BACKGROUND Virgin Australia is the new name for Virgin Blue, which was rebranded in May. The carrier serves more than 30 destinations in the country (its international arm, V Australia, and New Zealand subsidiary Pacific Blue will also become known as Virgin Australia early next year). The airline is rolling out its new-look economy and business class cabins across its B737 fleet, due to be completed by the end of the year. Its frequent flyer programme is called Velocity and codeshare partners include Etihad, Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic.
CHECK IN This was a last-minute route change on a group trip owing to poor weather at our planned destination. We therefore checked into our 1640 flight DJ791 to Cairns a few hours early, using the group check-in desk in the airline’s section of the domestic terminal, and returned to the airport at 1530. There was a short queue at security. As this was a domestic flight, there were no liquid restrictions.
THE LOUNGE The airline’s Brisbane facility was relaunched in July and is open to business and premium economy flyers and gold Velocity and lounge members. Economy passengers can pay AU$55 (£36) in advance online for access. A bright 700 sqm space, it has seating for 200 people, long tables with built-in power points, three PCs, a self-service bar with a good selection of bottled beers, wines and soft drinks, a barista service, a hot and cold snack menu devised by Australian chef Luke Mangan – with options such as soup and cold meats – a sandwich toaster, a quiet zone, free wifi, six meeting rooms, flatscreen TVs and departure screens. Flights are called.
BOARDING I had originally been directed to be at the gate by 1610 but the flight wasn’t announced until a bit after that. The gate was a short walk from the lounge and the flight eventually started boarding at 1645. I was in my seat ten minutes later.
THE SEAT This was one of the airline’s new B737-800s with its redesigned livery and interiors. It had 30 rows – the first two were business in a 2-2 layout (note that business tickets on the 737s are so far only available on East Coast-Perth services – they will not be sold on other routes until the last quarter of this year, so premium economy passengers are seated there until then, after which that class will be discontinued). Rows three to 30 are economy in a 3-3, A-B-C, D-E-F layout (see seat plan) – I was in 17E.
The cabin features Boeing’s smart new Sky Interior, with sculpted sidewalls, strip mood lighting and enlarged overhead lockers. Economy seats are upholstered in dark grey leather, with headrests alternating between red, purple and light grey. A stable-feeling table folds down from the seat in front. The seat reclines (not a great deal) via a button in the armrest, and the seat pitch is 29-31 inches. Note that with the new-look aircraft Virgin has phased out the Live2air in-flight entertainment (IFE) system available on select 737s – for a review of the older seat including this feature, visit businesstraveller.com/tried-and-tested. The airline says it is “currently reviewing a range of exciting solutions” for IFE.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? The best rows in economy are three, which is separated from business by a partition and has far more legroom, and exit rows 13 and 14, which offer a seat pitch of 38-39 inches. Exit seats are available for AU$45 (£30) for the Brisbane-Cairns leg. Avoid the back row as you may be disturbed by noise from the galley and washrooms.
THE FLIGHT We took off at 1720 and a meal service began shortly afterwards. For the rebrand, Mangan has also masterminded a new onboard menu. It includes snacks and drinks (economy flyers have to pay) and a Mangan-branded meal range including a noodle salad (AU$10/£6.50) and a New Yorker pastrami sandwich (AU$9/£6). I had a decent vegetarian pie (AU$8/£5). Wine was AU$8 (£5) and beer and spirits AU$7 (£4.50). Service was friendly.
ARRIVAL We landed at Cairns airport’s domestic terminal at 1930, 20 minutes behind schedule, and were quickly off the plane, with passengers able to disembark from both the front and back. Baggage reclaim was a short walk away – there was no immigration to deal with – and my bag was on the carousel after about five minutes.
VERDICT The new seat is a marked improvement on the older one, and the cabin feels fresh and modern. A comfortable, enjoyable experience.
PLANE TYPE B737-800
SEAT PITCH 29in-31in/74cm-79cm (38in-39in/96.5cm-99cm in exit rows, available at a charge).
PRICE Internet rates for a return economy flight from Brisbane to Cairns in November started from AU$246 (£161).