Tried & Tested

Virgin Australia B737-700 economy class

9 Sep 2011 by BusinessTraveller

CHECK IN I had arrived on an Etihad flight from Abu Dhabi into Sydney airport’s Terminal 1 (for a review of that leg, flown in business class, click here). As the two airlines are codeshare partners, I was able to use Virgin Australia’s “seamless transfer” service to take me to domestic terminal 2 for my 0905 flight DJ511. Having cleared immigration and picked up my hold luggage, I took a sharp left after quarantine into the transfer lounge (more a check-in zone with a few seats), reaching it at 0630. Note it is marked Virgin Blue as it has not been rebranded yet – the airline changed its name in May. This facility allows you to check in and drop your bag, then take a free shuttle bus to the domestic terminal (the bus otherwise costs AU$5.50). There were a few desks, all without queues, and I was seen to by a friendly member of staff.

The bus pulled up outside shortly afterwards and the journey took ten minutes – the streets were already busy with cars. I arrived at 0655 and proceeded to security, straight ahead. This was fairly quiet and I was through in five minutes (laptops out).

BOARDING Having no lounge access, I logged on to one of the batch of Everywhere Internet computers in the departure lounge, paying AU$5 for 60 minutes’ access (any minutes you don’t use can be spent at another time). The flight was scheduled to board at 0835 from Gate 34 so shortly before this I made my way there – Virgin Australia’s gates are located on Pier A, at the left-hand end of the terminal – and took a seat. There is a screen at each gate detailing arrivals and departures.

At 0835 there didn’t appear to be any movement and the flight wasn’t on the screen so I asked about it at the desk. I was told the flight had moved to Gate 38, and that an announcement had been made. I have to confess I hadn’t heard it – there had been a large amount of gate change announcements for other flights while I had been sitting there, and this being the third leg of a long journey from London, tiredness had probably got the better of me – so I would recommend keeping a keen ear. Happily, the new gate was only a couple of minutes’ walk away and the flight didn’t start boarding until 0845 – special assistance and families first, then people were called by row. There was a separate stairs for passengers in rows 13 and behind so they could board at the back of the aircraft. I was in my seat at 0850.

THE SEAT This B737-700 had 24 rows, the first three being premium economy and the rest economy. It was configured 3-3 (ABC-DEF) – I was in aisle seat 18D. The aircraft had yet to be fitted with Virgin Australia’s new seats and cabin interior (the airline is rolling this out across the B737 fleet and it is due to be completed by the end of the year – for a review of the new product see the forthcoming October 2011 issue of Business Traveller). The older seat is upholstered in dark blue vinyl with a maroon panel by your head and grey armrests. It reclines via a button in the armrest. The seat width is about 17 inches and the pitch 31-33 inches.

This aircraft was fitted with the Live2air in-flight entertainment (IFE) system found on select Virgin Australia B737s (it has been phased out in the new cabins). It streams 24 live Foxtel/Austar TV channels, including Sky News National, Sky News Business, UKTV and the Discovery Channel. A small screen is fitted to the back of the seat in front. The service was free for this flight as it was under two hours in duration; otherwise it costs AU$9.90 (£6.50). Volume/channel controls are fitted in the armrest, and a table folds down under the seatback screen.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The exit row, 12, has a bigger seat pitch of 38-39 inches and you can pay an extra AU$30 (£20) to select a seat here. Avoid the back row, 24, as it doesn’t appear to recline and it is in front of the galley and washrooms. The meal service began from the front and middle so choose accordingly if this is important to you.

THE FLIGHT Earphones for the IFE system were given out pre-flight. We pushed back at 0910 and took off 25 minutes late at 0930. A drink and snack service started quickly afterwards (the flight is just over an hour long). As part of the rebrand, the airline has introduced a new onboard menu devised by Australian chef Luke Mangan. It includes snacks and drinks selected by him, such as banana bread (AU$5/£3 – economy passengers do not receive complimentary food or drink) and Mrs T’s Spicy Tomato Juice (AU$3/£2), and a Mangan-branded meal range including a noodle salad (AU$10/£6.50) and a New Yorker pastrami, Swiss cheese, coleslaw and pickle sandwich (AU$9/£6). Note that the meal range was not available on this flight, presumably because of its short duration.

Wine costs AU$8 (£5), and beer and spirits AU$7 (£4.50). I didn’t have anything. I flicked through the Live2air channels and was amused to find Eastenders and Emmerdale playing (I suppose Australia gave us Neighbours and Home and Away). Crew were very friendly.

ARRIVAL We landed at 1035, ten minutes behind schedule, and were off the plane swiftly. Gold Coast airport is small and very quick to navigate. This being a domestic flight, there was no immigration, and my bag was on the carousel at 1045.

VERDICT A solid service with friendly crew, and it’s nice to find an IFE service on such a short flight. The cabin refresh on this aircraft will be welcome though.

PRICE Internet rates for a return economy class flight from Sydney to Gold Coast in October started from AU$150 (£99).


Michelle Mannion

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