Virgin Australia prepares for the refurbishment of its 777 fleet

In September 2014, Virgin Australia announced that it would introduce a new business class product on its widebody fleet. It surprises some that this fleet consists of only six Airbus A330 and five Boeing 777 aircraft.

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Virgin Australia had originally announced:

The suites will roll out to Virgin Australia’s Airbus A330 fleet in early 2015 with the first aircraft expected to be in service by March and the complete refit of the fleet to be finalised by August.

The roll out of the new Business Class product to the Boeing 777 fleet will commence from November 2015 and be complete by early 2016. The upgrade will also include the introduction of a redesigned Business Class bar and changes to the Premium Economy cabin. A reduction in the number of seats will make Virgin Australia’s International Premium Economy a more exclusive experience, and give passengers three inches more legroom.

UPDATED TO ADD: Virgin Australia have delayed this process again due to issues getting the new business class seats certified for safety (due to the angle at which the airline has decided to angle the seats).

Virgin Australia had previously started to arrange to spare one of its five-strong Boeing 777 aircraft fleet for the refurbishment program:

As a result of a scheduled upgrade to our Boeing 777 fleet, Virgin Australia has made some minor schedule changes suspending operations on the following Virgin Australia operated flights to/from Abu Dhabi (SYD – AUH – SYD) from 27 October 2015 to 06 April 2016 (inclusive).

Existing codeshare flights marketed by Virgin Australia will continue to be operated by Alliance Partner Etihad Airways during this time. Customers that have already booked on Virgin Australia operated services will be re-accommodated onto Etihad Airways flights.

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Virgin Australia Boeing 777-300ER business class (existing cabin)

This means that for close to six months there will be no Virgin Australia-operated services to Abu Dhabi and passengers will be accommodated on Etihad flights. Etihad don’t offer a Premium Economy cabin, and its worth noting that Virgin Australia Velocity frequent flyer members can’t use their points to upgrade on Etihad.

As a result of these changes, Virgin Australia has issued a waiver for:

Any guests holding a valid Virgin Australia (795) ticket issued on/before 15 June 2015 and are affected by the cancellation or re-scheduling of flights from:

VA29 SYD-AUH from 27 October 2015 to VA30 AUH-SYD 16 December 2015 (inclusive)
VA29 SYD-AUH from 02 February 2016 to VA30 AUH-SYD 06 April 2016 (inclusive)

Is it possible that Virgin are going to refit two 777 planes before Christmas and then the remaining three from February 2016?

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Passengers booked in business class on Virgin Australia to Abu Dhabi will be accommodated in Etihad business class (pictured)

The wavier means that premium economy customers will be downgraded to economy class with compensation of AU$390 per sector. The full terms are:

  • All guests booked in either Business or Economy Class will be re-accommodated into the same cabin of service as originally booked on Virgin Australia.
  • All guests booked in Premium Economy will be re-accommodated into the Economy Cabin.
  • Premium Economy guests will have the ability to upgrade to Business Class for AUD$1000 per one-way sector (change fee waived), subject to availability.
  • Premium Economy guests that wish to remain in the Economy Cabin will be entitled to a fixed refund of AUD$390 per one-way sector.
  • The guest may cancel the affected sectors and retain the value of the ticket as credit for 12 months from the original ticket issuance date.
  • Premium Economy Guests may request a refund.

We look forward to Virgin Australia’s new widebody cabin configurations coming on stream and think the way Virgin is freeing up a plane for the reconfiguration requirements makes perfect sense.

In contrast – as Virgin works to refit its Airbus A330 aircraft, we assume it will substitute services that would ordinarily be operated by its A330 aircraft for Boeing 737s, which are equipped with a vastly smaller business class seat.

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