Virgin Australia shook up the domestic aviation market with the introduction of their A330 ‘coast-to-coast’ services back in mid-2012, delivering Australian market-leading business class seating and in-flight entertainment to all classes of travel. Unfortunately over weekends, the majority of coast-to-coast services are operated by the much smaller 737-800 aircraft.
Despite the large difference in seating between the 737 and A330 aircraft, Virgin Australia have managed to keep the ‘soft product’ consistent over both aircraft types on these coast-to-coast flights. As posted previously, Virgin Australia have confirmed to Miles Down Under that its new A330 business class product will be introduced from mid-August 2015.
The seating on this particular 737 was nearly identical to our previous flight to Darwin with Virgin Australia. This aircraft was one of the ‘non-BSI’ interiors, with the major difference being the absence of power sockets.
The seating is in a 2-2 configuration allowing eight passengers seating in the forward cabin.
These recliner seats are adequate for a daytime flight but certainly don’t lend themselves to being easy to sleep in. The bulkhead in the first row doesn’t have a cutout for passenger feet. It is worth noting that the aircraft isn’t fitted with legrests or footrests, so offers one button adjustment (recline).
We would like to say that these should be avoided on the red-eye services from Perth, but given that Qantas still have recliners configured at a similarly tight pitch on most of their services from Perth (although are starting to roll out their Business Suite product across their A330 fleet), it’s going to be hard to ensure a good nights sleep on the trip east.
Behind the second row is a rail for hanging up any items of clothing and in the absence of a cabin curtain, during flight the crew string up a small magnetic rope to deter anyone from the economy cabin coming forward.
Unlike Virgin Australia’s A330 and 777 fleet, the 737s are not fitted with seat-back entertainment. Virgin have instead opted for a streaming media system delivered over wi-fi. Business class passengers are each given a Samsung tablet to use for the duration of their flight. Notably absent is the capability to affix your tablet to the back of the seat in front of you, something Qantas offers on their aircraft fitted with iPads. This would be particularly useful during the meal service when it can be difficult to balance your iPad alongside the meal tray.
Unlike Qantas who only serve ‘non-alcoholic sparkling red juice’ as a pre-departure beverage on domestic flights, Virgin Australia serve proper pre-departure drinks. Indeed, Virgin actually serve real champagne on their business class services from Perth. Virgin changed their champagne offering around a year ago from the very ordinary Lanson Black to Ayala Brut Majeur, which is actually a very palatable drop.
The menu was the same offering as on A330-operated transcontinental services, save for the salmon option seemed to be unavailable on 737 aircraft (presumably a galley preparation restriction) and some coffee options too.
We were offered the option of either going with the full menu or just the ‘express’ option which essentially just meant no main course. It is worth noting that Qantas do not offer this option on comparable flights.
Where Qantas have Neil Perry, Virgin Australia have Luke Mangan as their celebrity chef consulting on their food. On the whole we find the Luke Mangan inspired cuisine to be a slight cut above Qantas’ offerings in the same market.
Virgin Australia offer three different white and red wines, along with several dessert wine options. Generally we find these wines to be well selected to pair with the food onboard.
A relatively low-end selection of spirits and beer is also available.
Another nice touch are the pantry offerings if you don’t feel like a full meal or want a snack later in the flight. Not printed on the menu are the snack options (like Pringles) which are offered in economy but readily available if desired up the front.
We opted for some of the ‘Marinated green and Kalamata olives’ to start off our meal.
Followed by the ‘Sumac chicken on quinoa, pistachio and coriander with tahini dressing’. This was an excellent starter, although we could barely taste any sumac in the dish. The tahini helped keep the chicken moist which can be half the battle when preparing meals onboard.
Unfortunately we didn’t think much of the ‘Mr Riggs Wine Company Temperanillo’ that we selected, it was far too full-bodied for our palate. No doubt for others it’s an excellent wine.
Given that we only had two main course options, we opted for the ‘Pork fillet with parsnip puree, caramelised apple, roast eschalot and broad beans’. Surprisingly this was one of the best meals we have ever encounted on an airline. The pork was perfectly prepared and full of flavour. The crackling was maybe a little chewy but was otherwise perfect. We mentioned to the crew how much we enjoyed the dish and were amazed to be offered a second serving, which we politely declined.
On these 737 flights the cabin supervisor looks after the business class cabin and we feel that this, along with the catering, really helps make up for the poor seating on these longer transcontinental flights.
The superior food and beverage offering really put this product above Qantas on the same long coast-to-coast Boeing 737 operated flights in our opinion. With a personable crew, we even enjoyed flying on a narrow-body aircraft for this 3h 30 minute flight.