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Experiencing Virgin Australia Afresh

samh004

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This report is going to be short, it details my first Virgin Australia flight in nearly 5 years and the experience from a Qantas-flyer perspective. With my re-qualification of Qantas Platinum already sorted, and my next booked flights taking me over the line to Qantas Lifetime Gold, I felt I should give Virgin Australia a chance and see what I have been missing. I've tried to be as objective as possible and compare like-for-like.

I booked the flight using a discount code, which is novel to me, so Business was quite attractive even for the short flight time. I think it was slightly under $400. As I haven't flown them or partners for a long time, my status was predictably, Red. The flight is VA999, Sydney to Brisbane. Last flight of the night.
 

samh004

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The Lounge

The premium lounge entry worked well, but I’m no stranger to a premium lounge entry with the one at my home port – Brisbane (QF). The entry space was smaller, but it wasn’t busy this evening. I found it odd that their security staff were so smartly dressed. Seemed like an overplay to be honest.

When I entered there was one customer using the machines to the right, one at the desk and one unpacking a bag at the machine. I wanted a cardboard boarding pass, but the space just inside the door didn’t really provide for me to line up if anyone else were to enter, so I just started unpacking my bag at the machine as well. When the customer at the desk was done the staff member queried (to no one in particular) if we had swiped our cards at the machines; the customer who had been at the machines said yes and I just ignored the question, being further through the process. So, if I was trying to sneak into the lounge today, I could have. Ultimately, I got my re-print when through the door after security.

The lounge is as I remember all of their lounges, a wavy petal pattern on the ceiling with long tables to match, including the food/beverage bar. It was quite busy near the entrance and food bar, so I took a hard right (U-turn) and proceeded to the back corner, almost behind security. It was like a maze getting back there. I’m not a fan of the layout.

Dinner service was finishing, but I managed to sneak in a Thai green chicken curry, and it had some kick, which was unexpected and appreciated. Having been in the Qantas Business lounge previously this evening with others, the hot food was far better here, but I couldn’t have seconds as it was cleared up not long after I arrived. Ditto for the soup, there were two varieties when I arrived, but this became one not long after. Salad/sandwich bar is much the same.

Beverage selection appeared to be larger in range and variety than the Qantas Business lounge, which is saying something as this should really be competing with the Qantas Club. That said, they don’t do spirits here if I recall correctly and I know QF do.

What I will say about the lounge, beyond the confusing maze layout is that the ceiling lights between the petal like ceiling are bright. The result, it feels like a hospital – almost sterile – in here. I find Qantas usually has more subdued mood lighting. Personal preference maybe? On using the facilities before leaving I found the opposite (which is again the opposite to Qantas in my experience). It was dark. Also, the toilet stall doors open outwards, not inwards. I am surprised there haven’t been accidents as doors fly open quickly. Stupid design, reverse the hinges!
 

samh004

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Boarding/onboard

Priority boarding worked well, but I generally don’t find too many issues on Qantas anyway. The CSM was attentive and I liked that I was offered water, juice or sparkling wine – far better than choosing between still and sparkling water on QF. That said, we were then told he’d explain the snacks offered after takeoff (perhaps I chose a non-main-meal service) and we had a menu in the seat pocket to purchase additional items. Not sure about you, but when I pay for Business I don’t expect to then be charged for additional food.

Also, VA has 2 rows of Business compared to Qantas’ 3 rows. Despite there only being 4 Business customers who were all travelling solo, they all chose row 1. When I booked the flight I was the first to select a seat, so I’m not sure why someone chose to sit next to me when all of row 2 was vacant. I find that an odd mentality. Are these the people who choose to sit in the middle seats in economy?

Screenshot 2019-10-20 at 21.07.02.png

The crockery appeared to be custom for VA as there was a ‘V’ etched into the bottom of my glass. Perhaps they could save money instead by promoting another iconic brand onboard (Finnair comes to mind) instead of making Business passengers pay for meals. Qantas does the same I guess, but they're not losing money.

The CSM came to take orders promptly after the seatbelt sign went off. It felt more polished, like the QF international service, where the crew takes an order on a pad and then fetches it. Much preferred than setting up a cart and moving it up and down the aisle.

Tonight’s beers were 4 Pines, Great Northern and something as equally bland. So I went with the 4 Pines. Food was essentially a sausage roll (but it was described as ‘pork & fennel... something something... with tomato relish’ or an Asian noodle salad. I went for the sausage roll. Some almonds were delivered with the drink.

IMG_1939.jpeg

Despite my meal looking like what I would imagine the NPPP version of a sausage roll would look like, it tasted good. I noticed every other person ordered the same, giving the salad a miss.

IMG_1942.jpeg

So, let’s address the inflight wifi. Choosing the network and typing in the web address to connect is virtually the same between airlines (wifi.qantas.com vs wifi.virginaustralia.com). Different is that VA wants to charge me for high speed wifi – seemingly even in Business. I am not aware of this limitation when I connect on QF.

IMG_1940.jpeg

Additionally, why do I need to enter a security code? This isn’t user friendly.

