I was slightly concerned about how spicy it would be. She suggested that I could try a small portion to taste it before deciding whether to have the noodle soup or choosing one of the other options – roast fennel, witlof and radicchio salad with walnut and pear, or Jamon Serrano with marinated feta, tomato and capsicum relish and basil. A very good and thoughtful service.
It didn’t take long to receive my white wine as well as the snacks of olives and cheese biscuits – I only ate the latter.
Shortly thereafter I was brought a small sample bown of the Sichuan chicken noodle soup. Personally I found it to be very tasty and not at all spicy, though others hoping for a more fiery dish could be disappointed.
For main course, I chose the vegetarian potato and ricotta gnocchi with lemon thyme, zucchini, corn and parmesan, rather than the braised beef short rib, green chicken curry or steamed barramundi. Although this was a vegetarian dish, it had plenty of flavour and the addition of lemon and thyme was particularly enjoyable.
To wrap up the meal, I chose one of the sweet dessert options instead of the cheese dish, opting for the Savarin ring with spiced pear and crème Anglaise.
After dinner, I worked a short while and found the table to be plenty large enough to fit my laptop along with a number of other documents next to it. The side table above the IFE controls offers even further space for working, and when I had to leave my seat I was able to do so with a small push forward of the tray table.
Having worked for about an hour, I decided to take a rest and asked a member of the cabin crew to assist in making my bed, which she did efficiently and neatly. The mattress was thick and incredibly comfortable while the duvet was warm and soft. The armrest (which stored the headset and a bottle of water) can also be adjusted up and down to offer further space.
Not all business class products are able to comfortably accommodate my tall size (190 cm) when I lie down, however the length of the bed with this business class product is such that when I tried to sleep neither my head nor my feet touched the ends. While this certainly made sleeping more comfortable, I found the seatbelt cushion a bit too tight when I had it fastened while lying down, which restricted my movement somewhat. Overall, however, I was able to sleep well for about three hours.
After waking up from my rest I had a look of the IFE entertainment system, which has a considerable range of content from movies to music. I was impressed to find that a lot new releases were available to watch, including recent Academy Award-winners Dunkirk, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. Not one to watch a film without a few snacks, I also ordered some crisps and chocolate.
Cabin lights went on two hours before landing. The crew helped me to set up my table and soon delivered the wake-up meal I’d chosen – a passionfruit muffin, and prawn toast with corn salsa and chipotle mayonnaise. While the muffin was large and flavourful, the prawn toast main could have done with being a slightly larger portion.
I finished my meal with the Asian dessert option. Surprisingly this entailed traditional Hong Kong delicacies such as egg tart, fried red bean sesame dumplings and black sesame glutinous rice balls, which I’d have expected to find on flights departing Hong Kong but not necessarily those flying into the city.
A hot towel was delivered and the purser greeted and bid farewell to every passenger before the flight started descending at 1710, landing at 1730. The flight was parked a bit far out, so we had to take the auto tram to the main building, so I didn’t get through immigration until about 1810. Around 15 minutes later my priority luggage arrived at the carousel and I was on my way through customs.
A very comfortable business class product, with spacious legroom, a long bed, adjustable armrest and a thick mattress and duvet. With food quality being good and the crew very friendly, Virgin Australia definitely offers strong competition to Cathay Pacific and Qantas on this same route.
Internet rate for a return business class ticket in mid-May starts from HK$29,739 (US$3,789) including tax and surcharges.
9 HOURS 40 MINUTES