Virgin Australia has emerged out of Virgin Blue, an airline started with help from Sir Richard Branson, with the first flight on 31 August 2000 from Brisbane to Sydney; Brisbane being the chosen home base.
The collapse of Ansett in 2001 gave Virgin Blue a huge boost and, by default, the latter became the second carrier in Australia, after Qantas.
International flights began in 2004 to New Zealand using the brand name Pacific Blue and in 2005 to Samoa with the launch of Polynesian Blue. In 2009, flights to Los Angeles started and used a fourth brand name, V Australia! This is the complicated bit about this airline: What name are they? Many people just call them “Virgin” and it is understood that this may mean all or any of the Virgin airlines.
Virgin Australia is not being complacent and is expanding routes and increasing code share arrangements to be able to compete more effectively with Qantas. The strategy involves a close partnership between all of the Virgin airlines and Air New Zealand, Delta Airlines, Etihad Airways, Malaysian Airlines, Skywest and Interline Partners, which covers another 16 airlines, with others are planned.
All of these partners and Virgin Airlines share the loyalty reward programme, Velocity, which is enabling Virgin to offer global reach and worldwide lounges. One partner, perhaps the not the best to have chosen, is Airlines PNG (not to be confused with Air Niugini), which has crashed twice in recent years with the loss of 42 lives. However, on the plus side, Singapore Airlines are in the pipeline.
We first tested Virgin Blue in 2001 and were impressed. In those days, they were a low-cost option with very basic facilities, but relied on good, solid, friendly customer service. Initially, Virgin’s original terminals were often in a temporary building beside the main airport terminals, but now have the full use of airport facilities. Their battle to gain a foothold in the Australian market was hard won by persistence and the dedication of their staff.
Onboard a Virgin jet, a lively, young, friendly crew looked after you well, often using humour to grab the attention of passengers for various announcements, including safety briefings … and this worked! Many people remember what they were briefed to do in the event of an emergency, simply because, although given properly and with appropriate seriousness, the humorous parts quoted stuck in one’s mind.
Due to the initial short haul flight times, food was always either bought on board or byo (bring your own) and passengers were happy to pack a sandwich, some chocolate or fruit, and a bottle of water, juice or a soft drink for the sake of a cheaper flight. The on-board menu was basic but sufficient and has expanded a lot over the years.
In recent test flights, we see many improvements, especially so in business class, with dedicated lounges, priority boarding and catering by chef, Luke Mangan, included in the price. Economy class is now also catered by Luke, but remains an option to purchase, if you wish. The menu for economy class is also available to passenger in premium economy, but is included in the air fare. A selection of wines, beer and spirits are usually complimentary on flights departing after 4pm.
Collectively, the staff at eGuide Travel have flown with Virgin to or from Adelaide, Albury, Brisbane, Cairns, Canberra, Coolangatta (Gold Coast), Hobart, Launceston, Mackay, Perth, Maroochydore (Sunshine Coast), Melbourne and Sydney in Australia; Christchurch in New Zealand; Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, Nadi in Fiji and Port Vila in Vanuatu, making us seasoned travellers with Virgin! This inspection is based mostly on recent experiences, but does take into account all previous flights for Virgin’s consistency.
Business class is offered on the A330 aircraft used for trans-Australia services. For the east coast of Australia, a Boeing 737 is used and that features premium economy seats.
Many aircraft now have in-flight entertainment with monitors in all seats and live television. Check-in and ground handling have always been excellent at Virgin and you are made to feel welcome. For premium passengers, new lounges at Brisbane and Sydney offer it all, including barista coffee, which is also available to business class passengers travelling on A330 aircraft.
Internationally, we have tested V Australia to Abu Dhabi and Los Angeles in economy class and found it to be very acceptable. Of note was the in-flight entertainment system, the quality of the cabin and seating and the friendly crew.
Using Pacific Blue to Christchurch and Port Moresby was fine but nothing special and food had to be purchased on board. Aircraft do not have in-seat entertainment, but is possible to rent a DVD player.
Virgin Australia is an airline that we expect to see many changes in over the next few years. Qantas is struggling with unions and a high cost structure, creating a space for Virgin to enter, which they are working hard at.
Overall we rate flying with Virgin as a consistently good option in Australia and, as they are often cheaper than Qantas, that would swing us over. Internationally, we have not tested enough nor tried the business class product to judge, but the images look good!Write a Review