IMG_1941.jpeg

In the end, I wanted to stream some Apple Music that I hadn't downloaded before the flight and it wouldn’t load for me... audio streaming can’t hurt that much, can it?

I was under the impression that much like priority boarding, the crew polices the Business bathroom. Not in my experience on this flight. Granted, it wasn’t busy, but I was expecting leaps and bounds over QF from what I’d read and it’s simply the same experience onboard.

The last point I’d like to make is that on landing/arrival when we got to the gate one of the cabin crew from the front made their way the the last row of J/front of Y to hold back passengers. I thought this was a nice touch that I do not see them doing on QF, and wouldn't be hard to implement. Again, it is reminiscent of QF international service.
 

samh004

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So... a summary or conclusion is required. Ultimately, I think it was a good experience after all this time. Both QF and VA have their inconsistencies and their strengths and weaknesses. Would I fly them again? Probably. I think it would come down to them being my second choice still, reserved for when the first choice fares are too high. My reasoning for this isn’t blind loyalty, but comes down to the fact I think QF better fits my needs, both in the lounge and onboard. In the past I certainly wouldn’t have even considered them, so the fact I can at this point, shows that they didn’t screw up. They have perhaps won me back as an occasional customer and they might build on that over time.

As an aside, it’s amazing what you’ll do when you have no further goal/the next goal is so far away you couldn’t hit it even if you tried. This is very much a case of an own goal to QF with their LTP SC requirement.
 

Mattg

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Interesting thoughts.

Your VA experience actually sounds better than my QF 737 J SYD-MEL flight last night. It wasn't bad, but there was absolutely nothing that made it special. They didn't even offer still or sparkling water before take-off - just handed everyone a small plastic bottle of water.

I'd disagree about not generally experiencing issues with priority boarding on Qantas. In my experience, VA is very good at this while QF doesn't even attempt to do it properly.

That said, last night's QF flight was the first in a while that we didn't have an influx of Y pax using the J toilet. I've never had this problem on VA but usually do on Qantas. A shame that the crew didn't police this on your flight.

I do think that VA does a better job of providing personalised service in J (perhaps because of the smaller cabin) and generally has very good food. The recent removal of the Samsung tablets and placing retail food menus in the seat pockets of J are backwards steps, however.
 

BNEFlyer

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Good summary of VA 737 J. I disagree that the SYD lounge is like a maze, it seems like a simple layout to me. Upstairs is great though if you can get up there next time.

You were on a flight that's a snack service. Dinnertime is 18:00-19:29. And you don't have to buy anything from the retail menu unless you want to. Business service includes a meal, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and there's snacks available from The Pantry.

It's a shame that access to the toilets wasn't policed though, they're usually very good at that. But there will always be someone stopping Y pax from disembarking before J, which I appreciate.
 

BNEFlyer

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The recent removal of the Samsung tablets and placing retail food menus in the seat pockets of J are backwards steps, however.
I agree that the removal of tablets is a bit of a step backwards, particularly as QF offer iPad's (I think?), but the addition of the retail menu isn't a step backwards. It's unfortunate that some of the items now need to be paid for, but overall J pax aren't losing out. And compared to QF they're still ahead.
 

Bundy Bear

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Good report, each airline has its pros and cons, sometimes Qantas price themselves out of the market and Virgin provide a good 2nd option.

Qantas can’t make priority boarding work ever, it like it’s not in their hand book, accept for maybe a foot note.

The sausage roll thingy isn’t too bad.

Ideally would like to be Gold on both airlines can achieve that in about 5 years once I click over Qantas Life Time Gold.
 

CaptJCool

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Good report, each airline has its pros and cons, sometimes Qantas price themselves out of the market and Virgin provide a good 2nd option.

Qantas can’t make priority boarding work ever, it like it’s not in their hand book, accept for maybe a foot note.
So the footnote would be gate 3 at Melbourne Airport where you can sidle up the alleyway adjacent Villa & Hut and Crown Bar, and park yourself in the priority queue...

 

ambrosia

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Mar 29, 2014
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The Lounge

The premium lounge entry worked well, but I’m no stranger to a premium lounge entry with the one at my home port – Brisbane (QF). The entry space was smaller, but it wasn’t busy this evening. I found it odd that their security staff were so smartly dressed. Seemed like an overplay to be honest.

When I entered there was one customer using the machines to the right, one at the desk and one unpacking a bag at the machine. I wanted a cardboard boarding pass, but the space just inside the door didn’t really provide for me to line up if anyone else were to enter, so I just started unpacking my bag at the machine as well. When the customer at the desk was done the staff member queried (to no one in particular) if we had swiped our cards at the machines; the customer who had been at the machines said yes and I just ignored the question, being further through the process. So, if I was trying to sneak into the lounge today, I could have. Ultimately, I got my re-print when through the door after security.

The lounge is as I remember all of their lounges, a wavy petal pattern on the ceiling with long tables to match, including the food/beverage bar. It was quite busy near the entrance and food bar, so I took a hard right (U-turn) and proceeded to the back corner, almost behind security. It was like a maze getting back there. I’m not a fan of the layout.

Dinner service was finishing, but I managed to sneak in a Thai green chicken curry, and it had some kick, which was unexpected and appreciated. Having been in the Qantas Business lounge previously this evening with others, the hot food was far better here, but I couldn’t have seconds as it was cleared up not long after I arrived. Ditto for the soup, there were two varieties when I arrived, but this became one not long after. Salad/sandwich bar is much the same.

Beverage selection appeared to be larger in range and variety than the Qantas Business lounge, which is saying something as this should really be competing with the Qantas Club. That said, they don’t do spirits here if I recall correctly and I know QF do.

What I will say about the lounge, beyond the confusing maze layout is that the ceiling lights between the petal like ceiling are bright. The result, it feels like a hospital – almost sterile – in here. I find Qantas usually has more subdued mood lighting. Personal preference maybe? On using the facilities before leaving I found the opposite (which is again the opposite to Qantas in my experience). It was dark. Also, the toilet stall doors open outwards, not inwards. I am surprised there haven’t been accidents as doors fly open quickly. Stupid design, reverse the hinges!
There may be an explanation for the doors: Australian Building regs require that a toilet door can be removed from the outside.
This is because if someone collapses or faints in the stall, and falls against the door, you cannot get in to assist them, particularly if they are generously built. Usually this means the door must open outwards, or have hinges that can lift off. Toilet doors that with a gap above/below, them like many public toilets, allow the door to be lifted off its hinges to remove. Otherwise, with a fully enclosed stall, the door usually opens out. From memory, the doors are full length?
I totally agree about the lighting in the lounge! It’s really dazzling and absolutely feels like a hospital.
 

woodborer

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There may be an explanation for the doors: Australian Building regs require that a toilet door can be removed from the outside.
This is because if someone collapses or faints in the stall, and falls against the door, you cannot get in to assist them, particularly if they are generously built. Usually this means the door must open outwards, or have hinges that can lift off. Toilet doors that with a gap above/below, them like many public toilets, allow the door to be lifted off its hinges to remove. Otherwise, with a fully enclosed stall, the door usually opens out. From memory, the doors are full length?
I totally agree about the lighting in the lounge! It’s really dazzling and absolutely feels like a hospital.
But you could choose to have doors that can be pushed up (like most domestic residences). It doesn't need to be much of a gap...
 

kevrosmith

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There may be an explanation for the doors: Australian Building regs require that a toilet door can be removed from the outside.
This is because if someone collapses or faints in the stall, and falls against the door, you cannot get in to assist them, particularly if they are generously built. Usually this means the door must open outwards, or have hinges that can lift off. Toilet doors that with a gap above/below, them like many public toilets, allow the door to be lifted off its hinges to remove. Otherwise, with a fully enclosed stall, the door usually opens out. From memory, the doors are full length?
The men's toilets around the back (near the Premium entry) have full length doors and open inwards. When I read samh004's comment, I thought perhaps it was an ambulant toilet stall, which I've usually observed with outward opening doors (for reasons unknown to me).

(Edit: this link defines the specs required for space of ambulant toilets with both inward and outward swing doors Requirement for Ambulant Toilet Accessible how big)
 

ambrosia

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But you could choose to have doors that can be pushed up (like most domestic residences). It doesn't need to be much of a gap...
Ask the architects out there? Leaving a ~12 cm gap at the top might not be a luxe lounge look.
 

TomVexille

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Relatively fair review IMO @samh004, only thing I'd nitpick is I don't think QF even offers a higher speed WiFi option.

Personally I still think VA offer a better overall J product, but that alone doesn't necessarily make them a better option overall.
 

samh004

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Upstairs is great though if you can get up there next time.
It was closed by the time I arrived.
I agree that the removal of tablets is a bit of a step backwards, particularly as QF offer iPad's (I think?)
I'm not sure they do, but they do have a lot of aircraft with IFE built-in. I think the 717's used to come with iPad's but I'm unsure if they still do that?
From memory, the doors are full length?
Indeed.
The men's toilets around the back (near the Premium entry) have full length doors and open inwards.
I think I saw some people heading that direction, but I went to some toilets in the middle of the lounge, directly across from the food service area. It was a new lounge to me so I just followed signs.
Relatively fair review IMO @samh004, only thing I'd nitpick is I don't think QF even offers a higher speed WiFi option.
I tried to be fair... though I'd say in QF's defence regarding wifi, I never have a problem streaming content, so perhaps everyone gets the same "high-speed"? I'm not sure either way, but there must be a way to give free high-speed access to J pax on VA.
 

jakeseven7

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Good report, each airline has its pros and cons, sometimes Qantas price themselves out of the market and Virgin provide a good 2nd option.

Qantas can’t make priority boarding work ever, it like it’s not in their hand book, accept for maybe a foot note.

The sausage roll thingy isn’t too bad.

Ideally would like to be Gold on both airlines can achieve that in about 5 years once I click over Qantas Life Time Gold.
I'd disagree sorry, QF sporadically make PB work in my recent experiences over last couple of months about 7/10 and VA about 9/10.

The fennel fat deposit sausage roll is where I violently disagree though. It is gross!
 

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